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Spring Chinook Numbers Down

by Staff
East Oregonian, April 25, 2006

Season opens on Umatilla, but counts show few fish

Catching a spring chinook on the Columbia River won't be easy this year, because the upriver spring chinook count is low, according to the latest joint staff report from the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.

John North, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries manager, said the count through Wednesday at Bonneville Dam totaled just 280 spring chinook. Last year at this time the count was 2,039. Based on the recent 10-year average, 23 percent of the run has passed the dam.

Typically, late runs don't peak until late April in a normal year, North said, and late-timed runs are 11 percent complete by this time. Passage in 2005 was less than 2 percent complete at this time and peaked on May 5.

The preseason forecast was 88,400 upriver spring chinook at the mouth of the Columbia River. But that hasn't panned out, North said.

The small run has consequences for sport anglers all along the Columbia River, right up to McNary Dam.

Ironically, the Umatilla River opened Sunday for spring chinook angling, but with a dismal run up the Columbia River, there will be few, if any, spring salmon in the tributary.

North said sea lions, high water flows over the dam, slightly lower than normal water temperatures and the Sea Lion Exclusion Devices (SLEDs) are all possible reasons for the low run. SLEDs are massive bars put into fish ways to help keep out the sea lions.

"But I don't think anyone knows right now," North added. "It's off-the-chart bad."

North said the department is examining many possible reasons to help explain the low run, and it has been searching records for the latest and lowest runs.

Sea lions have been increasing and becoming more fond of the Bonneville area and high flows are another concern, North said. On April 6, Bonneville was releasing about 300,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).

Last year was about half of that, he said, and the five-year average is 177,000 cfs.

"Usually fish get accustomed to the higher flow," North said.

But this year ODFW officials are not seeing that happen.

North also said there has been some speculation the SLEDs might be confusing the chinook and delaying the fish on their passage.

However, steelhead have been passing at about an average rate, he said.

Spring chinook counts over Willamette Falls totaled 184 fish as of Wednesday compared to 1,009 chinook through the same date in 2005. Commercial fishing was put on hold in mid-March. Landings totaled 1,030 chinook (180 released) comprising 28 percent upriver stock.

Recreational fishing in the mainstream Columbia River closed for spring Chinook retention below Interstate 5 effective April 21. The area from I-5 to the Bonneville Dam remained closed in 2006. The area from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam is scheduled to remain open through April 30, excluding salmon angling from a boat and from the Washington shore between Bonneville Dam and Tower Island power lines.

The recreational catch below Interstate 5 is estimated to include 5,500 kept and 1,130 released spring chinook from 63,000 angler trips. Upriver stock comprised 62 percent of the total catch.

Select Area Fisheries (SAFE) landed an estimated 890 chinook through Monday.

North explained SAFE is a program funded by Bonneville Power Administration. Some hatcheries' production is run in net pens, in off-channel areas not mixed with river stock.

Spring season SAFE commercial fisheries are scheduled to continue through mid June, and remain open year-round for recreational fishing.

Run sizes cannot be updated until late April for upriver stock and early May for Willamette stock. The Technical Advisory Committee will meet late next week to review the stock status of upriver spring chinook.

Spring Chinook Numbers Down
East Oregonian, April 25, 2006

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