Chinook Runs Lag at Several Spotsby Allen Thomas
The Columbian, September 20, 2007
Fall chinook salmon returns are lagging at a several Columbia River system hatcheries and dams, worrying state officials if spawning goals will be reached.
Bill Tweit, Columbia River policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said his many concerns begin with achieving the spawning goal 43,500 adult chinook past McNary Dam, just east of Umatilla, Ore.
The wild "upriver bright" stock that spawns naturally in the Hanford Reach, the free-flowing stretch of the river downstream of Priest Rapids Dam, is one of the "bedrocks" of Northwest fish management, Tweit said.
Hanford Reach can produce 250,000 to 400,000 wild salmon in a given year. Being a "bright" stock, those fish are prized by sport, commercial and tribal fishermen alike.
The upriver bright run has been downgraded from an original forecast of 185,200 to 105,000, and might go lower.
About 24,000 fall chinook had passed McNary Dam through Sunday. Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the final passage at McNary likely will range between 43,000 and 52,000.
"That McNary goal is one of the most important goals I can think of," Tweit said. "It's not something we take lightly."
The escapement goal over McNary Dam has been met annually for 20 years.
Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery near Underwood in eastern Skamania County also is a point of concern.
Through Sept. 12, Spring Creek hatchery had 2,100 males, 2,300 female and 1,800 jack chinook, said Ehlke. The spawning need is 4,000 females.
Jacks are male salmon which return earlier than their siblings to spawn.
"Spring Creek has so many jacks," Ehlke said. "If there are some jills (females) they could pull eggs out of those. Egg-take goal is a concern at Spring Creek too."
In the lower Columbia, officials are keeping a close eye on the Elochoman, Cowlitz and Washougal hatcheries," Ehlke said.
"Returns need to improve by next week to alleviate concern," she said. "Kalama hatchery has met broodstock needs to date, but counts have been dropping off."
Gillnet fisheries - The net fleet was allowed 10 hours of fishing with large-mesh nets from the ocean to Bonneville Dam on Wednesday to target on sturgeon.
The commercials have about 2,800 sturgeon left of their lower Columbia allocation are were expected to land about 1,000 on Wednesday, plus 300 chinook.
The netters get 10 hours of salmon fishing beginning at 8 p.m. today upstream of the Lewis River to Bonneville Dam. A catch of about 1,700 chinook and 100 sturgeon is anticipated.
Sport fishermen caught 63 percent over their allocation of lower Columbia-origin chinook, an overage which comes out of the commercial share.
Chris Kern of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said while the total chinook catch by sportsmen was close to expectations, for some reason the percentage of lower-river fish was significantly more than anticipated.
"This is the second time this year unexpected recreational impacts are pre-empting meeting commercial objectives," Tweit said, referencing to the sport fleet catching a portion of the commercial allocation of summer chinook.
State officials will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to update the forecasts and consider commercial fishing periods targeting on coho in the lower Columbia.
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