By Eric Barker
Jan 29, 2021
Fisheries managers at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are forecasting another tough year for spring and summer chinook.
If the forecast proves accurate, it would mark a continuation of what has been a dismal trend marked by concerns for threatened wild fish and depressed fisheries for those that began life in hatcheries.
According to the state’s forecast, too few hatchery spring chinook will return to the Clearwater River to hold a fishing season.
“For the Clearwater we have forecasted a return of about 3,000 fish, which leads to zero harvest share, no fishery,” said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fish manager at the department’s headquarters in Boise.
That would effectively make it the second year in a row without a spring chinook season on the Clearwater. In 2020, a two-day-a-week season with a sliver of harvest share was approved. But the season was shut down when it became clear too few fish would return to meet hatchery spawning goals. When the season ended by emergency rule, anglers had caught an estimated 11 adult chinook.
The news is better for those who target chinook returning to the Rapid River hatchery near Riggins. Hebdon said the state is forecasting a return of 4,400 chinook and a harvest share of about 1,100.
The Hells Canyon stretch of the Snake River will see a return of about 656 adult chinook, enough for a harvest share of 190. Fisheries managers expect about 2,600 hatchery summer chinook will return, including 1,143 to the South Fork Salmon River, 250 to the Lochsa, 1,078 to the Sawtooth Hatchery and 181 to the Pahsimeroi Hatchery.
Fisheries managers are expecting a return of 8,150 wild spring and summer chinook. That is nearly identical to last year’s return but more than returned in 2017 to 2019. The 10-year average for wild chinook is 14,259.
Overall, fisheries managers are expecting 18,783 spring and summer chinook to return above Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. That is fewer than last year’s return of about 21,500 and about equal to the 2019 return.
“Where this forecast falls in the grand scheme of things — 2019 and 2020 were really bad, and 2021 is right in line with that sort of third year of a low return,” Hebdon said.
The 10-year average, which has been falling, is a little more than 48,000. The forecast is built largely on a formula that considers the return of jack chinook, those that return to freshwater after spending just one year in the ocean instead of two or three, as its most important input. Last year’s return of jacks was dismal, said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the department at Lewiston.
Hebdon said forecasts often are wrong. Last year it over estimated chinook returns. Hebdon said perhaps this year’s forecast will prove to be too pessimistic.
“Sooner or later you miss low, and all we have now is hope, and it’s just hope that the forecast is wrong.”
Fisheries managers plan to soon announce details of a virtual public meeting planned for early next month to share with anglers possible fishing season structures on rivers where enough chinook are forecast to return to support harvest.
Barker may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.