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NW Fishletter #371, July 3, 2017
 Columbia River Salmonid Returns Pegged Below 10-Year Averages
The 2017 Columbia River summer Chinook, steelhead and sockeye runs headed to spawning locations above Bonneville Dam are expected to return at levels below 10-year averages.
That assessment comes from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, which reported the seasonal 2017 salmon and steelhead forecasts June 28.
The Oregon/Washington Columbia River Compact and the Columbia River treaty tribes authorized limited fisheries June 28. Most fishing seasons were set only for the coming week, pending more information on returns and harvest rates.
According to the agencies, some 63,100 summer Chinook adults are expected to return to the Columbia River this year, making it about 88 percent of the 2007-2016 average.
Chinook passing a fish ladder window at Bonneville Dam. Credit: NWPCC
The predicted return of 130,700 upriver summer steelhead is only 38 percent of the 10-year average, while the sockeye forecast of 198,500 fish is about 63 percent of the decadal trend.
The sockeye prediction includes 54,200 Wenatchee River stock, 137,900 Okanogan River stock, and 1,400 Snake River stock.
Only the upper Columbia summer Chinook run, which passes Bonneville Dam June 16-July 31 and is destined for areas above Priest Rapids Dam, is considered healthy, according to the fact sheet.
These summer Chinook are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, while wild summer steelhead and some sockeye populations are ESA-listed.
The April-through-June component of the upriver summer steelhead run--the Skamania index, as it's called--are coming back in the lowest numbers seen in decades.
The unclipped or wild Skamania steelhead counts are the lowest since 1999, and when the hatchery component is included, the totals to date are the lowest since the 1970s, according to CRITFC.
The A- and B-index steelhead pass Bonneville Dam from July through October.
Stuart Ellis of CRITFC, chairman of the multiagency Technical Advisory Committee, said most biologists think the poor state of summer steelhead returns can be attributed to "a combination of low out-migration survival in 2015 through the hydro system along with very poor, warm ocean conditions in 2015-16."
It was also likely, he said, that wild steelhead survival was poor during these fishes' yearlong rearing stint in tributary streams prior to out-migration.
Sockeye are also currently returning below expectations, and "if the run is normally timed it may be around half of the forecast run size," the CRITFC fact sheet says.
Last year, however, state and tribal fish biologists underestimated the sockeye return at 101,600. The 2016 run totaled 354,500.
Ellis warned not to view this year's low returns as a crisis. "Salmonid runs are cyclic, you get some good years and some poor years.
This year may be a poor year, he said, but "with the high flows this spring and what appears to be a more moderate ocean, we are probably going to see much better survival for the fish heading out this year. So in the next couple years, things should turn around some." -Laura Berg
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