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Free the Snake event lures flotilla to protest dams

Updated with fix to quote attribution

RIVERS — Up to 300 paddlers advocated removal of the lower four dams on the Snake River on Saturday with a peaceful Free the Snake protest that staged near Lower Granite Dam.

The conservationists converged on the lower Snake to protest what they call four "do-nothing dams that consume taxpayer dollars while inflicting an extreme toll on Idaho’s endangered salmon," according to Idaho Rivers United, one of the groups involved.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a different view point, which is posted below.

The Free the Snake Flotilla protesters contend the dams cause costly harm to Snake River salmon and steelhead. They say the relatively little power generated by the dams doesn't cover the losses to fisheries and the outfitting that could be done on the river if it were returned to free-flowing condition.

The barging industry is heavily subsidized and could be replaced by rail, they say, adding that the energy produced by the dams could be made up by green alternatives.

Save Our wild Salmon, another group involved in the protest, says it is committed to working with farmers and others to further support the shift to rail and other transportation that is already occurring.  

"We look forward to working with other stakeholders to bring back the tremendous fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, orchards, free-flowing waterfront (instead of the Lewiston levies) and other values now lost under stagnant reservoirs," said Sam Mace, SOS spokeswoman in Spokane.

Participants in the flotilla gathered at Wawawai Landing on the north bank of Lower Granite Lake, the farthest upstream of the four lower Snake River reservoirs and 3 miles from Lower Granite Dam. The flotilla headed toward Lower Granite Dam where the main rally in support of a free-flowing lower Snake River was held before paddling back.

Meanwhile, here's a statement from Lt. Col. Tim Vail, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District, who contends that Snake River dams provide outstanding value.

We've heard a lot of discussion about the Corps' four dams on the lower Snake River. I'd like to take a few minutes and tell you why they provide outstanding value to the Nation.

The four lower Snake River dams provide a great return on investment.  These dams cost $62 million per year to operate, an investment that generates more than $200 million per year of clean, renewable electricity, enough to power 675,000 residences. This investment also provides a marine transportation corridor that helps move 3.5 million tons of cargo, worth $1.5 billion a year, to regional markets, which improves the region's economic competitiveness.  And this investment provides recreation facilities that host 2.8 million visitors per year.  These four dams also benefit the environment by allowing us to avoid the 7,300 kilotons of carbon dioxide pollution that a coal-fired power plant would emit to generate the same amount of electrical power.     

Snake River dams also are able to meet peak power loads using turbines that can be adjusted in seconds. The flexibility of hydropower dams makes it possible to integrate highly-variable wind energy into the power grid.  When the wind speed changes, some power source has to be immediately ready to add or reduce power to keep the grid stable; hydropower provides that capability. Coal and nuclear power plants require hours for their power output to be adjusted.

As for our fish recovery efforts, the lower Snake River dams are equipped with the most advanced fish passage systems in the world and our fish program is one of the largest fish conservation efforts in the Nation.  Fish passage systems like spillway weirs are in place on all our Snake River dams. Survival rates for juvenile fish through spillway weirs range from 95-100%. The investments in fish recovery are paying dividends. Last year brought some of the highest Fall Chinook, Coho and Sockeye salmon returns to the Lower Snake River since Snake River dam construction began in 1962.  Corps scientists and engineers team with our many partners to prove dams and fish can co-exist.

This year hot weather and drought conditions presented challenges to fish passage and survival. However, working with numerous regional partners to maximize fish survival we still observed the 3rd highest fall Chinook salmon returns over Lower Granite Dam and the 10th highest Snake River Sockeye salmon return since the dam was constructed.  Conditions were unfavorable throughout the Pacific Northwest, but in the Lower Snake River fish managers were able to improve conditions by modifying spill patterns and by releasing cool water from Dworshak Reservoir to moderate temperatures affecting fish in the lower Snake River.

As we face future challenges with optimizing fish recovery, ensuring the efficient flow of goods through the Snake River navigation channel and providing low cost energy, I am confident that, with the support of the American people, we will continue to ensure the Snake River dams provide outstanding value to the Nation.

Angler nears $100K in six months of pikeminnow rewards

FISHING — An angler has earned nearly $100,000 for catching and turning in northern pikeminnows on the Columbia and Snake rivers since the state-sanctioned 2015 Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Program opened May 1.

As of Friday, the angler had earned a record $95,000 and the 2015 season funded by the Bonneville Power Administration ends Wednesday, Sept. 30.

The angler's name is being withheld, said OregonLive outdoors blogger Bill Monroe, but the angler is reportedly one of the regular big-earners who've been cashing in for years on the Oregon-Washington program to reduce numbers of the predators feeding on salmon and steelhead smolts coming down through the Snake and Columbia dams.

For every qualifying northern pikeminnow 9 inches or longer returned to a registration station, anglers will receive $5-$8. The more fish an angler catches, the more they're worth: the first 25 in one season are worth $5 each; after 25, they're worth $6 each; and after 200 they're worth $8 each. Special tagged northern pikeminnow will be worth $500 again this year.

Raising the top regular reward figure to $8 a fish has boosted the payouts significantly, Monroe reports. More important to the fish mangers, it's resulted in more of the pikeminnows being caught.   Warmer, lower flows this year may also have contributed to the higher pikeminnow catch.

Explains Monroe:

Pikeminnow is a native fish that flourishes in the system's hydroelectric-producing reservoirs. They're by far the most voracious predators on juvenile salmon and steelhead.



Chinook salmon booming; B-run steelhead returns downgraded

FISHING — Great news on Columbia-Snake chinook runs, not-so-great news on Idaho-bound steelhead and grim news on coho are being reported in the numbers from Joe Hymer, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon expert in Vancouver:


  • Passage at Bonneville Dam through September 22 totals 755,455 adult fall Chinook.
  • The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has provided a fall Chinook run update of 1,165,600 adults to the Columbia River (25 percent higher than the forecast) including 734,900 upriver brights (URB) bound for the Hanford Reach. Both would be the second largest on record (since at least 1938).  The records are the 1,268,400 fish of which 784,300 were URBs in 2013.  
  • The cumulative total to-date of 37,524 adult fall chinook counted at Lower Granite Dam is the largest since the construction of the dam in 1975. The previous record were the 35,772 fish counted from August 18-September 22, 2013.


  • TAC currently expects the early run adult coho (through September) at Bonneville Dam to be approximately 27,000 fish compared to a pre-season expectation of over 140,000. This will be the fewest fish counted at the dam since 1997.


  • A and B run steelhead Bonneville Dam counts since July 1 total 230,630 fish. On September 21, TAC updated the total A/B Index steelhead run to 250,000 at Bonneville Dam and the B Index steelhead to 20,000 fish (5,200 wild).  B run steelhead are the larger, later-returning fish headed to Idaho. The pre-season upriver steelhead forecast was nearly 300,000 with 41,000 (11,700 wild) B run fish. 
  • The 5,200 wild B run steelhead are only 44 percent of the original forecast.
  • The wild steelhead are now the stock state biologists must pay the most attention to when managing commercial fisheries in the Columbia, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jeff Whisler.

Man’s taste for salmon goes back eons, researchers say

FISHERIES — This week, salmon are attracting anglers to the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River.  But more than 11,000 years ago, salmon fishing may have played a role in the early human colonization of North America, scientists say based on new documentation.

Researchers from Alaska and Washington state have found the earliest known evidence that Ice Age humans in North America used salmon as a food source, according to a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to a news release at WSU News online, the findings counter traditionally held beliefs that Ice Age Paleoindians were primarily big-game hunters. The findings are based on an analysis of 11,500-year-old chum salmon bones found by University of Alaska Fairbanks anthropologist Ben Potter and colleagues at the Upward Sun River site. Excavation has revealed human dwellings, tools and human remains, as well as the salmon bones.

“Salmon fishing has deep roots and we now know that salmon have been consumed by North American humans at least 11,500 years ago,” said lead author Carrin Halffman, a UAF anthropologist who helped analyze the fish bones with co-authors Brian Kemp of Washington State University, Potter and others.

Here are some other highlights for anglers from the research:

  • Salmon spawning runs appear to have been established much earlier and much farther north than previously thought - at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, also known as the last Ice Age.
  • The ancient DNA and stable isotope analyses verified the fish remains as sea-run chum salmon that migrated upriver nearly 900 miles from where the mouth of the Yukon River now exists. These analyses indicate that modern salmon migrations may have ancient roots, dating back to at least the end of the last Ice Age.
  • Fish remains pose a challenge to archaeologists because their bones are small, fragile and typically do not preserve well. Because of these challenges, their remains likely are underrepresented in global archaeological studies and findings.

Idaho sockeye rescue effort continues; numbers down

FISHERIES — Idaho's endangered run of sockeye salmon run upstream 900 miles inland,gaining 6,000 feet of elevation on the way to spawn hear the Sawtooth Mountains. They're determined fish, but they've had a tough summer in a year of warmer than normal water and record-low flows.

From the brink of extinction, the world’s longest-migrating, highest-climbing, southern-most run of sockeye salmon has been making a steady comeback. But the partnership of state, federal, and tribal fishery scientists had to switch from restoration mode to rescue mode this year.

The anadromous Snake River sockeye in the video below is one of 51 collected this year at Lower Granite Dam, the last dam sockeye pass on their way to spawn in Redfish Lake in central Idaho.

The 51 were collected as an emergency rescue effort and driven to the Eagle Fish Hatchery of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game near Boise. Only 50 additional sockeye have been collected after reaching trapping sites near Redfish Lake on their own. Warrm water in the Columbia devastated the sockeye run as the fish returned from the ocean in July. In comparison, 1,516 were trapped near Redfish Lake last year.

From just 16 wild adult fish returning from the ocean between 1991 and 1998, plus 886 wild smolts that were collected from Redfish Lake and surrounding habitats between 1991 and 1993, and 26 “residual” (non-ocean-going) sockeye collected in the same area, fish habitat and production experts and geneticists mounted a program that today is on the cutting edge of species recovery in the world. As genetic techniques have improved over the last 30 years, the sockeye rescue effort is able to control individual fish parentage with such precision that fish fish produced today are nearly identical to the founding 16 wild fish.

To date, more than 10,000 adult descendants have been raised from the original 16 wild adults.


Biologist warns of climate warming effects on Idaho's wild salmon
At a Trout Unlimited meeting last week in Idaho, Bert Bowler, a fish biologist and former Columbia River policy coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said warming waters in the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia and lower Snake, pose a risk to the survival of the wild salmon that migrate to Idaho.
—Idaho Mountain Express


Columbia fall chinook run upgraded to 3rd largest on record; other factoids

FISHING — The huge fall chinook run into the Columbia River is even better than originally forecast, experts say.  No wonder fishing is picking up big-time upstream above McNary Dam and into the Hanford Reach.

Here's the latest update and factoids on this year's salmon runs from Joe Hymer, Washington Fish and Wildlife salmon specialist in Vancouver.

Fall Chinook

  • Passage at Bonneville Dam from August 1 through September 14 totals 562,383 adult fall Chinook, the 2nd largest total to-date on record (since at least 1938).  The record are the 648,461 fish counted during the same period in 2013.
  • The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has provided a Chinook run update of 1,095,900 fish to the Columbia River, which is greater than the preseason forecast of 925,300 Chinook. It would also be the 3rd largest return on record since at least 1938 (record are the 1,268,400 fish in 2013).
  • The in-season forecast includes 685,000 upriver bright (URB) and 139,500 Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH) tule fall Chinook (518,300 and 163,900 preseason, respectively). The URB run would be the 2nd largest on record since at least 1964 (record are the 778,300 fish in 2013). The BPH return would still be the largest since 2004. 
  • The management goal of 60,000 adult fall Chinook escaping past McNary Dam has been met for the 22nd year in a row. 
  • The Lower River Hatchery (LRH) stock preseason forecast to the Columbia River is 96,800 fish. Updating the run in-season is challenging since escapement is based on hatchery returns which are typically not complete until after the fall fishing season concludes. Based upon the current escapement to hatcheries and weirs, the run appears to be tracking at or above preseason projections.


  • The preseason forecast is for nearly 540,000 adult Coho to return to the Columbia River and includes a strong upriver component. The counting period at Bonneville Dam for the ‘early’ component continues through September 30. Counts are tracking behind expectations and currently total only 18,695 adults.
  • Preseason, Bonneville Dam total passage for early and late stock coho was expected to be 190,500 adults.

Summer run steelhead

  • Passage of upriver summer steelhead at Bonneville Dam since July 1 totals 215,589 fish and has been tracking behind expectations. TAC currently estimates a steelhead run of about 250,000 fish to Bonneville Dam which is less than the preseason forecast of 298,800.
  • TAC has not updated the Group B run size but noted the run is tracking less than expected. Additionally, TAC expects the Group A run to come in higher than the prior in-season update of 206,100 fish.

