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Save Our Wild Salmon

Friday, March 15, 2019

2salmonballet.webNOAA Fisheries saw the lowest number of juvenile coho salmon in 21 years in offshore test nets in 2017, leading to low returns of coho to the Columbia River basin one year later in 2018 when the fish were adults.

However, in 2018 NOAA netted many more juvenile coho than in 2017 and that signals a better adult coho run in 2019, according to a briefing this week at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Portland.

Much of the reason is improving ocean conditions – cooler water than the ocean warmup during the 2014 – 2017 “blob” with more fat-rich food, said Brian Burke of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Burke and biologists from Washington, Oregon and Idaho briefed the Council Tuesday, March 12, on 2018 fish run results and offered forecasts for 2019.

Overall, the number of salmon and steelhead forecasted to arrive at the mouth of the Columbia River will be higher this year than in 2018, with 1.3 million chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead expected in 2019 compared to last year’s actual return of 665,000 fish, said Dan Rawding, Columbia River policy and science coordinator with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Still, that’s far below the total run of salmonids of more than 3.5 million in 2014.

The upriver component of the total salmonid run is forecasted at 968,000 fish this year compared to last year’s 619,400.

Leading the increase in the total number of fish is coho. Last year the forecasted run size was 286,200, but the actual run size was half that at just 147,300 fish. This year, biologists are forecasting a run size of 726,000 coho.

However, ocean conditions affect species differently, Rawding said, as the various species and runs have different timing when they both enter the ocean and when they return to the river, and each species has its own migration pattern when offshore.

As a result, predicted run sizes for the remainder of the species are simply near or below what last year’s runs were, which was not a particularly good year for most Columbia River species of salmon and steelhead.

Upriver spring chinook will continue a series of years with very low returns: this year the forecast is 99,300 upriver spring chinook at the river’s mouth, which is lower than last year’s forecast of 166,700 fish and the actual run size of 115,000. In years before The Blob, the run size averaged about 200,000 fish, with over 300,000 in 2010 and about 140,000 in 2013.

The forecast for Upper Columbia River spring chinook, listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, is 11,200, including 2,100 wild fish. Last year’s actual run was 12,844, with 1,977 wild, and the forecast last year was a bit more optimistic at 20,100, with 3,400 wild. The 2014 run was about 38,000 fish, with about 4,000 wild.

Upper Columbia summer chinook forecast is down to 35,900 fish from last year’s actual return of 42,120 (the forecast in 2018 was 67,300). Upper Columbia summer chinook have been in a steady decline since 2015’s run of over 120,000 fish.

According to Lance Hebdon, anadromous fishery manager at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, of the upriver spring/summer chinook, some 6,130 natural origin spring/summer chinook will migrate into Idaho this year. That’s down from last year’s actual return of 6,863 (the forecast was 12,655). The 10-year average is 16,912, but the minimum abundance threshold for recovery is 31,750.

The hatchery origin spring/summer forecast, he said, is 25,701 chinook. Last year’s actual run was 31,820 and the forecast was 53,218. The 10-year average is 58,393.

Fall chinook are forecasted to return this year in higher numbers than in 2018. Some 340,400 fish are expected to return to the Columbia River’s mouth, with 261,100 upriver fish. The 2018 run was less at 291,100 (214,000 upriver) and the forecast was 375,700 (286,200 upriver).

Natural origin fall chinook into Idaho “really is a bright spot,” Hebdon said. They are forecasted at 5,435 fish, also down from last year’s actual return of 6,133 fish (forecast was 6,113), but higher than the minimum abundance threshold of 4,500. The 10-year average is 10,708.

The forecast for hatchery fall chinook into Idaho is 10,016, a little higher than last year’s actual count of 9,936. The 2018 forecast was for 12,013 and the 10-year average is 28,321.

Columbia River chum, which historically did not pass Celilo Falls near The Dalles, Rawding said, will come in this year about the same as last year’s actual run – 10,000 fish. That’s about average for 21st century chum runs, but far below the peak run in 2016 of about 42,000 fish.

