Columbia/Willamette Spring Salmon?by Bill Monroe
Biologists in Oregon and Washington are done test-netting the lower Columbia River for returning salmon and must now wait and see whether tardy runs at Bonneville and Willamette Falls make their typical surges in late April and early May.
The highest Columbia River flows in more than half a century and some of the lowest spring chinook counts at both stations are worrisome.
So, too, are an unusual number of small adult salmon mixed with the usual fatter returnees.
And the winter steelhead count at Willamette Falls hasn't broken 700 fish yet, a fraction of what it should be this time of year. The Clackamas River's wild run, while about 20 percent behind normal, seems to be the state's strongest return.
Lower steelhead numbers statewide suggest poor rearing conditions in the North Pacific Ocean. Steelhead tend to range far out into the north Pacific while salmon remain closer to the continental shelf.
Salmon catches, meanwhile, are showing an unusually high number of fish measuring at or barely above the 24-inch mark used to identify prematurely returning jack salmon.
John North, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Columbia River program, said a rough look at 152 coded wire tags recovered by fish checkers from anglers showed nearly a quarter of the salmon were smaller than 27 inches.
However, he said, all were 4- and 5-year-old adults.
There is some cause for optimism.
Salmon fishing is open through Sunday on the lower Columbia, the second extension following poor sport catches earlier in the season.
Further, as if on cue, catches picked up in the lower river and the Bonneville count began to inch upward Wednesday.
So, too, for Willamette River catches from Lake Oswego through the Portland Harbor to Kelly Point and in several locations on Multnomah Channel.
Finally, with few, if any spring chinook yet present, Idaho and Oregon both will open fishing seasons Saturday on the Snake, Clearwater, Salmon and Lochsa rivers.
"While we don't expect these fish to arrive for a few weeks, we want anglers to have access as soon as they do," said Jeff Yanke, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in Enterprise.
...Now there's a glass-half-full.
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