COLUMBIA RIVER — With less than half of the 10-year average of fall Chinook salmon expected to return to the Columbia River this year, the two-state Columbia River Compact opened commercial gillnetting in the lower river and in pools upstream of Bonneville Dam for treaty commercial gillnetting.
Some 349,700 fall Chinook are forecast by the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee to enter the Columbia River this year, with 228,600 expected upstream of Bonneville Dam (passage at the dam is typically half complete by Sept. 9). The anticipated return this year is higher than 2018, when actual returns totaled 293,424 fish, but is just 47 percent of the 2009-18 10-year average of 737,720 fish.
As of Aug. 14, the count of fall Chinook passing the dam is 6,474 adults (67 percent of the 10-year average of 9,678 for that date) and 1,201 jacks (67 percent of the 10-year average of 1,787 jacks).
The Compact met this week, Monday, Aug. 12, at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s regional office in Ridgefield to consider early fall Chinook mainstem gillnetting, deciding on 5 nine-hour overnight periods, for a 45-hour total for commercial non-treaty gillnetters beginning Aug. 14 and ending Aug. 29.
The states also approved treaty commercial fall Chinook gillnet fishing. Some 2.5 days are allowed in each of two openings beginning 6 a.m. Aug. 26 to 6 p.m. Aug. 28, and 6 a.m., Sept. 2 to 6 p.m. Sept. 5., all in Zone 6 (Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools). The Compact in its Fall Fact Sheet No. 3 says it is taking a “conservative approach to managing 2019 fall fisheries.” The tribes expect to take 25,200 fall Chinook during this period with 13,100 of those fish being upriver brights. They also expect to take 2,090 steelhead, including 180 of the larger B-run steelhead destined for the Snake River, and 945 coho salmon.
Dave Moscowitz, executive director of The Conservation Angler, said his group appreciates this conservative approach taken by the Compact and Tribes in approaching commercial fishing season approvals, but he also called out some concerns, not the least is a lack of confidence in forecasts and a lack of spawning escapement information when setting fishing periods.
“Given the low forecasts, the inability to provide detailed stock status updates and the failure to deploy a robust and all-encompassing monitoring and observation protocol across all fisheries, The Conservation Angler believes that while the fishery approach is conservative, the likelihood of over-harvesting or impacting critically low numbers of returning ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks remains real,” Moscowitz said.
The fall Chinook run is composed of seven management components, according to the Compact’s Fact Sheet. They are:
Select Area Brights (SAB),
Lower River Hatchery (LRH),
Lower River Wild (LRW),
Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH),
Upriver Bright (URB),
Pool Upriver Bright (PUB),
Lower River Bright (LRB).
The aggregate PUB and LRB returns comprise the mid-Columbia Bright (MCB) stock category, the Fact Sheet says, adding that LRH and BPH stocks are referred to as tules and the LRW, SAB, URB, PUB, and LRB stocks are referred to as brights. The URB, BPH, and PUB Chinook are destined for areas upstream of Bonneville Dam, and in aggregate comprise the upriver run. Lower river components include SAB, LRH, LRW, and LRB Chinook stocks.
A more positive aspect of this year’s fish runs is the anticipated return of coho salmon of 611,300 adults, which includes 388,000 early stock and 223,300 late stock. That is 162 percent of the recent 10-year average of 377,900 fish. Coho over Bonneville Dam is expected to reach 180,300 fish, which represents 64 percent of the forecast ocean abundance of Columbia River coho destined for areas upstream of Bonneville Dam, the Fact Sheet says. Some 37 adults and 20 jack coho have been counted at Bonneville Dam through Aug. 14, about the same number passing by this date last year, but lower than the 10-year average.