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Fall Chinook Catch Rates Highest Since the 1980s; Record 14, 913 Fish Pass Dam In One Day
August 28, 2008   Columbia Basin Bulletin
Too few upriver fall chinook salmon had been counted passing the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam through midweek to upgrade estimates of the size of the 2008 return.

But one thing's for certain. The fishing has been good.

A larger than anticipated catch Sunday night forced fishery managers to rescind a planned Tuesday night lower Columbia mainstem commercial fishery. Sunday's overnight catch totaled an estimated 4,600 salmon, well over the 3,500 that remained on the gill-net fleet's allocation for August. In the fleet's most recent previous fishery Aug. 19-20 only 844 chinook were harvested.

The August allocation based on the expected adult fall chinook return to the river totaled 13,800 fish. In seven outings gill-netters caught an estimate 14,285 chinook.

In setting the fisheries, Oregon and Washington managers had anticipated that the commercial fishers would catch 3,500 or fewer chinook during the two planned outings this week. The overharvest could result the gill-netters September allocation being reduced.

Anglers in the Buoy 10 area near the mouth experienced a similar good luck-bad luck scenario. They had an allocated catch of 6,500 and had harvested 3,900 chinook through Aug. 20.

In the few days before Aug. 20 managers were reporting catch rates higher than any time since the 1980s. So, they decided last week shut down the fishery at the end of the day Sunday a week earlier than planned -- to assure the sport fishers wouldn't exceed the allocation.

But the fishing stayed hot. Anglers doubled their catch over the weekend to bring the total to 8,000 chinook, which the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Robin Ehlke called a preliminary "ballpark" estimate based on preliminary review of available catch data.

Weekend checks by WDFW showed 1,508 fall chinook, 557 adipose fin-clipped coho, and three adipose fin-clipped steelhead kept for 1,388 boats (complete trips). That's an average of 1.09 fall chinook and 0.40 coho caught per boat.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported an estimated 837 boats at Buoy 10 with a catch rate of 1.94 fall chinook caught per boat.

The Buoy 10 fishery is now closed for chinook retention, but coho are still fair game and are averaging between 8 to 12 pounds.

Chinook retention opens on Labor Day below Bonneville Dam.

Meanwhile, chinook passage at Bonneville 146 miles upstream from the river mouth also took a spike over the weekend. Those counts haves increased slowly as August progressed but through Aug. 21 only two daily tallies had exceeded 1,000, and just barely.

Then on Friday the count jumped to 2,955, then 8,364 Saturday and 14, 913 on Sunday. The count Monday dipped to 11,261 and totaled 5,619 on Tuesday and 5,006 on Wednesday. The total count through Aug. 27 was 61,840.

The WDFW's Cindy LeFleur said Wednesday that the Sunday count was the highest that could be found for that date on a record going back to 1938. Peak counts are typically at the end of August or early September. Ehlke said that cooler weather and rare August rains my have triggered the chinook's upstream movement.

The counts are encouraging, but it's still early, Ehlke and the ODFW's Chris Kern told the Columbia River Compact, which sets, and takes away, mainstem commercial fisheries. It membership is made up of representatives of the ODFW and WDFW directors.

"Until those numbers stay high, are sustained for a number of days, anything can happen," Kern said. Last year the preseason forecast was for a return of 185,200 upriver bright fall chinook to the mouth of Columbia but the actual return was only 114,500 fish or 62 percent of the prediction. The 2007 URB return of 114,500 adults was 48 percent of the recent 10-year average

URB, Bonneville pool hatchery tules and a portion of the Mid-Columbia brights all pass Bonneville on their way hatcheries and to spawning grounds. The preseason forecast this year is for a return of 164,500 URBs, 56,600 Mid-Columbia brights and 86,200 BPH tules.

Non-treaty sport and commercial fisheries this year are allowed a combined impact of up to 8.25 percent on the URB run. The guidelines are intended to limit impacts on Snake River-bound URBs. The Snake River fall chinook are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Ehlke told the Compact that the commercial harvest to-date presented "no risk" of overshooting the fleet's overall chinook allocation. The gill-netters' September-October allocation, again based on the preseason forecast, totals 8,400.

"Commercial fisheries are expected to resume in mid-September," Kern said. The extent of fishing will depend on revised run forecasts and analysis of coded wire tag data that will fishery managers the composition the percentage of URBs vs. tules, as an example -- of the sport and commercial catches so far.

The first run forecast update will likely be produced after Labor Day, based in large part on counts at the dam. Ehlke said that, based on the 1994-2003 average, about 35 percent of the yearly URB return will have passed Bonneville by Sept. 2, and about 30-35 percent of the tule run.


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