Columbia River fisheries managers are expecting the largest return of fall chinook salmon since 2004 to begin arriving when the fall sport fishing season gets under way Aug. 1.
That fall chinook run is expected to include 399,600 “upriver bright” salmon, which would be the second largest return since at least 1964. The largest return during that time span was an estimated 420,700 adult URBs to the mouth of the Columbia in 1987.
The 2011 preseason forecast estimates that 100,300 adult mid-Columbia bright fall chinook will return.
Mid- and upriver bright salmon are highly prized by anglers because they are big, bite and fight hard and are high in food quality.
Most of the URB chinook are destined for the Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River and to Priest Rapids Hatchery in central Washington and to the Snake River. Smaller URB components are destined for the Deschutes and Yakima rivers.
Snake River wild fall chinook, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, are a sub-component of the URB stock. A total of 17,500 wild Snake River fish are expected back this year, which would be similar to the recent 10-year average.
The expected strong pulse of URBs, if the forecast holds true, will allow a maximum harvest for both non-Indian and tribal fishers. A management agreement forged by federal, state and other entities includes an allocation matrix that allows higher percentage harvests of fall chinook at higher run sizes.
Returns of more than 200,000 fish that include a return of 8,000 or more Snake River fall chinook allow an overall harvest of up to 45 percent of the run -- 30 percent for the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes and 15 percent for non-tribal fishery.
A 2 percent harvest limit on wild upriver summer steelhead also constrains all mainstem non-Indian fall fisheries (below the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco, Wash.). Wild steelhead bound for the upper Columbia and Snake River basin are also ESA protected.
The overall forecast is for a total of 766,000 adult fall chinook to return to the Columbia this year, which would be even larger than last year’s strong return of 657,000 fish. If the run materializes as expected, it would be the largest total fall chinook return since 800,000 fish returned in 2004.
“For the angler in the know, mid- and upriver brights are what they’re looking for,” said John North, manager of ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program. “They’re the most desired fish of the fall run because of their size and table fare.”
The forecast includes the URBs as well as return of 128,600 lower river hatchery chinook, which would be greater than the 10-year average. The forecast for lower river wild fall chinook is 13,100 adults. That would mark the fifth consecutive year of an upward trend. Such a LRW return would be only 85 percent of the recent 10-year average, but 120 percent of the 2010 return.
The LRH stock is currently produced from hatchery facilities (four in Washington and one in Oregon) while the LRW stock is naturally-produced primarily in the Lewis River system, with smaller components also present in the Cowlitz and Sandy rivers. Natural production of LRH stock occurs in most tributaries below Bonneville Dam.
The Bonneville pool hatchery fall chinook forecast is for a return of 116,400 adults, which is similar to the recent 10-year average and also continues an upward trend observed since the poor return of 2007 (14,600 fish). The BPH stock is produced primarily at the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery in Washington in the Bonneville pool, although natural production of that tule stock also occurs in the Wind, White Salmon, and Klickitat rivers in Washington.
The LRH and BPH stocks are considered tule stock and the LRW, URB, and MCB stocks are considered bright stock.
The preseason forecast is for a return of 390,900 upriver summer steelhead, which would be slightly less than last year’s return of 410,500 but similar to the 10-year average.
Upriver summer steelhead include hatchery and wild fish that pass Bonneville Dam during April through October of each year. Fish passing from April through June are considered Skamania stock steelhead destined mainly for tributaries within Bonneville Pool. Steelhead passing during July through October are categorized as Group A index or Group B index fish, based on their fork length. Group B steelhead, which are typically larger than A fish, 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.
Coho returns are expected to be poorer this year, at about half of the 2001-2010 average, with a forecast return of 270,800 fish. Last year’s return included 441,100.
Columbia River fisheries are managed to quotas based on ESA limitations on wild fish, according to North. The flexible nature of these fisheries, he said, allows managers to maximize fishing opportunities under the ESA. However, it also means that regulation changes and season modifications can happen quickly based on actual returns and harvest rates.
Because fisheries are managed to specific harvest guidelines for key fish stocks, emergency in-season closures can occur if these guidelines are met. Anglers are therefore advised to stay tuned for changes that can take place as new information becomes available. Updates can be found on the ODFW website at www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/reg changes/columbia.asp. ODFW also distributes all in-season changes through the news media and through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The 2011 fall seasons and regulations were established based on extensive deliberations between state and federal agencies, tribal representatives, and recreational and commercial fishers through a public forum known as the “North of Falcon” process, which takes place each spring. Season regulations vary by area, date, and species, and are summarized by fishing area below.
Fishery managers predict that anglers will catch approximately 11,000 of them between Buoy 10 and Rocky Point, 16 miles upriver just upstream of Astoria, Ore., during that season.
"Buoy 10 is a very popular fishery, drawing tens of thousands of anglers every year," said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Fishing tends to start out slow, then accelerates quickly through the month of August" as more and more fish pour into the river.
State fishery managers classify chinook passing over Bonneville from June 16 through July 31 as “summer” chinook. The forecast summer chinook return to the mouth of the river is 80,000 adult fish. Through Wednesday a total of 67,175 summer fish had been counted climbing over Bonneville with daily counts over the past 10 days ranging from 600-800 chinook. A total of 5,668 fish were harvested (that total includes release mortalities) by anglers below Bonneville through July 14. That season closed July 18. Non-tribal commercial fishers harvested 5,076 summer chinook.
The “fall” chinook count at Bonneville begins Monday.
Steelhead presence at Bonneville has begun to build, rising steadily each day from 690 on July 1 to the high count so far – 6,396 – on Wednesday.
The later-arriving coho are just started to show up. The season’s count at Bonneville through Wednesday was four.