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Fall Chinook Count in
Lower Snake Remains Strong

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 30, 2011

Reintroduced Coho Showing Good Numbers

The overall forecast for this year's Columbia River basin upriver fall chinook return has shrunk a bit since the preseason given lower than expected counts at hydro project fish ladders. But the Snake River portion of that run is meeting expectations.

The fall chinook count through Wednesday at Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River had reached 19,188 adult fish. The count at the southeast Washington dam's fish ladders include both "wild" bright fall chinook that are protected under the Endangered Species Act and hatchery produced fish.

That count is already the second highest ever, though it is unlikely to pass the record high count of 41,815 last year. Wednesday's count was relatively strong at 961 but the trend is generally downward. Thursday's tally was 366. The previous runner-up was an adult fall chinook count of 16,226 in 2008. The record dates back to 1975, the year construction of Lower Granite was completed.

"We could expect to have a strong wild component" within the overall run, fisheries biologist Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission staff said. "But we won't be able to estimate the number of wild fish until we do a run reconstruction" later this fall. The wild Snake River fall chinook are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

"The other kind of surprising run up there is coho," Ellis said. The coho count at Lower Granite totaled 1,314 through Thursday with an average of 90 or so passing daily on average over the past week. And more are on the way. A total of 3,141 have passed Ice Harbor Dam, with daily count averaging close to 200 over the past week. Ice Harbor is the fifth hydro project the fish pass; Lower Granite Dam is the eighth, on their way to the Clearwater River in central Idaho.

A total Lower Granite count of 4,497 in 2008 is the "record since they went extinct in this basin," Ellis said. In 2008, a total of 1,629 coho had passed Bonneville through Sept. 28.

The construction of Harpster Dam in 1910 eliminated coho salmon access to the South Fork Clearwater River, and in 1927, the Washington Water Power Diversion Dam was constructed just above the mouth of the Clearwater River. Fish passage facilities were not provided at the time of construction, and retrofitted ladders proved impassable for coho salmon, which were subsequently extirpated from the Clearwater River subbasin.

The Harpster Dam was removed in 1963, and the Washington Water Power Diversion Dam was removed in 1972.

The Nez Perce Tribe in 1994 began a program to reintroduce coho to the Clearwater and that effort has borne fruit - a steady upward trend, though with an annual dip every now and then, in coho returns, Ellis said.

The overall fall chinook and coho forecasts have, through a series of forecasts, remained strong enough to allow the approval Tuesday of a non-tribal commercial fishery overnight Wednesday fishery in the lower river (from Bonneville Dam at river mile 146 down to near to the mouth).

Also approved, on Thursday, was a 3 1/2-day treaty commercial fishery in Columbia mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville. The fisheries got the OK from the Columbia River Compact, which is made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife. The states co-manage fisheries along the Columbia where it represents their state border.

Passage through Monday at Bonneville Dam totaled 355,500 adult chinook, including 294,600 "bright" stock and 60,900 tule stock. Fishery managers estimate that fall chinook passage at the dam for the year is about 90 percent complete. The bright stock include Mid-Columbia and upriver stocks, the latter including the Snake River fish. The majority of the tules are the product of the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery, which is located in the Bonneville Pool.

The Technical Advisory Team on Monday updated its estimates of the 2011 coho and upriver fall chinook returns. The upriver bright forecast was bumped up 3 percent from the previous week's forecast, from 323,400 to 331,900. Such a return, as calculated at mouth of the river, would still be the fifth highest dating back to at least 1985. The preseason forecast was for a total URB return of 399,600 to the mouth of the river.

The Bonneville Pool Hatchery tule forecast was dropped from 70,000 last week to 68,100 this week. The preseason forecast was 116,400.

TAC's federal, state and tribal fishery experts on Monday update the upriver "early stock" adult forecast to 124,700 fish as counted at Bonneville. The count through Tuesday was 115,222. The preseason forecast was for a return of only 44,800 upriver early stock coho salmon.

Commercial fishermen were asked Tuesday to choose one of two options. One confined fisheries to fishing zones 4-5 from the mouth of the Lewis River at Ridgefield, Wash., up to Bonneville Wednesday and Thursday nights and the other set a single fishery Wednesday in zones 1-5 from Bonneville to the river mouth.

The first option was projected to net more fall cinook; the second option was expected bring a smaller harvest of chinook but a larger harvest of both coho salmon and sturgeon.

Commercial fishers testifying Tuesday were split, though the majority preferred the zone 1-5 fishery so that gill-netters up and down the river would have easy access to the fish. In fisheries earlier this month there were nearly twice as many fish deliveries to commercial buyers during the zone 1-5 fishery than during zone 4-5 fisheries.

The Compact - the ODFW's Steve Williams and WDFW's Guy Norman - ultimately chose the second option in order provide the broadest range of fishing opportunity.

So far during the fall season (August and September), the gill-net fleet has landed 47,000 chinook, 9,100 coho and 1,761 white sturgeon. A harvest of 2,200 chinoook, 2,500 coho and 400 sturgeon was expected during Wednesday night's fishery.

The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes will launch their seventh gill-net fishery of the fall season at 6 a.m. Monday. By Oct. 6 they estimate they will have caught 136,583 fall chinook, including 86,128 URBs and 28,155 steelhead, including 9,879 B steelhead so far during the fall season. Such a grand total would leave 13,442 URBs and 341 B steelhead available for harvest under the tribes' allocation, based on the current run-size forecast.

"The planned fisheries are within the allowed harvest rate based on the updated chinook and steelhead run sizes. The projected steelhead harvest contains some buffer to allow for uncertainty in this week's and next week's actual catches," according to a tribal fact sheet prepared for Thursday's Compact meeting.

Fall Chinook Count in Lower Snake Remains Strong
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 30, 2011

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