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Spring Chinook Return Showing Good
Numbers from Bonneville to Lower Granite

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 30, 2014

Sport Fishing Re-Opens

Chinook salmon run up through Columbia River dams, past viewing rooms, as a little dog looks on. (AP photo) An improved upriver spring chinook run-size forecast has allowed Oregon and Washington officials on Tuesday to reopen a sports fishery on the Columbia River mainstem upstream of Bonneville Dam, and set commercial fisheries for this week for both tribal and non-Indian fishers.

Management agreements between the states and tribes allocate harvests based on the estimated size of the annual returns -- higher returns allow higher catches. In order to allow spawner escapement and protect portions of the run that are listed under the Endangered Species Act, overall harvests are limited. Both wild Snake River spring/summer and Upper Columbia River spring chinook are listed.

Estimations of this year's upriver spring chinook -- fish headed for hatcheries above Bonneville in Columbia and Snake river tributaries -- have been up and down, mainly based on the flow of fish counted passing the dam. The preseason forecast projected an adult run of 227,000 fish, but halting dam counts prompted a May 5 downsizing of that forecast to "a minimum of 185."

With a strong pulse continuing to pass the dam, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee the next week updated its estimate to 224,000 and stuck to it until this week. The federal, state and tribal fisheries experts met Tuesday and boosted the forecast to 230,000.

That's slightly above the preseason forecast, which would be the 5th highest return since 1980 and 129 percent of the average return observed over the past decade.

The total return to the mouth of the river last year was 123,100.

TAC Chairman Stuart Ellis, a Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission biologist, said he wouldn't be surprised to see the actual return go a bit higher than the most recent forecast.

Through Tuesday a total of 180,808 adult upriver spring chinook had been counted climbing Bonneville's fish ladders this year. That's compared to 80,042 through May 27 last year and a recent 10-year average of 124,842.

This year's run is showing well upriver too. The count through Tuesday at the lower Snake River's Lower Granite Dam was 63,357, compared to 25,654 through that date a year ago and a 10-year average of 33,769. Spawners heading to Idaho and Oregon streams have already cleared four dams on the Columbia and three lower down on the Snake before reaching Lower Granite.

The adult upriver spring chinook salmon count at the mid-Columbia's Rock Island Dam had reached 14,494 through Tuesday. The count through May 27 year ago was 7,004; the 10-year average through that date is 8,933.

Rock Island is the seventh dam the fish pass. That journey includes climbing over Wanapum Dam, where passage structures had to be reconfigured because of a steep reservoir drawdown caused this year because of structural problems at that Grant County Public Utility District facility.

The run-size forecasts take into account downstream harvest estimates as well as the counts at Bonneville, located about 146 river miles from the mouth. The harvest-caused mortalities of upriver spring chinook through last week on the lower Columbia (below Bonneville) totaled about 2,600 by non-tribal gill-netters and 10,400 for lower river mainstem anglers.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Tony Nigro complimented TAC on its forecasts. The forecasts are developed to help the states manage fisheries.

"It's pretty impressive, you're within 1 percent," Nigro said, if the latest forecast proves true.

Going back to 1985, the actual adult upriver spring returns to the mouth of the Columbia have ranged as a percentage of the preseason forecast from 42 percent (twice) to as high as 168 percent. The closest to bull's eye was an actual return that was 105 percent of the preseason forecast in 1986 and one in 1991 that was 96 percent of the preseason forecast.

With the below-Bonneville sport fishery expected to stay well within its allocations, a joint state panel decided on the advice of agency staff to shift some of that downstream allocation -- up to about 750 adult fish -- to Zone 6, which is the mainstem Columbia from Bonneville Dam upstream along the Oregon-Washington border to the point the big river turns north into Washington. Nigro was joined on the panel by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Guy Norman. The two, representing the directors of their respective agencies, also convened as the Columbia River Compact, which sets commercial salmon on the mainstem along that shared border.

The above Bonneville sport fishery had been closed May 9 to chinook retention with the allocation for those river reaches in hand. The reallocation allowed the panel to reopen the fishery, beginning Saturday and running through June 15. "Spring" fishing seasons officially end June 15 with the summer management period beginning the following day.

"By our projections, anglers fishing below the dam won't reach their harvest guideline for upriver spring chinook by season's end, so we agreed to make some fish available farther upriver," said Ron Roler, a WDFW fishery manager.

"That action is consistent with recreational catch limits and conservation guidelines for the river as a whole."

As before, anglers are limited to one adult hatchery chinook salmon as part of their daily catch limit of two adult fish. All sockeye salmon must be released, along with wild salmon and wild steelhead identifiable by an intact adipose fin.

Under the rules approved at the hearing, the season opens to both boat and bank fishing from the Tower Island power lines approximately six miles below The Dalles Dam, upstream to the Oregon/Washington border (about 17 miles upstream of McNary Dam), plus bank fishing only from Bonneville Dam to the Tower Island power lines.

Bonneville passage through May 21 included 21,661 jack chinook, which was already the fifth highest jack count since at least 1990, according to a "spring update" provided May 22 by the ODFW and WDFW staffs. Jacks are young fish that return after only one year in the ocean. Their more mature broodmates return later after two or more years in the Pacific.

For more information, visit ODFW's website at

The Compact on Tuesday scheduled a 12- non-tribal fishery from 6 p.m. Wednesday through 6 a.m. Thursday in the lower river, from Bonneville down to the mouth. The estimated harvest during the 12-hour period is expected to bring the commercial fleet up to about 72 percent of its share of the non-Indian allocation under "catch balance" agreements that split overall harvest between the states and tribes. But the estimated harvest of 710 upriver spring chinook would bring the non-tribal commercial fishers within 97 percent of their allowable impacts on listed fish. The management agreements also split allowable impacts, with four treaty tribes allowed to harvest 10 percent of the upriver run; and combined non-tribal sport and commercial harvests 2 percent.

In three prior outings between April 1 and May 21 the gill-net fleet harvested 2,795 adult spring chinok, with an estimated upriver impact of 2,420 fish. Upriver mortality includes both kept catch and mortalities of unmarked fish that were caught in the nets and released. A large share of hatchery produced fish are marked with a clipped fin so they can be targeted for harvest. Many of the unmarked fish are naturally produced fish that are ESA protected.

The Compact also approved a commercial tribal fishery upstream of Bonneville that began Wednesday morning and stretches through Saturday evening.

Through last week the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes had harvested a total of 14,057 adult upriver spring chinook in spring ceremonial and subsistence permit and platform hook and line fisheries and a May 20-22 commercial gill-net fishery. Ellis said they expected to catch another 600 fish from platforms before June 15.

This week's tribal gill-net fishery is expected to net as many as 4,100 adult upriver spring chinook.

Indian fishers may be found selling fish at a number of locations along the river including Marine Park at Cascade Locks, Lone Pine at The Dalles, and the boat launch near Roosevelt, Washington as well as other locations. Commercial sales will not occur on Corps of Engineers property at Bonneville Dam. Information on where the day's catch is being sold is available by calling CRITFC's salmon marketing program at (888) 289-1855 or visiting the salmon marketing website. Price is determined at the point of sale and sales are cash only.

The tribal fishery is protected by treaties made with the federal government in 1855, where the right to fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places in the Columbia River basin was reserved. The tribal treaty right extends beyond ceremonial and subsistence fisheries to commercial sales. The Columbia River fisheries are adjusted throughout the season in accordance with management agreements and observed returns.

Spring Chinook Return Showing Good Numbers from Bonneville to Lower Granite
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 30, 2014

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