Fall Chinook Counts Mount at Bonneville Damby Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 6, 2002
Anglers up and down the Columbia River are sharing the bounty as fall chinook salmon course their way upriver.
Sport and tribal and non-Indian fishers are hauling in chinook in numbers unprecedented in recent years. The fall chinook return to the river mouth was predicted to be 659,800 adult fish -- the third highest since 1948 behind those of 1987 and 1988. That number is expected to include nearly 500,000 chinook from hatcheries and spawning grounds above Bonneville Dam.
Broken down further the upriver run is predicted to include 273,800 upriver brights (URBs) -- in large part from the Hanford Reach -- and 136,000 Bonneville Pool Hatchery "tules.
Under an agreement between Oregon and Washington and lower Columbia treaty tribes the total impact on the URBs must be limited to 31.29 percent. The intent is to limit impact, primarily, on the Snake River fall chinook component of the URB run. The Snake River fish are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The agreement allows the tribes a 23.04 percent impact and non-Indian fisheries an 8.25 percent impact on the upriver fall chinook. The non-tribal impact is further split with sport fishers allowed a 4.36 percent impact and commercial fisheries 3.89 percent.
The Buoy 10 sport fishery at the river's mouth has produced some 18,400 chinook in 70,700 angler trips through Sept. 1. Fishers there have also caught 4,300 coho. The fishery opened Aug. 1. That fishery's share of the overall Columbia mainstem sport harvest limit would allow a catch of 22,200 adult Columbia River chinook. The catch to-date includes jacks and non-Columbia River chinook that may have strayed into the area so the fishery will remain open for now, said Patrick Frazier of the Oregon Department of Fish and Game.
"We've gotten over the hump. The explosiveness of this fishery was in late August," Frazier said of concerns that the popular fishery and a high catch rate would should the fishery past the impact limits. Both angler participation, and the catch rate, have dropped in recent days. Also helping keep the fishery within the URB limit is the fact that a higher than expected percentage of lower river hatchery chinook and BPH tules were in the Buoy 10 catch.
Non-tribal commercial gill nets have so far corralled 19,600 fall chinook in early August fisheries in the lower river and in a late August fishery above the Interstate 205 bridge at Portland-Vancouver.
The fall chinook count at Bonneville Dam is rising rapidly. A total of 179,968 adults and 9,135 jacks had passed the facility through Tuesday with daily counts over the past two weeks ranging from about 10,000 to nearly 19,000.
The fall chinook count at Bonneville during August -- 142,000 -- was a record. That means that the overall upriver run is looming larger than expected, or that the fish have arrived early. The overall run does not normally peak at Bonneville until mid-September.
The large number of Bonneville Pool Hatchery tules could be responsible. They normally arrive earlier and peak in a rush, while the bright runs are generally more prolonged, Frazier said.
Treaty tribes' gill-netters on Saturday evening finished the first of three planned 3 1/2-day fishing period. The "ticketed" sales to commercial buyers totaled 17,000 chinook and 760 steelhead. The total catch -- which includes over-the-bank sales to the public and fish kept for tribal consumption -- had not been calculated as of mid-week.
The bountiful harvest is welcomed, but both tribal and non-Indian commercial gill netters are facing a tough market. Tribal fishers were only receiving about 10 cents per pound for tules and 35-40 cents per pound for brights, according to Mike Matylewich, head of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission's fishery department.
"They were getting $2 a pound in 1988," Matylewich said. Competition from other fish sources, such as fish farms, has effectively caused "deflation in the river-caught fish market." That, in turn, had resulted in a decrease in the fishing effort. Only about 375 tribal nets were deployed during the initial fishing period this year. That compares of a peak of about 1,100 nets in 1988.
The tribal fishers expect to catch about 127,000 chinook and 13,000 upriver steelhead in the reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary dams.
Non-tribal commercial fishers see 2002 as a boon, despite the low market prices.
"We're moving those fish. They're creating income in the communities down here," said Steve Fick, owner of an Astoria fish processing plant. As recently as 1999 the commercial harvest was only 8,100 fall chinook.
