5,192 Springers Pass Bonneville By May 3
Good Late Run?
Just 3,337 spring chinook had been counted passing upstream over Bonneville Dam as of April 30, the lowest count of the fish at the dam on record for that date.
Anglers in the lower Columbia River caught nearly twice that number in March and April and neared the limiting number that is calculated to protect upriver fish before fishing downstream of the dam ended April 23. And river managers this week said they are also allowing angling to end tonight in the area upstream of Bonneville Dam to the I-395 Bridge (see the May 2 Joint State Announcement).
"Unfortunately, this is the lowest cumulative count at Bonneville on record," Stuart Ellis, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee lead for 2017 and harvest management biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said of the passage count as of April 30.
However, at this point in the run, TAC is unsure what the implications would be for its spring chinook run size update, an update it usually makes in the first week of May. TAC met Monday, May 1 to take a look at the run size, but it was not able to do the typical first of May update, Ellis said.
"We need to have about 50 percent of the run over Bonneville before our updates are any good," he added. "Possibly by next Monday, we may be able to say something with a bit of certainty about the run. However, this will need to be a record late run if it is going to get anywhere close to forecast."
The early season forecast was 160,400 upriver spring chinook and Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon. The total 2017 spring chinook forecast -- including upriver and lower river chinook -- is down 17 percent to 227,890 fish from the 2016 actual run of 274,652 fish.
Some 34,540 spring chinook had passed Bonneville last year by April 30, and the ten year average is 56,644.
However, the pace of passage is picking up. In the week leading up to April 30, about 200 fish or fewer were passing the dam each day. The April 30 count picked up to 362 and on Wednesday, May 3, the daily count was 836 fish, for a total of 5,192 fish over the dam. That's still fewer than the 6,500 spring chinook anglers have caught in the lower river and far below the 10-year average of 75,463 fish. Last year by May 3, 69,462 fish had passed, with more than 10,000 of those fish passing May 3.
However, Ellis said, 2017 is still the lowest cumulative count as of May 3 ever. The five previous low years on May 3 are:
"The bulk of the return this year would be 4 year old (2-ocean fish) that migrated out in very poor conditions in 2015 and went into an ocean that people generally believe was very poor for salmon," Ellis said. "Our pre-season forecast was down this year because we didn't think we had great survival of these fish. The question will be is whether things were worse than we anticipated."
Yet, it's difficult to know how many fish the spring run will add up to. The count of spring chinook is based on a management period up through June 15 and TAC "will use whatever goes over Bonneville during that time period plus the fishery mortality on upriver fish in any of the lower river fisheries during this time period to calculate the river mouth run size," Ellis said.
He added that the U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement has a harvest rate schedule that says what the allowed catch for treaty and non-treaty fisheries is at any particular run size. For a run size of 160,400 fish, the early fisheries allowed catch is 6,905 spring chinook, which includes a 30 percent buffer that is applied prior to the first run update. See the Oregon and Washington Columbia River Compact's April 12, 2017, Winter Fact Sheet No. 11.
"TAC will start updating the run just as soon as we think we can start making a reasonable guess," he said. "Normally that is when around 50 percent of the fish are over Bonneville. The predictions are very volatile if we do them too early. Both treaty and non-treaty fisheries will be stuck dealing with however the numbers come out."
Anglers so far this season have taken about 6,500 fish, which includes those fish landed by sportfishers plus release mortality on upriver fish, and lower river commercial gillnetters in off-channel select areas have caught about 75 upriver fish. The areas they can fish have been somewhat reduced to cut down on upriver impacts. Also, the Zone 6, Bonneville Dam to the I-395 bridge at the Oregon Washington border, has just one reported upriver mortality and is receiving very little pressure. The fishery closes this evening.
Earlier in the season, poor fishing had been due to river conditions with higher, colder and more turbid water than normal.
"Flows at Bonneville this April represented the highest flows on record for the month in the last 100 years and the fish are not in a hurry," said Ron Roler, a Columbia River fishery manager for WDFW.
