August 8, 2019
Forecasts for upriver steelhead, those that pass Bonneville Dam with many heading to the Snake River, are lower this year and less than 50 percent of the 10-year average.
Meanwhile, the anticipated return of fall chinook is slightly higher at 349,600 fish to the mouth of the Columbia River than last year’s actual return of 293,424 fish. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is asking anglers how it can extend fishing areas in the Clearwater River for the slightly higher run of fall chinook without also interfering with catch-and-release steelhead fishing during the same time, setting an August 18 deadline for public input.
Although steelhead passing the dam from April through October each year are labeled summer steelhead, fish that pass during July through October are categorized as A-Index or B-Index based on their fork length. A-Index, or A-run, are less than 78 centimeters (about 31 inches), and B-Index, or B-run, are longer.
Most of the B-run fish are headed to Snake River tributaries in Idaho, while A-run fish are distributed throughout the Columbia and Snake river basins, according to the two-state Columbia River Compact Fall Fact Sheet No. 1, released July 30.
The forecast for the combined run is 118,000 fish over Bonneville, with 40,450 wild fish (unclipped). But the A-run makes up the vast majority of the fish with a forecast of 110,200 fish, of which 33,900 are wild. That’s 46 percent of the 10-year average. Last year’s A-run forecast was 158,000 and the actual run was less than half the forecast at 69,338.
Last year’s combined forecast was 182,400 fish, but the actual return to the river was far lower at 94,000 fish.
The B-run makes up a small percentage of the total adult steelhead migration, with 8,000 fish (950 wild) forecasted, which is just 24 percent of the 10-year forecast. The 2018 forecast was 24,400 fish and the actual size of the run was very close at 24,662.
As for steelhead returning to Idaho, IDFG expects 60,700 steelhead to return at least as far as Lower Granite Dam this fall. The anticipated makeup of the return is 55,100 A-run steelhead, but only 5,600 of the larger B-run fish that spend two years in the ocean before returning.
The only fish available for harvest are A-run hatchery steelhead, about 35,950 fish that have clipped adipose fins, as well as 2,250 unclipped hatchery fish, according to Alan Byrne, IDFG biologist. That leaves about 16,950 wild A-run fish not available for harvest.
Out of 5,600 B-run fish that will enter Idaho waters this year, just 4,130 will have clipped adipose fins and will be available for harvest. Another 770 will be unclipped hatchery fish and only 665 wild B-run fish are anticipated.
The B-run is likely to be similar to returns in 2017, when the agency put rules in place to restrict the harvest of bigger steelhead, Byrne said in a July 28 Idaho Statesman article. If the modest prediction for the A-run return proves overly optimistic, it will be a tough year for anglers, he said.
IDFG is considering expanding fall chinook salmon fishing in the Clearwater River and is having discussions about how to provide such a fishery without negatively impacting the experience of catch-and-release steelheading in the same timeframe (September through October 14). Public comment is due Aug. 18 at 6 pm MDT.
In the past, fall chinook fishing has been limited to the Clearwater River downstream of Memorial Bridge, partly because only about 15 percent of Clearwater fish had clipped adipose fins, and IDFG did not have a permit from NOAA Fisheries to harvest unmarked hatchery or wild fish.
However, the states of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon have recently submitted a Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan to NOAA Fisheries that outlines a strategy to allow harvest of wild and unmarked hatchery fall chinook dependent on the size of the run. The FMEP is currently out for public review and may be approved by early September, which would allow the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to consider expanded options for setting a fall chinook season.
The 2019 fall chinook run to Idaho is projected to be around 5,400 natural and 10,000 hatchery fish with about 15 percent of the run marked with an adipose fin-clip. The proposal would allow about 1,200 adipose-intact and 2,000 adipose-clipped fall chinook available to be harvested. About half of the harvest would be allocated to the Clearwater River, IDFG said. If it proceeds, this trial fishery would be carefully monitored to estimate angler effort, harvest and overall satisfaction of both steelhead and chinook salmon anglers.