Biggest Summer Chinook Returnby Barry Espenson
Oregon and Washington fishery managers decided Tuesday to open a fishing season on hatchery-bred summer chinook that starts today (June 28) in the lower Columbia River. It marks the first time since 1973 that anglers may target summer chinook -- known historically as "June hogs" because of their large size.
Biologists estimate that as many as 145,000 summer chinook will enter the Columbia River, which is the largest return since 1959 and nearly double the pre-season prediction of 77,700.
Much of the return is hatchery fish surplus for broodstock needs. About 60 percent of the run are marked as hatchery-bred by a missing adipose fin.
"These fish have been extremely depressed for 30 years, but a combination of factors allowed them to rebound beyond expectations," said Steve King, salmon manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Factors include good water years when the fish migrated to the ocean as juveniles and a productive ocean for salmon survival, King said.
Sport fishing industry leaders said they were thrilled with the news.
"With summer chinook, there's a magic about it," said Buzz Ramsey, of Luhr Jensen and Sons, a manufacturer of fishing lures based in Hood River. "Summer chinook average larger than springers and that's going to spark some interest in anglers."
The temporary rule adopted this week allows anglers to retain adipose fin-clipped hatchery summer chinook Friday, June 28, through Wednesday, July 31, in the Columbia River from the Tongue Point/Rocky Point line near Astoria upstream to Bonneville Dam. Both adult and jack summer chinook may be kept under the normal bag limit of two adult salmon or steelhead and five jack salmon per day. On Aug. 1, the regulations revert to permanent rules for fall chinook and coho.
All sockeye and chum salmon must be released unharmed.
The summer chinook run originates in the upper Columbia River and the Snake River, and is composed of both hatchery and wild stocks. Wild Snake River summer chinook are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The fishery will be managed to limit impacts to 1.0 percent of the wild run.
"It is essential to our Snake River chinook rebuilding efforts that anglers stay within daily catch limits and carefully release all chinook with an adipose fin," said Tim Flint, WDFW statewide salmon manager.
Fisheries management agencies plan to have a strong enforcement and monitoring presence on the Columbia River during the recreational fishery to ensure regulations on adult hatchery chinook retention are followed.
Fishery managers also decided Tuesday to close an ongoing season on sockeye in the Columbia River effective Friday, June 28, because the run size is smaller than desired. Forecasters expect only 40,000 sockeye to enter the Columbia compared to a target of 75,000 fish. Anglers occasionally harvest sockeye when fishing for steelhead.
Hatchery-bred summer chinook passing above Bonneville Dam are primarily heading to McCall Hatchery on the South Fork Salmon River in Idaho and Eastbank Hatchery on the Columbia in central Washington. Hatcheries at the Wells Dam on the Upper Columbia and the Pahsimeroi River, a tributary to the upper Salmon, also produce summer chinook.
"The last year or so have been phenomenal considering the migration corridor's conditions," said Tom Rogers, fish hatchery supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The returning adults must find their way upstream through eight dams and reservoirs and water conditions, particularly during last year's drought,have been less ideal. The listed, naturally spawning runs in the Salmon River basin have responded positively, but still have a long ways to go to rebound from the extremely low populations that forced the need for what are essentially conservation hatcheries, he said.
The count, which began June 1, at Bonneville Dam, was 69,596 adult through Tuesday. Of that number, 35,876 had passed McNary, the fourth hydro project on the Columbia. A total of 9,837 summer chinook had been tallied at Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River, the eighth and final hurdle on those fishes return to the Salmon River in Idaho and northeast Oregon's Imnaha River. A total of 8,817 summer chinook had been counted at Priest Rapids Dam on their way to the upper Columbia.
The Fish Passage Center said that, through June 20, the Bonneville summer chinook count was 1.69 times greater than last year and 5.1 times greater than the recent 10-year average.
The Snake river wild summer chinook were combined with Snake River wild spring chinook to form a single "evolutionarily significant unit" and listed as by the National Marine Fisheries Service in May 1992. Fishery managers have been using 80,000 to 90,00 fish to Bonneville Dam as an interim management goal for the upriver summer chinook.
The Technical Advisory Committee, which includes state, tribal and federal fishery officials, recently "conservatively" estimated that at least 110,000 upriver summer chinook would return to the Columbia River's mouth, said Patrick Frazier of the ODFW. The number could swell to "as many as 140,000." A Thursday update pushed the estimate to 145,000.
That's enough to allow a sport fishery below Bonneville, which Frazier said should not come close to breaching the 1 percent impact limit.
"It's just a matter of tracking the effort," Frazier said. He said he expected the fishing effort to increase as a result of the salmon opening. The summer chinook tend to swim upriver in a relatively steady stream over time, unlike spring chinook that tend to build toward a peak and then taper off. For example, the count at Bonneville has been in the 3,000-fish range daily for the past week or more. As a result, the sport harvest will be relatively steady and easy to monitor and predict, Frazier said. Still, the relatively bountiful return won't allow for commercial fishing in the river.
"The states certainly aren't interested in a commercial fishery. There's not enough fish for that," Frazier said.
Last year an estimated 76,400 summer chinook returned, more than triple the 24,500 preseason prediction. The actual return in 2001 included an estimated 2,600 listed Snake River wild adults.
The summer chinook adult return has been low but fairly stable since 1973, ranging from 15,000 to 38,700 annually, according to information provided by the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife. Summer chinook have not been harvested as a target species since 1965.
The Snake River wild portion of the 2002 return includes offspring from the stronger return years of 1997 and 1998 and was, according to the preseason forecast, expected to make up 8 percent of the overall summer run -- 6,600. That's double the recent five-year average. Those wild Snake River return estimates were not updated this week as was the overall run, Frazier said.
According to the ODFW-WDFW "status report," the summer chinook salmon migrate upriver in June and July with the bulk of the run passing Bonneville by early July. The Snake River fish, bound for the Salmon River drainage in Idaho normally arrive first with the Columbia River fish arriving later. Historically, the bulk of the spawning occurred in the upper Columbia above Grand Coulee. Completion of that dam in 1941 blocked salmon access to those spawning grounds.
The record run of the summer chinook," including jacks, to the Columbia was 207,000 in 1956. Those records go back to 1938 when counts began at Bonneville Dam. The adult count has not surpassed 100,000 since 107,400 were tallied in 1961.
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