Giant Spring Chinook Run Forecast
by Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The second-largest upper Columbia River spring chinook salmon run since counting began in the 1930s at Bonneville Dam is forecast for 2004.
A whopping 360,700 adult spring chinook are predicted to enter the river in February, March, April and May destined for tributaries of the mid- and upper Columbia and Snake rivers.
The record count was in 2001 when a forecast of 364,000 turned into an actual run of 416,500. By contrast, the spring run was a mere 10,200 in 1995. This year, the run was 209,200.
Spring chinook are the best of all Columbia River salmon, prized by both sport and commercial fishermen.
The commercials get $5 to $6 a pound for spring chinook, compared to 20 cents to 50 cents a pound for fall salmon. The money comes at a time when lower Columbia communities like Astoria and Cathlamet can use an economic boost.
Spring chinook also are capable of fueling 175,000 to 200,000 lower Columbia sport fishing trips from February into May. Hoglines dot the river from Cathlamet to North Bonneville, boat ramps are full by 5 a.m. and bait and tackle shops do a bonanza business.
Rich Pettit, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, said the run is expected to be 21,500 5-year-old spring chinook and 339,200 4-year-olds. Five-year-olds tend to migrate up the river a bit earlier than 4-year-olds.
The 5-year-olds are offspring of 1999 adults and migrated to the ocean in 2001, a year with poor fish flows, he added.
Next month, the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions will adopt new catch-sharing policies between sport and commercial fishermen. The old allocation scheme expired this year. Work has been under way since August to craft a new agreement.
Spring salmon sharing isn't just about dividing the harvestable surplus. It's much more complicated.
Wild spring chinook headed for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. An agreement between the states, federal government and treaty Indian tribes limits non-Indians to killing no more than 2 percent of the wild fish.
Sport and commercial seasons in the lower Columbia target on the plentiful hatchery-origin chinook. Both groups release wild fish. Still, some wild fish die despite being released. Those dead fish are called "impacts.''
State biologists calculate and monitor during the season how fast those impacts are being used to ensure the 2 percent ceiling is not exceeded.
How those impacts are shared between sport and commercial fishermen drives the overall catch.
Five options have been draft by sport and commercial representatives. The options include sport shares of 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent, 65 percent and 70 percent of the impacts.
A major piece of information -- the mortality rate assigned to the commercial fishery -- is just now being determined.
Sportsmen have a 10 percent mortality assigned to their fishery. The states assume one of every 10 wild spring chinook caught and released dies. That is how the sport "impacts'' are determined.
State officials received on Wednesday the results of research done this spring to determine the commercial fishery mortality rate. Past studies have shown it ranging from 12 percent to 33 percent or more.
Sport and commercial fishing interests have been lobbying for the bigger share of the spring salmon allocation for months.
Soon, the two state fish and wildlife commissions will set policy regarding how they want the harvest split.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will tackle the issue Jan. 9 in Salem. The Washington panel will address the matter Jan. 16 or 17 in Olympia.
The respective commissions will give guidance to their staffs, which will negotiate and adopt the specifics of the 2004 sport and commercial seasons on Feb. 5.
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