With a run-size roughly half of the 10-year average, recreational anglers on the mainstem Columbia River will begin fishing for fall Chinook Aug. 1, the traditional start date of the famous Buoy 10 season.
Buoy 10 typically doesn’t produce a lot of salmon until closer to Labor Day.
The offshore salmon season, which started June 24 in the vicinity of the mouth of the Columbia, has been slow. As of July 22, in the “Columbia Ocean Area” only 850 Chinook had been caught, 10.6 percent of the 8,000 quota, and 3,395 coho, or 16.2 percent of the 21,000 quota. Coastwide in Washington, by July 22 4,317 Chinook were caught — 15.7 percent of the 27,500 quota — and 7,386 coho, or 17.2 percent of the 42,000 quota.
The two-state Columbia River Compact set the fall season regulations in April. In late July it set treaty-tribe sturgeon fishing in Zone 6 — Bonneville to McNary dams — and non-treaty select area commercial gillnetting in the Lower Columbia River.
The projected return of fall Chinook to the Columbia River is 375,500, 79 percent of last year’s run of 476,100 and 50 percent of the 10-year average (2008-2017).
This year’s forecast includes 205,100 upriver bright Chinook, compared to a return of 297,423 in 2017. Of those 9,600 are wild Chinook headed to the Snake River in 2018, somewhat fewer than last year’s Snake River run of 11,750.
Based on this lower forecast, fisheries will be managed for a harvest rate of 8.25 percent, down from 15 percent in the recent years, resulting in shorter fall Chinook retention seasons, according to the Compact Fall Fact Sheet No 1.
The allowable impact rate for combined treaty and non-treaty fisheries is 45 percent of the upriver bright run based on preseason forecasts — the upriver bright stock is the surrogate for Snake River wild Chinook), the Fact Sheet says. This impact limit is allocated 30 percent for treaty fisheries and 15 percent for non-treaty fisheries. However, this year, due to the reduced anticipated run size that is near a 200,000 fish threshold, non-treaty fisheries are allocated 8.25 percent of the upriver bright stocks.
The six major management groups of fall Chinook include select area bright, lower river hatchery, lower river wild, Bonneville pool hatchery, upriver bright and Mid-Columbia bright (comprised of pool upriver bright and lower river bright stocks).
Some 182,400 upriver summer steelhead are forecast for 2018, including 57,700 unclipped (48,200 wild) steelhead. The A-run of steelhead (less than 78 centimeters, about 31 inches) forecast is 62 percent of the 10-year average, while the B-run (larger than 78 cm) is 60 percent of the 10-year average.
However, steelhead passage at Bonneville Dam is running behind schedule with counts — July 1-24 — of 16,970 fish, less than the expected 25,300 fish and is about one-third of the 10-year average or about 50 percent of the recent 5-year average. Passage at Bonneville (July–October) is typically 50 percent complete by Aug. 13.
The count of unclipped steelhead — July 1-24 — was 8,272 fish (49 percent of the forecast run) which is 66 percent of the expected passage for this period.
“The B-run forecast shows double what we had last year, but the numbers at Bonneville are not tracking” with the forecast,” warned Rick Stillwater, a Columbia River recreational advisor from the upper reaches of the Columbia River. “I’m worried that the wild B-run is not going to reach the forecast and it could be worse than last year.”
The coho salmon run this year is forecast to be 213,600 fish. That includes 127,200 early stock and 86,400 late stock. The forecast is 51 percent of the 10-year average of 416,100 fish. Some 51,800 of the coho will pass Bonneville Dam. Just 2 have been counted at the dam so far this year, which is not unusual according to the Fact Sheet.
Select area commercial gillnetting will also continue. Expected harvest include 36,100 coho and 2,800 select area bright fall Chinook (hatchery fish). The expected coho catch would be 63 percent of the 10-year average catch, while that of the Chinook brights would be 38 percent of the 10-year average.
Based on recent performance and the 2018 forecast, the expected escapement of tule fall Chinook to the Big Creek Hatchery east of Astoria may not meet broodstock needs, therefore the fishery proposal for the Blind/Knappa Slough site is modified from recent years, according to the Compact Fact Sheet.
So far this year, white sturgeon landings in select area fisheries are 265 fish, or 22 percent of the 1,230 commercial guideline.
The Compact opened to commercial gillnetting the Deep River select area fishery Aug. 27-30, using the larger 9-3/4-inch mesh gillnets. After Sept. 8 gillnetters will be required to go to a smaller 6-inch mesh. Deep River will also be open Monday through Friday nights Sept. 3-22 (15 nights) and Sept. 24-Oct. 12 (12 nights)
“Use of large mesh gear in late August and early September focuses harvest on Chinook during peak abundance, which should reduce escapement of Chinook into Grays River,” the Compact Fact Sheet says. “The reduced mesh size (after Sept. 8) and additional periods for the first three weeks in September are intended to maximize coho harvest, and a mid-October end date reduces chum handle.”
Knappa/Blind Slough is open Monday and Wednesday night Aug. 27 and 29, as well as Monday through Thursday nights Sept. 3 through Oct. 26 (32 nights).
Tongue Point and South Channel select areas will be open Monday and Wednesday nights, Aug. 27 and 29, and Monday through Thursday nights Sept. 3 through Oct. 26 (32 nights).
The Youngs Bay select area will be open for several 36-hour periods, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1 to 7 a.m. Friday, Aug. 3, 7 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m., and Thursday weekly Aug. 7-23, as well as Monday and Wednesday nights Aug. 27–30 (7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3 to noon Wednesday Oct. 31 (58 days).