Recreational catches

  • At Buoy 10, total Chinook mortalities are estimated at nearly 40,000 fish.  Since 1982, only the 42,000 fish in 1987 is larger. The Chinook handle in 2015 is very close to 60,000 which is a record
  • The coho fishery at Buoy 10 is on-going.  Estimated harvest through September 7 totals 35,000 fish (including release mortalities) compared to the total 56,500 fish estimated preseason.
  • On the Lower Columbia mainstem from Bonneville Dam to the Rocky Point/Tongue line, based on in-season modeling the sport fishery is projected to accrue 40,000 Chinook mortalities.   It would be a new record since at least 1969. The previous record were the 32,000 fish in 2013. Including release morts, the 2013 total was 33,700.

Hanford Reach fall chinook fishing picking up


FISHING — The fall chinook fishery in the Hanford Reach is starting to pick up, says Paul Hoffarth, Washington Fish and Wildlife biologist in the Tri-Cities. 

"This past week several nice bright chinook were harvested at Vernita, White Bluffs, Ringold, and in the Tri-Cities," he reports.

From Aug. 17 -Aug. 23, WDFW staff interviewed 57 boats (102 anglers) fishing for fall chinook in the Hanford Reach.  Anglers reported harvesting 16 adult fall chinook, 4 jacks, and 3 sockeye.  Staff sampled 35% of the boats fishing for salmon this past week.  Estimated harvest for the week was 46 adult chinook 12 jacks and 9 sockeye.

Fall chinook counts at Bonneville Dam were more than 22,000 on Saturday and McNary counts reached 3,600 adult chinook on Sunday.

Incidentally, bass anglers were getting the most action on the Reach, according the creel surveys. They averaged 0.4 hours per fish caught.

Idaho fall chinook, coho fishing seasons open Sept. 1

FISHING — Idaho will open fall chinook salmon fishing season on parts of the Snake, Clearwater, and Salmon rivers on Tuesday, Sept. 1, as well as the second-ever coho season on the Clearwater River.

The 2015 fall chinook forecast is 37,000 hatchery and naturally-produced fall chinook to the Snake River basin.

The Snake River will open for fall chinook fishing from the Washington-Idaho border upstream to Hells Canyon Dam.  Washington also is opening its stretch of the Snake to fall chinook harvest on Sept. 1.

Fishing on the Idaho portion of the Snake River from the Cliff Mountain Rapids (about a mile downstream of Hells Canyon Dam) will be open until Oct.31, but could be closed sooner depending on the actual number of fish that return and the amount of harvest. The stretch between Hells Canyon Dam and Cliff Mountain Rapids is scheduled to remain open until Nov. 17, or until further notice.

The Clearwater River, from its mouth upstream to Memorial Bridge in Lewiston; and the Salmon River, from its mouth upstream about three-fourths of a mile to Eye of the Needle Rapids, will be open until Oct. 31, or until further notice.

A valid fishing license and salmon permit are required to fish for fall chinook.  Only adipose-clipped salmon may be kept. The daily bag limit is six adult fall chinook; the possession limit is 18. There is no season limit.

Only adult fall chinook (24-inches and longer) must be recorded on the angler’s salmon permit. There is no daily, possession, or season limit on jacks (those less than 24 inches).

Coho fishing will be a nice bonus to Idaho anglers as fisheries managers predict 5,000-18,000 "silvers" will return to Idaho, enough to provide a tribal and non-tribal sport fishery.

The coho season will run through Nov. 15 on the mainstem and Middle Fork Clearwater River from the mouth upstream to Clear Creek near Kooskia, and on the North Fork Clearwater River downstream from Dworshak Dam.

Anglers can keep two coho salmon per day and have 6 in possession.  The season limit is 10.

Coho released from the Nez Perce Tribe's hatchery program have not had their adipose fins clipped.  Anglers may keep coho salmon with an intact adipose fin, but fall chinook salmon with adipose fins must be released unharmed. 

  • Color fish illustrations are printed in the general fishing seasons and rules brochure and online.
  • The Fall Chinook and Coho pamphlets also are available online

Buoy 10 wild chinook must be released starting Aug. 24

FISHING — Starting Monday, Aug. 24, anglers participating in the popular Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River will be required to release any chinook salmon with an intact adipose fin that strikes their lures.

A new rule, approved today by state fishery managers from Washington and Oregon, will limit the chinook salmon catch to abundant hatchery fish marked by a missing adipose fin. As before, coho salmon with an intact adipose fin must also be released on the same 16-mile stretch of the lower river. 

Here's more info from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

The two states’ action follows three weeks of soaring catch rates and high angler turnout that have rapidly propelled the chinook fishery toward its annual catch quota of 34,800 salmon.

Guy Norman, WDFW southwest regional director, said the recreational catch in the Buoy 10 fishery is expect to reach 70 percent of the quota by the time the new regulation takes effect.

“This year’s Buoy 10 chinook fishery got off to a fast start and just kept going,” Norman said. “We had to switch to mark-selective regulations to meet federal conservation limits and to have a chance of keeping the chinook fishery open through Labor Day as previously scheduled.”

Wild chinook salmon returning to the lower Columbia River are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, which limits on impacts to those fish in the river system and on the Washington coast.

Under the new rule, anglers are limited to one adult hatchery chinook with a clipped adipose fin as part of their daily catch limit of two salmon, two steelhead, or one of each. Wild, unmarked steelhead and all salmon except for hatchery chinook and coho with a clipped adipose fin must be released unharmed.

Barbless hooks are required when fishing for salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River and many of its tributaries.

According to the preseason forecast, 925,300 adult fall chinook salmon will return to the Columbia River this year – up 50 percent from the 10-year average. This year’s projected return of 539,600 coho is also well above the 10-year average of 459, 000 fish.

Click here for more information on fishing rules for the Buoy 10 fishery.

Weekend warriors have edge at Buoy 10 salmon season

FISHING — Salmon anglers have kicked off the 2015 Buoy 10 fishing season with some of the fastest early season fishing on record as chinook are funneling into the Columbia at record rates.

And the prospects are bright for the majority of anglers who have only weekends open for fishing… we'll get to that shortly.

