2014 Snake Fall Chinook Run
by Bill Rudolph
The Columbia River fall Chinook may run out of gas before it catches up with 2013's record run, but returns on the lower Snake River are running into new record territory.
The fall Chinook count at Lower Granite Dam was 50,403 fish (hatchery and wild) fish by Sept. 30. Last year, it had reached nearly 48,000 fish by this point, and ended up above 56,000, a record since the lower Snake dams were built.
The daily count at Bonneville has quickly declined since the peaking around Sept. 8 when more than 67,000 were counted--it was around 20,000 by the Sept. 17, when passage is generally about 76 percent complete.
The 2014 count of nearly 801,000 is running about 85,000 fish behind last year's return, and is not expected to catch up. On Sept. 19, harvest managers downsized their preseason estimate of 1.51 million fall Chinook (to river mouth) to 1.26 million, or 83 percent. On Sept. 24, it was projected to reach 1.18 million, including 677,000 upriver brights. On Oct.1, it was estimated at just 100 fish over a million.
But this year's fall jack count is beating last year's record. So far, nearly 118,000 jacks have been counted at Bonneville, compared to last year's nearly 101,000 by Sept. 29. Does that mean we can expect another colossal run next year?
Managers aren't making any predictions yet, pointing out that this year's return is predominantly 4-year olds that went out to sea in 2010. The three-year olds are only making up about 15 percent of this year's return. In 2013, the fall Chinook run composition was much different--only 41 percent 4-year-olds, and 50 percent 3-year-olds.
However, CRITFC harvest specialist Stuart Ellis told NW Fishletter that this year's jack count bodes well for next year's return, barring any adverse ocean impacts to the stocks now feeding in the Gulf of Alaska. He said it seems likely that it will be in the "ballpark" with the large fall runs in 2013 and 2014.
Managers also said their latest modeling was projecting a better-than-expected return for both A- and B-run steelhead (mainly headed for Idaho). By Sept. 30, more than 295,000 had been counted at Bonneville.
Coho returns have also exceeded expectations, with almost 182,000 past the dam by Sept. 30, when only 102,000 were predicted to show up by the end of the month.
Commercial fishermen harvested 47,700 fall Chinook and 1,000 coho in their early Fall season that ended Sept. 3. During the late fall season, they have landed 42,100 fall Chinook and 5,000 coho, so far, with seven more fishing periods scheduled.
Landings have also been excellent in select areas, out of the mainstem, with another 24,300 fall Chinook landed, along with 143,300 coho.
A research seine fishery has wrapped up for the season, with a total catch of 2,400 hatchery Chinook and 1,000 hatchery coho.
Recreational anglers in the lower Columbia (including Buoy 10) had caught around 55,000 Chinook by Sept. 28, less than the preseason expectation of 88,500, but their catch of lower river hatchery tules was higher than anticipated.
Non-Indian ESA impacts were expected to add up to 11.2 percent for upriver brights (15 percent allowed), 41 percent of lower river hatchery Chinook (41 percent allowed), and 1.69 percent for wild Group B steelhead (2 percent allowed).
Tribal fishermen above Bonneville were having some of their best fishing ever, reported CRITFC's Stuart Ellis. He said tribal fishermen above Bonneville caught more than 80,000 fall Chinook during a three-and-a-half day fishing period that began Sept. 8.
By Oct. 10, they were expected to have caught nearly 297,000 falls, with about 144,000 of them, upriver brights. The tribes had also projected a steelhead catch of around 29,000. By then, the tribes should have harvested about 21.9 percent of the upriver bright run. The expected harvest rate for Group B steelhead was running at 15.4 percent.
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