With a recent uptick in the number of fall chinook salmon spawners passing over the lower Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam, treaty fishers are expecting a corresponding jump in the catch in reservoirs above the project.
The tribes’ commercial fisheries during the Aug. 22-25 and Aug. 29-Sept. 2 periods totaled 17,431 fall chinook, 7,793 steelhead 2,133 coho salmon. Estimates this week are for a doubling of that chinook take, 35,363. The actual harvest will be calculated when this week’s fishery ends today.
Early indications are that “the total catches are strong” this week, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission biologist Stuart Ellis told the Columbia River Compact Thursday. The Compact is made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife directors. The ODFW and WDFW co-manage Columbia mainstem fisheries where the river is a shared border.
The Compact approved a request by the tribes that a 4 ½-day commercial fishery be approved for next week in mainstem reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary dams. The tribes estimate that next week’s fishery will yield another 28,280 chinook and 5,647 steelhead.
The upriver fall chinook run is comprised of stocks produced upstream of Bonneville Dam, and includes upriver brights, Bonneville Pool Hatchery tules and a portion of the Mid-Columbia bright stocks. Most of the URB chinook are destined for the Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River, Priest Rapids Hatchery, and the Snake River. Smaller URB components are destined for the Deschutes and Yakima rivers. Snake River Wild fall chinook are a sub-component of the URB stock.
The preseason forecast is for a return of 399,600 adult URBs, 116,400 BPH tules and 100,300 MCBs to the mouth of the Columbia, which is located about 146 river miles downstream of Bonneville.
“The tribes expect that on September 16 the tribal fishery will have reached an approximately 15.6 percent harvest rate on URBs (out of an allowed 30 percent harvest rate) and a 13.2 percent harvest rate on B steelhead (out of an allowed 20 percent harvest rate),” according to a tribal fact sheet. “This would leave additional impacts available for more fishing during the week of September 19.”
Shares of the returning fish are guided by a 10-year management agreement forged between four treaty tribes (Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama), the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington and the federal government. The larger the anticipated return, the larger the state and tribal shares.
The catches held below certain levels in order to limit the impacts on wild salmon and steelhead stocks, such as Snake River fall chinook and steelhead, that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“At these expected total catches, the tribal fishery would still be within its allowed harvest for URB run sizes as low as 207,000 and b steelhead run sizes as low as 39,000,” the tribal fact sheet said. Group B steelhead primarily return to tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho.
Through Wednesday a total 153,192 adult fall chinook had passed up and over Bonneville, having made their way through sport and non-tribal commercial fisheries in the lower river. That total includes an estimated 122,672 bright chinook and 30,521 tules. Most of the tules are headed for Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery in the Bonneville pool.
Most of that fall chinook passage was tallied over the past week as counts jumped from 2,000 to 4,000 adults per day to as high as 18,549.
The Technical Advisory Committee met Monday but opted not to update its forecast of the fall chinook run because they did not believe that the year’s passage at Bonneville had reached the halfway point. TAC’s federal, state and tribal fisheries experts meet regularly throughout the spring-summer-fall fishing seasons to evaluate harvest levels and dam counts in making run-size updates.
Non-tribal fishers have also done well. Anglers in the 18-mile stretch of river between the mouth and Tongue Point/Rocky Point caught and kept 10,738 fish before the fall chinook season ended Aug. 28. The area will be reopened to chinook retention Oct. 1. Meanwhile that fishery remains open to the sport harvest of adipose fin-clipped coho and steelhead.
Through Sept. 4 anglers had caught and kept 12,290 fall chinook, 11,630 steelhead and 551 coho in the area between Tongue Point/Rocky Point and Bonneville Dam.
During 10 fishing periods in August, the non-Indian commercial fleet caught 25,338 chinook, 1,746 coho and 1,251 sturgeon.