Both non-tribal and tribal commercial fishers were back out on the Columbia River mainstem this week chasing the last of the year’s salmon spawners, as well as the last of their harvest allocations for the season.
The tail-ends of the upriver fall chinook salmon and steelhead runs are evident, and the counts of coho salmon passing up and over Bonneville Dam are also declining with each passing day. The upriver fall chinook counts have slowly declined from a peak of 21,612 on Sept. 5 to only 291 on Wednesday. Steelhead counts have, for the most part, been declining since hitting a peak of 9,337 on Aug. 8. Wednesday’s count was 128.
The coho peak count was 6,057 on Oct. 11; Wednesday’s count was 1,255. Bonneville Dam, at river mile 146, is the first hydro project the fish encounter on their way upstream to hatcheries and spawning grounds in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
The total fall chinook count at Bonneville, which began Aug. 1, is 464,532. That count is higher than the 10-year average through Oct. 20 of 369,677. The Bonneville fall chinook counts include upriver brights as well as Bonneville Pool Hatchery tules and some Mid-Columbia brights fish.
The total upriver summer steelhead count from July 1 through Wednesday is 380,165. That’s slightly below the 10-year average, 395,142. The preseason forecast was for a return of 453,000 upriver summer steelhead, as counted passing Bonneville, including 337,500 “Group A” fish and 99,100 “Group B” fish. That forecast was recently updated to include 314,000 A and 71,000 B steelhead.
Group B steelhead primarily return to tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho, while Group A steelhead return to tributaries throughout the Columbia and Snake basins above Bonneville.
The latest upriver bright fall chinook forecast is for an overall return of 326,500 to the mouth of the Columbia. That would be slightly higher than the preseason forecast 319,200.
Most of the URBs are destined for the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River, Priest Rapids Hatchery and the Snake River basin. Smaller URB components are destined for the Deschutes and Yakima rivers.
Snake River wild fall chinook are a sub-component of the URB stock and are protected under the Endangered Species Act, as are wild Snake River and Upper Columbia steelhead. Limits are imposed on commercial and sport mainstem harvests as a means of controlling impacts on listed stocks.
The Columbia River Compact on Monday approved a tribal commercial fishery from 7 a.m. Wednesday through 7 p.m. Friday (today) in mainstem reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary dams. Allowable sales include salmon, steelhead, walleye, shad, yellow perch, catfish, bass and carp. Also allowed is the sale of fish caught during that time period in platform and hook and line fisheries above and below Bonneville. The Compact, which sets mainstem commercial fisheries, is made up of representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
The tribes – the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama – during a fall season that began in late August have caught an estimated 130,061 chinook, 25,608 steelhead and 9,659 coho through last week, according to an Oct. 18 ODFW-WDFW fact sheet. That catch includes 52,464 URBs and 11,408 B steelhead.
That catch represents 16.1 percent of the estimated URB run (a 25 percent tribal impact is allowed under the terms of a management agreement between the tribes, states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington and the federal government) and also a 16.1 percent impact on the B steelhead run (the tribes can harvest up to 20 percent of that run based on the current forecast).
The tribes expect to catch about 1,800 chinook (including 1,000 URBs), 2,600 coho and 1,300 steelhead (including 700 B steelhead) this week. That would push their impact to 16.5 percent for URBs and 17.6 percent for B steelhead.
The Compact also approved two 12-hour fisheries this week overnight Tuesday-Wednesday and Thursday-Friday from a point near Longview, Wash., upstream to Bonneville and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday from Longview down to the river mouth. The nighttime fisheries require larger mesh nets that are more efficient at catching chinook than coho while Wednesday’s fishery has no mesh requirements.
The non-Indian gill-net fleet had through Oct. 18 caught 31,848 chinook, 16,423 coho, 183 chum and 3,111 white sturgeon during the fall season. The catch expectations for this week’s fisheries were 600 chinook, 2,500-3,000 coho, 80 chum and 350 sturgeon. ODFW and WDFW staff the catch total after this week “to be within but close” to ESA impact limits for non-tribal fisheries this year.