Fishery Managers Stand by
by Keith Ridler, Associated Press
Despite low early figures, 78,500 salmon still expected to enter Columbia River
BOISE - Fishery managers in the Northwest are standing by predictions that 78,500 spring chinook salmon will enter the Columbia River this year, even though numbers of fish passing through dams are well below the 10-year average.
"At this point we're just trying to determine whether (the run) is a little bit late or a lot late," said Cindy LeFleur, a policy coordinator for the Columbia River Compact with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"We're in the heart (of the run) right now. It's hard to tell where it's going to end up."
She said managers can better estimate run size once the peak of the run passes and the number of fish going by dams starts declining.
The predictions are used to determine sport fishing seasons in the basin.
On Thursday, about 35,000 adult spring chinook had been counted passing Bonneville Dam, well below the 10-year average of 104,627.
Biologists are leery of making predictions on those numbers because in 2006 even fewer fish had passed through dams at this point in the season, but the run ended up with 132,000 fish - about 40,000 more than originally predicted.
LeFleur said members of a technical advisory committee are planning to meet Monday to look at fish totals and decide whether to stick with the forecast of 78,500 returning spring chinook.
Sport fishing for spring chinook closed Thursday on the main stem of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam.
But fishing for spring chinook is open in many rivers in Washington and Oregon that are tributaries to the Columbia.
In Idaho, biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game plan to make a proposal to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to open seasons in the Salmon River drainage and the Clearwater River drainage.
"There are some available hatchery surplus fish coming back," said Sam Sharr, a biologist with Fish and Game.
He said 27,700 spring chinook are predicted to swim past Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River.
Of those, 16,800 are expected to be hatchery fish and 10,900 wild fish.
In order for a sport fishery to be allowed, fishery managers must be satisfied that enough hatchery fish will return to Idaho hatcheries for brood stock for future runs.
Also, wild spring chinook in the Salmon River drainage are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.
All those fish must be released unharmed, but biologists estimate about 10 percent will die as a result of being caught and released.
Wild fish are identified by having an intact adipose fin, which is between the dorsal fin and tail.
This year, the allowable mortality in the drainage is 63 wild fish, and Sharr said any seasons that were open would close if that limit were reached.
Since fish numbers started being tracked, the smallest return of spring chinook to the mouth of the Columbia River was 12,600 in 1995, while the largest was 437,900 in 2001.
"When you look back through time, 78,500 is still a decent run," said LeFleur. "It's just down from what we've seen the last six or seven years."
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