Yet, test fishing by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is continuing to show a significant increase in chinook abundance in the lower river, he said.
"The only test fishery that is operating now is in Cathlamet Channel," Roler said. "The catches in our test fisheries are some of the largest we have seen, but I don't believe that it means the run is one of the largest, it just means that we have upriver fish throughout the river and they will eventually decide to move past the dam.
"The only fishery we could extend now is the fishery above Bonneville Dam, but we thought that it would serve the greater good to wait until we have more fish above Bonneville to extend the fishery," he said.
"While it is certainly possible that this year's run will come in way below forecast, there are some things that suggest the fish are just quite delayed," Ellis said. "Both non-treaty commercial test fishing in the Lower River and Cathlamet Channel along with some research fishing NOAA does to try to estimate sea lion predation both seem to indicate based on catch rates of upriver fish, that there should be good numbers of fish still downstream of Bonneville."
Some tribal permit gillnet fishing is going on now above the dam for ceremonial use along with Zone 6 platform and hook and line fishery, which is open for subsistence use, Ellis said. The tally so far is around 500-600 fish.
"If we did happen to downgrade the run to less than 90-95K, then depending on where the states actual catches are, they would have to start closing fisheries," Ellis said. "The tribes could still keep fishing for a bit, but at a pretty reduced level.
"Hopefully the fish will start streaming over Bonneville pretty darned quick and nobody is going to have to take any drastic fishery actions, but that is kind of how things would play out if this run were to really not materialize," he concluded.
Meanwhile for the Willamette River, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Thursday announced that salmon and steelhead anglers will be limited to a three-day-per-week schedule and a one chinook bag limit in the lower Willamette River, effective Monday, May 8.
Under the new rules, until further notice chinook and steelhead retention will be open three days a week -- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday -- downstream of Willamette Falls, including the Multnomah Channel, Gilbert River, and the Clackamas River downstream of the Highway 99E Bridge. The daily adult salmonid bag limit is two hatchery fish, but only one may be a chinook. The department did not modify current rules that allow the two-rod angling validation and use of barbed hooks.
The reduced season structure was implemented as a cautionary approach to managing the fishery in the face of continued low passage of both steelhead and chinook salmon, according to Tucker Jones, ODFW's Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program manager.
As of May 3, only 51 adult spring chinook had crossed Willamette Falls compared to the 10-year average of 7,558 Chinook; with a previous low passage at this date of 416 in 1993. To date, winter steelhead passage is 721 adult fish, compared to the 10-year average of 5,163.
"The cumulative passage at Willamette Falls is substantially lower than anything we've seen before," said Jones, adding, "Water temperatures should be increasing and we hope to see passage improve dramatically. If this happens, and other signs improve, we might loosen restrictions but if poor counts continue, an outright closure might be warranted."
Current regulations for the Willamette River and tributaries upstream of Willamette Falls and Clackamas River (upstream of the Hwy. 99E Bridge) remain unchanged. Chinook and steelhead retention remains open under permanent rules, and the previously adopted two-rod angling validation remains in effect.
Lower Columbia Spring Chinook Fishing On Upward Trend, Two Five-Day Angling Periods Added by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 4/14/17
Harvest Managers Extend Springer Fishing Citing Poor Water, Fishing Conditions by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 4/7/17
First 2017 Spring Chinook Sport Fishery: Smaller Run But Larger Share Of Catch Than Previous Years by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 2/24/17
Harvest Managers Reaffirm Pre-Season Spring Chinook Return Of 188,800 Fish; More Fishing This Weekend by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 5/13/16
States Extend Chinook Fishing Above Bonneville; Springers Passage At Dam Surged This Week by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 5/6/16
Lower Columbia Spring Chinook Fishing Ends Day Early; More Fishing Depends On Updated Run-Size by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 4/8/16
States Set Columbia River Spring Recreational/Commercial Salmon, Steelhead Fishing Openings by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 1/29/16
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