Harvest Managers Keep Counting Chinook,
by Bill Rudolph
Just as the spring Chinook run was drawing to a close, Columbia Basin harvest managers upgraded their forecast once again from their preseason level of 227,000 fish. On June 9, they said they now expected 243,000 springers to enter the mouth of the river this year. This is a far cry from some estimates in recent years, when managers were overly optimistic in their fish prognostications.
In seven out of the past 10 years, they have overestimated actual returns by up to 60 percent. If the latest upgrade pans out, the 2014 spring Chinook run will edge out the 2003 spring run to become the fourth-highest return in more than 50 years.
On June 15, when fish counters officially switch to tallying summer Chinook, the count at Bonneville Dam stood at nearly 225,000 fish. By June 24, when the spring count ended at Lower Granite Dam, more than 79,000 springers had been counted, much improved over last year's 35,000-fish return. About 14,000 jacks have also been counted, 6,000 below last year's jack count, but still better than the 10-year average.
About 24,000 spring Chinook have been counted at Priest Rapids Dam this year, much better than last year's 14,000-fish return. About 20,000 have been tallied at Rock Island Dam, which shows that migrating adults are having no problem passing modified fish ladders at those two dams.
Strong hatchery returns have led Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managers to open the Wenatchee River to fishing for spring Chinook for the first time in almost two decades. With nearly 10,000 fish expected, two sections of the river were opened to mark-selective catches, with a two-fish limit, because NOAA Fisheries wants to cut the number of hatchery fish on spawning grounds.
Management shifted into summer Chinook mode on June 15, when most fish are expected to be headed for upper Columbia hatcheries. About 67,500 fish (to river mouth) are expected this year, which is close to last year's return of 67,600, and a little better than the 10-year average.
Summer steelhead returns are expected to be below average again this year, with 281,000 predicted to pass Bonneville Dam, 81 percent of the 2004-2013 average. By June 9, more than 4,400 had been counted, which is better than expected for the return, so far.
Upper Columbia sockeye, mostly headed for British Columbia's Lake Osoyoos, are expected to return in large numbers. About 282,000 of the 347,000-fish forecast are predicted for the Canadian run, with about 64,000 slated to return to Lake Wenatchee, and 1,200 to the Snake River. By June 24, 167,244 sockeye had passed Bonneville Dam, well above the 10-year average, and the count was running more than 25,000 per day.
Managers said treaty fisheries will be allowed to catch 18,563 adult summer Chinook and 24,297 sockeye this year, with steelhead harvest expected to remain within recent-year averages. When spring Chinook fishing ended, the tribes were expected to have caught more than 24,000 springers, which remained within their allotment, based on the total upriver run size.
Recreational fishers were given the green light to fish the summer run on the lower Columbia for the last two weeks in June, and through July 31, from Bonneville to Priest Rapids Dam. A commercial gillnet opening took place on the night of June 16. About 125 boats were expected to take part, with a catch of 1,800 Chinook and 1,000 sockeye.
By June 3, the gillnetters had harvested about 5,500 spring Chinook from mainstem and select areas, about 3,700 estimated to be of upriver origin. Recreational fishers had reeled in close to 15,000 upriver spring Chinook. Together, the non-Indian fisheries were expected to stay below their 2-percent impact limit on the upriver run by about 0.25 percent
"Columbia River Basin Salmon and Steelhead Long-Term Recovery Situation Assessment Final Report" (1.9 Mb pdf) by The William D. Ruckelshaus Center and Oregon Consensus
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