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Fall Chinook Numbers Highest Since 1942

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 10, 2003

A continuing flood of salmon into lower Columbia River hatcheries has forced up estimates of the 2003 fall chinook return to a level not seen since at least 1942.

The updated forecast now calls for 914,800 fall chinook adults to return this year. That number would best counts of 871,000 in 1987 and of 785,000 in 1988. It shoots far past last year's adult fall chinook count of 733,100 and continues a wave of strong salmon and steelhead returns in virtually all seasons over the past three years. Fisheries officials credit much of the upswing to improved feeding conditions in the Pacific Ocean where the salmon grown to adulthood.

The estimate of returning lower river hatchery fish was boosted from 140,000 to 190,000 this week based in large part on swollen counts at the hatcheries. Five Washington hatcheries, for example, have long since achieved the broodstock goals with 22,899 fish in hand and only 11,700 fish needed. The surplus will grow larger with 41,800 fish expected to return to those hatcheries.

The 1942 run was estimated to number 979,000 fall chinook, though the calculation included sub-adults or jacks. The 1941 count was nearly 1.2 million fall chinook. This year, more than 45,000 jacks have been tallied at Bonneville Dam -- a sign of good things to come according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Patrick Frazier.

"That's good news for future years," Frazier said of the high jack count for fall chinook stocks headed for hatcheries and spawning grounds above Bonneville. The bulk of those jacks' broodmates return over the next two years. The upriver bright chinook jack count is 20 percent higher than the recent 10-year average and the "tule" fall chinook count is double the 10-year average.

The state/federal/tribal Technical Advisory Committee has on several occasions updated the 2003 fall chinook forecast as counts mounted at Bonneville and elsewhere. The fall chinook count at Bonneville -- 595,487 through Wednesday -- already matches the preseason prediction for the entire return to the river. The dam count doesn't include the thousands of upriver fish hauled in by recreational and commercial fishers in the mainstem below Bonneville.

The Buoy 10 fishery near the river's mouth produced an estimated sport catch of 16,800 chinook and 65,000 coho from 85,000 to 90,000 angler trips. The coho catch there was the largest since 1991 and the chinook catch is the largest since 1988. The sport and non-tribal gill-net catch is a mix of upriver and downriver stocks.

Sport fishers are expected to catch 28,000 fall chinook in the lower river.

"That would be the largest catch on record," said Cindy LeFleur of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The previous record was 21,000 last year.

Additionally, sport anglers are expected to catch 2,600 chinook above Bonneville.

The non-Indian commercial fleet is expected to have a total catch of 68,000 chinook and more than 200,000 coho this year in the Columbia River mainstem below Bonneville Dam.

Record fall chinook dam counts have also been reported at McNary (167,500) and Ice Harbor (19,500).

The other fall chinook stock estimates remained the same from a forecast made Oct. 1. A total of 380,000 upriver brights are expected -- the second largest return since 1964. Most of the URBs are bound for the Hanford Reach. The Mid-Columbia bright forecast of 118,00 fish would be the largest since 1980; a Bonneville Pool Hatchery tule return of 194,000 would be the largest since 1964, and a select area bright return of 7,600 fish would be the largest since 1985.

The coho return is likely to be better too than was expected. Based on commercial landings and Bonneville Dam counts the forecasts for early stock coho was revised upward from 271,500 to 450,000.

The forecast for the late run coho return to the river mouth, 157,500 adults, has not been updated. Run normally peaks in October.

CBB Staff
Fall Chinook Numbers Highest Since 1942
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 10, 2003

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