First, here's the latest greatest report on salmon numbers heading into the Columbia from Joe Hymer, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon specialist in Vancouver:

Summer chinook

  • A record number of adult summer chinook have crossed over Bonneville Dam.   From June 16-July 31, 2015 a total of 116,657 fish were tallied.  The previous record (since at least 1938) was the 102,724 fish during the same period in 1957. 
  • A record number of adult summer Chinook was caught in the sport below fishery Bonneville Dam.  More than 6,000 adults were caught from June 16-July 31, 2015.  The previous record was 5,576 fish in 2011.   Records began in 1969 (including 1974-2001 when fishing for adult chinook was closed annually from June through July).

Fall chinook

  • It’s still early, but this year’s fall chinook counts at Bonneville Dam are off to the strongest start since 1989.  From August 1-6, a total of 4,837 adults has been counted.  Through the same period in 1989, a total of 6,782 fish had been tallied.  This year’s counts to date are the 5th highest since counting began in 1938. 
  • From  August 1-6, 2013, a total of 4,806 adults had been counted at Bonneville Dam.  Nearly a million adult fall chinook passed the dam that year.  Nearly 650,000 fish are expected to cross the dam in 2015. 

Read details abound Buoy 10 fishing prospects and techniques in this story by Allen Thomas, outdoor writer for The Columbian:

Veteran guide Terry Mulkey says this will be a good summer for weekend-only anglers fishing for salmon in the popular Buoy 10 season at the mouth of the Columbia River.

“We’re really lucky this year,’’ Mulkey said. “All the major good tides fall on a weekend. It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the week.’’

The best tides for chinook fishing at Buoy 10, the name given to the lower 16 miles of the Columbia River from red Buoy No. 10 upstream to Tongue Point, are ebb tides in the morning with an difference of less 5 feet between high and low, he said.

Trolling down river works best on the soft outgoing tides.

The first good tidal cycle starts Friday, with high water at 7:56 a.m and an exchange of 4.8 feet, he said. On Saturday, the exchange is 4.1 feet and 4.0 feet on Sunday.

Other weekends with good tides are Aug. 21-23 and Sept. 5 through Labor Day, Sept. 7.

“If I only had one weekend to fish, it’d be that weekend of Aug. 22 and 23,’’ Mulkey said at a seminar last week.

The difference between high and low tides are only 4.2 feet on Aug. 21, 3.3 feet on Aug. 22 and 2.8 feet on Aug. 23.

Anglers got off to a good start Saturday and Sunday at Buoy 10, especially for coho.

When fishing starts off early, it often means the whole season will be good, Mulkey said.

Mulkey fishes with 65-pound-test braided line on his reels, with leaders of 40-pound-test Maxima Ultragreen or Fluorocarbon. His leaders are 45 to 50 inches and his droppers about 12 inches.

He used to fish with 8-foot leaders, but has shortened up.

“You lose fewer fish with shorter leaders,’’ he said.

Mulkey said he prefers to fish with Delta Divers.

“I prefer divers because of less tangle with them, letting out and not tangle with the rest of the guys in my boat…I hook them up direct. I don’t put any line in between them (the diver and flasher).

But he does switch over to fishing with lead when trolling with an incoming tide.

“When trolling with the current on an incoming tide, the diver is right behind you, can’t get to the bottom, it just won’t dig,’’ he said. “In that situation, switch over to lead.’’

Mulkey said his favorite flasher is a Big Al’s Fish Flash in the color “High Tower,’’ which is aurora green on one side and pearl on the other.

With the warm water temperatures, Mulkey said he believes spinners will be productive this year at Buoy 10.

He does not brine his bait because he uses so much of it guiding. But with the price of bait, he suggested anglers salt theirs.

“If are down there and you want to keep your bait from day to day, salt them down. Use your fresh bait first, then use your salted bait for backup.’’

Guide Bob Toman said fishing at Buoy 10 is largely about finding the right trolling speed.

“The speed you troll is most important,’’ Toman said. “You’ve got some complicated currents. You can’t go off your GPS depth finder, you can’t go off how fast everybody else is going. You’ve got to go off what kind of angle you’ve got on your line.’’

Getting the speed right is tricky.

“Because of the way the currents are going, it’s hard to get your spinner to go the right speed — it’s either going too slow or too fast,’’ he said. “I drive my throttle with my fingertips. You have to have your motor tuned real well and everything lubricated so there’s no stickiness.’’

Although braided line transmit vibrations faster, Toman said he likes to use monofilament at Buoy 10 when with a boat of other anglers.

“I really don’t think the fish like to swim through braided line, so, because of that, the guys on the bow rods catch all the fish because the fish don’t like to go through the vibration.’’

Red-and-white is his favorite color of spinner. It’s also important the spinner rotates a bit erratically.

“You do not want a symmetrical spin,’’ Toman said. “It needs to be asymmetrical. If you’re using a spinner, and you can’t see it on your rod tip, it’s probably more symmetric than it should be.’’

Toman said he loves to fish with spinners, but some times bait works better.

“Some years they like herring better the whole season, other years they’re biting spinners,’’ he said. “So, you can’t go ‘I’m going to be a spinner fisherman this year,’ because they may not bite them. But, if they are biting spinners, you can throw your herring away.’’

Mulkey said it is always important remember the Columbia River estuary can be a rough place in a boat.

“Buoy 10 can be a very, very dangerous place if you don’t pay attention to weather, swell, tides,’’ he said.

Everybody needs a VHF radio in their boat, Mulkey said.

“Your cell phone will not get you in in the fog. If you are disabled, in a crab buoy, ran out of gas, who knows, if you get hit by another boat in the fog. You got your cell phone and the Coast Guard says where are you at. You don’t know. If you get on your VHF radio and you’re talking to them they can triangulate and find you by the signal of your VHF radio.”


SEASON DATES/BAG: Opened Aug. 1. Bag limit is two salmon, although only one chinook, through Sept. 7. Coho must be fin-clipped, but any chinook may be retained. Chinook retention is closed Sept. 8 through 30, but a season allowing fin-clipped chinook may be considered. Coho retention remains open. Beginning Oct. 1, chinook retention opens with a two salmon/two chinook daily bag.

FORECASTS: 925,300 chinook, 539,600 coho. Compares to actual returns of 1,159,100 chinook and 966,000 coho in 2014.

CATCH EXPECTATIONS: 34,800 chinook, 45,800 coho.

Fraser River sockeyes suffering warm water woes, too

FISHING — Sockeye runs in Canadian waters area suffering the same warm-water woes as the salmon in the Columbia River system.

