The US v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, which provides fishery managers with in-season forecasts, is forecasting a 2018 fall Chinook run into the Columbia River that is 23 percent less than the actual number of fish that returned last year and about one-half of the 10-year average.
TAC is forecasting a fall Chinook run in 2018 of 365,600 fish. That’s down from 2017’s actual run of 475,900 fish and far lower than 2017’s forecast of 582,600 fish.
TAC completed the preseason forecast Feb. 15, 2018, in preparation for the North of Falcon season-setting process, TAC said in a memorandum, saying that once that process is complete, the forecast could change slightly. The final forecast will be available in mid-April.
The preseason estimate was made by a sub-group of TAC members along with others from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“The forecasts are down a bit and we think this is primarily due to poor ocean conditions,” said Stuart Ellis, TAC lead and harvest management biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
“They (the forecast numbers) get used first in planning ocean fisheries,” he said, explaining why the forecast will likely see a slight change later. “These get plugged into the ocean models and when the ocean fisheries are set, the ocean models predict slightly different ocean escapements (river mouth run sizes). This depends on the magnitude of the ocean fisheries. Last year fisheries were constrained and so the models actually predicted a few thousand additional fish back to the river mouth.”
TAC will then use these “adjusted” river mouth run sizes as the pre-season forecasts for in-river fishery planning, he said. “We will begin to update the upriver fall Chinook runs around September 10-15.”
Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before finalizing seasons later that month, a WDFW news release says.
Kyle Adicks, salmon policy lead for the agency, said numerous salmon runs are expected to be lower this year compared to last season, including several key Chinook and coho stocks. As a result, a number of fishing opportunities from Puget Sound south to the Columbia River will likely be restricted.
“We will definitely have to be creative in developing salmon fisheries this year,” Adicks said. “I encourage people to get involved and provide input on what they see as the priorities for this season’s fisheries.”
The forecasts are based on varying environmental indicators, such as ocean conditions, as well as surveys of spawning salmon, and the number of juvenile salmon migrating to marine waters.
According to the TAC-WDFW memorandum, fall Chinook are made up of seven management components and this is the first year it has predicted separate numbers for the Lower River Bright (LRB) stock, which in the past has been included in the Bonneville Upriver Bright (BUB) stock.
Some 62,400 Lower River Hatchery fall Chinook (LRH) are forecast to enter the river this year. That compares to last year’s preseason forecast of 92,400 and an actual run of 64,600. The 2018 forecast is 70 percent of the 10-year average.
The number of Lower River Wild (LRW) fall Chinook is 7,600 this year, while the 2017 forecast was 12,500 and the actual run was 7,800. The 2018 forecast is about one-half of the 10-year forecast.
The Lower River Bright stock (LRB) prediction is 3,700 and the actual last year was 4,200. This is the first year TAC has predicted LRBs.
The Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH) forecast is for 50,100, far below last year’s forecast of 158,400. However, the actual run last year was even lower at 48,200. The 2018forecast is slightly more than one-half the 10-year average.
Upriver Brights (URB) comprise the largest single component of the fall Chinook run with a forecast of 200,100 fish. The 2017 forecast was 260,000 and the actual run was 297,100. The forecast is slightly less than one-half of the 10-year average.
A subset of URBs is the Snake River Wild (SRW), which is not forecasted this year. Last year’s predicted run was 12,400 and the actual run was 7,000 fish.
The forecast for Pool Upriver Brights (PUB) is 36,400 fish. Last year’s forecast was 42,100 and the actual run was 46,000 fish. The forecast is slightly less than one-half of the 10-year average.
Bonneville Upriver Brights (BUB), a subset of PUBs is not forecasted this year. The forecast last year was for 3,500 fish, all 5-year old fall Chinook. The actual run was just 1,400.
Some 5,300 Select Area Brights (SAB) are forecasted to enter the river. The 2017 forecast was for a return of 13,700 and the actual return was 6,600. The forecast is slightly less than one-half of the 10-year average.
With the forecasted run size for URBs of slightly more than 200,000 fish, allowed harvest would be 33.25 percent of the fish, with 25 percent going to treaty fisheries and 8.25 percent going to non-treaty harvest (recreational and commercial). That assumes a Snake River natural run size of 5,000 fish. If more of the Snake River fish arrive, harvest could be higher. If 6,000 Snake River fish are expected, then allowed harvest rises to 38 percent, with treaty harvest at 27 percent and non-treaty at 11 percent. If 8,000 Snake River fish are expected, then harvest would be 45 percent with 30 percent for treaty and 15 percent for non-treaty.
The anticipated number of coho entering the Columbia River is also lower than in past years. An estimated 286,200 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, down nearly 100,000 fish from the 2017 forecast. About 279,300 actually returned last year to the river, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts, and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW’s website at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon.