Spring Chinook Run Downgraded;by Barry Espenson
Spring chinook salmon fishing was ended sooner than most would like on the Columbia River mainstem and on the Snake River, in large part because the overall return will not be as large as expected.
Officials of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife on Tuesday decided to half remaining active Columbia mainstem fisheries. The sport fishery in Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day reservoirs closed effective Thursday, May 6.
Commercial and sport fisheries at Youngs Bay, Blind Slough/Knappa Slough, and Deep River "select areas" near the river mouth are closed effective Wednesday, May 5.
The popular lower Columbia mainstem sport fishery was closed effective May 1 from the Interstate 5 bridge at Portland to the mouth (the section from I-5 to Bonneville Dam had been closed April 22).
The brakes were applied when it became apparent that the overall run would not reach the preseason forecast of a return of 360,700 adult "upriver" spring chinook salmon -- fish bound for hatcheries and spawning grounds above Bonneville in tributaries to the Columbia and Snake. Such a run would have been second only (since 1938) to the estimated 416,500 adults that returned to river mouth in 2001.
On Monday, the Technical Advisory Committee downgraded that 2004 upriver spring chinook forecast to 200,000. Through Tuesday 122,554 adults had been counted at Bonneville with the counts there bobbing up and down in recent days. The highest counts to-date this year were 12,565 on April 20 and 13,030 on April 22. The counts plummeted to a mere 1,076 on April 29 before rebounding with counts of 8,023 and 6,480 on Sunday and Monday. With even a late-timed run, normally more than half of a year's return would have passed Bonneville by May 3.
"This run size is the big disappointment," the WDFW's Cindy LeFleur said of what has otherwise been a productive spring season on the lower mainstem. Non-Indian commercial fishers caught and kept 20,846 spring chinook, including 7,300 in the select areas. The kept catch included 5,656 marked hatchery salmon from upriver.
The 13,576 mainstem commercial spring chinook harvest was the largest since 14,200 were hauled in 2002 and the second biggest since 1990.
The lower mainstem sport fishery inspired an estimated 164,009 angler trips. They caught 33,450 salmon and kept 25,624 fin-clipped fish. An estimated 76 percent of the catch was from upriver.
The sport fishers have had success with recent year's abundant returns. The lower mainstem sport fishery resulted in a harvest of 16,900 spring chinook overall in 2003, 20,500 in 2002 and 25,700 during 2001's record upriver run. Lower Columbia River sport harvest from 1974 through 2000 was negligible. Sport and harvest totals in the lower mainstem include Willamette and stocks from other lower river tributaries.
The updated 2004 run forecast forced a closure of all fisheries because the catch to-date now exceeds allowable impacts on the upriver run. An agreement between the states and tribes that is endorsed via a biological opinion from NOAA Fisheries allows non-tribal fishers a 2 percent impact on the upriver spring chinook run. That is intended to protect portions of the run, such as those from Snake and Upper Columbia, that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes are allowed a range of impacts on the run that that varies depending on the run size. That allowable impact in the reservoirs above Bonneville is 10 percent on a run ranging from 200,000 to 250,000. The tribes were amidst their first, and perhaps final, commercial gill net fishery. The 2 ½-day fishery began Tuesday morning.
The allowable impacts of the non-tribal fishers was split with the recreational anglers getting 1.2 percent and the gill netters 0.8 percent. With the run forecast still at 360,700 both were comfortably under the impact limit. With the run-size estimate nearly halved, both are over the limit. The commercial impacts on the upriver run now stands at 1.022 percent or about 125 percent of their impact limit. The mainstem sport impact, including the lower river fishery and a small catch above Bonneville, is 1.274 percent or slightly above their limit.
The prospect of more fishing is very remote unless there is a drastic and sustained upturn in the counts at Bonneville Dam. LeFleur said she expects a sport fishery on portions of the lower Snake River to be closed by week's end.
"There has been some discussion of reopening the select area fisheries because at some point they become clean," LeFleur said. The select areas are tucked off the mainstem and are intended to provide terminal fisheries for hatchery produced fish that are released from net pens at the sites as juvenile and return as adults. Some upriver fish swim through the select areas and are netted but as the migration progresses fewer and fewer upriver fish are in the lower river. The select area "impact" to-date is 0.091 percent or less than 10 percent of the allowed commercial impact on upriver fish.
The bulk of the sport impacts were incurred in the area between Portland and Bonneville where, in recent weeks, nearly all of the fish caught were upriver fish. It is assumed that 10 percent of the released wild fish do not survive and are counted as impacts. Nearly 12,500 of the 30,030 chinook caught in April in the sport fisheries from Bonneville to the mouth of the river were caught in that zone above Portland. And that upper area was closed after April 21.
It is estimated that 600 chinook had been caught and 200 released through May 2 in the sport fishery between Bonneville and McNary dams.
The reduced run forecast would still be more than double the 10-year average upriver spring chinook return -- 95,175 adults. That average is swelled by high counts of 178,600 in 2000, the 2001 record of 416,500, a 295,100-fish return in 2002 and last year's 208,900 upriver spring chinook return.
Those runs of the past four years have far exceeded those from 1995-1999, which ranged from a low of only 10,200 upriver spring chinook adult returns to the mouth of the Columbia to as many as 114,100.
The count through May 3 at Bonneville is similar to the count through that date in 2000, which was 138,000. Only 22,021 spring chinook has passed Bonneville by May 3, 1999 when the run totaled 38,700.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs