Columbia/Snake Summer Chinook Run Numbersby CBB Staff
The continuing run of good news got even better this week with fishery officials deciding that the return of upriver Columbia/Snake river "summer" chinook salmon will be bigger than expected.
The so-called "June hogs" are passing upstream in a steady procession with the total count at Bonneville Dam -- the first hydro project they must pass -- climbing to 60,564 adult fish through Thursday.
State, tribal and federal officials convening as the Technical Advisory Committee on Monday predicted that more than 100,000 adults will enter the Columbia River on their way to spawning grounds and hatcheries. If that number materializes it would be the second biggest adult return since 1960. The largest return since 1960 was last year when the run totaled 129,000
Monday's estimate is an upgrade from the 87,600-fish preseason forecast. Chinook passing Bonneville Dam through May 31 are counted as spring chinook. From June 1 through July 31 the passing chinook are counted as summer chinook and from Aug. 1 on they are counted as fall chinook.
The summer chinook return is, as always, a relatively steady stream of fish. The daily counts at Bonneville have bobbed up and down, ranging from at high of 4,081 fish on June to a low of 1,378 on June 15.
The overall count through Thursday compares favorably with the count through June 26 a year ago -- 73,946.
Last year was the first time since 1973 that the Columbia River mainstem was open to summer chinook fishing. Most are bound for tributaries and hatcheries above Priest Rapids Dam on the mid-Columbia River and above Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Wild summer chinook destined for the Snake River are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Oregon and Washington opened a mainstem summer chinook sport fishery this year on June 16.
This year's count represents a continuation of a positive recent trend for summer chinook, as well as many other Columbia River salmon and steelhead stocks. The summer chinook stocks had been considerably depressed, cut off by dams in many cases from their historic habitat and overharvested for most of the first half of the 20th century.
The upriver summer chinook runs from 1973 through 2000 ranged from 15,000 only (in 1995) to 38,700. Only 30,651 adults returned in 2000. But the 2001 run totaled 76,377, and it is being followed by two banner years.
The future looks relatively bright as well. The count of jacks -- premature male chinook returns -- at Bonneville had climbed to 6,346 through Thursday. The jack count is one of the numbers used to predict the size of the next year's run. A 2001 jack count of 14,700 signaled the high 2002 run. From 1977 through 1999, jack counts ranged from only 1,600 to 6,900.
"We're still living in rarified air," the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Patrick Frazier said of the recent few years run of improved salmon returns.
The upriver spring chinook fishery did not play out as well as sport and commercial fishers had hoped. But it was strong return to the tributaries and hatcheries above Bonneville Dam. An estimated 208,430 adult spring chinook entered the mouth of the Columbia -- the third highest return since 1960. They were accompanied by 14,466 jacks, the fourth highest total since 1960. Together they made up the ninth highest adult-jack return since counts began in 1938, Frazier said.
Sport and commercial fisheries on the mainstem were required to stay within a 2 percent impact on the upriver run. The limit is in place to protect the stocks in the run that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. To assure that limit was not breached, state managers aimed lower -- at 1.7 percent. The result was a combined impact of 1.69 percent.
The commercial fleet in just a matter of a few days was able to harvest 3,173 spring chinook on the lower Columbia mainstem. That's a 0.62 impact based on a calculation of the estimated mortality of unmarked fish that were released from the nets. Fishers were only allowed to keep fin-clipped fish.
Commercial fishers in the so-called "select area fisheries" in the lower Columbia estuary harvested 7,498 spring chinook and were estimated to have a 0.204 percent impact on upriver chinook.
The mainstem sport fishery from the river to Bonneville resulted in 160,800 angler trips. Those fishers kept 16,892 marked hatchery spring chinook -- and exacted an estimated 0.77 percent impact on the upriver run. A sport fishery above Bonneville resulted in a harvest of 1,136 spring chinook, an 0.096 percent impact.
Tribal fishers harvested 18,216 spring chinook in the mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville. That's an 8.7 percent impact. Treaty fishers were allotted a 10 percent impact on the upriver run.
The tribal catch included 1,189 fish during a winter gill net season, 8,348 during spring commercial fisheries, 2,680 in hook and line fisheries and 6,000 in ceremonial fisheries.
The 2003 adult return of spring chinook is notable because of age-class composition and resulting earlier timing of the return, according to the Fish Passage Center's June 20 report. Preliminary age-class data collected by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission shows that the 2003 return was comprised 54 percent of 5-year-olds that outmigrated in 2000 and 38 percent of 4-year-olds. Historically, the annual spring chinook adult return has been comprised of 15 percent 5-year-olds and 70 to 80 percent of 4-year-olds.
The final count of adult and jack spring chinook salmon at Lower Granite Dam was 70,609 and 8,295, respectively. The adult count at Lower Granite was almost double the 10-year average count and 94 percent of the year 2002 count.
The earlier timing at LGR illustrates the large proportion of 5-year-old returning fish. This year's spring chinook run ranked the third highest (behind only 2001 and 2002) recorded since the project began counting in 1975. In addition, the jack count of spring chinook at Lower Granite was the second-highest on record, behind only the 10,318 that returned in year 2000 and four times greater than the 10-year average.
The final count of adult spring chinook at Priest Rapids Dam was 17,768. This total compares to 34,083 that returned in 2002 and 15,528 for the 10-year average. The count of adult spring chinook at Prosser Dam in the lower Yakama River exceeds 4,500 for the season.
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