Columbia Fall Chinook Run
by Bill Rudolph
. . .most of the huge run was made up of the wild stock heading back to the Hanford Reach,
he said the upriver run could reach a million fish.
After a huge surge of fall Chinook went over Bonneville Dam last week, harvest managers met Sept. 12 to deal with the unexpected bounty. The unusual abundance made them a little too shy to speculate on how long it was going to last--but 250,000 fish had rolled in over the previous five days--more than half the run, since counting began Aug. 1. About 573,000 fall Chinook had been tallied at the dam by Sept. 11.
Several daily records were set, culminating in a huge count on Sept. 9. "As far as I can tell going back through the annual counts since 1938, the 63,870 adult Chinook counted Monday at Bonneville Dam may be a record daily count for all salmonids, not just fall Chinook," Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Joe Hymer told the Spokesman-Review.
Another unofficial analysis showed the two previous record days occurred back in 2003, both in the 45,000-fish range. One would have to go clear back to 1942 to find similar daily numbers. (Back then, there was a considerably larger gillnet fishery below the dam.)
WDFW harvest manager Guy Norman was at a loss for words. After some back-of-the-envelope math that showed most of the huge run was made up of the wild stock heading back to the Hanford Reach, he said the upriver run could reach a million fish.
On Sept. 10, the technical advisory committee used by harvest managers had updated the run size of upriver brights to a range of 664,000 to 835,000, nearly twice its preseason forecast of 434,600 fish. Bonneville Pool tules were upgraded from 70,000 to 80,000, compared to a preseason prediction of 36,300.
Managers planned more fishing for lower-river recreational and commercial sectors, but the gillnetters were likely to be curtailed soon because they had nearly reached their limit on allowable impacts on ESA-listed lower Columbia wild tules. Allotted harvest impacts are shared with ocean fisheries and add up to about 41 percent these days. It was reported that the non-Indian fisheries had already reached about 38 percent.
Managers also reported that the Big Creek hatchery downstream of Bonneville Dam had so far seen escapement levels below preseason estimates. Only 400 adult females have returned, compared to the hatchery's goal of 1,600 fish. That's bad news, since the hatchery returns serve as a signal for the return of the wild component of lower river tules.
Constraints on lower river fisheries should not affect tribal fisheries above Bonneville Dam as much, where nearly 600 set nets were counted. But tribal fishers are still limited by overall impacts to ESA-listed Snake River fall Chinook and B-run steelhead.
On Sept. 16, harvest managers met again. They bumped the upriver run size to 832,500 and everybody got more fishing time. "Based on TAC's inseason forecasts for upriver stocks and the preseason forecasts for the lower river stocks, the Columbia River return is projected to reach nearly 1,200,000 adult fall Chinook in 2013, said their Sept. 18 fact sheet.
The upriver run doesn't have far to go to hit a million fish. By Sept. 18, nearly 741,000 fall Chinook had been counted at Bonneville, with more than 23,000 passing the dam that day. "The total upriver fall Chinook run is a record run with 1,055,800 upriver fall Chinook expected to enter the Columbia River," said the managers on Sept. 18. They expect over 950,000 upriver fall Chinook to pass Bonneville Dam. With only 36 percent of the adult fall Chinook at Bonneville sporting clipped fins, they noted "a large proportion of the unclipped fish will be natural origin fish."
Water temperature problems in the lower Snake lessened last week at Lower Granite Dam and fish were moving again toward Idaho. By Sept. 11, more than 8,000 had passed, with 2,360 on Sept. 9.
More than 3,400 were counted at Granite on Sept. 17, and 4,000 more on Sept. 18, two record-setting days in a row. With 39,000 fish already past Ice Harbor, it looks like the Snake will see a new record for fall Chinook as well.
Snake Fall Chinook Run Poised for Best Wild Return since 1960's by Bill Rudolph, NW Fishletter, 9/19/13
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