Another bright spot in this 2002 late summer-fall run in the Columbia-Snake system is a big return of so-called wild "B" steelhead. The wild "A" steelhead fan out across the Snake-Columbia Basin while the B steelhead are bound for the upper Clearwater and Salmon rivers in Idaho. Wild stocks of Snake River, Upper Columbia and Mid-Columbia steelhead are ESA listed.
The larger B steelhead appear headed for a resurgence in 2002. The preseason forecast was for a return of 21,600 wild B steelhead. That is nearly double last year's wild B return of 12,000, which was part of the largest upriver steelhead return on record (since 1938) -- 630,200. This year's overall upriver summer steelhead run is forecast to be 447,800.
So far about 13,000 wild B steelhead have passed Bonneville Dam (as of early this week). Normally about 38 percent of the run has reached the lowermost dam on the Columbia by Sept. 2. ODFW biologist Curt Melcher said he expects the B count to reach as high as 33,000. That would be nearly double the previous high count since 1984.
"It's still relatively early in the B run timing, but it's not too early to say that it looks good," Melcher said.
"If we get 30,000 -- the next highest number is 17,700 in 1988," Melcher said. The wild B count has sunk as low as 1,850 in 1995. Melcher said that the disproportionately high number of wild B fish this year is likely due to the fact that the B fish tend to return after two years in the ocean while the more numerous A run fish most often come back to freshwater after one year at sea.
The same conditions that produced last year's record overall steelhead run -- good in-river migration conditions two years ago and continuing favorable ocean conditions -- helped boost this year's B return, Melcher said. And likely helped the surging fall chinook run.
According to early predictions, about 170,000 steelhead could be on their way to Lower Granite Dam, the last barrier before entering Idaho fishing waters. If that figure holds up, it will be about twice the 10-year average, subtracting last year's epic run, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. About 85,000 steelhead at Lower Granite Dam is the average, without considering the 260,000 that showed up last year.
Through Tuesday a total of 37,419 summer steelhead had been counted at Lower Granite, including 12,242 wild fish. The Idaho sport fall steelhead season began Sept. 1. Steelhead cannot be kept on the Clearwater River until Oct. 15. Only steelhead with a clipped adipose fin may be kept on any Idaho water. All steelhead with an intact adipose fin are either naturally produced fish or hatchery fish which have been left unclipped for experimental purposes to help rebuild natural production, and must be released unharmed immediately. Steelhead fishing usually attracts few anglers until river water temperatures drop enough to encourage fishable numbers of steelhead to run actively upstream, normally early to mid-October. Last year's steelhead run overwhelmed Idaho hatcheries and provided some of the best steelheading Idaho anglers could remember. The predicted run this year would be about 66 percent of last year's run. More than 400,000 steelhead are predicted to enter the Columbia River at Bonneville Dam this fall.
Tribal fishers were back on the water this week for the second of three approved fishing periods -- from 6 a.m. Wednesday through 6 p.m. Saturday. Tribal gill netters will be out again next week, from 6 a.m. Sept. 11 through 6 p.m. Sept. 14.
The tribal fishers will be selling their catch to the commercial buyers and directly to the public at sites throughout Zone 6, the 150-mile stretch of the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam near Umatilla, Ore. Available will be fall chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, walleye and shad. The lower Columbia treaty tribes are the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce.
Major sale locations include the Marine Park at Cascade Locks, Lone Pine at The Dalles and the boat launch near Roosevelt, Wash. Buyers should bring sufficient ice and coolers to keep fish fresh. Sales are cash only.
Customers can call 1-888-289-1855 toll-free for more information.
Sales of fish caught in the platform and hook-and-line fisheries, which begin Aug. 19, will continue until further notice.
The Columbia River Compact is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 12 to consider further tribal and non-Indian commercial fisheries. The Technical Advisory Committee will provide forecast updates based on the progress of the run and historical run timing. TAC is made up of tribal, state and federal fisheries officials.
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