Low Chinook Salmon Numbers
by Michelle DeGrand
NAMPA - It hasn't happened in seven years, but it's possible there may be no salmon fishing season in Idaho this year. If that happens, the state's economy could take a big hit.
"We stack the merchandise pretty thick in here because of the volume and selection that we carry," says Howard Davis as he organizes salmon lures at his Nampa tackle shop.
Davis says ten to 20 percent of Howard's Tackle Shoppe business depends on salmon and steelhead anglers. But this year, biologists worry the salmon runs will be disappointing.
"The picture of Spring Chinook Salmon coming into the Columbia River system and on their way to Idaho is looking dismal right now," says Idaho Fish and Game Fisheries Manager Bill Horton.
As of this week,fewer than 16 hundred salmon crossed through the fish passage center at Bonneville Dam. That's only five percent of average for this time of year. Of that number, only three have entered the Snake River.
It's abysmal compared to the state's record year of 2001, when nearly 300 thousand fish had crossed the dam by April 26th. And even though the last few years have been slow, Fish and Game hasn't closed a salmon season since 1999.
"So all those people that have been fishing for the last six or seven years and have been enjoying a salmon season may have to not bring out their salmon rods this year," warns Horton.
"Dollar wise, ten percent of my business goes away," says Davis, "And with road construction we have out front, I've already lost 15 to 20 percent, so it's gonna be a pretty good hit to me, it's a challenge, am I gonna make it or not?"
But it's not all doom and gloom. High water this year will help small salmon reach the ocean, hopefully leaving more to return to Idaho in a few years. In the mean time, it's Davis' expansive inventory that could keep him afloat until then.
"I don't bank on just the salmon fishers and I don't bank on just the crappie fishers," he said. "We have a little bit for every kind of fishing so there's usually something going on, when one slows down another picks up."
The Fish and Game Commission canceled a meeting this week to decide the salmon seasons. They're waiting to see if the fish are simply coming through extremely late, or not at all. Biologists note that the numbers could peak dramatically and ensure a spring salmon season.
Some blame the low numbers on ocean conditions and high water, delaying the run. Others say removing four Lower Snake River dams will help more smolt salmon survive the journey from their spawning grounds to the ocean, and boost overall numbers. However, in the history of salmon recovery, a dam has yet to be removed to aide fish migration.
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