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A banner year for salmon: 1.5 million fall Chinook, 638,300 Coho anticipated

Aug. 1 marked the opening of the long-awaited “fall” fishing season on the mainstem Columbia River, which this year is expected to see a record number of fall Chinook salmon, a run of coho spawners forecast to be 156 percent of the 2004-2013 average and a summer steelhead return similar to the 10-year average.

And both sport and commercial fishers are off and running, even though only the very beginnings of the 2014 fall Chinook and coho runs have returned from the Pacific Ocean.

Through Wednesday 2,492 adult fall Chinook had swum 146 miles up the Columbia from the Pacific Ocean and been counted passing over Bonneville Dam’s fish ladders.

Fall Chinook are all considered “bright” stock until mid-August when window counts are sub-sampled to estimate the number of tule stock Chinook. The majority of the tule returns are hatchery fish from Spring Creek National Fish hatchery just upstream from Bonneville. The brights are fall Chinook originating from the mid-Columbia’s Hanford Reach, the Snake River and other areas upstream of Bonneville.

The fall Chinook counts at Bonneville, which began Aug. 1, have dropped to below average levels Monday through Wednesday with daily adult Chinook passage averaging about 300. But typically less than 1 percent of the year’s overall fall Chinook run will have passed Bonneville by Aug 6, and on average the 50-percent passage point falls between Sept. 8 and 15.

Through Aug. 6, 108,739 A and B Index steelhead have passed Bonneville Dam since July 1. Steelhead that pass Bonneville Dam during July through October are categorized as Group A index or Group B index fish, based on fork length (Group A < 78 cm, Group B =78 cm).

Group B steelhead primarily return to tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho and usually spend two years in the ocean, while Group A steelhead return to tributaries throughout the Columbia and Snake basins and usually spend only one year in the ocean.

Only 6 steelhead (including 4 unclipped fish) out of 779 steelhead sampled at Bonneville since July 1 have been B Index fish. That is typical for this time of year as most B steelhead do not pass Bonneville until September, according to a report prepared by the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife and tribal biologists for Thursday’s Columbia River Compact meeting.

The Compact on Thursday approved the first tribal gill-net fisheries of the fall season in Zone 6 reservoirs on the Columbia upstream of Bonneville. The Compact, which sets both tribal and non-Indian commercial fisheries on the Columbia mainstem along the Oregon-Washington border, approved tribal gill-net fisheries over a five-week period beginning Aug. 18. The five weekly periods range from 4.5 to 5.5 days.

During that time, which ends with a Sept. 15-19 fishery, the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes expect to catch 283,900 fall Chinook, including 167,300 upriver brights, and 14,580 steelhead, including 2,820 “B” run steelhead.

Based on the preseason run-size forecast, the tribes will be allowed to catch as many as 275,670 URBs and 4,638 B steelhead. The URBs and summer steelhead run include Snake River fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act via, among other actions, limits on annual harvest.

The popular Buoy 10 sport salmon fishery at the mouth of the Columbia opened Aug. 1, to coho and Chinook fishing, as did recreational fishing up and down the river as fishery management shifts from the summer to the fall season.

On the lower Columbia this past weekend there were 247 salmonid boats and 112 Oregon bank anglers counted in the area from Bonneville Dam downstream to Tongue Point, which is located just upstream of Astoria, Ore., during Saturday’s aerial survey; and 387 Oregon boats at Buoy 10. Anglers at Buoy 10 at the river mouth averaged 0.51 Chinook and 0.04 coho caught per rod, according to state officials.

In the Columbia River gorge upstream of Portland, boat anglers averaged 0.07 Chinook and 0.93 steelhead, while anglers fishing the Portland to Westport area averaged 0.05 Chinook and 0.61 steelhead caught per boat. In the Troutdale area just upstream of Portland, boat anglers averaged 0.06 Chinook and 0.20 steelhead caught per boat. Bank anglers fishing in the gorge averaged 0.01 Chinook and 0.18 steelhead caught per rod, while anglers fishing the Portland to Westport area averaged 0.06 steelhead caught per angler.

The preseason forecast is for a return of 1.5 million Chinook salmon to the mouth of the Columbia, which would set a set a modern-day record. Such a return would eclipse the record adult fall Chinook return of 1,268,400 last year, which was 227 percent of the 2003-2012 average of 557,600 adults and 187 percent of the total return forecast in the preseason.

