A positively persistent stream of sockeye spawners passing up and over the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam has allowed sport fishing to continue (though not for “summer” chinook) on the lower river as well as tribal fishing in reservoirs upstream of the dam.
The original preseason forecast was for a return of 180,500 sockeye – most headed for the Okanogan River basin that stretches north from Washington into British Columbia. That forecast from the Technical Advisory Committee was based in large part on the composition of last year’s record high return, and the expectation that this year’s return would be buoyed by fish from the same year class that opted to spend an extra year in the ocean.
But counts at the lower Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam lagged early in the sockeye’s typical migration season, causing TAC’s federal, state and tribal fishery officials to scale down their forecasts to prediction of 155,000 adult returns.
But those counts at river mile 146 – Bonneville Dam – neither peaked to any great degree nor dropped off. Daily counts stayed in the 4,000 to 7,000 range from June 15 through July 9, with one burst of just over 9,000 sockeye counted on June 26. TAC on Monday upgraded its forecast to 179,000. The count at Bonneville Dam jumped above 180,000 Thursday, though the daily count have slipped below 1,000 and are falling off rapidly.
The sockeye run could well be propped up by an uncommon number of “jacks,” which typically make their rush upriver a bit later than the run at large. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s Jeff Fryer said that PIT-tag detections at Bonneville Dam last week indicated that 42 percent of the passing fish were jacks, young fish that returned after only one year in the Pacific Ocean. Most salmon species spend two or more years growing to maturity in the Pacific Ocean before returning to freshwater to spawn.
“That’s my suspicion, which bodes well for next year” Fryer said of the prolonged sockeye migration through the Columbia-Snake River hydro system this year. Jacks generally tend to be later timed in their upriver migration than older fish. A lot of “one-ocean” returns this year could be a sign of the survival of that year class will produce a high-end two-ocean return in 2014.
The improved sockeye expectations allowed Oregon and Washington fishery managers last week to reopen Columbia River mainstem to sockeye harvest by anglers, who had since the beginning of the month allowed to target only steelhead and summer chinook jacks.
Based on catch estimates and the allocation for fisheries downstream of Priest Rapids Dam, ODFW and WDFW staff this week did not recommend any additional non-Indian fisheries.
The limiting factor is the catch in-hand of summer chinook. Estimated summer chinook mortalities in two non-commercial fisheries in the lower river (downstream of Bonneville) was 1,954 or 99 percent of the gill-net fleet’s allocation for the June 16-July 31 period.
The lower river sport fishery accounted for 2,234 summer chinook mortalities, which is 114 percent of the allocation. Anglers from Bonneville upstream to Priest Rapids Dam accounted for 200 mortalities, 45 percent of the non-tribal allocation for that part of the river.
Overall the non-tribal catch is at 101 percent of the summer chinook allocation for the Columbia from Priest Rapids down to the river mouth.
Season total estimates include 1,000 sockeye mortalities from non-Indian fisheries downstream of the Hwy 395 Bridge at Pasco, Wash., which is 56 percent of the ESA impact allowed.
The Columbia River Compact on Wednesday approved a commercial fishery for lower Columbia treaty tribes in the reservoirs upstream of Bonneville along the Oregon-Washington border. Salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp may be caught and sold by the tribes, or retained for subsistence, during a fishery that begins at 6 a.m. Monday and ends at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 25. Sturgeon may not be sold, but sturgeon from 43 to 54 inches fork length caught in The Dalles and John Day reservoirs and from 38 to 54 inches fork length in the Bonneville Pool may be kept for subsistence purposes.
Sales of fish are allowed after the open period concludes, as long as the fish were landed during the open period.
Based on the in-season run size forecasts and allocations and current catch estimates, a balance of 4,900 chinook and 3,300 sockeye would remain available for treaty Indian harvest after this week’s fishery.
Catch estimates for next week’s combined gill-net and platform fisheries total 1,800 chinook and 1,600 sockeye along with 1,600 steelhead.
After the conclusion of next week’s commercial gillnet fishery, the tribes have decided to utilize some of the remaining available summer chinook and sockeye in permit gill-net fisheries to meet some ceremonial and subsistence needs that were not fully met in the spring season. Therefore the tribes will not allow fish caught after 6 p.m. on Saturday July 27 to be sold.