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 Outdoors - StatesmanJournal.com

Salmon return in big numbers

Associated Press file
Chinook salmon pass the viewing window at Bonneville Dam.

Bonneville Dam officials are witnessing a record number of fall-run chinook.

Statesman Journal
October 14, 2003

Federal officials watching the counts at Bonneville Dam said they are elated by record-setting numbers of returning salmon this year, including more than a half-million fall-run chinook.

Between 1,200 and 1,450 fall chinook come through the fish ladder each day.

Those fish are counted through the end of November, when the run drops off.

Single-day totals were highest in mid-September, when counters recorded three consecutive days when more than 40,000 fall chinook passed the crowded viewing window.

Those were the highest daily counts in 65 years of record-keeping. A single-day record of 45,884 chinook was set Sept. 11.

Officials with the Federal Caucus — the nine federal agencies responsible for salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin — said they are optimistic about the high numbers.

“We know that favorable ocean conditions have substantially boosted these adult returns,” said Witt Anderson, the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers fish management office. “But, we also believe that the money and effort the region has invested in salmon recovery have appreciably contributed to these numbers.

“We also know that while most of the fish are hatchery-reared, the wild fish also are making a good showing.”

Caucus officials said that technical improvements to the federal hydroelectric dams, better management of salmon hatcheries and restoration of streamside habitat are factors contributing to salmon recovery.

As an example, survival of juvenile fish moving through the network of dams has improved significantly, with Snake River spring chinook numbers more than doubling compared with conditions in the 1970s.

Actions that have contributed to improvements for all species include: Spilling water to help fish migrating downriver, turbine screens to keep young fish from getting ground up or beaten to death in generators, controlling predatory northern pikeminnow through the Oregon/Washington bounty program that wrapped up for 2003 on Sunday.

Other improvements are taking place on a much broader scale, officials said.

Federal restoration projects have improved and protected more than 500 miles of riverside and streamside habitat.

Many in-stream barriers to migrating fish such as temporary gravel diversion dams or inadequate culverts, have been removed or modified to allow for better fish passage.

And more scientific management of hatcheries has improved when and how fish are released into wild-salmon-bearing streams.

The conclusions of caucus officials have been bolstered by release of the 2003 Check-In Report issued by the Federal Columbia River Power System agencies that are responsible for getting the 2000 NOAA Fisheries biological opinion (BiOp) up and running.

Agencies that participated in preparation of the report are the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Officials for all three said the overall implementation of the BiOp is on track, and that the status of the Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act is improved over the conditions prior to the BiOp three years ago.

The 2003 Check-In Report acknowledges that good ocean conditions are a major contributor to the good returns, but improved fish passage at Columbia and Snake river dams and better habitat, hatchery and harvest practices are also contributing.

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