With Bonneville Dam fish counts holding strong, sport and commercial fishers are preparing to shift after June 15 from a “spring” chinook emphasis to targeting what is expected to be the highest “summer” chinook salmon return to the Columbia River basin since at least 1980.
The Columbia River Compact on Thursday approved the first summer commercial treaty gill-net fisheries starting June 16 (2.5 days) and June 20 (3.5 days) in Zone 6’s reservoirs above Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams. Tribal fishermen can catch and sell salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp. The Oregon-Washington Compact also OK’d sales of fish caught by tribal fishers by hook and line from specific sites below Bonneville Dam during the June 16-July 31 period.
The Compact, which met Tuesday via telephone conference line and Thursday in Rainier, Wash., also set eight-hour non-tribal commercial salmon fisheries that begin at 9 p.m. on June 16 and June 22 in Zones 1-5 from below Bonneville down to the mouth of the Columbia. The Compact is comprised of representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
Meanwhile, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Yakama tribal fishers continue to sell spring chinook and other fishes caught by hook and line from riverside platforms above and below Bonneville, which is located at about river mile 146. The Compact on Tuesday approved an expansion of the below Bonneville platform, hook and line tribal commercial fishery from three days per week to daily through June 15.
For fishery management purposes, chinook salmon spawners passing over Bonneville are considered “upriver” spring chinook through June 15. From June 16 through July 31, chinook counted as they climb over Bonneville’s fish ladders are considered summer chinook.
Upriver Snake River and upper Columbia spring chinook are stocks bound for hatcheries and tributary spawning grounds upstream of Bonneville in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Summer chinook are fish destined for areas above the mid Columbia’s central Washington’s Priest Rapids Dam, though the run includes some Snake River summer chinook.
Naturally produced upriver Snake and upper Columbia spring chinook are protected under the Endangered Species Act, as are wild upriver summer steelhead. Steelhead counts at Bonneville are beginning to mount at Bonneville as summer chinook counts wax and spring chinook counts wane.
Based in large part on dam counts and lower river harvest data, the Technical Advisory Committee on Wednesday upgraded the upriver spring chinook run-size estimate from 204,000 to 214,000 adult returns to the mouth of the Columbia.
Already, through Wednesday, 185,125 adult spring chinook had been counted passing over Bonneville, and state staff estimate that anglers and the non-Indian commercial fleet will have taken (harvest and post-release mortality) an estimated 13,400 upriver fish. The tribes estimate they have caught 2,300 upriver spring chinook this year below Bonneville.
The Bonneville count is already second best in the past seven years. The upriver spring chinook count last year was 277,389 through June 15. Daily counts have averaged about 2,500 over the past five days.
The treaty tribes expect to catch about 8.7 percent of their 9.1 percent allocation of the upriver spring chinook run and non-treaty fisheries, commercial and recreational, are expected to haul in about 1.5 percent of the upriver run as compared to their 1.9 percent allocation. A state-tribal management agreement limits harvest on upriver spring chinook in order to protect the wild portion of the run. Non-tribal fishers are required to release unmarked fish unharmed. A large majority of the hatchery-produced fish are marked with a clipped adipose fin.
The preseason forecast is for a return of 91,000 adult Upper Columbia summer chinook, a stock that is not ESA listed. Fishery managers estimate that daily counts at Bonneville will average 3,100 summer chinook June 16-30 before tapering off to about 700 by the end of July.
Summer steelhead are also starting to return from the ocean. A total of 3,985 had passed Bonneville through Wednesday with daily counts approaching 100. The preseason forecast is for a return of 390,900 upriver summer steelhead past Bonneville, which would be 95 percent of the 10-year average of 410,100. Lower river summer steelhead returns have averaged 77,800 over the past 10 years.
Sockeye salmon are also beginning to make their run towards upriver spawning sites. The count at Bonneville Wednesday was 88 to bring the 2011 total to 238. Fisheries officials predict that 161,900 adult sockeye will return to the mouth of the Columbia on their way toward central Washington’s Wenatchee (33,000) and Okanogan (126,000) river basins and to central Idaho’s Stanley basin (2,100). Last year’s sockeye return was a whopping 387,900, which was the largest on a record dating back to 1980. The recent 10-year average is 126,000.
Fisheries are managed to hold non-Indian impacts on listed wild Snake River sockeye to 1 percent or less. Treaty impacts are capped at 7 percent.
Summer chinook recreational fisheries are scheduled to be open from the Astoria, Ore.,-Megler Bridge upstream to Priest Rapids Dam in central Washington from June 16 through July 31. The fisheries will be mark-selective for summer chinook, allowing the retention of adipose fin-clipped hatchery fish only. The Columbia mainstem spring chinook sport fishery officially ends June 15.