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Ecology and salmon related articles

Big Spring Chinook Runs Due
in Columbia, Willamette

by Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian, December 23, 2004

It's three long months until spring chinook salmon will appear in significant numbers, but take heart: Excellent runs are anticipated back to the upper Columbia River and Oregon's Willamette River.

State, federal and tribal biologists predict 254,100 adult spring chinook will enter the Columbia River headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.

While that number is not close to the modern-record 437,910 of 2001, it's still a huge step up from the 30,000 to 120,000 that returned annually in the 1990s.

"We used to not even have spring chinook fishing in April in the Columbia,'' said Cindy LeFleur of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Now, we're trying to plan ways to fish through the entire month.''

Oregon officials expect 116,900 spring chinook to enter the Columbia destined for the Willamette River, down from the record-high 143,700 of 2004, but still an exceptional return.

The Willamette run estimate includes 87,500 5-year-olds, said Curt Melcher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Five-year-olds return larger and a bit earlier than 4-year-olds.

A year ago, Washington, Oregon and tribal biologists forecast a mega-run of 360,700 spring chinook to enter the Columbia heading upstream of Bonneville Dam.

That run turned out to be just 193,400, or only 53 percent of the prediction. While actual returns always vary a little from the forecasts, a miss by 47 percent was higher than ever experienced.

State, federal and tribal biologists have changed slightly the accounting period for spring chinook salmon at Bonneville Dam.

The time frame for upriver spring chinook now runs though June 15, and includes Snake River summer chinook, which are similar to Snake River spring chinook. The old cutoff for counting spring chinook at Bonneville was May 31.

Last year's run size of 193,400 is now 221,600 under the new accounting method.

The Columbia run fueled 156,100 angler trips with 23,700 hatchery-origin spring chinook and 1,400 hatchery-origin steelhead kept plus 7,200 wild spring chinook released.

The Columbia River downstream of Interstate 5 was open through April 30 before filling catch limitations required to avoid overharvest of wild salmon protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The area between Interstate 5 and Bonneville Dam closed on April 21. Waters upstream of Bonneville Dam closed on May 5.

Only fin-clipped spring chinook may be kept. State biologists expect about 70 percent of this spring's upper Columbia run will be marked.

State officials and a joint state regional fishing advisory panel for the Columbia River have discussed briefly starting the season with conservative angling regulations, particularly in the high-catch area just downstream of Bonneville Dam.

A hearing is scheduled on Jan. 28 at the Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, to adopt spring chinook sport and commercial fishing regulations.

No details have been developed yet.

For the first time, anglers may be allowed to fish the entire Bonneville pool. In past years, fishermen in the lower Bonneville pool were limited to the Wind, White Salmon and Klickitat rivers, plus Drano Lake.

That restriction was because hatchery-origin fish headed to those waters were not fin-clipped. This year, virtually all hatchery spring chinook have missing adipose fins.

But if the Bonneville pool is open, the increased catch will count against federal Endangered Species Act ceilings on the harvest of protected Snake and upper Columbia spring chinook.

An increased catch in the Bonneville pool would mean a smaller share of salmon available for downstream of Bonneville Dam.

Washington anglers catch plenty of Willamette spring chinook as they move through the lower Columbia before entering the Willamette via the Multnomah Channel at St. Helens. Ore., or the Vancouver channel at Kelley Point.

Many Southwest Washington sportsmen also launch at Ridgefield Marina or ramps along the lower Lewis River and make the short hop across the Columbia to fish in the lower Multnomah Channel.

Oregon expects about 80 percent of the Willamette River spring chinook will be marked.

Specific forecasts for the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis, Sandy, Wind, Little White Salmon and Klickitat rivers are expected to be ready soon.

Spring Chinook Runs
Columbia River

Year of Return Columbia River Willamette River
1992 95,323 65,200
1993 119,203 60,800
1994 23,809 46,400
1995 12,634 40,800
1996 55,299 33,200
1997 123,824 34,300
1998 43,512 43,500
1999 42,582 52,600
2000 186,141 55,800
2001 437,910 80,300
2002 331,303 121,700
2003 242,638 117,600
2004 221,600 143,700
2005* 254,100 116,900

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian.
Big Spring Chinook Runs Due in Columbia, Willamette
The Columbian, December 23, 2004

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