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Shrinking Chinook Forecast Pinches Harvest

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 29, 2000

A 2000 fall chinook salmon run falling short of expectations has brought a quick end to tribal commercial mainstem fisheries above Bonneville Dam and could end subsistence platform fisheries as well.

The run, as estimated at the river's mouth, is now expected to number 249,000 compared to a preseason forecast of 328,900 and an actual 1999 adult return of 313,100 fall chinook. Monitoring of this year's actual return through dam counts, historic run timing and other calculations have been used to update the forecast, from 264,400 on Sept. 14 to 251,000 on Sept. 21. The Technical Advisory Committee, made up of biologists from state and federal fish management agencies and Columbia River treaty tribes, produced its latest estimate, 249,000, Wednesday.

Commercial and ceremonial and subsistence fishing in Zone 6 above Bonneville to date have pushed treaty tribes past an agreed-to limit on harvest impacts to the "upriver bright" portion of the run. Because of the shrinking forecast, the number of fish in hand put tribes above the limit and has produced a request from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission that tribes close traditional platform fisheries to chinook retention beginning Oct. 2.

"If we would have had this information (Wednesday's updated forecast) we would have adjusted" the tribal commercial fisheries to allow continued platform fishing, said CRITFC's Mike Matylewich. The tribes give highest priority to the ceremonial and subsistence fisheries such as the platform fisheries.

"It's pretty high priority -- they keep it open all year round," Matylewich said of what would be a rare prohibition on chinook retention. Platform fishers would still be able to keep coho salmon, steelhead and other fishes not affected by ESA limits.

The overall harvest or "take" of fall chinook is limited by concerns for Endangered Species Act listed fish, particularly threatened Snake River fall chinook. The National Marines Fisheries Services has determined that the overall take of upriver fall chinook, those that spawn above Bonneville Dam, cannot exceed 31.29 percent. The Snake River fall chinook migrate upstream alongside unlisted fish.

The states of Washington and Oregon and lower Columbia treaty tribes agreed earlier this summer on an apportionment of the upriver bright fall chinook run that gives the states 8.25 percent and the tribes 23.09 percent of NMFS' allowed incidental take on the upriver fish, which make up two-thirds of the fall chinook run. The states decide how to distribute their share of the incoming salmon runs between sport and commercial fishers.

The upriver bright forecast has been reduced along with the overall run -- from a preseason forecast of 208,200 to an initial in-season update of 163,700 on Sept. 14 to 149,700 on Sept. 27.

The tribal catch though its final commercial fishery that ended Sept. 23 is 52,105 chinook, of which 36,080 were upriver brights -- 24.1 percent of the run. The projected non-tribal take of upriver chinook from commercial and sport fisheries is 10,530 or 7.03 percent of the run.

The upriver run, which also includes Mid-Columbia brights and Bonneville Pool hatchery "tules" has tapered off considerably. Corps of Engineer Bonneville Dam counts posted on the Fish Passage Center web page hit a peak on Sept. 6 with 9,143 chinook passing. During the past week daily counts have dipped below 1,000 with 545 chinook counted Wednesday at Bonneville

A total of 184,460 had passed Bonneville through Tuesday, compared to 225,105 in 1999 and a recent five-year average of 191,786 for that date.

While the number of adult chinook spawners is down, the count of bright jacks or fish returning prematurely is up. The projected total for 2000 is 45,000 to 55,000, the largest jack count since 1988. The tule jack total through Sept. 26, 9,100, is the largest on record.

Steelhead counts have been strong, with 263,455 passing Bonneville as of Sept. 25 compared to 195,094 in 1999 and a five-year average of 195,526 for that date.

Wednesday's updated forecasts for upriver hatchery and listed wild steelhead are the best in nearly 10 years. TAC expects 64,000 Group A wild steelhead to return, the most since 1991. The total Group A return, including hatchery fish, is expected to be 219,000, the highest total since 1992.

The Group B run is expected to number 9,000. That's nearly double the highest count since 1992, when 12,700 passed Bonneville on the way to spawning grounds, primarily in Idaho's Clearwater River drainage. An estimated 34,000 B hatchery fish are also expected, also the highest since 1992.

The harvest of steelhead is also subject to ESA limits. The tribal harvest have been managed not to exceed a 15 percent impact on the Group B steelhead and non-Indian fisheries are not to exceed a 2 percent impact.

Link information:
Fish Passage Center:

by Barry Espenson
Shrinking Chinook Forecast Pinches Harvest
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 29, 2000

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