The 2014 preseason forecast for fall Chinook is 119 percent of the 2013 actual return and 254 percent of the 2004-2013 average return (595,200).

So-called “bright” stocks represent 87 percent of the total forecast.

The forecasted return of 919,000 upriver brights – fish bound for hatcheries and spawning areas upstream of Bonneville Dam -- represents 61 percent of the projected total return and is nearly three times (295 percent) greater than the 2004-2013 average.

Included in the URB forecast is the Snake River wild forecast of 61,000 fish which is 424 percent the 2004-2013 average, and would be the highest return on record (since construction of four) lower Snake River dams was completed in 1975). Such a return would be nearly double last year’s return of 33,000 Snake River fish.

The Snake River fall Chinook are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

During a July 29 meeting of the Columbia River Compact, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Guy Norman noted the big rebound of fall chinook numbers, and particularly that of the Snake River fish, which had returns of less than 100 as recently as the early 1980s.

Treaty fisherman Bruce Jim, representing the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s four member tribes, told the Compact that much credit for the surge should go to the Nez Perce Tribe, whose hatchery program has helped lift the Snake River fall Chinook stock from near extinction.

“This is the result of many years of work to develop and implement on of the most successful supplementation programs in the basin,” Jim said. “Broodstock, release numbers, and acclimation are carefully managed to ensure that his program minimizes risks to natural fish. Hatchery origin fish that spawn naturally helped build of the abundance of the natural origin return to levels much higher than observed since the construction of the lower Snake River dams.”

The Compact, which sets mainstem tribal and non-Indian commercial fisheries on the Columbia mainstem, is made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife department directors. CRITFC coordinates management policy and provides fisheries technical services for the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes.

Passage at Bonneville Dam last year from Aug. 1 through the end of the year totaled nearly 953,000 adults, with a peak daily count of 63,900 adult fish.

Fishery officials also predict a return to the mouth of the Columbia 638,300 coho salmon. That would be 156 percent of the 10-year average of 409,800 fish. Bonneville Dam passage is expected to total 193,500 coho.

The Compact on last week gave the go-ahead for three weeks of non-tribal commercial fishing for Chinook, coho, pink and sockeye salmon and shad in the lower river’s fishing zones 4-5. The lower end of zone 4 is at the Lewis River at Woodland, Wash., upstream to Beacon Rock, which is about four miles downstream of Bonneville Dam.

The nine-hour fishing periods are scheduled to take place overnight on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays during the first three weeks of August.

The Compact and states last week also endorsed the opening Aug. 1 of tribal hoopnet, dipnet and hook and line fisheries in Zone 6 (Columbia reservoirs upstream of Bonneville along the Oregon-Washington border) and in specified fishing areas downstream of Bonneville. The sale of salmon, steelhead, shad, walleye, carp, catfish, bass and yellow perch caught in those fisheries will be allowed. The sale of sturgeon will not be allowed.

Yakama Nation tributary fisheries also opened Aug. 1 in Drano Lake and Wind River and Klickitat rivers.

With thousands of anglers expected to hit the water in the next few weeks, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has a few reminders.

The biggest change for the 2014 season is the establishment of the Youngs Bay Closure Zone at the mouth of the Youngs River. This area will be closed to salmon fishing from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15. The zone was required by fishery legislation passed in 2013 and was established by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in February to reduce the interception of hatchery fish returning to the Youngs Bay commercial fishery.

A map of the zone is available on the ODFW web site, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/CRP/docs/lower-columbia/Map_YBC_Boundaries.pdf

Also, like all other Columbia River salmon fisheries, barbless hooks and a Columbia River Basin Endorsement will be required of Oregon anglers fishing at Buoy 10.

According to Chris Kern, ODFW deputy fish division administrator, this year’s season should be one to remember.

“Many Buoy 10 regulars are already geared up for what could be a record-setting season,” Kern said. “This is shaping up to be one of those years that anglers will want to be able to look back on and say they participated in. It should be even better than last year’s incredible season, and Buoy 10 is just the start of the fall fishery.”

Open dates, bag limits and other regulations for Columbia River salmon seasons vary by location on the river and can be found on the ODFW web site, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/reg_changes/columbia.asp.

Columbia Basin Bulletin The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. Articles republished by The Dalles Chronicle with permission.

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