British Columbia biologist: Warm water, low levels put Fraser River sockeye at risk
The Fraser River in British Columbia is a gauntlet through which Pacific salmon must pass in order to spawn, but this year's drought and higher than normal temperatures have pushed water levels in the river down to a 25-year low and water temperatures to a record 20.5 degrees Celsius for this time of year. University of British Columbia biologist Tony Farrell said if conditions continue, few Pacific salmon will attempt to make the swim up the river, and those that do, will likely die.
—Vancouver Sun

Here's the latest report on the drought-related effort to preserve broodstock for Idaho's endangered sockeye:

47 sockeye transported to Eagle Hatchery

By Josh Babcock/Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Due to extreme heat and low flows warming the Snake and Columbia rivers and killing endangered sockeye, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has trapped and transported 47 sockeye from Lower Granite Lock and Dam to Eagle Hatchery near Boise to help ensure their survival.

The survival efforts began July 28, but from Saturday to late Monday afternoon no sockeye passed Lower Granite for IDFG to transport to Boise. IDFG is using those sockeye from Lower Granite to supply and fertilize the hatchery’s eggs.

Russ Kiefer, fisheries biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said it’s getting late in the run for sockeye to pass Lower Granite and if no additional sockeye are collected by 11 a.m. today, it’s likely the trap and transport effort at Lower Granite will end.

According to weekly reports from the Fish Passage Center, at this time last year the dam already counted more than 2,570 of the 2,786 sockeye that passed in 2014. So far this year, only 380 sockeye have passed Lower Granite. It’s the lowest number since only 52 sockeye passed the dam to migrate upstream in 2007.

After passing Lower Granite, sockeye have another 400 miles to travel and 5,000 feet in elevation to climb to reach their spawning grounds at Redfish Lake.

"We’re moving to the conclusion the fish we haven’t counted are likely dead," Kiefer said.

Salmon are usually collected near Stanley, Idaho, but so far this year only two sockeye have made the trip to Stanley without the help of IDFG.

Kiefer said he traveled to the Lyons Ferry Hatchery to examine a cold-water plume where it was believed sockeye were stalling their migration to stay cool. After snorkeling the water, Kiefer said he saw two sockeye, at most.

Kiefer said it’s likely some sockeye traveled up cooler tributaries to escape the heat, but he’s unaware of any other cool pools along the Snake River where sockeye could be stalled.

He said the decision by IDFG to stop or continue trap and transport of sockeye will take place this morning.

Idaho sockeye returns to source despite poor conditions

FISHERIES — The first sockeye salmon reached the Sawtooth Basin near Stanley on Monday, July 27 despite hot weather and warm water that prompted Idaho Fish and Game biologists to capture fish downstream to ensure survival of one of Idaho’s most endangered species.

Department spokesman Roger Phillips offers this detailed report of Idaho's efforts to sustain the state's portion of a 2015 run that's suffering this year from drought conditions.

Tens of thousands of sockeye have died in the Columbia River. Most were likely headed to Central Washington, but during July, Idaho Fish and Game personnel trapped and trucked 37 sockeye from the Snake River at Lower Granite Dam to the Eagle Hatchery near Boise. High river temperatures were dangerous to the migrating fish, and the captured sockeye will be held in Eagle until they are ready to spawn in the fall. Many other sockeye remaining in the rivers face an uncertain future. 

“It’s a tough year for all anadromous fish, including sockeye,” Fish and Game’s Senior Sockeye Research Biologist Mike Peterson said.

Biologists are concerned high water temperatures in rivers will stall, and kill, some sockeye before they arrive to their spawning grounds in the Sawtooth Basin.

Through July 27, 368 sockeye were counted at Lower Granite Dam about 30 miles from Lewiston. Biologists fear only a fraction of those will make it to the Sawtooth Basin, where some are trapped and taken to hatcheries while others are allowed to spawn in their namesake­ - Redfish Lake.

Trapping and transporting sockeye is one of many safeguards Fish and Game implemented to restore the most southern sockeye population in the world and a unique fish that swims 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 6,500-feet elevation to Central Idaho’s mountains.

Another safeguard is Fish and Game’s captive breeding program, which raises sockeye from egg to adult in a hatchery, foregoing the risky trip to the ocean. The program ensures that regardless of how many adults return this summer, the agency will still be able to ramp up its release of juveniles in the spring.

Despite a challenging summer, Idaho’s sockeye population has dramatically improved over the last decade, and Fish and Game’s sockeye program is designed to adapt to changing conditions.

An abundant sockeye return in 2010 allowed Fish and Game to try a pilot project where 19 sockeye were trapped and trucked from Lower Granite Dam to the Eagle Hatchery to see if the fish could survive the rigors of transport, and they did.

Fish and Game tried trapping again during a heat wave in 2013, but problems associated with getting cool water into Lower Granite’s fish trap lead to no sockeye trapped. This summer, cooler water was pumped from deeper in Lower Granite Reservoir so Fish and Game personnel could trap and transport them. Biologists are currently in a wait-and-see mode for the fish remaining in the rivers.

“I don’t know what to expect because this is a year we’ve never seen before,” Peterson said. “We’re going to learn the thermal tolerances of these fish.”

After sockeye cross Lower Granite Dam, they still have 400 miles to travel in the Snake and Salmon rivers to reach the Sawtooth Basin, and biologist have limited ability to monitor their progress, or know what happened to those that didn’t make it.

Biologists know warm water slows their progress, and “every day they’re in warm water takes its toll,” Peterson said.

If there’s a silver lining, it will be gaining more knowledge about sockeye.

“Poor conditions mean we’re learning about these fish, and in the past, we didn’t have enough fish to learn from,” he said. “Experience drives what we do in the future.”

In the last decade, between 30 and 78 percent of sockeye that crossed Lower Granite Dam completed the trip to the Sawtooth Basin.

“I’m hoping we get that 30 percent conversion, but realistically it could be less,” Peterson said.

Even at a 30-percent return rate, it would be the smallest return since 2007.

After sockeye cross Lower Granite Dam, it typically takes 30 to 35 days for the fish to reach the Sawtooth Basin, and it’s “almost like clockwork,” Peterson said.

Sockeye started trickling across the dam in late May and June, but most crossed in July and are due to arrive at the Sawtooth Basin in August.

Even if it’s the smallest sockeye return since 2007, the current situation has to be taken in context of the bigger picture. When Idaho sockeye were listed in 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act, only four adult sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Basin. The combined annual returns from 1991-99 was 23 fish, including two years when no sockeye returned to Idaho.