Some 42,900 Willamette River spring chinook are expected this year, according to Art Martin, Columbia River Coordination Section Manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. That’s about half-way between last year’s forecast of 55,950 fish and the actual return last year of 39,660. In 2010, about 120,000 spring chinook returned.

The upriver summer steelhead actual return at 100,483 was the lowest on record, Rawding said. The 2019 forecast is just a bit higher at 126,950. Last year’s forecast was 190,350. The return in 2009 was about 600,000 fish, but the numbers have mostly declined since.

For Idaho, natural origin summer steelhead is forecasted at 17,615 fish, higher than the 2018 actual run of 10,834 fish. The forecast last year was 24,780 and the 10-year average is 29,166. However, the minimum abundance threshold at 21,767 fish is higher than the 2019 forecast. Of the total 16,950 are expected to be A-run fish and 665 B-run fish.

“The B-run (natural origin) is pretty low, but the hatchery summer steelhead performed much worse than the wild,” Hebdon said. “Last year the run was actually the worst until you go back to the 1990s.”

The 2019 run of hatchery summer steelhead is forecasted at 43,085, slightly higher than 2018 when the actual run was 38,086 fish (forecasted to be 71,300) The 10-year average is 116,426 fish. Some 38,150 will be A-run fish and 4,935 B-run.

There will be a slight uptick in wild winter steelhead, almost all which are below Bonneville Dam, Rawding said. Some 14,400 are forecasted in 2019, while last year’s forecast was 11,700 and the actual run was 11,323. The return was about 24,000 in 2016, but dropped to about 10,000 in 2017.

Columbia River sockeye are forecasted to continue the low returns experienced the last couple of years, with this year’s forecast set at 94,400 fish. Some 210,915 were forecasted last year, but just 99,000 showed up at the mouth. About 650,000 returned in 2014.

Wild Snake River sockeye, listed as endangered under the ESA, are forecasted to be a very low 43 fish. That’s “because we prioritize hatchery production” as they rebuild the stock, Hebdon said. Just 36 wild fish returned last year, although the forecast was far higher at 216. The 10-year average return is 194.

The hatchery return of Snake River sockeye is also very low, he said, forecasted at 86. Last year’s actual return was 240, the forecast was 162 and the 10-year average is 873.

Spring chinook anglers downstream of Bonneville Dam in 2018 kept 7,500 hatchery fish in 90,000 angler trips. 600 hatchery fish were kept from Bonneville to the Oregon/Washington border and 740 hatchery fish were kept in the Washington waters in the Snake River, according to information provided by Rawding.

Summer season: 1,000 hatchery chinook, 2,400 hatchery steelhead and 400 sockeye were kept downstream of Bonneville in 27,500 angler trips; 430 hatchery chinook and 100 sockeye were caught from Bonneville to Priest Rapids Dam; 3,000 hatchery chinook and 16,100 sockeye were kept from Priest Rapids Dam to Chief Joseph Dam.

During the fall season, Buoy 10 anglers caught 11,600 chinook and 6,800 hatchery coho in 67,300 angler trips. The catch downstream of Bonneville was 9,800 chinook, 650 hatchery coho and 1,100 hatchery steelhead in 69,600 angler trips.

Some 6,700 chinook were kept at Hanford Reach in 20,100 angler trips.

Non-tribal commercial gillnetters fishing the 2018 fall season in the mainstem river caught 8,300 fall chinook and 380 coho (spring and summer mainstem fishing was closed to them). Select Area Fisheries (SAFE) gillnetting took 8,700 chinook in the spring, 2,200 chinook in the summer and 15,000 chinook in the fall, along with 12,500 coho.

Treaty gillnetters and hook and line fishers took 10,900 spring chinook, 9,300 summer chinook, 5,400 sockeye, 1,200 summer steelhead in the spring and summer, and 5,000 summer steelhead in the fall. In fall fishing, they took 49,800 fall chinook and 3,600 coho.

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