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NW Fishletter #372, August 7, 2017

[5] Predictions for 2017 Columbia River Fall Chinook and Coho Released

The Columbia River 2017 fall Chinook and coho runs are forecast to come back in numbers close to their recent average returns, a stock status report issued July 26 said.

The forecast for the 2017 fall Chinook adult return to the Columbia River totals 613,800 fish, which is 84 percent of the 2007-2016 average return of 727,600 fish, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission staff report to the Columbia River Compact, the Washington-Oregon harvest regulatory body.

Fall Chinook passage over Bonneville Dam, which starts in mid-August, is predicted to be just over 400,000 fish.

The 2017 coho forecast to the river is for a return of 319,300 adults, which includes 196,800 early stock and 122,500 late stock. That's 93 percent of the recent five-year average of 344,500 fish, the report said.

Passage at Bonneville Dam is anticipated to total 97,400 adult coho, which represents 79 percent of the total ocean abundance of Columbia River coho headed for areas upstream of Bonneville Dam. The goal for upriver coho passage at Bonneville is 50 percent of their ocean abundance.

Coho start entering the river now, and the upriver portion starts passing the dam in significant numbers by mid-August.

The report said the combined A/B-Index summer steelhead returns to Bonneville Dam, which pass the dam from April through October, are expected to total 119,400 fish, including 34,100 wild fish, which is lower than earlier predictions.

The A-index steelhead forecast is now 54 percent and the B-index forecast 25 percent of their respective five-year averages.

Counts of steelhead at Bonneville Dam from July 1 through July 25 have totaled almost 10,420 fish--about half what was anticipated and the lowest cumulative passage since 1943. The count of wild steelhead is the lowest cumulative count of unclipped fish since 1995.

Those passing during July are mostly A-index steelhead headed to tributaries throughout the Columbia system, while the B-index fish start passing the dam near the end of August and are destined primarily for Snake River tributaries in Idaho.

Most of the 2017 sockeye run has passed Bonneville Dam by now. Some 87,140 sockeye have been counted at the dam through July 26. This is also a smaller number than forecast. All the river's sockeye are destined for areas upstream of Bonneville.

So far this year, Snake River sockeye have numbered 225 at Lower Granite Dam. These sockeye probably constitute most of the Snake River run, Russ Keifer, biologist with Idaho Department of Fish and Game, told a July 26 meeting of the Technical Management Team. It's a poor return, as the 10-year average is 972 sockeye passing Lower Granite.

(The 2017 status of spring and summer Chinook and sockeye stocks were also discussed in the February, May, June and July editions of NW Fishletter.)

The Columbia River's only star this year is Pacific lamprey, NOAA Fisheries biologist Paul Wagner said at the TMT meeting. For instance, at Bonneville Dam, some 68,000 lamprey have passed this year, compared with a 10-year average of 16,060 fish.

The CRITFC report and one by Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife indicated that the first fishing for fall Chinook and coho will begin in the popular Buoy 10 area of the lower Columbia River Aug. 1.

Treaty Indian fisheries and non-Indian sport and commercial fisheries are managed based on actual run sizes, not only pre-season forecasts, the CRITFC report said.

Most of the river's fall Chinook stocks are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, but Snake River fall Chinook are. Also not listed are sockeye destined for the Wenatchee and Okanogan river basins and coho destined for areas above Bonneville Dam. All but one of the river's summer steelhead populations are listed, as are lower Columbia River coho. Pacific lamprey are not listed.

The allocation of harvestable fish and/or ESA impacts are subject to the U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement, the 2008 BiOp, decisions by Oregon and Washington in the Columbia River Compact and in the Pacific Fishery Management Council processes, decisions by four Columbia River treaty tribes, and to the terms of the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty process. -Laura Berg

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