Sockeye salmon, known for their bright red meat and high oil content, are starting to surge up the Columbia River on their spawning mission toward the Okanogan and Wenatchee rivers -- which branch off from the big river in central Washington -- and toward the Snake River’s Salmon River drainage.
The run, expected to number 347,100 sockeye, has begun to hit stride over the past week with daily counts at Bonneville Dam, 146 miles upstream from the river mouth, rising steadily from 3,725 June 12 to 8,533 this past Wednesday. That brought the total count through June 19 to 49,521 through Wednesday. A total return of 347,100 would be nearly twice (178 percent) the 2004-2013 average return of 194,600 fish.
According to Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife calculations, on average 50 percent of the sockeye run will have passed Bonneville by June 25, though the midpoint has been as late as July 1.
The management goal for upper Columbia River sockeye is to ensure 65,000 fish make it up and over Priest Rapids Dam on the mid-Columbia, which is the fifth dam they encounter. That normally requires that at least 75,000 sockeye pass Bonneville, which is the first dam the fish encounter on their spawning journey. Through Tuesday Grant County Public Utility District had reported counting 889 sockeye climbing over its Priest Rapids hydro project, with daily counts also on the rise.
The sockeye run is expected to include 63,400 fish bound for the Wenatchee River basin, and 282,500 for the Okanogan.
The Snake River sockeye run, largely returning to the Stanley basin in central Idaho’s high country, is expected to total 1,200 fish. A small remnant population of the Snake River sockeye returns to Redfish Lake, with Redfish Lake Creek feeding into the Salmon River and then the Snake. Production is maintained through a captive brood program and most returning adults are progeny of this program.
The Snake River stock was federally-listed as endangered in November 1991. The upper Columbia stocks are considered healthy populations and are not ESA-listed. Sockeye reintroduced in the Yakima River in Washington and Oregon’s Deschutes Rivers are also not ESA listed.
The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama tribes have opened the first of two commercial openings (June 16-19 and June 23-26) in reservoirs upstream of Bonneville that will bring sockeye sales to the general public.
Depending on the actual run sizes, tribal fishers may harvest approximately 18,500 summer chinook and 24,000 sockeye on the mainstem during the summer season, which is from June 16-July 31. The sale of sockeye and summer chinook should continue throughout the summer season with peak availability occurring over the next 2-3 weeks, the tribes say.
The preseason forecast also predicts a return to the Columbia of 67,500 adults “summer” chinook during the June 16-July 31 period.
The non-tribal commercial fleet in its first fishery of summer season – 9 p.m. Monday through 5 a.m. Tuesday – landed 1,385 summer chinook and 184 sockeye in river reaches downstream of Bonneville. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s landings report, the chinook sold to commercial buyers weighed an average of 16.3 pounds, while the sockeye averaged 3.2 pounds.
Both treaty and non-treaty fishery catches will be adjusted throughout the season as the run size is updated. The tribal fishery is protected under 1855 treaties with the federal government, where the Yakama Nation, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes reserved the right to fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places in the Columbia River Basin -- a treaty right that reserves ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial uses. Tribal and non-tribal harvest rates have been agreed to as part of the U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement.
The tribal fishery offers an ample supply of fish direct-to-public sales. Common sales locations include: Marine Park in Cascade Locks, Celilo, North Bonneville (one mile east of Bonneville Dam), and Columbia Point in the Tri-Cities area.
According to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, potential fish buyers should bring ice-packed coolers, and keep the following tips in mind:
-- Sales from Indian fishers generally run from 10 am to dusk.
-- Price is determined at the point of sale.
-- Most sales are cash only.
-- Buyers should request a receipt.
Indian fishers can advise on topics including fish freshness and preparation.
The public is urged to call the salmon marketing program at (888) 289-1855 before heading up the river to find out where the day’s catch is being sold. More information is available on the salmon marketing website www.critfc.org/harvest. Regular salmon sales updates are also found on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/ColumbiaSalmon.
Portland-based CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes.
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.