Outdoors

Snake River biologist updates spring chinook run

FISHING — After Idaho backed off making spring chinook salmon season predictions for lack of run information this week, Washington's Snake River fisheries biologist added his take today.

Glen Mendel of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife notes the spring chinook returns so far at Bonneville Dam and even at Snake River dams are above last year but well below the 10 year average.

Read on for his detailed update and predictions:

As of yesterday the spring Chinook return to Bonneville Dam is slightly above last year, but it is way below the 10 year average for that date. The number at Ice Harbor (IHR) is well above last year (260 vs 21 adults in 2012), but again well behind the 10 year average. Fish managers are not certain whether the run is weaker than preseason predictions or just later than expected. Either way, Idaho Fish and Game has postponed taking their fishery plans to their commission for approval and they are uncertain that hatchery broodstock needs will be achieved in the Clearwater River. They will try to make a decision later this week, if possible.

With input from you (at the NE of McNary public meeting that we held on March 27 in Kennewick, and from others of you through our solicitation for your vote to help shape the fishery this year that we announced in local newspapers), we had drafted our proposed Snake River fishery plans. Those proposed fishery plans are now going through the WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) review and approval process in Olympia. We hope that the emergency regulation to open the fisheries will be approved and announced tomorrow.

Our proposed plan is to have the fisheries open in the Snake River only two days per week because of the projected weak run and low harvest allotment provided to us. We would open below Ice Harbor on Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, and each Friday and Saturday after that until further notice. The zones below Little Goose Dam and near Clarkston would be open the following week on Sunday and Monday (May 5 and 6) and continue each Sunday and Monday until further notice. We don’t anticipate these fisheries will last more than about 3 weeks (for 2 days per week) before the Snake River allotment of 335 adult hatchery spring Chinook are harvested, or we are forced to close because of ESA impacts or the run is determined to be smaller than expected, etc. We intend to close Ice Harbor and/or Little Goose to share some of the harvest with Clarkston, if possible. We are trying to allow everyone a fair share of the harvest, but with this small run and the capability for IHR or Little Goose fisheries to take well over 100 fish per day once the peak of the fish run is in the vicinity, that sharing may not work out as we had hoped.

If the run comes in as predicted, the Snake River is allotted another 196 adult Chinook harvest after the mid-season update by the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), so the total harvest target is only 531 hatchery adults. That mid-season update is usually in early May (about May 6-10?). We are planning for a daily limit of 1 adult hatchery Chinook per day and 4 hatchery jacks. Please watch for the news release announcing the opening of these fisheries.

As a reminder, the mainstem Columbia and lower Snake River spring Chinook non-tribal fishery is managed for three zones: 1) below Bonneville Dam, 2) Zone 6, which is Bonneville to the Oregon Border (upstream of McNary Dam), and 3) the lower Snake River from the mouth to the Washington Border at Clarkston (excluding the boundary waters with Idaho). Sport fishing gets the majority of the non-tribal share and it is spilt with Oregon. As in 2013, it is possible that the Snake River could be required to close because we took our allotment, and the lower Columbia River (below Bonneville or in Zone 6) could reopen because they did not meet their allotment, and there was non-tribal allotment that remained available. On the other hand, if the lower Columbia River harvests enough fish, and the fish run size is reduced from the preseason prediction, we may receive a call from the downriver managers instructing us to close the Snake River fishery because the total non-tribal allotment with the new run size has been exhausted.

No changes can be made at this late date to the harvest and ESA allotments for the lower Columbia River or the Snake River because those are set under the Columbia River Compact with Oregon, and reported to tribal managers and the National Marine Fisheries Service. However, you should be aware that there are efforts to discuss possible changes to the allocation process for implementation in either 2014, or possibly 2015. Stay tuned for more information on that discussion process and how you might be able to engage in those discussions in the near future.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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