Chinook Run Prediction Updated,
by Bill Monroe
Oregon and Washington salmon managers are breathing easier after a couple of weeks of solid daily spring chinook counts crossing Bonneville Dam, and the experts are speechless about a record-shattering number of jack salmon mixing with their older cousins.
But biologists aren't quite satisfied enough to open the already delayed summer steelhead season.
The states, meeting as the Columbia River Compact on Tuesday afternoon, said they now believe 160,000 spring chinook will enter the river this year. Two weeks ago, the prediction was downgraded from the preseason prediction of nearly 300,000 to a range of 120,000 to 150,000.
Biologists said they will update the run again Monday, after a few more days of counting. Daily numbers have been about 2,000. Biologists said the spring chinook run is usually close to 77 percent complete by this date.
Biologists might meet again early next week to open summer steelhead fishing, which usually begins in mid-May.
The 160,000 figure means the states will not have exceeded their allowable incidental kills of federally protected wild spring chinook by allowing sport and commercial seasons in the lower river in March and April. About 20,000 hatchery spring chinook were caught.
The biggest questions now surround the show of jacks at Bonneville. Jack salmon are males that return a year or two earlier than their age class and with enough regularity (except for the past three years) to predict the subsequent adult run.
By Monday, the jack count at Bonneville was 62,748. That's more than three times the previous record and six times the 10-year average. The count almost certainly means a better run in 2009, although high jack counts last year didn't pan out in an accurate run prediction this year.
Biologists randomly tested this year's jacks and found no stunted or under-sized adults.
"They're all true jacks," said Chris Kern of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"It's an amazing story," said John North, a Columbia River and salmon manager for the department.
North said 15,000 jacks have shown up at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River and as many as 30,000 may get that far.
"It could be good for the Snake River next year," he said.
In the Willamette River, jack counts have been above average, but nothing on the scale of those at Bonneville. Still, the counts should also translate into a far better 2009 run, North and Kern said.
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