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Fishery Managers See Decline In Ocean, Columbia/Snake Fisheries Due To Poor Ocean Conditions
Posted on Friday, March 17, 2017 (PST)

Run forecasts for 2017 are down for nearly all salmon and steelhead runs offshore and in the Columbia River and managers are blaming poor ocean conditions over the past few years.

 

Already, fisheries managers are predicting closures in some places and fewer fishing opportunities in others.

 

Fishing offshore south of Cape Falcon (near Cannon Beach, Oregon) will see the largest declines, limited by the need to protect runs of fall chinook salmon in the Klamath River, which are projected to be the lowest on record due to drought, disease and poor ocean conditions, according to Pacific Fisheries Management Council information. A poor run of Sacramento River winter chinook will also be a limiting factor this year.

 

Because both of these fish intermix with other stocks in the ocean, fisheries targeting more abundant stocks must be constrained, the PFMC said. The PFMC http://www.pcouncil.org/, which establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast, will decide closures at its April 6 – 11 meeting in Sacramento.

 

“The salmon runs this year will present a challenge for ocean fishermen and managers throughout the West Coast,” said PFMC Executive Director Chuck Tracy. “In the north, several coho runs will keep ocean quotas lower than normal. In the south, the low forecast for Klamath River fall chinook is unprecedented, and the most restrictive alternative the Council will consider allows no ocean fishing between Cape Falcon, Oregon and the U.S./Mexico border after April 30 this year.”

 

Offshore fishing north of Cape Falcon will be limited by a poor forecast for wild coho salmon, according to the PFMC and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

The ocean abundance of Columbia River coho is forecast to be about 386,000 fish, which is similar to last year's forecast. Only 223,000 coho actually returned last year to the Columbia River, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

 

"With these options in hand, we'll work with anglers to establish fisheries for 2017 that meet our conservation objectives for wild salmon," said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for the WDFW. "We've got a lot of work ahead, but we anticipate ocean salmon quotas similar to, or perhaps slightly better than, last year's."

 

The problem is ocean conditions, according to Brian Burke, research fisheries biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Burke spoke to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, March 14, at its meeting in Portland.

 

For the past two to three years, he said, conditions that impact ocean temperature, such as a persistent El Nino and The Blob, which sat off the northwest coast for two years, and a subsequent decline in energy provided by the food supply offshore, also largely caused by a warm ocean, have impacted the health of salmon and steelhead offshore, as well as the numbers of fish that would be available for harvest.

 

Ron Roler, a Columbia River fish manager with WDFW, said at the Council meeting that the size of all Columbia River runs of salmon and steelhead are expected to be lower than last year’s runs of fish and, in some cases, lower than the 10-year average.

 

The 2017 forecasted run total for all salmon and steelhead entering the Columbia River is 1.5 million fish, down considerably from last year’s return of 1.8 million fish and the 10-year average return of 2.21 million, and far below the total return of 3.5 million fish in 2014, Roler said.

 

Of those fish projected to enter the Columbia this year, 1.1 million are forecasted to be upriver fish. Last year that number was 1.3 million fish.

 

“Across the board, the number of salmonids returning to the Columbia River is down,” Roler said. “These are the estimates that set harvest goals based on Endangered Species Act limitations.”

 

Breaking forecasts down by species, the number of upriver spring chinook salmon entering the river is predicted to be 160,400 fish, lower than the 2016 forecast of 188,800 and of the actual run, which was 187,800.

 

The 2017 forecast is about 80 percent of the 10-year average.

 

The upriver fish include the mid- and upper-Columbia River and Snake River stocks. The Snake River portion is usually about 56 percent of the run, but this year that could rise to 66 percent. The upper river proportion is 12 percent. Half of the fish will pass Bonneville Dam by May, which is more than a week later than the historic date of April 27.

 

Some 19,300 upriver chinook salmon will enter the river with 3,300 of those forecasted to be wild fish, Roler said. The 2016 forecast was 27,600, 127 percent of the 10-year average of 21,700 fish. The actual run last year was 26,600, and the wild forecast in 2016 was 164 percent of the 10-year average of 3,000 fish.

 

The two-state Columbia River Compact in February has already approved an early sport fishery for spring chinook in the lower river below Bonneville Dam and in the river upstream to the Washington and Oregon Boundary.

 

See CBB, February 24, 2017, “First 2017 Spring Chinook Sport Fishery: Smaller Run But Larger Share Of Catch Than Previous Years,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438380.aspx

 

The upper Columbia River summer chinook run projected at 63,100 is far below last year’s forecast (93,300), which was 132 percent of the 10-year forecast of 70,800 fish, and 2016’s actual run of 91,000 fish. The decline this year is despite the first release of about 450,000 juveniles from the Chief Joseph Hatchery in 2014. Age 3 fish returned last year, while age 4 fish will return this year.

 

Wild spring/summer chinook salmon to Lower Granite Dam is forecasted at 10,124, far below last year’s forecast of 18,600 and actual run of 15,939, said Paul Kline of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at the Council meeting. The 10-year average is 18,229.

 

There are far more hatchery fish than natural fish, he said. Some 45,046 hatchery spring/summer chinook will pass the dam, down from last year’s forecast of 66,100 and last year’s actual run of 58,187 fish. The 10-year average is 62,000.

 

The wild Snake River fall chinook run is predicted at 8,135 fish. The 2016 run estimate was 12,225 and the actual run last year was 9,772 fish. The 10-year average is 10,184.

