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Columbia Spring Chinook Run Late Again

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, April 19, 2011

Chinook Salmon With wild water conditions over the last few weeks, huge flows at Bonneville Dam and lots of spill, harvest managers expected that the spring chinook run would be a little late. But once flows slowed, the count at the fish ladder has stayed slow, too.

So far, only about a hundred chinook a day have been passing the dam, and not many more than a thousand have been counted so far this spring. But spring water temperatures have been extra cold--below both the 5- and 10-year averages for this time of year. And five days ago, the water temperature at the dam started heading down again. It's 46 degrees right now, what it was on April 5.

Finally, on April 18, the daily chinook count broke 200. By yesterday, 1,572 chinook had been counted at the dam. That's tracking close to the 2009 return at this point, but last year, close to 40,000 had passed the dam. The 10-year average is more than 44,000 at this point. Managers expect nearly 200,000 upriver spring chinook to enter the Columbia.

By April 13, they said passage is typically about 2 percent, based on the past five years, which includes four late-timed runs. Over the past 10 years, the run is usually 8 percent completed.

In their April 14 fact sheet, they said run strength indicators were mixed. Negatives included the low dam count, and low catch rates in the lower river sport fishery. However, there is a high proportion of upriver fish in the non-Indian catch--a positive indicator--and they said catch rates are improving from test fishing and adult fish tagging research in the lower river.

Treaty fishing for subsistence and ceremonial use is ongoing, but tribes have not authorized commercial sales. By April 14, only about 250 spring chinook had been caught, according to managers.

Sport fishers got an extension to their season, which was scheduled to end April 5, because river conditions and a lack of fish have kept them from reaching their upriver quota of 7,750 upriver chinook. Managers had estimated their upriver catch would be about 4,600 fish by April 15, the last day of the season. Total upriver impacts of commercial and sport fishers was about 6,300 fish, only 55 percent of their projected quota.

On April 15, sporties got another four days to fish. "Anglers have been catching fish in some areas of the lower river, but turbid, high-water conditions have put a damper on overall catch rates," said Cindy LeFleur, WDFW harvest manager, in an agency press release. LeFleur said underwater visibility was only about two feet, "so the fish have a hard time seeing anglers' lures."

She said managers didn't expect making any changes to the harvest schedule until more fish passed over the dam and the run size could be updated. The run is being managed with a 30-percent buffer to ensure harvesters do not exceed their quotas. Last year, both sportfishers and tribal harvesters exceeded by a small amount the number of fish they had been allotted.

Bill Rudolph
Columbia Spring Chinook Run Late Again
NW Fishletter, April 19, 2011

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