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Ecology and salmon related articles

Colombia's Spring Chinook Run Comes in Second Best on Record

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, June 6, 2002

Although it's a long way from last year's record run of nearly 400,000 spring chinook, this year's upper Columbia run has climbed into the number two spot with a return of about 270,000 spring chinook counted at Bonneville Dam. A lot fewer fish are heading for the Snake River this year, however, since the 2000 juvenile migration that provided most of this year's adults was a lot smaller than the one that set last year's record.

Idaho fish managers will actually get more fish back than the 50,000 springers they expected once the count is officially over at Lower Granite Dam on June 17. Fifty-four thousand fish had been counted by May 30, and more were in the pipeline. About 74,000 spring chinook have passed Ice Harbor Dam, the lowest dam on the Snake, which means Idaho should expect about 50 percent more fish than originally estimated. Idaho spring chinook numbers topped 172,000 fish last year.

Upper Columbia chinook numbers are optimistic again this year as well. Counts are not up to date at Priest Rapids Dam, but by May 13, over 23,000 chinook had been tallied, down from last year's 43,000 count by that date, but still twice the 10-year average. It's a number that tracks with the reduced smolt outmigration in 2000, which was about half of 1999's outbound run, according to smolt index numbers at McNary Dam.

Far up the Columbia River at Wells Dam, about 5,200 spring chinook have been counted, down from last year's 7,800 fish, but a healthy bump from 2000's count of about 1,600 fish.

Harvest managers reviewed their estimate of the upriver run once again and reduced it to 292,000 fish, a number they were sticking with through the end of last week, according to WDFW's Cindy LeFleur.

The latest revision means that lower Columbia tribes had over-harvested their share by about 900 fish, according to the pre-season agreement that pegs their catch percentage to the total run size. The tribal share went down from 12 percent to 11 percent of the upriver run when predictions dipped below 300,000 fish. Originally, the fish managers had estimated about 340,000 upriver fish would enter the river this spring. At one point, they revised their estimate down to 238,000 fish, but the situation improved shortly thereafter.

Tribal fishers reportedly caught nearly 33,000 spring chinook in four commercial openings that ended May 18. Commercial buyers were offering only about 75 cents a pound for the springers, which were selling for 15 times as much by the time they were filleted and displayed in Seattle fish markets. Non-Indian commercial fishermen caught over 14,000 springers in an experimental tangle net fishery that was designed to harvest only hatchery fish.

Jack counts at Bonneville have remained robust as well, averaging over 100 a day by the end of the month, totaling about 6,500 for the spring. That's about 15 percent above the 10-year average, which likely signals a spring run next year of more than 100,000 fish.

Meanwhile, the region was gearing up for the monster fall chinook run that's expected to begin showing soon. Ocean recreational fishing began last week off the Washington coast, where sporties were mostly limiting in the early fishery that will close for a bit and then open again later in the summer, offering Northwest anglers another chance to hook some of the 675,000 fall chinook predicted to return to the Columbia River.

Bill Rudolph
Colombia's Spring Chinook Run Comes in Second Best on Record
NW Fishletter, June 6, 2002

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