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Ecology and salmon related articles

2016 Looking OK for Columbia
Sockeye, Chinook Returns

by Laura Berg
NW Fishletter, August 1, 2016

Kuneki family fishing the Columbia River. (Photo credit: CRITFC) Ocean conditions and last year's jack counts indicated a less-than-stellar year for salmon and steelhead returns in the Columbia River Basin. But now it looks like 2016 may be a pretty good year for sockeye and most Chinook stocks.

Some 350,000 adult sockeye are expected to return to the Columbia. That's a surprise given the preseason forecast for 101,600 fish. The 2006-2015 average sockeye return was 290,200 fish.

As of July 29, nearly 310,000 upper Columbia River sockeye have scaled Priest Rapids Dam and are headed mostly to Lake Wenatchee and Okanogan Lake.

About 1,000 Snake River sockeye are expected to pass Bonneville Dam. On July 31, some 788 had surmounted Lower Granite Dam, on their way to Idaho's Sawtooth Valley.

And this year, in contrast to 2015, sockeye are not dying in massive numbers from overheated water. Water temperatures throughout the Columbia/Snake river system have mostly stayed below 68 degrees.

The preseason forecast for adult fall Chinook, announced July 12 in a joint Oregon and Washington fish-and-wildlife staff report, is for 960,200 fish to enter the Columbia River. While smaller than 2015, this year's return is projected to be 136 percent of the 2006-2015 average return of 705,600.

Upriver bright stocks, destined for areas above Bonneville Dam, represent 75 percent of the total forecasted return.

The wild Snake River component of the fall Chinook run is predicted to be 19,700 fish, or 112 percent of the 2006-2015 average and similar to 2015.

Already finished for the season, the 2016 adult spring Chinook returns came in at 172,600 fish, which is above the 10-year average, but lower than the preseason projection of 188,800.

Chinook crossing Bonneville Dam through June 15 are considered spring Chinook. After that date and until late July, Chinook passing at Bonneville are considered summer Chinook and in August, the Chinook passing the dam are fall Chinook.

The total for the upper Columbia portion of the spring Chinook run was about 16,800 adult fish, about 10,000 below the preseason forecast.

Numbers for the Snake River spring/summer Chinook population are not in yet. It's anticipated the actual run size will be less than the 124,800 projected in January.

The Technical Advisory Committee--biologists representing tribal, federal and state fish managers--is predicting a summer Chinook run size of 91,000 adult Chinook to return to the upper Columbia.

The summer Chinook projection is about 130 percent better than the average return observed over the past decade.

Summer Chinook are destined for natural spawning areas and hatcheries upstream of Priest Rapids Dam.

However, this year's forecast returns for summer steelhead and coho are less promising. Both are expected to be below their 10-year averages.

Some 265,400 summer steelhead are forecast to make their way to areas above Bonneville Dam. The projection is 78 percent of the 2006-2015 average of 341,700 adult fish.

The later-returning group B steelhead, most from tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho, are expected to number about 52 percent of the 2006-2015 average.

The prognosis for upriver coho is for 84,300 adult fish to pass Bonneville Dam, which is less than the 10-year average but an improvement from last year's 37,400 coho over Bonneville.

While the 2016 season is fully underway, there's still time for the unexpected.

Laura Berg
2016 Looking OK for Columbia Sockeye, Chinook Returns
NW Fishletter, August 1, 2016

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