Sockeye continued to struggle throughout the most of the 2000s. Fewer than 30 adults returned annually between 1999 and 2007, except in 2000, when Fish and Game trapped 243 fish.

Even with that one-year spike, in the 17-year span between when sockeye were listed in 1991 and 2007, only 343 fish were trapped in the Sawtooth Basin, and in 13 of those years, fewer than 10 returned.

Fast forward to 2008, thanks to the captive breeding program and favorable river and ocean conditions, the annual sockeye returns since 2008 have averaged 837 fish, including 1,516 in 2014, which was the largest return to the Sawtooth Basin since 1955.

When enough adults return from the ocean, Fish and Game biologists allow some to naturally spawn in Redfish Lake, which has happened every year since 2008, and four other years prior. Releasing spawners into the lake is expected to occur again this year.

Biologists learned that juvenile sockeye “smolts” naturally produced in the wild return as adults at higher rates than those raised in hatcheries, so Fish and Game wants to continue natural production. But it’s too risky to rely solely on nature to recover sockeye.

Regardless of how many sockeye return this summer, Fish and Game expects to ramp up its release of juvenile sockeye in 2016 and 2017.

Unlike other salmon and steelhead hatcheries, which rely solely on the current year’s adult returns to provide eggs for the following year’s smolt release to migrate to the ocean, Fish and Game’s captive breeding program ensures sockeye are available to produce offspring if others don’t return from the ocean.

“That’s one of the saving graces of this program, we have those captive fish,” Peterson said.

The captive breeding program keeps two genetically identical ­populations in Eagle and Port Orchard, Wash. Keeping those populations separate means if one population is lost to a catastrophe, the genetics would remain at another location.

Eggs taken from captive and adult returns rebuild the captive brood stock each year, but the vast majority of the eggs are sent to other hatcheries, including Fish and Game’s new Springfield Hatchery in Eastern Idaho. The Springfield Hatchery was built in 2013 with money from the Bonneville Power Administration. It is used exclusively for sockeye production, and it will increase the department’s capacity to grow young sockeye for future releases.

Between 2011-14, Fish and Game annually released about 300,000 hatchery-raised juvenile sockeye smolts. That number increased to more than 400,000 smolts last spring, thanks in part to the Springfield hatchery producing more smolts.

Fish and Game biologists expect to ramp up those numbers to 700,000 in 2016 and reach Springfield hatchery’s capacity of 1 million smolts in 2017.

With a little help from nature, those smolts could return as adults in larger numbers than Idaho has seen in recent years.

While this summer may be a difficult time for sockeye, it will hopefully be short lived, and Peterson is optimistic about the future, especially considering how dire the situation was decades ago.

“We’re in a better place,” he said.

Sockeye fishing closure considered as half of Upper Columbia’s run apparently dies in warm waters

UPDATE, 2:20 p.m.:  Sockeye closure has been announced starting Sunday, July 26, a half our after sunset  upper Columbia from Rocky Reach Dam upstream to Chief Joseph Dam.  More details coming.

FISHING — Despite an early facade of excellent sockeye fishing success, the third-largest run on record is in dire straits and Washington fish managers are considering a possible early closure of the prized season in the upper Columbia River.

About half the sockeye run appears to have perished in the low flows and warm water conditions they've endured this year in their taxing migration up the Columbia toward spawning areas, says Jeff Korth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager based in Ephrata.

State fish managers have not responded so far today regarding the status of the proposal.

Oregon and Washington have both enacted emergency fishing rules for some waters that might help fisheries to some degree in this freak year of low snowpack and early runoff that's ravaged the region's summer river flows. 

Sturgeon fishing was closed this month after dozens if not hundreds of the decades-old giants were found dead in mid-Columbia reservoirs. The sturgeon were stuffed with sockeye and at least some of those sockeye were suffering from bacterial infections promoted by the warm waters.

In early July, biologists were already trying to figure out why 200,000 of the sockeye counted over Bonneville Dam did not make it upstream with their peers to swim over McNary Dam. 

  • To date, 503,000 sockeye have been counted swimming over Bonneville, the first dam they encounter on the Columbia on their migration from the ocean.  About 270,000 have been counted over McNary as they enter the upper Columbia at the Tri-Cities.

Last week, government fish scientists monitoring the Columbia, Snake and Southwest British Columbia sockeye returns began coming up with enough evidence to describe the situation among themselves in terms such as "catastrophic."

Columbia water temperatures have started to tick downward a degree or two and may continue in cooler weather forecast through this weekend. Whether that's enough change to enable more sockeye to survive remains to be seen.

Korth said the forecast weatehr isn't going to be enough. "We desperately need the cooler weather," he said in an email, "but it's to get the remaining fish up the Okanogan River and through Osoyoos Lake."

Idaho began trucking some of its endangered Snake River sockeye upstream to hatcheries in hopes of saving enough broodstock to continue a run they've had encouraging results in rebuilding from virtually nothing.

The salmon seasons attract thousands of anglers to the Columbia system rivers. A closure would be a huge blow to local economies in towns such as Brewster.

Summer chinook, which are moving up the Columbia in record numbers, apparently are not suffering so much in the warm flows and there's been no discussion of closing chinook fishing.

But the sockeye run is hurting and future sockeye runs may be in jeopardy, Korth said.

On July 1, Korth had a gut feeling things could get bad as I interviewed him for a story about the upper Columbia salmon season opener, which produced very good success rates.

“More than three salmon per angler is darned good opening-day fishing,” Korth said. But he couldn't ignore the other numbers on his radar.

Even then, the sockeye were stalled below the mouth of the Okanogan River, which was far above mean temperatures and well above the 72-degree threshold that prevents the fish from continuing their run. Normally the fish rush when they can uptream to the deep, cool waters in Canada's Osoyoos Lake where they hunker until conditions are right for them to spawn.

This week, Columbia River water out of Wells Dam below Brewster was a livable 65 degrees for sockeye (71 at Bonneville).  However, Okanogan River temps were as high as 84 degrees.

“We had 15,000 (sockeye) try to make the run up (the Okanogan) the other day and they all died,” Korth says in a story Thursday about the proposed closure by Northwest Sportsman editor Andy Walgamott.

Korth knew anglers would do well in catching the sockeye stacking up below the Okanogan and looking for a cool place to go.

“It’s going to be a dicey year for managing that stock – but a good year for fishing,” he said.

Now he's wondering how fish managers can assure that enough sockeye survive disease and fishermen to make it upstream to spawn and continue the run for the future.

