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Chinook Runs are Smaller than Expected

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 24, 2006

BOISE, Idaho -- Spring chinook salmon runs appear to be even smaller than forecasters expected, officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game say.

That's bad news for anglers following last year's limited chinook season. Salmon fishing on the lower Columbia, in Oregon and Washington, has been off-limits for decades.

"We won't have a robust season, we're almost sure of that," Bill Horton, an anadromous fish manager with the department, told The Idaho Statesman.

By late last week, only 316 chinook had crossed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia, compared to the 10-year average for that period of more than 59,000. Idaho-bound fish have to cross eight dams during their upstream migration, and only a portion of the fish that cross Bonneville actually make it to the state.

So far no salmon have reached Lower Granite Dam, their last hurdle before reaching Idaho waters, according to the department.

For the second year in a row, the spring salmon return appears to be later than normal, officials said. Still, 3,000 salmon had crossed Bonneville Dam by this time last year, with a total of 32,764 spring and summer chinook returning to Idaho in 2005.

Salmon managers had predicted that this year's chinook season would be similar to last year's.

"We're getting concerned, there's no doubt about that," Horton said. "It could be a late run and they're going to come on, or a weak run and they're not going to come on."

Generally, salmon runs start slowly and then build. Last spring, fish didn't cross Lower Granite Dam in significant numbers until late April, with most of the run crossing the dam in May and early June.

"Some late runs have materialized with respectable numbers, but I am not holding my breath. Every day that goes by, that becomes less likely," said Ed Schriever, fisheries manager for F&G's Clearwater Region. "I know there are a lot of heavy hearts out there in the salmon fishing public who are watching these salmon counts."

If enough salmon return to replenish hatcheries, surplus hatchery fish will be equally divided between sport anglers and local Indian tribes. Last year, anglers were allowed to fish on most area rivers and landed about 5,700 salmon over the course of the season.

Some fishing-supply retailers in small communities like Riggins, Orofino and Kooskia are waiting before placing their stocking orders.

"Even a couple weeks of salmon fishing helps a lot," said Rexanne Zimmerman, owner of the Riggins Tackle Shop. "It's going to hurt if we don't have a season."

Zimmerman typically buys as much as $10,000 worth of salmon tackle in the spring, but she hasn't placed an order yet this year.

"I'm just going to wait and watch the (salmon) numbers," she said. "I don't think the run is going to appear.

That's my instinct, but I hope I am wrong."

It's not clear what's causing the low return, though biologists suspect changing ocean conditions may play a role.

Last summer there were record-low plankton blooms off the Oregon Coast, said biologist Rick Williams. Because plankton is the foundation of the oceanic food chain, that could be harming the salmon.

Some anglers blame sea lions that congregate near the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam to prey on salmon. Conservation groups blame the Columbia and Snake river dams, which they say kill juvenile salmon on their way to the ocean and slow the return of the adults.

Associated Press
Chinook Runs are Smaller than Expected
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 24, 2006

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