The Columbia River Compact on Oct. 15 approved three 12-hour non-tribal commercial fisheries in the lower Columbia River to sweep up the “crumbs” of fall chinook and coho salmon runs that are fast disappearing upriver.
“This looks like a wrap for the fall season,” said Guy Norman, who represented Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson at the meeting. The Compact sets mainstem Columbia commercial fisheries for tribes and non-tribal fishers. Steve Williams represented Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Roy Elicker.
The fisheries began at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, Thursday Oct. 18 and Sunday Oct. 21. Fisheries managers estimated that the catch will include as many as 550 chinook and 600 coho salmon. They actually caught 516 chinook, but only 56 coho, according to landing reports posted by the ODFW.
Through Sunday a total of 347,474 adult fall chinook had been counted passing over the lower Columbia’s Bonneville Dam, located about 146 river miles upstream from the river mouth at the Pacific Ocean. Fall chinook counts began Aug. 1.
Historical records show that typically 98 percent of the upriver fall chinook run, which includes so-called upriver brights, tules and some Mid-Columbia brights, will have passed Bonneville by Oct. 14.
Daily counts at the dam have dwindled to fewer than 200 per day during the five days ending Oct. 21. During the peak of this year’s run counts were above 10,000 from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16 with two exceptions. The high count was 18,027 on Sept. 14.
During what’s called the fall season, which begins Aug. 1, non-tribal gill-netters had caught an estimated 37,140 chinook, and 2,830 coho, 1,346 white sturgeon, according to figures updated through mid-month in an Oct. 15 joint staff report prepared by the ODFW and WDFW. The non-tribal fleet fishes in the mainstem area from Bonneville down to the mouth.
The coho catch through Oct. 15 brought the non-tribal commercial fleet to within 870 fish of their catch allocation on what is a meager run this year.
As a conservative measure, staff is using an in-season run-size estimate of 110,000 adult early stock for fishery management, as compared to a preseason estimate of 184,600 preseason, according to the staff report. The latest in-season run size estimate is for a return of 46,000 coho, compared to a preseason estimate of 56,200.
Since 1970, adult coho returns to the Columbia River have ranged from a low of 74,800 in 1995 to a high of 1,549,100 in 1986, according to the agencies’ July 2012 Joint Staff Report.
Early stock coho enter the Columbia River from mid-August to early October with peak entry occurring in early September. Late stock coho enter the Columbia River from mid-September through December with peak entry occurring in mid-October.
During the fall season the non-tribal commercial fleet has also caught 20,054 fall chinook and 12,542 coho salmon is so-called “select areas” in the lower Columbia River estuary. The select areas are off-the-main-channel areas where hatchery fish are acclimated before their release.
The adult fish that survive to adulthood and return to spawn, for the most part, return to those select areas. The select area production is funded by the states largely to fuel commercial fisheries in off-channel areas where wild upriver fish do not wander. Several stocks of wild upriver salmon and steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act and are protected via fishery management.
During weekday fisheries, which usually began on Sunday night, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama fishermen caught a total of 77,720 fall chinook, 7,383 steelhead and 5,281 coho salmon in Columbia River mainstem reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary dams during the fall season, according to the landings report on the ODFW’s web site. The four treaty tribes’ platform and set net fisheries began in early August and finished with a 2 ½-day fishery that began Oct. 2.
Anglers this fall season have caught an estimated 20,000 fall chinook at Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia; 25,000 from Bonneville down to the river mouth and 5,300 in mainstem reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary dams, according to the WDFW’s Robin Ehlke.
The fall chinook return this year to the mouth of the Columbia is now predicted to include 295,800 “upriver brights, 75,200 mid-Columbia brights and 60,800 Bonneville Pool Hatchery tules. The total of those three stocks would amount to about 87 percent of the preseason forecast but near the 10-year average.
The Bonneville count of “jack” salmon at Bonneville Dam had risen this week to 121,065, a total that is the third best since jack count began in 1960. Previous high totals were 191,000 in 1986 and 165,000 in 1987. Jacks are young fish that return to freshwater after only one year in saltwater. Most of any brood spends two or more years in the ocean.
The fall chinook run has perhaps been the strongest in relative terms in the Snake River. Through Monday 33,294 adult fall chinook had been counted at Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River. That’s the second most since counting began in 1975. The record for the season is 41,815 in 2010.
The jack count at Lower Granite so far this year is 20,797, which is also second best ever but only half of 2009’s record total of 41,285.
The latest steelhead forecast if for a return of 218,400, as counted at Bonneville. That would be only 60 percent of the preseason forecast and well below the recent 10-yar average of 383,600 fish.