Robust Spring Run
by Bill Rudolph
The upriver spring Chinook run at Bonneville Dam added up to more than 23,000 fish by April 22, running far ahead of counts over the past three years, and a bit ahead of the 10-year average. Only about four thousand fish had passed the dam by this time last year. That may be because the river is a little warmer this year, but not by much--.5 degrees Celsius.
Harvest managers have a preseason prediction for a robust spring Chinook return of 227,000 fish, which would be the fifth highest in recent years. In 2013, 141,400 upriver springers were predicted to return, but the actual return came in at 123,100 fish, 87 percent of the forecast.
But with more than 17,000 spring jacks counted at Bonneville Dam in 2013 (third highest in recent history), the 2014 return could be a blockbuster.
Managers said on April 21 that, on average, the run is 11 percent complete by April 22, so it is currently tracking within expectations. They did not attempt to update the run forecast.
So far, sport fishermen have had a good spring. By April 15, the non-Indian commercial and sport catch was estimated at 9,358 adult Chinook kept (2,261 released) from 73,900 angler trips, with upriver spring Chinook comprising 82 percent of the fish handled to date; upriver mortalities were estimated at 7,882, or 78 percent of the allowed mortality prior to a run update. About 2,000 had been landed in commercial gillnet fisheries.
Harvest managers opted for a spring sport fishery below Bonneville Dam from April 1-14, then reopened it for a single day on April 18.
Early projections from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game indicate around 80,000 hatchery and wild salmon will make it to Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. If the numbers hold, Idaho anglers will be allowed to harvest 4,800 hatchery spring Chinook on the Clearwater River and its tributaries, 5,900 on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers and 700 on the Snake River in Hells Canyon. Seasons are slated to open April 26, seven days per week.
The juvenile migration downstream has picked up considerably over the past week. By April 22, the daily smolt index at Lower Granite Dam hit over 100,000 young spring Chinook, about twice the daily number from the previous week.
The Corps of Engineers announced April 21 that a lock repair at Little Goose Dam was completed and barging juvenile salmon could begin on schedule. There had been some concern that the fix might keep the fish transportation program from starting on time. The Corps and NOAA wanted to start barging before May 1 this year to spread the risk more evenly between barged and inriver migrants, as stated in the new hydro BiOp.
"First of all, we were fortunate that the developing cracks had already been identified last spring and fabrication of replacement parts had been ordered in September," said Steve Hartman, Corps project manager, in an April 21 statement. "If not for that critical maintenance decision, it could have taken anywhere from three to four months just to have the new pieces forged, machined and delivered under an emergency contract."
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