Fishery managers predict
this year will see the largest Snake River fall chinook salmon
run in four decades with as many as 28,000 adults expected to
cross Lower Granite Dam on their way back to Idaho.
them are headed for the Snake River above the mouth of the
Clearwater River, and Idaho Fish and Game has proposed a fall
chinook harvest season on the Snake River between Lewiston and
Hells Canyon Dam.
A record dating back to 1975 compiled by the Fish Passage
Center shows last year as the high-water mark with 16,628 fall
chinook counted passing the lower Snake River's Lower Granite
Dam in southeast Washington. Next best is 14,960 in 2004.
The numbers nowadays dwarf those of the not-so-distant
past. The yearly counts from 1976 through 1992 never topped
1,000, ranging from a low of 337 to a high of 944 during the
period. During that time most of the returns were naturally
produced fish. Releases of fish from Lyons Ferry Hatchery
began in the early 1980s and have been greatly ramped up in
recent years with production at Lyons Ferry and from the Nez
Perce Tribe. The Snake River fall chinook in April 1992 were
listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Since then the stock's status has edged upward with the
help of hatchery programs, habitat restoration and
improvements at Columbia-Snake hydro projects that help ease
passage for fish migrating to and from the Pacific Ocean. Most
of the Snake River fall chinook must pass eight hydro
The vast majority of the returning fish now are of hatchery
origin. U.S. v Oregon's Technical Advisory Committee estimated
in preseason that about 6,600 wild Snake River fall chinook
would enter the mouth of the Columbia this year on their
TAC Chair Stuart Ellis said about 2,600 wild fall chinook
are expected to make it to Lower Granite, the eighth dam in
the system. That level of escapement would be comparable to
totals over the past seven years that have ranged between
2,000 and 3,000.
Also expected to reach the dam are 20,000 hatchery fall
chinook and the total could easily rise to 25,000, Ellis said.
TAC's federal, state and tribal fishery experts annually
create and update salmon and steelhead run-size forecasts.
A 28,000 total "is not an unreasonable number," Ellis said.
Jack returns the past two years are the largest on record for
Lower Granite. Jacks are 2-year-old fish that return before
they are fully mature. Their numbers bodes well for the
strength of 3-, 4- and 5-year-old age classes returning this
Ellis also said it is believed the fish experienced
relatively good conditions as they matured in the Pacific.
And, the hatchery output has risen in recent years to about
5.9 million juvenile fall chinook released in the Clearwater
drainage and in the mainstem Snake immediately below the Hells
Canyon Dam and elsewhere.
The released juvenile fish originate from Lyons Ferry and
the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery. Some of the young fish are
released from Lyons Ferry, located downstream between Little
Goose and Lower Monumental dams. Several hundred thousand have
also been used in recent years by researchers conducting an
evaluation how barge-transported Snake River fall chinook
survive as compared to fish that migrate to the ocean
The vast majority of the releases are at tribal acclimation
sites on the Clearwater and on the Snake upstream of Lower
Granite's reservoir. Many of those supplementation fish will
be allowed to spawn in the wild on return as adults.
"That's a pile of fish," Ellis of the hatchery releases.
Ellis is a fisheries biologist for the Columbia River
Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
"Everyone's expecting a lot of fish up there," he said of
The Snake River fall chinook "evolutionarily significant
unit" – the definition of the ESA-protected stock -- includes
all naturally spawned populations of fall-run chinook salmon
in the mainstem Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam, and in the
Tucannon River in southeast Washington, the Grande Ronde and
Imnaha rivers in Oregon and the Salmon and Clearwater rivers
in Idaho, as well as four artificial propagation programs: the
Lyons Ferry Hatchery, Fall Chinook Acclimation Ponds Program,
Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery, and Oxbow Hatchery fall-run Chinook
hatchery programs. The hatchery fish are not protected by the
listing's take provisions and can be harvested.
If approved by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission during
its Aug. 17 meeting, the fall chinook season would open Sept.
1, the same day as the Snake River steelhead harvest season
opens. It would remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week
until Oct. 31 or until further notice.
The daily limit would be one adult or jack fall chinook,
and three in possession; only fish with a clipped adipose fin,
evidenced by a healed scar, may be kept. Anglers may keep 40
salmon for the year, including spring, summer and fall chinook.
All salmon and steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be
immediately released unharmed back to the water.
Fishing rules are the same as those for steelhead. Anglers
may use only barbless hooks no larger than five-eighths inch
from the point to the shank. When the daily, possession or
season limit is reached, the angler must stop fishing for
salmon, including catch-and-release. It is unlawful to take or
fish for salmon and steelhead by snagging. Salmon and
steelhead caught in a legal manner must be either released or
killed immediately after landing.
Anglers must have a valid Idaho fishing license and salmon
permit in possession to fish for salmon.
The Snake River would open to fall chinook in four
-- from the Washington-Idaho border upstream to the Blue
Bridge (U.S. Highway 12 between Lewiston and Clarkston).
-- from Blue Bridge upstream to the Oregon-Washington
-- from Oregon-Washington border upstream to the mouth of
-- from the mouth of Sheep Creek upstream to Hells Canyon
No fall chinook may be harvested in the Clearwater River.
The Washington-Idaho boundary is a line from a posted sign
on western side of Confluence Island due south to the point
off the Green Belt boat ramp. The mouth of the Clearwater
River is a line from a posted sign on the north bank, south to
the western-most point on the south bank.
A map showing the boundaries is available on Page 70 of the
2008-2009 Idaho Fishing Seasons and Rules brochure.