September 19, 2019
The number of summer steelhead forecasted to pass Bonneville Dam and travel into the Snake and Clearwater rivers was downgraded for the third time this month.
The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, which monitors fish runs, and sets preseason and in-season forecasts, dropped the forecasted run of steelhead at its meeting Monday, Sept. 16, to 69,200 fish, which includes both A-run and B-run fish.
Passage of summer steelhead at Bonneville Dam by Wednesday, Sept. 18, was 65,457 fish (25 percent of the 10-year average), both A- and B-run. Some 33,457 of those fish were unclipped. The 10-year average for Sept. 18 is 256,938 steelhead, with 91,044 of those unclipped fish. The count on this date last year was 85,810, with 29,052 unclipped.
Further upriver at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River, the number of steelhead that have passed is 6,650 fish, with 3,307 unclipped (both A- and B-runs). The total passage is just 15 percent of the 10-year average of 44,592 for the total run, and the unclipped passage is 22 percent of the 10-year average of 14,770 unclipped fish. Last year’s passage on this date at Lower Granite was 12,889, with 3,908 unclipped fish.
Just last week, TAC downgraded the run size to 71,600 fish from the 74,000 it had forecasted the first of September. Its preseason run-size forecast was 126,950. A-index or A-run are those fish less than 78 centimeters (about 31 inches) and B-run are larger than 78 cm.
TAC also downgraded the expected passage of unclipped summer steelhead to 34,300, with a downgrade of the B-run forecast to 2,500, including 1,300 unclipped fish.
It was the number of unclipped B-run fish passing Bonneville Dam and heading to the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery (a number determined by PIT-tag readings at Bonneville) that caused the Nez Perce Tribe to break away from lower river tribes who were calling for some extension of commercial gillnetting at the Tuesday, Sept. 17 two-state Columbia River Compact hearing.
Generally the treaty tribes come to the Compact with a consensus recommendation to continue fishing, but this week just the Yakama Nation sponsored the gillnetting proposal, suggesting a one day extension of fishing this week in Zone 6 (Bonneville pool upstream through the John Day pool) and two and a half additional days next week. The extra day this week is Thursday, Sept. 19, and the extended days next week are Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 23 – 25.
Concerned about meeting the B-run hatchery broodstock goal and the impact continued gillnetting lower in the river might have on the remaining B-run fish, the Nez Perce Tribe opposed the Yakama’s fishing proposal.
“The 2019-20 return of summer steelhead is expected to be extremely low, specifically the Dworshak Hatchery releases,” Casey Mitchell of the Nez Perce told the Compact. He said the hatchery broodstock requirement is for 2,000 B-run fish, but just 1,300 are predicted to arrive.
In a Sept. 16 memorandum, the Tribe said that the considering the poor ocean conditions, “it is likely the fish we released last year, next year and following will also be subject to poor returns. Every fish is needed to meet brood needs …”
“We will make a recommendation to the Idaho Commission soon to close all the tributaries to steelhead fishing,” Mitchell said.
In fact the Idaho Commission is meeting, Friday, Sept. 20 to consider the closure, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Lance Hebdon.
“From our perspective, we support the Nez Perce,” he said. “It is clear that the situation with broodstock at Dworshak and Clearwater (Clearwater National Fish Hatchery) is in danger this year. The Idaho Commission meets Friday and one of the items on their agenda is a complete steelhead curtailment.”
He added that the Commission is currently allowing the retention of steelhead, but only those under 28 inches – mostly females – as a way to reduce the impacts on the larger B-run fish.
“However, it’s clear from the PIT-tag update and the TAC downgrade that even that will be insufficient,” Hebdon said.
If Idaho closes steelhead retention, then Washington will do that as well in Washington waters it shares on the Snake River, said Bill Tweit, special assistant with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Tucker Jones, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s manager of ocean salmon and Columbia River fisheries, said Oregon would likely follow suit.
Some 59,810 A- and B-run summer steelhead had passed Bonneville Dam as of Sept. 16, including 30,747 unclipped fish. The summer steelhead run that began July 1 is typically 86 percent complete by Sept. 16. The counts for unclipped fish total more than the clipped hatchery fish. This has not been observed since clipped and unclipped counts for steelhead began at Bonneville Dam in 1994, according to the Compact’s Fall Fact Sheet No. 8.
Also at risk is escapement of fall chinook salmon to the Spring Creek National Hatchery, which is located in the Bonneville pool. At this point, hatchery managers are uncertain they will meet the escapement goal.
