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Good Returns Slated for Snake River Spring Chinook Run

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, January 18, 2002

Regional fish managers have released their early estimate for this spring's chinook run on the Snake. There won't be as many as last year, when 237,000 fish made it to the mouth of the Columbia River. But they're predicting over 168,000 fish, with nearly one-third of them expected to be wild chinook currently listed under the ESA.

The number crunchers have estimated that almost 68,000 Snake springers made it back to the Columbia last year. That's about 80 percent more than their pre-season prediction last winter. The new numbers have some river watchers scratching their heads, since the forecast shows that the salmon swamis were less than 2 percent off in their prediction of the hatchery run, which came in at 169,600 fish.

But ODFW fish manager Dave Melcher said many summer run fish were early last year and were counted with the springers. Biologists consider chinook reaching Lower Granite Dam after June 17 part of the summer run.

He said the estimators feel good if they come within 25 percent of the actual returns since they rely on several assumptions--including one that says the ratio of wild jacks to adults is the same for hatchery fish. The biologists also rely on the ratio of marked to unmarked jacks at the dam to determine the ratio of wild to hatchery fish. Currently, said Melcher, unmarked fish make up about 30 percent of the spring/summer chinook run on the Snake. He said that translates into about 50,000 wild Snake springers making it back to the Columbia this year.

Non-Indian commercial harvesters may catch three times more springers than last year, or about 20,000 fish, said WDFW harvest manager Cindy LeFleur at this week's meeting of the Power Planning Council. The big change is a result of last year's tests of tangle nets, where fishermen released unmarked wild fish while keeping marked hatchery fish. LeFleur said direct mortality of around 10 percent was acceptable in the fishery using bigger mesh nets, since the non-Indian commercial and sport fishery is being managed to catch only an estimated 2 percent of the run, while tribal fishers are allowed 12 percent. Non-Indian commercial fishers are also expected to have recovery boxes on board, to help revive wild fish after they are pulled from the gear.

Though last year's jack counts are down about 50 percent from 2000, when they signaled a huge return for 2001, fish managers are still counting on a spring run better than half of last year's return because of an expected good show for fish returning after three years in the ocean, In recent years, three-ocean wild fish have done poorly compared to past years, when they sometimes made up about half the run. The 3-oceans would have migrated to sea in 2000.

More than 500,000 spring chinook returned to the Columbia River last year, with 416,500 considered upriver fish that passed Bonneville Dam. This year's grand total for the springers is expected to come in a bit lower at 418,500 fish, giving both sporties and tribal fishermen lots of time on the water. There will be plenty of steelhead as well. The combined upriver run is estimated at nearly 448,000 fish. That's down from last year's whopping 630,000 steelhead--a real surprise since the fish managers had pegged the run at less than half that.

Bill Rudolph
Good Returns Slated for Snake River Spring Chinook Run
NW Fishletter, January 18, 2002

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