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Revised Prediction Due Next Week
in Light of Dismal Chinook Returns

by Keith Ridler
The Oregonian, May 6, 2006

Fishery managers in the Northwest predicted that 88,000 spring chinook would swim upstream past Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River this year, but fewer than 20 percent of that number have done so late in the season.

The spawning run "is very late, and we really don't have a good explanation why," said Cindy LeFleur, a policy coordinator for the Columbia River Compact with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It could be less than we predicted."

As of Friday, only about 15,500 spring chinook had gone past the dam. The 10-year average is about 112,000 past the dam for this time of year.

A new prediction on this year's run will be made Monday when managers look at fish counts. Managers need to see the peak of the run going past the dam before they can make a good prediction about its size.

In the meantime, a multimillion-dollar sport fishing industry is on hold in many areas while anglers wait for the fish to arrive. Some fishing seasons might not open at all this year.

"Every day that goes by that we don't see a significant increase of fish passage at Bonneville puts us further away from seeing a season," said Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fishery manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. "But we haven't closed the door yet."

By Friday, only 18 spring chinook had gone past Lower Granite Dam -- the uppermost of the eight dams between the Pacific Ocean and Idaho by way of the Columbia and Snake rivers. The 10-year average for this time of year is about 18,000 fish.

Oregon, Washington and Idaho put about 14.2 million hatchery spring chinook into the Columbia River system each year above Bonneville Dam. About 1 percent of them or fewer survive the journey to the ocean and back, fishery managers say.

Most wild and hatchery spring chinook spend two years in the ocean, averaging 8 to 15 pounds when they head back up the Columbia. Some fish return earlier and some later; fish that remain an extra year or two in the ocean grow larger.

Other factors that influence how many fish return include whether young fish heading to the ocean had favorable migration conditions and fewer predators. Ocean conditions also determine how many find enough food to survive.

"The environment is out of our hands," said John Thorpe, fish propagation program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Keith Ridler
Revised Prediction Due Next Week in Light of Dismal Chinook Returns
The Oregonian, May 6, 2006

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