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Post-season Snapshot: Wow,
What a Great Salmon Season it Was!

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 12, 2014

2014 Columbia salmon season was successful; 2015 is looking good, too

(Dick Borneman) A spring chinook caught in early March 2009 near the upper end of Bachelor Island Lower Columbia River anglers put in record effort in 2014, tantalized particularly by forecasts of a record return of fall Chinook to the system.

And they scored. . . setting record catch rates on what was the second biggest fall Chinook return to the Columbia/Snake river basin in recent history.

Meanwhile, a preliminary "outlook" for 2015 returns produced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife predicts more of the same.

"Bright stocks should be strong -- above average and similar to the 2013-2014 record returns," according to the early look at 2015's potential return. More detailed forecasts will be produced by federal, state and tribal fishery managers early next year.

So-called "bright" fall Chinook salmon are for the most part fish bound for the upper Columbia (upstream of Bonneville Dam in areas such as the Hanford Reach and the Snake River basin) and the mid-Columbia.

The "upriver bright" run, as well as the overall fall Chinook return to the Columbia, in 2013 was a modern-day record (likely dating back to at least 1938). The total fall Chinook return that year to the mouth of the Columbia was an estimated 1,268,400 adult fish, which was 227 percent of the 2003-2012 average.

Preliminary return estimates for 2014 are 1.2 million adult fall Chinook, similar to the record return in 2013, according to the outlook. Adult fall Chinook returns in 2014 fell short of preseason predictions (1.5 million adult fish), but still were second only to 2013.

"Total return should be similar to the 2013 and 2014 record actual returns," the 2015 outlook says.

Meanwhile, "tule stocks appear to be improved and slightly higher than 2013-2014 returns." Tule fall Chinook stocks occur both above and below Bonneville from both natural and hatchery production.

Both bright and tule stock jack returns last year were above average. Jacks are young fish that return to the Columbia system after one year in the Pacific Ocean. Fully mature Chinook generally spend two or more years at sea before returning to spawn in freshwater.

The 2014 Columbia River coho salmon return has been higher than expected and could approach one million adult fish. That return has included record high jack returns above Bonneville Dam. But jack returns to tributaries below Bonneville Dam were close to 50 percent of 2013. Jack returns one year help forecast returns in later years, when older broodmates make their spawning run.

Anglers fared well this year both at Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia and in the area from, roughly, Astoria up to Bonneville during the February-October time period.

Fishery managers estimate there were 451,000 "angler trips" made to the river in pursuit of salmon or steelhead, which is the highest total on a record dating back to 1982. The previous high was 433,000 in 2001, another year of high salmon returns.

During those trips anglers caught and kept 71,000 spring/summer/fall Chinook, also a record. The previous record of 63,000 fish was set just last year, according to the WDFW's Joe Hymer.

In many of the lower river fisheries unmarked fish -- presumed to be of wild origin -- must be released. Most fish produced in Columbia basin hatcheries are marked with a clipped adipose fin.

Anglers in 2014 also caught 16,000 winter/summer steelhead and 63,000 coho.

The number of Chinook kept per angler trip in 2014 was also high. At Buoy 10, the average was 0.40 fall Chinook, which bettered the previous record 0.34 in 2013.

In the Lower Columbia mainstem from Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream to Bonneville Dam the catch rates were 0.15 spring Chinook salmon per angler trip, 0.09 summer Chinook per trip and 0.2304 fall Chinook. The fall Chinook catch rate was the second highest since at least 1980, according to Hymer. The record is 0.2311 in 2003.

The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Team, made up of federal, state and tribal representatives, this week released preseason forecasts for 2015 spring and summer Chinook salmon and sockeye salmon to the Columbia/Snake basin.

The forecast for the spring Chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia is 232,500 "upriver" adult fish, which almost match the actual 2014 return of 242,600 fish. Those totals are slightly higher than the recent 10-year average.

Upriver spring Chinook returning to areas upstream of Bonneville Dam begin to enter the Columbia River in substantial numbers after mid-March and generally reach peak abundance at Bonneville Dam in late April to early May. Most wild spring Chinook -- including upper Columbia and Snake River spring/summer stocks -- entering the Columbia River are listed under the federal ESA.

The TAC forecast released this week includes an expected return of 27,500 upper Columbia spring Chinook, including 4,500 wild fish, and 140,000 Snake River spring/summer Chinook, including 45,300 wild fish. The actual returns in 2014 were 33,100 upper Columbia spring Chinook (5,700) wild and 137,900 Snake River spring/summer Chinook (46,000 wild).

The TAC 2015 preseason forecast estimates that 73,000 upper Columbia summer Chinook salmon will return to the mouth of the river, a total that would be slightly lower than the 2014 return of 78,300 adult fish. Such a return in 2014 would be the fourth highest since at least 1980.

The TAC forecast estimates the 2015 sockeye return will be 394,000, compared to a record total of 645,00 in 2014. The 2015 run is expected to include 106,700 fish bound for the mid-Columbia's Wenatchee River drainage, 285,500 to the Okanogan River, and 1,800 to the Snake River basin. The Snake River fish are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Post-season Snapshot: Wow, What a Great Salmon Season it Was!
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 12, 2014

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