With another drop in the fall Chinook forecast and a continuing poor run of steelhead and coho salmon this fall, the two-state Columbia River Compact and the state of Washington shut down angling for salmon and steelhead from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Hwy 395 Bridge near Pasco as of Saturday, Oct. 22.
For the sixth straight week, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, which forecasts fish runs that are used to determine allowed harvest in the Columbia River, downgraded its estimate of adult fall run Chinook salmon to 701,100 fish or about 73 percent of the preseason forecast of 960,000 fish. The new forecast includes 412,700 upriver bright Chinook (71 percent of the preseason forecast) and 45,200 Bonneville Pool Hatchery tule Chinook (45 percent of the preseason forecast).
TAC, which met Oct. 17, also downgraded the late stock of coho salmon from the preseason forecast of 37,100 adults to 15,000 expected to pass Bonneville. The early stock of coho — those passing the dam prior to Oct. 1 — totaled 29,208 fish, far less than the preseason forecast of 47,200 fish.
It did not adjust its forecast for steelhead, retaining a run size estimate of upriver summer steelhead of 171,200 fish, again far less than the preseason forecast of 256,200 fish. The in-season forecast includes 129,200 Group A stock (31,900 wild) and 42,000 Group B stock (6,400 wild).
Robin Ehlke, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist and Compact staff member, said that the preseason forecast for the wild A upriver steelhead was 89,100 fish and the current forecast of 31,900 is just 36 percent of the preseason. The wild B run preseason forecast was 7,400 and is now 6,400, 86 percent of the original forecast.
Although the Compact staff recommended just prohibiting the retention of fall Chinook for recreational anglers from Buoy 10 to the Hwy 395 Bridge at the Oregon/Washington border, the states unanimously decided to prohibit all fishing for salmon and steelhead on the long stretch of river and Washington said it would follow suit for the upper Columbia River mainstem.
Much of the decision to cease angling altogether had to do with the adjusted harvest numbers of upriver bright Chinook. With a downgraded forecast, the number of protected upriver bright Chinook harvested to date by the combined non-treaty commercial and recreational fisheries already exceeds the allowed Endangered Species Act impact of 15 percent of upriver brights, according to Compact Fact Sheet #12a.
But the Compact’s decision also had to do with the declining forecast for late coho salmon and the small number of wild steelhead forecast to move beyond Bonneville Dam.
“The thing that strikes me is that we are constraining harvest of upriver brights, which are 71 percent of the preseason forecast, while steelhead are lower at 67 percent of the forecast and wild steelhead are 22 percent of that run,” said David Moscowitz of the Conservation Angler, arguing to completely shut down fishing on the river. “We’re allowing direct fishing on steelhead when the numbers are even less than upriver brights.”
With the run of steelhead at just 33 percent of the 10-year average into the upper Columbia River, Washington already had closed the Columbia River from its border with Oregon to Pasco on Oct. 18. A forecast of just 6,300 summer steelhead at the dam is falling far short of the minimum 9,550 fish required by NOAA Fisheries to allow a fishing season, WDFW said.
“Every fish will count to make sure enough reach the spawning grounds,” said Jeff Korth, WDFW northcentral regional fish program manager. “All wild fish and those produced from wild parents in the hatchery are already being allowed on the spawning grounds. All steelhead produced from hatchery parents as a backup will probably be needed to reach escapement goals, too.”
The last time upper Columbia River steelhead runs were this low was in the 1990s, resulting in a federal “endangered” species listing in 1997. The run was later classified as “threatened” as returns improved, according to WDFW.
Korth said the overall run timing appears to be tracking the 10-year average, so it is not likely that the missing fish are just late.
Normally, the steelhead fishery is used to remove these “back-up” fish when they are not needed for escapement.
Korth said the weakest component in 2016 upper Columbia River steelhead run is “one-salt” fish that stay in the ocean one year. This year’s one-salt fish are expected to make up 36.5 percent of the run at Priest River Dam, compared to an average of 50-60 percent, he said.
Limits for lower river fisheries, from the mouth to Highway 395 south of the Tri-Cities, had already been reduced to one hatchery steelhead. The only steelhead fishery remaining in the Columbia River above Highway 395 will be at Ringold, a “bubble” fishery held on hatchery steelhead specially marked with both a clipped adipose and left ventral fin.
“Those steelhead are not federally listed, but that run, too, will be a shadow of the usual number of fish,” Korth said.
Also on the Compact’s docket last week was to set three seasons for Treaty Indian fall commercial setline fisheries for sturgeon in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools.
Those seasons are:
Oct. 24 to Nov. 5 in the John Day pool only. Tribal fishers are allowed 1,000 fish this year in the John Day pool. In previous periods, they have caught 738 sturgeon: 262 remain in their allotment.
Nov. 7 to 12 in The Dalles pool only. Fishers are allowed 325 fish, 268 have been caught, leaving 57 allotted.
Nov. 14 to 26 in the Bonneville pool only. Fishers are allowed 325 fish, 131 have been caught, leaving 194 allotted.
The Tribes chose not to extend their fall Chinook gillnet fishery at this time.
Passage of fall Chinook at Bonneville Dam since August 1 is 436,382 adult fall Chinook through Wednesday, Oct. 19, below the 10-year average of 498,110. Some 53,707 jacks have passed the dam, also below the 10-year average of 82,274. Last year on that date, 936,305 adult and 80,682 jack fall Chinook had passed the dam.
Passage of fall Chinook at Lower Granite Dam Oct. 19 was 33,814 adults and 11,465 jacks. Last year at this time 57,370 adults and 10,478 jacks had passed the dam. The 10-year average is 31,730 adults and 16,733 jacks.
Some 185,575 upriver summer steelhead had passed Bonneville as of Oct. 19, 51,419 of which are wild. That’s far below the 10-year average of 343,231 steelhead overall, with 112,761 wild fish. Last year, 262,807 steelhead had passed on this date, with 95,465 wild.
Passage at Lower Granite dam for summer steelhead on Thursday, Oct. 20, was 85,956 with 19,761 wild. Last year on this date 118,504 had passed the dam, with 32,435 wild. The 10-year average is 149,516, with 38,880 wild.
Steelhead to Priest Rapids Dam by Tuesday, Oct. 18, was 6,298, with no wild fish recorded. Last year on this date 13,924 had reached the dam. The 10-year average is 19,061.
Some 39,226 adult and 5,249 jack coho had passed Bonneville as of October 19. The 10-year average is 112,772 adults and 6,984 jack coho. Last year on the same date, 31,226 adults and 4,389 jacks had passed.
Lamprey are having a good year with 52,319 over Bonneville Dam, compared to the 10-year average of 22,887. Last year on October 19 the count was 38,519.