The upriver spring chinook salmon return to the Columbia-Snake river system started with high hopes -- i.e. a preseason forecast that would have been the fourth highest on a record dating back to 1980 -- has turned out to be about “average,” according to preliminary data compiled by the Technical Advisory Committee in a post season report.
TAC, made up of federal, state and tribal fishery officials, in an update released this week pegs the actual adult upriver spring chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia River at 203,063, which is down from the preseason estimate of 314,200 adult fish.
For harvest management purposes salmon passing over Bonneville Dam from the beginning of the year through June 15 are judged to be “spring” chinook. Through that date this year 186,448 upriver spring chinook had been counted passing the dam as compared to the 10-year average of 182,238 adult fish, according to Columbia River Data Access in Real Time (DART) at the University of Washington.
The upriver springers are fish headed for spawning grounds and hatcheries above Bonneville (located at river mile 146) in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The upriver chinook generally make up a large majority of the overall spring chinook return to the Columbia basin. This year, as an example, the preseason forecast was for a return of 109,000 lower river spring chinook.
Despite a lower upriver spring return than originally predicted, both tribal and non-Indian fisheries appear to have stayed within their harvest limits, according to the TAC preliminary report.
As per this week’s final forecast, the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs tribes were allowed up to a 9.1 percent impact on the upriver spring chinook run. The tribes’ final tally was a catch of 17,670 or 8.7 percent of the upriver run.
Most, 9,700, were netted in April and May and used for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Another 7,170 were caught from platform fisheries that began May 15 and most of those fish were devoted to ceremonial and subsistence purposes, though some of the fish were sold.
The tribes also caught 800 upriver spring chinook during a June 7-8 commercial gill-net fishery. The tribal harvests take place primarily on mainstem Columbia reservoirs upstream of Bonneville where the chinook catch is almost exclusively upriver fish.
Under the new run-size forecast non-tribal sport and commercial fisheries were allocated a 1.9 percent impact on the upriver run. The estimated catch was 18,270 fish or 1.33 percent of the upriver run. That “catch” total includes post-release mortality suffered by unmarked fish. Non-Indian fishers must release fish that are not marked at the hatchery with an adipose fin clip. The tribes on the other hand are allowed to keep all of the fish they catch.
About 80 percent of the hatchery fish released into the Columbia-Snake system are fin-clipped.
Most of the unclipped fish are presumed to be of natural origin. Wild spring chinook from the Snake River and Upper Columbia are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The catch limits are imposed to hold down impacts on wild fish.
Of the non-tribal sport catch, 10,462 were in the Columbia mainstem from Bonneville down to the river mouth. Anglers caught another 886 spring spring chinook in Columbia reservoirs above Bonneville and 2,377 in the lower Snake.
The non-Indian commercial fleet accounted for 4,318 spring chinook during two gill-net fisheries downstream of Bonneville. A total of 227 upriver chinook were taken during commercial fisheries in off-channel “select” areas in the lower Columbia estuary.
In all an estimated 16,615 upriver spring chinook were taken before they reached Bonneville in mainstem sport, mainstem and select area commercial, test fishing and in a tribal hook and line fishery below Bonneville.
The preseason forecast was underpinned in many respects by the fact that in 2011 the second largest number of upriver spring chinook jacks – young fish that return after one year in the ocean – on record returned to the basin. Logic says that if they survived well so did their broodmates, which return in future years after two or more in the Pacific.
That forecasting variable is down this year, with only 10,219 upriver spring chinook jacks counted at Bonneville as compared to a 10-year average of 25,499.
The total adult upriver spring chinook count at the lower Snake River’s Lower Granite Dam this year (through June 17) was 66,366, which compares favorably with a 10-year average of 54,078. The spring chinook jack count this year at Lower Granite was 3,525; the 10-year average is 9,655.