Korth, who says he's waiting today for a response from fisheries officials in Olympia, explained to Northwest Sportsman:

  • With the hot water providing ideal conditions for culimnaris bacteria to thrive, a fish’s wounds from scraping on rocks and fish ladders are quickly infected, leading to lesions.
  • Migrating salmon need more oxygen because of the high metabolic rate needed to swim against currents, but warm waters tend to have less dissolved oxygen.
  • Lake Wenatchee sockeye may not even meet escapement goals, much less return in numbers high enough for a fishing season, which had been scheduled to open last weekend. Korth believes half of the Lake Wenatchee run has died, too. Fewer than 12,000 of the 106,000 forecast have returned so far over Tumwater Dam.

  • Half of the sockeye in the Brewster pool are likely to die instead of reaching Canada’s Okanagan and tributaries to spawn in September and October.
  • Upper Columbia salmon anglers so far have caught around 20,000 sockeye during a fishery that’s been described as “nothing short of fantastic.”  (Anglers caught about 40,000 during the entire 2014 season.)

“I just hope it’s not too much,” Korth told Walgamott. “Just a couple months ago we were all rejoicing because of the (salmon) forecasts.”

Korth says he’s proposed closing the Upper Columbia for sockeye, but a final decision is up to state fishery managers in Olympia.

They have not responded to queries this morning.

Chinook, sockeye forecasts increased; their future uncertain

FISHING — As good numbers of salmon continue to move up the Columbia and over Bonneville Dam, fish managers on Monday increased the in-season forecast for summer chinook and sockeye, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department reports.

The updated forecast expects 120,000 adult summer chinook and 507,500 sockeye to return to the Columbia River.

  • The summer chinook forecast is the largest since at least 1960.
  • The sockeye forecast is the third largest on record. P

Preseason forecasts were 73,000 adult summer chinook and 394,000 sockeye.

But many of those sockeye are disappearing upstream before they get to McNary Dam.

Some of those sockeye could be linked to deaths of large sturgeon.

This years warm water and record low flows appear to be less than welcoming to these big salmon runs.

Scientists who are still studying the situation say the warm water conditions could be catastrophic to some fisheries if temperatures don't cool.

Oregon and Washington have both enacted emergency fishing rules for some waters that might help in some cases.

Otherwise, there doesn't appear to be a lot they can do other than watch, study and learn

Idaho sockeye trucked upstream around troubling warm water

ENDANGERED SPECIES — As concerns mount for the survival of the Columbia River system's sockeye run during the 2015 drought, fisheries managers are looking at unusual options.

The potential losses are staggering, scientists say, as I pointed out in this revealing blog post last week.

Here's an Associated Press report on an effort to save breeding fish from the endangered stock of Snake River sockeye.

Five sockeye salmon swam in tanks at the Eagle Hatchery this week wearing the scars of their shortened trip to Idaho.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists took the unusual step of capturing the migrating adults in a trap at the Lower Granite Dam southwest of Pullman, Wash., the last of eight dams Idaho salmon swim through on their way from the Pacific to the Sawtooth Valley. That's because the Columbia and Snake rivers are as much as 6 degrees warmer than usual.

Northwest rivers are so warm that salmon and steelhead are dying in tributaries such as the Willamette and Deschutes rivers in Oregon. Oregon and Washington fisheries officials last week announced restrictions on fishing for trout, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon to protect the fish from stress.

When temperatures in the main rivers reach at least 70, the heat places stress on the already challenged migrants that face sea lions, lamprey and the natural wear and tear of fighting the current on their return trip from the ocean to their Idaho spawning grounds.

River temperatures have been gradually rising for 50 years, due in part to the changing climate and the dams, where slackwater reservoirs capture extra solar radiation.

But with this year's temperatures higher than normal, dam and fisheries managers are working overtime to protect endangered wild salmon and steelhead as a federal judge decides whether they are doing enough to keep them from going extinct.

"We ought to take steps wherever we can to help improve fish survival in an unusually warm and bad years," said Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the Save our Wild Salmon Coalition. "Unless the weather changes, we're going to see more fish kills throughout the basin."

In late June the Salmon River climbed to 76 degrees at Whitebird, warm enough to kill salmon and steelhead. Fortunately, the young juveniles, which left their spawning rivers and lakes early this year due to a warmer, earlier runoff, had mostly finished their trip to the Pacific before the heat wave, said Ritchie Graves, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries.

The spring-summer chinook adults also had migrated early upstream, reaching the higher, cooler spawning streams such as the Upper Salmon River, the South Fork of the Salmon, and Marsh and Bear Valley creeks. But the sockeye, which naturally spawn in Redfish and other Sawtooth Valley lakes, have faced the full brunt of the heat wave.

About 3,900 returning Snake River sockeye were detected passing Bonneville Dam east of Portland, the first dam on the Columbia River. Just 234 had passed Lower Granite as of Wednesday, including 15 that Fish and Game biologists had trapped as of Thursday.

At the Eagle Hatchery, the trapped fish swam in some of the same tanks that held Lonesome Larry, the single returning sockeye in 1992 whose genetics began the captive-breeding program.

The sockeye show the effects of the heat stress. One had bulging eyes and a tail shredded down to the flesh. Others had gaping ulcers and sores that were sapping their strength. With so many sockeye apparently killed in the lower rivers, state and federal biologists decided to trap and haul these returning sockeye 320 miles from Washington state to Eagle.

"This is giving them the best chance for survival," said Pete Hassemer, Idaho Fish and Game salmon and steelhead fisheries manager.

But it comes with a cost. The success of the captive breeding program, which produces more than 1,500 sockeye in a good year, is due in part to biologists being able to restore some of the wildness to the sockeye gene pool.

This wildness, or "fitness," as biologists call it, increases the sockeye's productivity and makes more of them able to make the long journey from the gravel of Redfish Lake some 900 miles to the Pacific, and then thousands of miles of swimming and growing in the Pacific before returning to Idaho in the fourth or fifth year of their life.

Capturing them at Lower Granite Dam cuts off their final migration in the Snake, through the Salmon and up to the Sawtooth Valley, 6,500 feet above sea level. That's not the scientists' first choice: It would be better if river conditions allowed the natural migration.

"We want those fish to make that last leg on their own," said Mark Peterson, a senior research biologist for Fish and Game.

"There is some natural selection there we want to tap," Hassemer said.

The first sockeye are expected to arrive at the weir on Redfish Lake Creek anytime. Despite the more than 200 that did pass Lower Granite before trapping began, Fish and Game officials don't expect many to complete the trip.

