|Friday, March 23, 2018|
Fisheries managers briefed the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its meeting last week about what’s in store for Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead runs for 2018.
Most runs are expected to be less than the 10-year average and that’s largely due to poor ocean conditions since 2014, according to Brian Burke, a scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Although those conditions have improved for coldwater fish like salmon and steelhead, he said the conditions could continue to affect the fish for one to two more years.
He predicted returns of chinook salmon to the Columbia River in 2018 will be similar to what they were in 2017, but that’s still far below normal.
However, poor returns of fish doesn’t mean sportfishers won’t seek them out. Anglers took 126,800 trips searching for spring chinook in 2017 and 58,100 angler trips during the summer season, according to Dan Rawding of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The spring harvest by sportfishers? Some 12,700 hatchery fish were kept downstream of Bonneville Dam, 1,400 hatchery fish were kept between Bonneville and the Oregon/Washington border and 1,300 were kept in Washington waters of the lower Snake River.
With 58,100 angling trips, summer sportfishers harvested 3,100 hatchery chinook, 4,300 hatchery steelhead and 700 sockeye downstream of the dam, and 100 hatchery chinook and 500 sockeye between Bonneville and Priest Rapids dams, as well as 4,100 hatchery chinook and 5,500 sockeye from Priest Rapids to Chief Joseph Dam.
The Buoy 10 fall season harvest was 17,800 chinook and 9,200 hatchery coho from 95,000 angler trips.
From 133,300 angler trips downstream of Bonneville in the fall some 25,100 chinook, 1,300 hatchery coho and 1,900 hatchery steelhead were kept. From 44,100 angler trips at Hanford Reach, sportfishers harvested 16,900 chinook.
Mainstem non-Indian commercial gillnetters in 2017 harvested 3,300 hatchery spring chinook, 3,000 chinook and 400 sockeye during the summer period and 58,900 chinook and 1,100 coho during the fall season.
In addition, non-Indian commercial gillnetters harvested 7,300 chinook in select off-channel areas during spring, 1,800 chinook in the summer season, and 12,400 chinook and 34,700 coho during the fall.
Commercial treaty gillnetters harvested in 2017, some 5,200 spring chinook, 18,600 summer chinook, 12,800 sockeye, and 2,700 steelhead in the spring and summer and 10,800 in the fall. The gillnetters also caught 134,100 fall chinook and 5,100 coho salmon.
Rawding said that the total return of upriver salmonids – both salmon and steelhead that pass Bonneville Dam – in 2017 was just 856,000 fish and the 2018 forecast for upriver fish is just a little better at 904,000 fish. The total return of salmonids to the Columbia River was 1.2 million, while the 2018 forecast is less at 1.1 million fish. Both years are much lower than the 10-year average.
The actual return in 2017 of upper Columbia River spring chinook was 11,166, which includes 2,514 wild fish (the wild run is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act). The forecast last year was for 19,300 with 3,300 wild. This year the run is anticipated to hit 20,100 fish with 3,400 wild. That’s down from near 38,000 in 2002, 2010 and 2014, and over 50,000 in 2001.
Some 115,000 upriver spring chinook arrived last year (the forecast was 160,000) and the forecast for 2018 is 166,700. The 2015 return was nearly 300,000 fish and the 2001 return was about 450,000 fish.
Just 68,204 upper Columbia River summer chinook returned in 2017 (the forecast was for a return of 63,100 fish), while the forecast for 2018 is 67,300. The 2014 run was over 100,000 fish.
The return of fall chinook in 2017 was 475,900 with some 391,300 of those upriver fish (the forecast last year was 582,600, with 460,500 of those upriver fish. The 2018 forecast for fall chinook is far lower at 365,600 total and, of those, some 286,600 are upriver fish.
“Fall chinook are on a downward trend on returns, and that includes Hanford Reach,” Rawding said.
The peak run of chum salmon was over 40,000 in 2016, but the predicted run for 2018 is one-tenth of that at 4,000 fish.
Coho salmon that arrived in 2017 totaled 235,656 (the forecast was 225,805), while this year’s forecast is for 228,758 fish. More than 1 million arrived in 2014 and the biggest run since 1980 was 1.6 million in 1986.
The run of upper Columbia River steelhead was the lowest in the last 25 years (recreational fishing was reduced to protect the species), but the 2018 run is expected to be a little better, Rawding said.
Some 9,448 wild winter steelhead arrived in 2017 (the forecast was 11,900), while the forecast this year is 11,700 fish. The run in 2016 was 22,500 and in 2003 it was just under 35,000.
With a forecast of 190,350 fish, upriver summer steelhead will have a better year in 2018 than it had in 2017 when the run was 116,841 fish (the forecast for 2017 was 130,700). Both 2010 and 2003 had runs of upriver summer steelhead that were over 600,000 fish.
The 2018 forecast for Columbia River sockeye salmon is 99,000, somewhat better than the actual run last year of 88,263 (the forecast was 198,500). Of those numbers, 1,400 was forecasted last year to return to the Snake River, but only 14 arrived. The 10-year average is 212 at Lower Granite, and for 2018 the forecast is 216.
The run of sockeye was over 600,000 in 2014 and about 500,000 in 2015, a year in which 90 percent of sockeye succumbed to low flow and warm water conditions in the summer.
For runs into Idaho, according to Paul Kline of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the forecast for natural origin spring/summer chinook is up to 12,655 fish as opposed to last year’s count of 4,108 fish. On the hatchery fish side, the forecast is also up from 30,179 in 2017 to 53,218 this year.
The natural origin fall chinook run forecast in Idaho for 2018 is down to 6,113 fish from last year’s run of 6,966, and the hatchery fall chinook run is also down to 12,013 from last year’s 17,814.
The natural origin summer steelhead forecast is higher this year at 24,780 vs last year at 10,540. The hatchery steelhead run is also up from 59,028 last year to 71,300 this year.