COLUMBIA RIVER — More than 1 million adult coho salmon are expected along the Oregon coast and Columbia River in 2019. Some 905,600 of those are forecast to enter the Columbia, where they are the major focus of the popular Buoy 10 recreational fishing season.

Coho fishermen

The initial forecast for 2019 predicts about four times as many coho will return to the Columbia River than did so in 2018. This bodes well for the popular and economically important Buoy 10 season out of Ilwaco and Chinook.

That’s much higher than the 2018 forecast of 349,000 fish (286,200 of those turned into the Columbia) and far more than the disappointing actual run last year of 230,700 fish (147,300 into the Columbia). The 10-year average is 416,100 fish.

The forecast of coho to the Columbia River mouth, as well as forecast runs to coastal rivers is generated by a coho prediction model known as the Oregon Prediction Index. The makeup of the workgroup that produces the model and the coho forecast each year come from the Oregon coast, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee.

“As you can see from going back and looking at past forecast vs actual returns, these forecasts are not always perfect by any means, but we do think the outlook for coho is improved,” said Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and a member of TAC.

“The increase is due to what we think are some better ocean conditions especially off the Oregon coast and some better jack returns,” he said.

Some 545,000 of the Columbia River fish are considered the early run and 360,600 will arrive later. Ocean recreational and commercial fisheries will take a bite out of this number, but the size of the ocean catch is unknown at this time. In Oregon, sport salmon fishing in the ocean off the Columbia River opened last year on June 23.

It is also unknown how many of the fish that enter the river will pass Bonneville Dam, but last year the number was somewhat less than 25 percent of the run.

Most of these are hatchery fish, but 28,126 of the Columbia River coho are wild, according to Dan Rawding of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Last year’s forecast for wild coho was 12,909 fish (for annual forecasts of wild coho in Washington see WDFW reports at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/research/projects/wild_coho/).

“We are forecasting the marine survival to be about 4 percent (same for 2018 and 2019 returns),” he said, “but we had more smolts emigrating in 2018 that will return in 2019, compared to smolts that emigrated in 2017 and returned in 2018.”

Most coho jacks emigrate in the spring as smolts and return in the fall, so they are in the ocean six months but the wild coho forecast is only for adults, Rawding said. Most coho adults emigrate in the spring and return from the ocean 18 months later. Since they spend only one winter in the ocean, most say coho adults only spend a year in the ocean.

In a report released last month by the State of Washington (“State of the Salmon in Watersheds 2018” https://stateofsalmon.wa.gov/exec-summary/), lower Columbia River coho salmon, listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, are one of six stocks of salmonids in the state that is not making progress toward recovery.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt a range of ocean fishery options, including catch quotas for sport and commercial fisheries at its meeting March 7 – 12 in Vancouver, Washington. The meeting notice and agenda are at https://www.pcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Final_March2019_MtgNotice_ENTIREpkg.pdf.

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