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Spring Chinook Forecast Predicts 2nd Largest Return Since '38

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - December 12, 2003

A forecast produced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife predicts that next year's return of "upriver" spring chinook salmon to the mouth of the Columbia River will be the second largest since 1938.

The estimate released this week says that 360,700 adult spring chinook are expected to return in 2004 -- destined for areas above Bonneville Dam. Such a return would rank behind only the 416,500-adult return in 2001 since counts began after completion of Bonneville Dam construction. In 2003, an estimated 209,200 adults returned.

The estimates are reviewed by other state, federal and tribal participants in the Technical Advisory Team, which provides input into the U.S. v Oregon negotiations on harvest and hatchery activities.

The forecast hinges in large part on a strong 2003 return of jacks -- immature fish that return after one-year in the ocean. The majority of their brood mates normally return the following year. The index of jacks (counts at select hatcheries and upriver dams) was 11,400 in 2003, the second highest on record.

"The jack index that gave us the 400,000 run was 12,300," said Stuart Ellis of the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The 2004 return is expected to be comprised of 339,200 4-year-olds and 21,500 5`-year-olds. That's a complete flip flop from the age composition of the 2003 run, though closer to normal range. The average age distribution of the upriver spring chinook adult return since 1987 has been 75 percent 4-year-olds, 19 percent 5-year olds and 5 percent 6-year olds, Ellis said.

This year, only 38 percent of the run was age 4 with the age 5 fish dominating the run.

"I still contend that 2001 water management made a difference," said Steve King, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's fisheries management program leader. The 4-year-old returns in 2003, and the 5-year-olds in 2004, migrated to the Pacific Ocean in 2001. The second lowest Columbia River basin runoff on record made for poor migrating conditions for fish later in the 2001 season. Additionally, spill intended to benefit in-river migrants was limited to preserve the limited water resource for power generation. Transportation of migrants via barge was emphasized.

The tribes too feel that 2001 water management affected overall survival and adult returns, but won't make a final judgment until after the 2004 returns are in. A variety of other factors could be affecting the returns.

"If one assumes the 2001 outmigration did fail and we lost a bunch of those fish, this year's run would have been enormous. But that gets into conjecture," Ellis said.

Regardless, a string of strong returns is expected to hit four.

"The new millennium has produced the best fishing we've seen on springers since the '70s," King said. The 2002 return was the second largest on record, 295,100.

The upriver run size has bounced experienced ups and downs. The 1985 to 1993 period saw run sizes from 60,000 to 121,000 fish after a poor streak in 1979-1984 (49,000 to 71,000), according ODFW/WDFW reports.

The record low returns were in 1994 and 1995 at 21,100 and 10,200 adults respectively. The 1998 and 1999 returns, primarily the offspring of the record low return years, included only 38,400 and 38,7000 adults respectively. Run size have been dramatically improved since 2000 when the count rose to 178,600.

"Everyone is quite excited about the forecast," Ellis said. "Numbers this high should allow the tribes to easily reach their ceremonial and subsistence needs and allow commercial fisheries."

CBB Staff
Spring Chinook Forecast Predicts 2nd Largest Return Since '38
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 12, 2003

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