 

The Snake River hatchery run of fall chinook is predicted to be a third larger than the wild run at 19,056. The 10-year average is 28,693 fish. Last year the run was forecasted at 20,594 and the actual run was 27,629, according to Kline.

 

Sockeye returns to the Columbia River are expected to be 198,500 fish, which includes 1,400 sockeye to the Snake River. That’s far below the 10-year average of 290,000.

 

Sockeye runs are hard to predict, Roler said, which is why the 2016 forecast was just 101,600 (2,200 to the Snake River), while the actual run was 295,500 (944 to the Snake).

 

About 75 percent of the run at the Columbia River mouth will make it to their natal streams, he said, but only 37 percent made it in 2015, a year in which a large proportion of fish were lost due to warm water conditions.

 

Just 86 wild Snake River sockeye salmon are expected to pass Lower Granite Dam this year, Kline said. That’s up from last year’s forecast of 59 and from the actual of 41 fish. The 10-year average is 214 sockeye.

 

The outlook for hatchery Snake River sockeye is better. Some 782 are predicted to pass the dam. Last year’s forecast was 681, with an actual passage of 775. The 10-year average is 901.

 

The April through October forecasted passage of summer steelhead at Bonneville Dam of 130,700 is far below the 10-year average 347,500 fish. Some 265,400 fish were forecast last year and the actual run was lower at 182,736.

 

Of the 2016 forecast, some 230,400 were Group A fish (1-year fish), 91 percent of the 10-year average. Some 89,100 were wild, about 82 percent. Group B fish (2-year fish and generally larger than Group A fish) totaled 25,800, 53 percent of average, with 7,400 wild fish, which is 68 percent of average.

 

Some 18,000 wild winter steelhead are expected to enter the river’s mouth, more than last year’s forecast of 16,900, but lower than the actual run of 22,379, Roler said. The 10-year average is 16,200 fish. Some 16,500 are expected to be Group A fish and 825 Group B fish.

 

The wild summer run of steelhead at Lower Granite Dam is predicted at 17,325, lower than the 10-year average of 30,982, Kline said. The 2016 forecast was 48,878 and the actual run was a far lower 17,249.

 

The hatchery Snake River summer steelhead prediction is 44,200 fish. Last year’s forecast was 83,898 and the actual was 77,259. The 10-year average is 134,978. Group A fish will tally 39,550 and Group B fish 4,650.

 

The largest single chunk of the total salmon run is usually the upriver fall chinook run. The forecast this year is for 582,800 fish entering the river and, of those, 460,700 are upriver fish (the 10-year average for upriver fish is 558,000). The 2016 total run was expected to be 960,200, but the actual run was much lower at 641,900 fish. Some 519,700 were upriver fish.

 

Coho salmon returns are projected at 309,040. The 2016 forecast was 322,500, but the actual run was just 196,342 coho.

 

“The 2017 forecast (of coho) is projected based on the ocean abundance estimate of 386,300 fish,” Roler said in his presentation.  That’s 69 percent of average.  “Typically, the Columbia River return is 80 percent of the ocean forecast and the Bonneville passage represents nearly 30 percent of the Columbia River return.

 

A total of 38,090 wild and hatchery spring chinook are forecasted for the Willamette River, down from 2016’s actual run of 47,225 fish.

 

Salmon forecast returns are based on U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee run reconstruction methodology.

 

In Washington, state fishery managers have scheduled more than a dozen public meetings through mid-April – including three in eastern Washington –as they continue to develop this year's salmon fishing seasons.

 

The public meetings are opportunities for anglers, commercial fishers and others interested in salmon to discuss regional and statewide fisheries issues with representatives from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

A schedule of meetings is available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/

The website also includes an online commenting tool, salmon forecasts and more information about the annual salmon season-setting process, known as North of Falcon.

 

As fisheries managers develop this year's salmon seasons, public participation is vital, said Jim Unsworth, WDFW director.

 

"I strongly encourage people to get involved and share their thoughts," Unsworth said. "Whether it's at one of the public meetings, through our online tool or in discussions with our many advisory group members, the public's input is essential in developing fisheries."

 

Unsworth noted that some people have asked the state to allow the public to attend state-tribal negotiations. Treaty tribes are not subject to state open meeting laws, so both parties would need to agree to open negotiations to the public.

 

"These government-to-government meetings must occur for fishing seasons to be set," Unsworth said. "Refusing to meet with the tribes because they will not allow the public to attend these negotiations would be very unproductive for everyone involved."

 

Unsworth said he understands the closed negotiations are a source of frustration for many in the salmon fishing community but hopes people will be respectful of the process.

 

Fisheries managers will continue to keep people informed throughout the negotiations and work with the tribes at making the process as transparent as possible, Unsworth said.

 

"State and tribal co-managers are far more effective when we work together at recovering and protecting fish and wildlife in Washington," Unsworth said. "I'm committed to working with the tribes to improve the process, make it as open and transparent as possible, and ensure our state's resources are sustainable for future generations."

 

The annual process of setting salmon fishing seasons is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the PFMC http://www.pcouncil.org/

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, February 3, “First 2017 Hearing Setting Fishing Times: Spring, Summer Chinook, Sockeye, Smelt All Forecasted Down,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438281.aspx

 

--CBB, December 16, 2016, “Early Fish Forecast: Lower Returns Than Last Year Expected For Spring/Summer Chinook, Sockeye,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438095.aspx

 

--CBB, July 15, 2016, “Study: The Warm-Water ‘Blob,’ Combined With El Nino, Depressed Marine Productivity Off West Coast,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437129.aspx

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