Columbia River Sees
In contrast to the collapsing run of Sacramento River chinook, which caused the West Coast salmon-fishing disaster, the Columbia River Basin salmon runs are in pretty good shape this year.
Reports this week from Bonneville Dam indicate fairly healthy numbers of adult spring chinook heading upriver to spawn. The sockeye run is likely to be the largest in decades. And scientists are noticing large numbers of juvenile chinook in the ocean north of Newport.
As of June 15, the official end of the spring chinook season on the Columbia, almost 152,000 adult chinook had been counted at the dam. The number is slightly below the 10-year average from 1998-2007 of about 175,000 fish, but it is considerably better than the past three years, which ranged from 126,000 chinook in 2006 to only 81,000 in 2007.
In that regard, initial surveys by biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries service show "very productive" ocean conditions north of Newport.
According to John Ferguson, head of the fish ecology division of NOAA Fisheries in Seattle, that survey, completed late last month, showed some of the highest numbers of juvenile salmon his agency has ever seen.
Sockeye are plentiful, biting
Meanwhile, managers are noticing a surprisingly large run of sockeye salmon on the Columbia River - big enough to allow a catch for sport and commercial fishers. The daily count at Bonneville Dam Wednesday exceeded the entire sockeye return for the 1995 season.
It's the first time since 2004, Columbia River anglers will able to catch and retain sockeye salmon. The allowable catch for the season that opened on the river Saturday is two adult salmon or steelhead per day.
A commercial fishery scheduled to be open from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday and from 7 p.m. July 1 to 5 a.m. July 2 below Bonneville Dam was modified to include sockeye as one of the allowable sales.
Below Bonneville Dam, the sockeye fishery will run June 21-28, concurrent with the summer chinook fishery from the dam downriver to Rocky Point/Tongue Point. Above Bonneville Dam, anglers can retain sockeye and summer chinook salmon up to Priest Rapids Dam through July 31.
Fishing for hatchery steelhead also remains open on the Columbia River up to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco, Wash. "Not only do we have large numbers of sockeye salmon returning this year, but they're biting," said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Usually sockeye ignore the lures and just sail upstream."
She said the change is most likely the result of high water and a large run.
LeFleur said this year's sockeye run to the Columbia River is now expected to far exceed the preseason forecast of 75,600 fish.
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