Updated Run Forecast
The fishing season sizzled, initially, but the return of upriver summer chinook salmon has fizzled to this point, forcing Oregon and Washington fishery managers to end lower Columbia River mainstem pursuit of the prized "June hogs."
The Columbia River Compact on July 5 rescinded a 10-hour non-tribal commercial outing scheduled this week that would have targeted upriver summer chinook from Bonneville Dam down to near the river mouth.
The summer chinook sport season in the same 140-mile stretch of river ended June 30 as scheduled and the sport fishery scheduled to run through July 31 in the area between Bonneville and Priest Rapids dams was closed July 3.
The fisheries were called off because the upriver summer chinook return appears to be smaller than forecast in preseason and because lower river anglers hauled in more than twice the number of fish allocated for that fishery.
The Technical Advisory Committee last week updated the preseason forecast for the upriver summer chinook and sockeye salmon runs, dropping its expectations from the 45,600 preseason estimate to 40,000 as measured entering the Columbia.
Under an agreement between tribes and states, fisheries are managed to allow 20,000 hatchery and naturally produced spawners to escape over central Washington's Priest Rapids dams.
With the revised forecast, the lower river sport fishery's share of the harvestable surplus over the desired escapement dropped from 1,250 to 900, and the lower river gill-net fleet's allocation fell from 1,650 to 1,100. The Bonneville-to-Priest Rapids sport allocation was reduced from 400 to 200.
Staffers for Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments estimate that the sport catch below Bonneville totaled 2,105 summer chinook -- 1,200 over the new catch limit. In two June outings, the gill-netters landed 1,034 upriver summer chinook, just within their limit. The Bonneville-Priest sport fishery produced a catch of about 100 chinook.
"They caught more than we anticipated," the WDFW's Robin Ehlke said of the lower river anglers. "They are becoming more efficient."
The summer chinook fisheries are relatively new, restarting in 2002 after not being a target species since 1965 on the mainstem. The upriver returns from 1980 through 2000 slumped, numbering 23,000 or fewer each year.
The run revived a bit from 2001 through 2007, hitting a peak of 92,800 in 2002. But a return of 40,000 this year would be by far the lowest during that period.
Last year's actual return to the mouth of the river, 76,000, was the third largest since 1980.
Sport fishers landed 4,950 upriver summer chinook during a June 16 to July 31, 2006, season, and most Ð 3,360 Ð were caught in June, Ehlke said.
"The June catch was hot last year and again this year," she said.
For fishery management purposes, chinook passing over Bonneville Dam's fish ladders from June 16 through July 31 are counted as "summer chinook." The great majority are bound for hatcheries and production areas above Priest Rapids. Redds are now found in the Columbia, Wenatchee, Okanogan, Methow, Similkameen, Chelan and Entiat rivers. A smaller component of the run returns to the Snake River basin.
The Upper Columbia summer chinook are considered relatively healthy and are not protected under the Endangered Species Act as are 12 other Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead stocks.
The new run forecast is based in part on lagging dam counts at Bonneville. A total of 17,929 adult summer chinook had passed the dam through July 1, a date when typically half the run has proceeded upriver. The overall count through July 9 had risen to 24,576 with from 600 to 900 passing daily.
Treaty summer chinook fisheries in the reservoirs above Bonneville too are largely complete after gill-net fishing periods the past two weeks.
"They are at or near their quota," Ehlke said. "They may continue sales of fish caught from platforms." The platform fisheries catch mostly steelhead, which migrate closer to shore, and haul in few chinook,
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