Columbia River mainstem commercial fishers, as well as anglers, are now chasing the tail end of an upriver fall chinook run that appears to be well above the 10-year average in terms of adult returns, though somewhat below expectations.
The Columbia River Compact, which sets mainstem commercial seasons where the river represents the Oregon-Washington border, on Tuesday approved outings for both treaty and non-tribal commercial fishers. The Compact is made up of representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama got the go-ahead to deploy gill-nets from 6 a.m. Wednesday through 6 p.m. this Friday. Allowable sales include chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp in Zone 6 reservoirs upstream of Bonneville Dam.
The tribes’ gill-net fishery is the sixth scheduled since the beginning of the fall season Aug. 1. Through the first five weekly outings (mostly 3 ½ or 4 1/2 days) the tribes caught 81,619 adult chinook, including 45,386 “upriver brights,” as well as 12,909 steelhead. The chinook catch includes 10,247 “mid-Columbia brights” and 25,564 fall chinook “tules.”
The four treaty tribes, who fish in mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams, have had to watch carefully how many B summer they sweep into their nets. The A steelhead run and now the B steelhead run have come in in numbers well below expectations.
Wild portions of the B steelhead run and the Snake River upriver fall chinook run (part of the URB run) are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Harvests are held to certain levels in order to limit impacts on listed fish.
Through Sept. 21 the tribal catch had included 2,648 B steelhead, an estimate that includes 2,608 in hand and a 40-fish reserve for planned fishing this fall from streamside platforms. The total represents 12.6 percent of the B run, compared to a 15 percent allocation set aside for the tribes under a management agreement with the states.
The balance remaining under that allocation guideline is 502 B steelhead. The tribes estimate that at most this week’s harvest will land 500 steelhead.
“It just fits into the allowed catch” should 675 nets be deployed, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s Stuart Ellis told the Compact Tuesday. An effort totaling 675 nets is unlikely, given the fact fish numbers are declining. The 40 percent reserve would serve as a buffer if the gill-net fishery exceeds the B steelhead limit.
Summer steelhead return forecasts have ratcheted down as the season progressed. The preseason forecast developed by the Technical Advisory Committee predicted a return to the mouth of 380,300 upriver summer steelhead, which includes A and B and Skamania stocks. That initial forecast predicted 311,800 A (including 91,800 wild fish) and 52,800 B steelhead (13,400 wild). The upriver steelhead are fish bound for hatcheries and spawning grounds upstream of Bonneville in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The B fish are mostly fish bound for the Salmon and Clearwater river basins in Idaho. Both of those Idaho rivers feed into the Snake River and then the Columbia.
The updated forecast produced Monday by TAC said 190,000 A (35 percent wild) and 21,000 B (20 percent wild) would return this year
Through Wednesday, the steelhead count at Bonneville was 218,808, as compared to the recent 10-year average through that date of 366,959, according to data compiled the Columbia River Data In Real Time (DART).
Annual steelhead passage at Bonneville has not been below 300,000 since 2000. Daily counts this week have been declining, with 1,326 tallied Wednesday.
State fishery managers have had to closely monitor the catch by non-tribal commercial fishers and anglers of “Lower River Hatchery” tule fall chinook, which are listed as protected by the ESA.
The LRH have been a primary limiting factor for non-tribal gill netters that do their fishing in the lower river, from Bonneville Dam to the mouth.
ODFW and WDFW staffs estimate that catches to date and catches from ongoing and planned fisheries total an 8.2 percent impact on the LRH stock, just shy of the 8.7 impact limit agreed to by the states and tribes. The 2012 catches of URBs is expected total 13.4 percent, as compared to the 15 percent limit, and non-tribal harvest of B steelhead is expected to total 1.44 percent (2 percent limit).
The Compact this week approved a 10-hour non-tribal commercial fishery from 7 p.m. Thursday through 5 a.m. Friday, Sept. 28, as well was 12-hour fisheries beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The non-tribal gill-net fleet caught 23,600 chinook during nine “early fall” fisheries in August. Tate staffs estimate that 16,000 chinook remained available for the late fall season which began Sept. 19. After fisheries last week and early this week, it was estimated that about 8,000 chinook were still available under the non-tribal commercial allotment. The newly scheduled fisheries are expected to yield a catch of about 4,500 fish.
The latest TAC forecast predicts a return of 299,200 URBs, 75,800 MCBs and 60,900 Bonneville Pool Hatchery tules. That compares to the preseason forecast of 353,000 URBs, 90,700 MCBs and 60,000 BPH.
The chinook count through Wednesday totaled 321,046 adults as compared to a 10-year average of 366,425 through that date.
The chinook jack count through Wednesday was 103,289, more than double the 10-year average of 45,091. Jacks are young male fish that return to freshwater after only one year in the Pacific.