Part of the challenge has been the warm temperatures at the Lower Granite Dam ladder. At 70 degrees Tuesday, the warm water was forcing salmon to hang in the cooler waters of the tail race below the dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a permanent modification to the ladder to flow cooler water to encourage migration. But the temporary fix isn't bringing temperatures down enough.

On the larger scale, warmer water is going to become a bigger issue for salmon survival as the climate change trend continues, fisheries biologists say. It's different for each species.

Fall chinook below Hells Canyon just experienced the warmest winter temperatures in the Snake since the dam was built, NOAA's Graves said. But the very adaptable fall chinook simply emerged from their eggs earlier.

Fall chinook have delayed their migration until spring in some cases to improve their productivity. Steelhead and other salmon find cold springs along the migration route where they can stage until the rivers cool.

"With climate change, there's going to be winners and losers," said Graves. "With sockeye it's going to be a challenge, but for Snake River fall chinook it may not bother them at all."

Sockeye salmon suffer infections in warm Columbia River system

FISHING — "Catastrophic" is a word that's being used as scientists begin to unravel the mystery of why at least 200,000 sockeye that moved over Bonneville Dam have not made it to McNary Dam fish ladders in this summer's huge salmon runs.

The sockeye woes may explain why dozens if not hundreds of 5- to 12-foot-long decades old sturgeon stuffed with sockeye are going belly up in the Columbia between the Tri-Cities and The Dalles.

The Columbia system is plagued with high temperatures and low flows. This is bad news for native fish that need cool water.

Fish managers have enacted fishing restrictions in some areas, but otherwise there isn't a lot they can do about Mother Nature.

The photos above are of sockeye sampled last week at Bonneville Dam by state and federal scientists.  The first dead sockeyes were noticed at the dam around June 8. This week, the fish scientists were finding dead fish, both shad and sockeye, in the Bonneville Dam fish ladder.

At the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, sockeye in rough shape were hanging out near the facility.

But the words scientists use to describe what's going on are freakier than the photos.

A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist said this in an email to colleagues:

We have very bad news from the lower Columbia.  These pictures are just a little piece of the story.  The run is stalled, and the carnage is ugly, with conversion rates from Bonneville to Ice Harbor (for Snake River fish) 2-5%.  Temperatures in the John Day reservoir approach 24 degrees, so nothing’s getting through without suffering.  Looks like we’re going to lose the last 1/3rd to ½ of the run.

Fish that have passed the Snake are still moving upstream, but can’t get to into the tributaries.  The fish that have entered the Wenatchee aren’t passing Tumwater Dam to continue on to Lake Wenatchee, and there’s no cold-water refugia below the dam unless they retreat downstream about 15 km to Peshastin Creek, which is a great steelhead stream but has no holding water for thousands of sockeye.  Besides that, the flows are about half normal discharge, the snow’s all melted out of the cold-water source for Peshastin Creek, and they’re diverting water for irrigation, so it’s bound to heat up.  For fish that passed Tumwater early, many have piled into a small tributary called Chiwaukum Creek, but it’s about the same size as Peshastin.

The Okanagan fish can’t leave Wells with the US Okanogan at 28 degrees C, and the reservoir is nearly 18 degrees C already.  The rate of diseased and injured fish observed in the count windows at Wells seems to increase every day—lots of lamprey scars and descale, and we’re starting to see fungus and bacterial lesions.  I don’t think the estuary provides hospitable holding, with lamprey and pinnipeds; so, I’m not sure we can count on a fall resurgence of migrants.

A British Columbia scientist commenting on this email thread among scientists wrote this:

Catastrophic losses of this year’s exceptional returns of adult Sockeye Salmon have begun to occur in the Columbia River given the unprecedented severity of super-optimal temperatures and low flows encountered along their freshwater migration corridor…. It’s probably fair to surmise that we may lose the majority of the nearly 350,000 wild adult Sockeye destined for Canadian portions of the Okanagan if Wells Pool, where they are currently holding, warms to temperatures much greater than 18 degrees Celsius for an appreciable length of time. Regrettably, this is highly likely to occur as temperatures are currently at 17.5 degrees and increasing while the Okanagan River is well in excess of the upper thermal lethal temperature of 25 degrees.

As noted in an earlier bulletin, we are also maintaining a Somass Salmon and Climate Watch given poor environmental conditions for either migration in the Somass River or for holding at the head end of Alberni Inlet. Although some fish managed to access their lakes of origin at Great Central and Sproat in the past few days, conditions are still marginal for passage and stored water released from behind the Great Central Lake Dam to supplement flows to ease passage under high temperature conditions has now been exhausted just as we head into what is on average the driest weeks of the summer-fall interval.

It may be advisable for DFO communications to identify “talking points” and “spokespersons” very soon to get out in front of events that will likely generate intense media interest. I’ve worked on BC salmon populations for more than 40 years and cannot remember anything comparable to what were currently seeing unfold on the coast !



Tribes’ Columbia salmon netting boat vandalized at Brewster

FISHING — I've been hearing scattered complaints about "the Indians" netting salmon near the mouth of the Okanogan River since before the Upper Columbia sockeye and chinook fisheries opened on July 1.

Sport fishing has been excellent, but some people apparently can't share the catch with the Tribes that actually are working to improve salmon fishing in the Upper Columbia. Here's the latest:

"The Colville Confederated Tribes’ fishermen had a rude awakening on the morning of July 14 when they arrived to work at Mosquito Park near Brewster, Wash., and found their fishing boat, “The Dream Catcher,” was vandalized and some equipment was stolen," the Tribes report.

     “The Dream Catcher has two primary functions for the Columbia River fishery and the Colville Tribes,” said Randall Friedlander, CTFW director.  “The first function of the boat is to collect both hatchery-origin and natural-origin Chinook broodstock for salmon production at Chief Joseph Hatchery.  These fish provide future returns for all of the fishermen throughout the entire river system.  We release 2.9 million salmon yearlings per year,” he said.  “The second function of the vessel is to provide a selective harvest opportunity for the Colville Tribes.  Natural-origin Chinook that are not taken for broodstock are released to spawn, and only the hatchery-origin Chinook are harvested for consumption.  Historically, our people have been recorded as catching up to ten tons of fish per day at just one of the many fisheries on the upper Columbia like Kettle Falls.  Today, our Tribe catches a fraction of its historic catch,” said Friedlander.  

     Often, what the Colville's do catch is shared with the other Upper Columbia United Tribes, the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel and