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Chinook Forecast Looks Promising

by Mark Yuasa
Seattle Times, December 16, 2007

The first day of winter Dec. 22 has yet to arrive, but many salmon anglers already have spring on their minds.

Early indications are that next year's Columbia River spring chinook return could be a good one. But after three consecutive years of bad predictions, most anglers are cautiously holding their breath.

"There is still some concern that could throw a wrench in things as far as spring chinook goes," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. "But unlike other migratory salmon, they [spring chinook] tend to move farther out into the ocean and may not get influenced by the bad ocean conditions that others ran into."

The 2008 forecast is a mixed bag. It calls for generous 269,300 upriver spring chinook return, compared to the 86,230 that returned last year (78,500 was the forecast). The upriver forecast also includes spring/summer chinook in the Snake and Upper Columbia rivers.

Fisheries managers base this prediction on the number of 3-year-old spring chinook jack salmon that returned last year a whopping 20,239, the second-highest count since 2000 (24,400 jacks).

The Yakima River spring chinook forecast also looks good, with an expected return of 10,060 fish compared to 2,982 last year (4,100 was the forecast).

While things look rosy for upriver spring chinook returns, others, like the Willamette River in Oregon, are pretty dismal and could affect both sport and commercial fisheries in the Columbia mainstem below I-5 and the Willamette itself.

The Willamette spring chinook forecast is 34,000, compared to a return of 40,468 last year (52,000 was the forecast).

"The poor Willamette forecast will probably have big impacts and major tweaking on the fisheries in the Willamette below the falls and the Columbia below the I-5 Bridge, and especially more so on the commercial fishery," Hymer said.

During the past few years, most fishing has occurred below I-5 to avoid catching spring fish moving above the Willamette. This spring, both the sport and commercial fisheries could be limited to areas above I-5.

The predicted Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis river spring chinook return is 12,400, down from 17,700 this year.

Tributaries above Bonneville Dam will likely see a big jump in sport catches this spring.

"On paper, the spring chinook return to Drano Lake will be a new record [current record is 20,000 fish in 2002]," Hymer said. "The Wind River will also see a strong return, but it will not be a record run. like in 2001 when 20,000 came back."

The Little White Salmon River (Drano Lake) is expecting a return of 36,800 spring chinook, compared to an actual return of 6,500 last spring. The Wind River is predicted to get 10,000 fish, compared to 4,300 last spring. The Klickitat River's predicted return of 1,100 fish is the same as this past year.

Spring chinook are prized for their delicious meat high in Omega 3 oil content, which is similar to chinook salmon from Alaska's Copper River.

The fisheries commissions from Washington and Oregon are planning to meet with the 13-member stakeholder groups, made up of sport and commercial fishermen, regularly through January.

Final meetings to decide allocations will take place on Feb. 1-2 in Olympia with the Washington Commission, and Feb. 8 in Salem with the Oregon Commission. A joint meeting will be held in mid-February to decide on the 2008 fishing seasons.

Spring chinook fishing is open in January and February in the Lower Columbia below I-5, and usually just a few are caught in that early time frame.

Mark Yuasa
Chinook Forecast Looks Promising
Seattle Times, December 16, 2007

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