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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
"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.