Fall salmon season looks to be huge
Aug. 1 marked the opening of the long-awaited fall fishing season on the mainstem Columbia River, which this year is expected to see a record number of fall chinook salmon, a run of coho spawners forecast to be 156 percent of the 2004-2013 average and a summer steelhead return similar to the 10-year average.
And both sport and commercial fishers are off and running, even though only the very beginnings of the 2014 fall chinook and coho runs have returned from the Pacific Ocean.
Through August 6, 2,492 adult fall chinook had swum 146 miles up the Columbia from the Pacific Ocean and been counted passing over Bonneville Dam’s fish ladders.
The fall chinook counts at Bonneville, which began Aug. 1, have dropped to below average levels Monday through Wednesday with daily adult chinook passage averaging about 300. But typically less than 1 percent of the year’s overall fall chinook run will have passed Bonneville by Aug 6, and on average the 50-percent passage point falls between Sept. 8 and 15.
Through Aug. 6, 108,739 A and B Index steelhead have passed Bonneville Dam since July 1. Steelhead that pass Bonneville Dam during July through October are categorized as Group A index or Group B index fish, based on fork length.
Group B steelhead primarily return to tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho and usually spend two years in the ocean, while Group A steelhead return to tributaries throughout the Columbia and Snake basins and usually spend only one year in the ocean.
Only six steelhead (including four unclipped fish) out of 779 steelhead sampled at Bonneville since July 1 have been B Index fish. That is typical for this time of year as most B steelhead do not pass Bonneville until September, according to a report prepared by the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife and tribal biologists for Thursday’s Columbia River Compact meeting.
The Compact on August 7 approved the first tribal gill-net fisheries of the fall season in Zone 6 reservoirs on the Columbia upstream of Bonneville. Based on the preseason run-size forecast, the tribes will be allowed to catch as many as 275,670 URBs and 4,638 B steelhead.
The popular Buoy 10 sport salmon fishery at the mouth of the Columbia opened Aug. 1, to coho and chinook fishing, as did recreational fishing up and down the river as fishery management shifts from the summer to the fall season.
On the lower Columbia this past weekend there were 247 salmonid boats and 112 Oregon bank anglers counted in the area from Bonneville Dam downstream to Tongue Point, which is located just upstream of Astoria, during Saturday’s aerial survey; and 387 Oregon boats at Buoy 10. Anglers at Buoy 10 at the river mouth averaged 0.51 chinook and 0.04 coho caught per rod, according to state officials.
In the Columbia River gorge upstream of Portland, boat anglers averaged 0.07 chinook and 0.93 steelhead, while anglers fishing the Portland to Westport area averaged 0.05 chinook and 0.61 steelhead caught per boat. In the Troutdale area just upstream of Portland, boat anglers averaged 0.06 chinook and 0.20 steelhead caught per boat. Bank anglers fishing in the gorge averaged 0.01 chinook and 0.18 steelhead caught per rod, while anglers fishing the Portland to Westport area averaged 0.06 steelhead caught per angler.
The preseason forecast is for a return of 1.5 million chinook salmon to the mouth of the Columbia, which would set a set a modern-day record. Such a return would eclipse the record adult fall chinook return of 1,268,400 last year, which was 227 percent of the 2003-2012 average of 557,600 adults and 187 percent of the total return forecast in the preseason.
The 2014 preseason forecast for fall chinook is 119 percent of the 2013 actual return and 254 percent of the 2004-2013 average return (595,200). So-called “bright” stocks represent 87 percent of the total forecast.
The forecasted return of 919,000 upriver brights – fish bound for hatcheries and spawning areas upstream of Bonneville Dam -- represents 61 percent of the projected total return and is nearly three times (295 percent) greater than the 2004-2013 average.
Fishery officials also predict a return of 638,300 coho salmon to the mouth of the Columbia. That would be 156 percent of the 10-year average of 409,800 fish. Bonneville Dam passage is expected to total 193,500 coho.
The Compact on gave the go-ahead for three weeks of non-tribal commercial fishing for chinook, coho, pink and sockeye salmon and shad in the lower river’s fishing zones 4-5.
The lower end of zone 4 is at the Lewis River at Woodland upstream to Beacon Rock, which is about four miles downstream of Bonneville Dam.
The nine-hour fishing periods are scheduled to take place overnight on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays during the first three weeks of August.