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Fall Chinook Return Uncertainty Puts Gill Netters On Hold; Snake River Return Holding High Numbers
Posted on Friday, September 23, 2011 (PST)

Tribal commercial fishers have at least one more week of fishing for salmon in Columbia River mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville Dam this season despite shrinking overall harvest allocations, but the non-Indian gill-net fleet has been put on hold pending a clearer understanding of the size of the 2011 upriver bright fall chinook run.


The Technical Advisory Committee, made up of federal, state and tribal fishery officials, on Monday updated its forecast for the URB return as well as for steelhead and other fall chinook stocks. They now predict that the return to the mouth of the Columbia will total 323,400 URBs, which is down from the preseason forecast of 399,600 adult fish and from a 354,000-fish forecast made a week earlier.


Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife staff, and Columbia River Compact panelists, on Wednesday discussed the forecast and the catch in hand from both sport and commercial fisheries in determining how much fishing time is left. The Compact, comprised for representatives of the ODFW and WDFW directors, sets mainstem commercial fisheries. The non-tribal gill-net fleet fishes downstream of Bonneville, which is located at river mile 146.


The forecasts are based in large part on the counts at Columbia-Snake hydro projects, and Bonneville in particular. They also take into account fishing success in the river below Bonneville and factor in historical run timing data, the WDFW’s Robin Ehlke told the Compact.


The URBs, which are bound for the mid-Columbia’s Hanford Reach, as well as the Snake, Deschutes and Yakima rivers and other streams upriver of Bonneville.


Despite the shrinking forecast, the non-Indian and treaty shares of the URB harvest remain the same, 15 and 30 percent, respectively. That rate of harvest is allowed for returns that include at least 200,000 URBs and 8,000 B steelhead, a stock primarily returning to tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho. Lower anticipated returns result in lower harvest rates, as outlined in a management agreement between states, tribes and the federal government.


Harvest limits are imposed as a means of holding down impacts on stocks protected under the Endangered Species Act. Those listed stocks include wild Snake River fall chinook, which are a part of the URB run, and Snake River summer steelhead. The URB impact limit is a surrogate for the Snake River stock.


The latest forecast for Group B hatchery steelhead is 42,800, compared to the pre-season forecast of 41,200. The new forecast for the protected fish, Group B wild steelhead is 9,700, which is down from the preseason forecast of 12,900. It is estimated that 18.6 percent of Group B hatchery fish are not ad-clipped. Anglers must release fish that are not ad-clipped because most are wild, listed fish.


The Monday forecast estimates that 318,300 Group A steelhead, including another 108,600 wild fish, will pass over Bonneville this year. That’s up from a preseason forecast of 312,700. The A steelhead are returning to tributaries above Bonneville throughout the Columbia and Snake basins.


Forecasts for other upriver (mostly originating above Bonneville) also slid a little bit. The forecast for pool upriver brights dropped to 46,400 from the preseason estimate of 62,600 and the forecast for Bonneville upriver brights is now 29,000, down slightly from the earlier estimate of 37,700. The forecast for Bonneville Pool Hatchery tules, most of which are bound for Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery is 70,000, down from 116,400.


Through Tuesday a total of 312,800 fall chinook, including 254,100 bright stock and 58,700 tule stock, had passed Bonneville. The bright stocks includes the URBs and most of the BUBs and PUBs.


“Even though it is a downgrade, it’s still a big number of fish,” the ODFW’s Chris Kern said of the URB forecast. A return of 324,600 would be just 300 less than the actual 2010 return. It would also be the fifth largest return dating back to at least 1985, according to the Fall Joint Staff report prepared by the ODFW and WDFW staffs.


The Snake River fall chinook count at the lower Snake River’s Little Granite Dam through Thursday was 14,363, which is already the fifth highest on a record dating back to 1975. There is a chance that the return past the eighth dam in the Columbia-Snake hydro system could rise to second on the list. Runner-up now is 16,628 fish in 2004. The record was set last year with a total of 41,815 adult fish.


Despite the protests of fishermen who said that much of the upriver run is delayed, the Compact decided Wednesday to rescind a commercial outing that had been scheduled overnight Thursday.


“The fish are moving through the system very slowly,” commercial fisherman Jack Marinkovich said. Some of the chinook are stalling in anticipation of cooling weather and rain, which has been sparse this late summer, he said.


Staff had estimated that, with the catch already in hand and estimated harvest totals in ongoing sport fisheries and from incidental catch of chinook in October coho fisheries, the non-Indian take is already within a fraction of a percentage point of its 15 percent allowed harvest on URBs.


“I’m not saying yet that we’re closing the door on the 2011 fall season” for the gill-netters, said the WDFW’s Cindy LeFleur, who represented the WDFW direct on the Compact. If the counts and forecast improves, there could be the possibility of an opening next week, she said.


The fleet in outings Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights netted an estimated 21,000 chinook (including tules and the various bright stocks), 6,400 coho and 466 white sturgeon. Based on the current forecasts, and the expected stock composition, the non-tribal fleet’s harvest share is 21,400 chinook.


The Compact on Wednesday approved a tribal gill-net commercial fishery upstream of Bonneville beginning at 6 a.m. Monday and extending through 6 p.m. Thursday.


It will be be the sixth multi-day fishery for the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes since mid-August. The tribes estimate they will have caught a total of 125,515 fall chinook by the end of next week’s fishery, including 76,144 URBs. It is also estimated that tribal fishers will have caught 23,729 steelhead by the end of next week, including 7,966 B fish.


“The tribes expect that by September 29, the tribal fishery will have reached an approximately 23.6 percent harvest rate on URB’s (out of an allowed 30 percent harvest rate) and a 15.5 percent harvest rate on B steelhead -- including some late season platform fishing (out of an allowed 20 percent harvest rate),” according to a tribal fact sheet prepared for the Compact meeting. “This may leave additional impacts available for a short commercial gillnet fishery during the week of October 3, but this will depend largely on the actual catches of B steelhead this week.


“At these expected total catches, the tribal fishery would still be within its allowed harvest for URB run sizes as low as 254,000 and B steelhead run sizes as low as 39,900.”



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