Fall chinook salmon returns to the Columbia-Snake river system seem to be tracking as expected but upriver summer steelhead numbers are lower than expected as tribal fishers head out to the river for their first commercial fisheries of the fall season.
The Columbia River Compact, made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife directors, on Tuesday approved three tribal commercial fisheries:
-- 6 a.m. Tuesday Aug. 21 through 6 p.m. Thursday Aug. 23;
-- 6 a.m. Monday Aug. 27 through Thursday Aug. 30, and,
-- 6 a.m. Tuesday Sept. 4 through 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8.
The fisheries will be carried out in Zone 6 – mainstem reservoirs between Bonneville Dam at river mile 146 and McNary Dam. Allowed sales will be chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp. Legal sized white sturgeon caught in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dam pools can be kept for subsistence purposes.
Steelhead counts at Bonneville this year through Wednesday totaled 140,136 as compared to the recent 10-yeaer average through Aug. 15 of 210,428 fish. The count Wednesday was 3,494 as compared to the 10-year average for that date of 6,830, according to Columbia River DART, which is based at the University of Washington in Seattle. DART provides an interactive data resource designed for research and management purposes relating to the Columbia Basin salmon populations and river environment.
The Technical Advisory Committee, which develops and updates salmon and steelhead run-size forecasts, has yet to upgrade those preseason steelhead expectations.
“But there seems to be a wide consensus [among TMT members] that the A run will be less than forecast,” said Stuart Ellis, fishery biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and a member of TAC, which is made up of federal, state and tribal fisheries experts. CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for four treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.
TAC will likely meet Monday to update its A steelhead forecast, Ellis said.
Upriver summer steelhead pass Bonneville Dam from April through October of each year. Fish passing during July through October are categorized as Group A or Group B based on fork length (Group A fish are those judged to be less than 78 centimeters long; Group B steelhead are 78 centimeters or longer). Group B steelhead 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.
The preseason forecast is for a combined Group A/B steelhead return to Bonneville Dam of 364,600 fish, including 105,200 wild fish (29 percent).
That early forecast projects a return of 311,800 A steelhead, including 91,000 wild fish, and 52,800 B steelhead (13,400 wild). The Group A preseason forecast if realized would be 6,000 fewer than last year’s actual return but 102 percent of the recent 10-year average. The preseason Group B forecast would be 84 percent of the 10-year average, but slightly better than last year’s return of 37,000 fish.
Passage during July is mainly Group A fish; Group B passage primarily begins around the end of August, according to an July 26 fact sheet developed by the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife staffs.
Ellis said there is speculation among TAC members that the A steelhead run could end up to be as much as 30 to 40 percent less than the preseason forecast. A run passage at Bonneville is typically more than 50 percent complete by mid-August.
The B run “might or might not track the same” as the A run, Ellis said. The B run fish are mostly a year-older than the A-run steelhead so migrated the ocean in a different year and could have encountered different feeding conditions and survival rates.
A preseason forecast return of 654,900 adult fall chinook to the Columbia River mouth, including both lower river and upriver stocks, would be greater than the recent 10-year average and continues the positive trend of strong returns observed since 2010.
The preseason forecast is for a return of 353,000 upriver “bright” fall chinook adults to the mouth of the Columbia. They are bound for the mid-Columbia’s Hanford Reach, the Deschutes, the Snake and elsewhere above Bonneville Dam. Passage is typically 50 percent complete by Sept.7. Also included in the upriver surge are Mid-Columbia brights and Bonneville Pool Hatchery tule fall chinook.
The tribes expect to catch a total of 56,900 upriver brights, 15,725 Mid-Columbia brights and 21,920 BPH tules during the next three weeks with as many as 675 gill nets being deployed in that Sept. 4-8 fishery when the upriver run is expected to be at its peak. The tribes estimate they will harvest about 17,140 steelhead during the three fisheries, including 2,725 B steelhead.
As part of management effort aimed at limiting impacts on wild fish listed under the Endangered Species, catch guidelines have been set for both tribal and non-tribal fisheries. At the projected run-sizes, non-tribal fishers are allowed an impact of 2 percent and tribal fisheries are allowed an impact of 20 percent of the B steelhead run. The impact limits for URBs are 30 percent for tribal fishers and 15 percent for non-Indian fishers.
The B run includes wild Snake River and Upper Columbia steelhead that are ESA protected. The URB run includes protected wild Snake River fall chinook.
At the current run-size forecasts the four tribes would be allowed to harvest 105,900 URBs and 10,560 B steelhead. The estimated catches over the next three weeks would leave a balance of 49,000 URBs and 7,835 B steelhead to catch. Higher than expected harvests and/or reduced run-size forecasts could cut into those balances.