Springer Return Count Still Uncertain; Managers Opt For No Fishing Below Bonneville, Two Days Above

Washington and Oregon fishery managers last week left angling for spring chinook salmon closed downstream of Bonneville Dam, but reopened for two days this weekend fishing from the dam to the states’ border upstream of McNary Dam.

Passage at the dam has picked up somewhat since the two-state Columbia River Compact’s last meeting, with a passage of 25,073 spring chinook as of May 7. However, those numbers are still the second lowest passage for that date in ten years and just 28 percent of the 10-year average (2009 – 2018).

On average, 45 percent of the spring chinook run has passed Bonneville by May 7 and the recent 10-year average of 50 percent passage date at Bonneville Dam is May 9.

However, daily passage of spring chinook at Bonneville Dam on May 7 at 4,807 fish was more than double the previous day’s passage, giving both Tucker Jones and Bill Tweit of Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife agencies some hope that there could be some spring chinook fishing allowed in the coming weeks. (5,051 chinook passed the dam May 2.)

“We’ve never had a peak daily passage of more than 4,000 in a run of less than 90,000 fish,” Jones said. “I feel confident in what we’ve seen today that we will land in a safe spot (for the run).”

Tweit is a fishery manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Jones is manager of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program. Each represents their respective department’s directors as leads on Compact decisions.

The preseason forecast for spring chinook determined by the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee is for 99,300 fish. That forecast is 86 percent of last year’s actual run of 115,081 fish and half the 10-year average of 198,200 fish.

TAC generally updates the run size sometime in early to mid-May, but at its meeting this week agreed, given the low passage, that it’s too early to provide a reliable in-season run size update, according to Geoff Whisler with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and lead for TAC. He said TAC will continue to meet weekly, but with the delay in passage it could be several weeks before a run update would be available.

The last two years have seen similar delayed passage, he said. TAC updated the run size in 2018 May 21 and in 2017, the update was May 27.

The Compact staff in its Spring Fact Sheet No. 4 (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/FS/19/19_05_08sf4.pdf) recommended three days of recreational angling upstream of Bonneville Dam (Saturday through Monday this weekend), no recreational fishing downstream of the dam, and five additional 12-hour periods May 15 to June 13 for gillnetters in a Select Area of the Lower Columbia River.

However, Tweit and Jones opted to cut the staff three-day recommendation of upriver fishing to two days after hearing from tribes about the poor potential for collecting enough broodstock this year for two mid-Columbia River hatcheries.

According to the Colville Confederated Tribes, only one-half of the necessary broodstock is expected at the Leavenworth Hatchery and just a little more than one-half is expected at the Chief Joseph Hatchery.

The Cowlitz and Lewis hatcheries are also reporting low returns with just 219 returning to the Cowlitz Hatchery and 208 spring chinook to the Lewis Hatchery as of May 7. Previous angling had been allowed only upstream of the two rivers on the mainstem to ensure these two hatcheries received sufficient broodstock.

Conditions in the river are lower and more turbid than recent 5-year averages for this date in May, the Fact Sheet says. Current outflow is 244,000 cubic feet per second, including 120 kcfs spill. That’s lower than the recent 5-year average of 322 kcfs. Visibility is 3.0 feet which is less than the average of 4.5 feet. Water temperature is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly warmer than the recent 5-year average of 54.4 degrees. The river stage at Vancouver is about 6.5 feet and is forecasted to remain at about the same level through this weekend.

The results of test fishing near Cathlamet, Wash. dropped during the May 5 and 6 drifts to fewer than two fish per drift. They had averaged just under four fish per drift during test fisheries April 21-22 (2018 was eight fish during this time period) and April 29 (2018 was just over six fish per drift).

The Compact approved two days of recreational angling, Saturday May 11 and Sunday May 12 from the Tower Island power lines (approximately 6 miles below The Dalles Dam) upstream to Oregon/Washington border, plus the Oregon and Washington banks between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines. Daily Bag Limit: Two adult salmonids (chinook or steelhead) per day, but only one may be a chinook. Only adipose fin-clipped fish may be kept. All other permanent regulations apply.

The recreational catch in the area above Bonneville for most of the season has been very low due to late-timed spring chinook passage and poor water conditions, the Fact Sheet says. The estimated catch through May 5 is 119 adult chinook kept and 20 released from 1,551 angler trips, most of which occurred this past weekend. Upriver mortalities are estimated to be 121 adult chinook, or 25 percent of the 492 available to this fishery prior to a run update.

However, given a 3-day opening, upriver mortalities for the proposed fishery would be up to 340 fish, bringing the season total to 461 fish, or 94 percent of the preseason (i.e. buffered) guideline for this fishery, according to Compact staff estimates. Although it would only require an upriver spring chinook run size of 52,500 to cover the projected cumulative mortalities for this fishery, Tweit and Jones worried that better fishing conditions could result in overshooting the guideline, so opting for a two-day opening instead of the staff three-day proposal.

In the lower Columbia River, where angling has been allowed for five periods since March 1, the estimated catch is 1,676 spring chinook from 31,707 angler trips. The Compact staff estimates that upriver mortalities are 1,471 fish, or 40 percent of the 3,689 available to this fishery prior to a run size update.

The Compact also approved five commercial gillnetting periods in the Tongue Point/South Channel, a Select Area in the Columbia River estuary. During the commercial Select Area winter season, gillnetters landed 695 spring chinook (74 percent of the recent 5-year average) and 18 sturgeon. Spring season landings through May 6 include 800 chinook, which is well below average for this point in the season, and 75 sturgeon, the Fact Sheet says. Upriver mortalities through May 5 are estimated at 170 fish, or 53 percent of the 318 available at the preseason run size. Interception of upriver-origin Chinook has been low since last week. The addition of the five 12-hour periods is expected to add just 10 upriver mortalities to the tally.

The Compact’s May 8 decisions are included in its Joint State Action Notice at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/CAN/19/190508_notice.pdf.

Also see:

— CBB, May 2, 2019, “Daily Spring Chinook Counts At Bonneville Rising; Numbers Show Run Now At 12 Percent Of Average,” https://www.www.www.cbbulletin.com/442552.aspx

— CBB, April 25, 2019, “Another Lower Columbia Spring Chinook ‘Re-Opener’ This Weekend; Bonneville Dam Passage Still Low,” https://www.www.www.cbbulletin.com/442508.aspx

— CBB, April 18, 2019, “Columbia River Springer Fishing Allowed This Weekend; Passage Numbers Low At Bonneville But Improving” https://www.www.www.cbbulletin.com/442478.aspx

— CBB, April 11, 2019, “Two More Days Of Spring Chinook Fishing, But Harvest Managers Wonder If Looking At ‘Really Poor Run,’” https://www.www.www.cbbulletin.com/442436.aspx

— CBB, February 1, 2019, “For 2019 Columbia/Snake Spring Chinook, Sockeye Returns Forecasted To Be Well Below Average,” https://www.www.www.cbbulletin.com/442083.aspx

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