Preston Bronson, representing the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said he could support the one day extension of fishing this week, but would like to come back to the table to further discuss next week’s fishery. “As of now, we do not have a particular ask (of the Compact or other tribes), but we want to express our concerns for the B-run steelhead,” he said.
“It’s less awkward when the tribes arrive at a consensus,” Jones said as he and Tweit mulled how to rule on continued Treaty gillnetting when the states have little legal leeway to influence whether fishing should continue.
“Our role isn’t to pass tribal choices,” Tweit explained. “Ours’ is to allow tribal sales of fish to buyers. But even if we choose to not authorize state-licensed buyers, we don’t have a yeah or nay authority to rule on the fishing.”
So how does that impact the conservation issues before them? he asked. “We need to try hard not to make Dworshak or Spring Creek worse.”
“There are a lot of URBs left in the river and only about 40 B-run steelhead would be impacted,” said the Yakama Nation’s Roger Dick. URBs are upriver bright chinook, a constraining stock in the fishery. “Having this fishery is not going to make or break the Dworshak escapement.”
He added that the fall run of chinook salmon is big for tribal families and the “issues with steelhead have persisted for a long time and seem to be getting worse. But, this is an issue with the hatchery fish (steelhead), not with wild fish and it doesn’t seem to be the fault of the tribal fishery.”
The projected tally of fall chinook harvested by tribal fishers by the time commercial gillnetting ends next Wednesday is 37,041. The constraining run – the type of chinook stock that limits the total number that can be harvested – is URBs. Tribes expect the harvest of URBs by Wednesday to be 15,375. A late fall platform fishery will add an additional 500 of the fish harvested, bringing the total fall harvest of URBs to 15,875. The allowed catch based on the new run size, however, is 38,456, which leaves 25,081 URBs to be harvested after next week and after the late fall platform fishery.
The tribal harvest of steelhead is expected to hit 1,990 fish, with 203 of those the B-run fish. However, add in 100 B-run steelhead from the platform fishery and the total B-run catch will be 303, just under the 325 allowed harvest, based on the new run size.
Some 173,154 fall chinook adults had passed Bonneville Dam as of Sept. 16, with upriver brights accounting for 152,385 of the fish. The chinook jack count was 27,974, 54 percent of the 10-year average on of 51,582. Passage of the adult run is typically 73 percent complete on that date, according to the Fact Sheet. Tule’s totaled 20,769.
TAC had also downgraded the anticipated fall chinook run, but by only 1 percent. The preseason forecast was of 349,700. Still, the run’s composition changed, with the Bonneville pool tule run downgraded to 31,000 at the Columbia River mouth and 22,300 passing Bonneville. TAC upgraded the number of URBs to 167,200 at the river mouth and 155,345 at Bonneville. The PUB run size was upgraded to 66,200 at the river mouth and 61,055 at Bonneville.
With some 36,276 fall chinook having passed McNary Dam by Sept. 16, the Fact Sheet says the fish management goal of 60,000 fish will be met (the run at McNary is 46 percent complete on that date).
The tally for adult early stock coho salmon over Bonneville Dam by Sept. 16 was 33,566 (defined as coho passing prior to October 1). That’s more than last year (21,461) but less than the 10-year average of 49,614. Passage of upriver early stock coho is typically 71 percent complete by Sept. 16. The Coho jack count to date is 2,918, less than last year and less than the 10-year average of 3,112.
The Compact also met Wednesday, Sept. 18, to consider opening the Columbia River from Buoy 10 to Bonneville Dam for one day of fall chinook fishing and to close fall chinook fishing from Bonneville Dam to the Washington/Oregon border. Fall chinook angling ended in the lower river Sept. 6, but continued in the river upstream of the dam.
As of Sept. 20, the projected Buoy 10 fishery had harvested 14,764 fall chinook, including 2,167 URBs. The harvest from Tongue Point to Warrior Rock is 2,481, with 1,702 URBs, and from Warrior Rock to Bonneville the harvest is 5,467 with 3,669 URBs. Upstream so far, the fall chinook harvest is 3,046 with 925 URBs. The total fall chinook caught in the Columbia River mainstem is 25,758, with 8,463 URBs. The allowable URB impact is 9,606 fish, leaving 1,142 URBs for harvest. However, a non-retention mortality through December of about 390 URBs would bring the allowable catch for any fishery to just 752.
With the few fish available for harvest, Oregon and Washington agreed instead to leave the upstream river open and the downstream river closed and to revisit the issue next week.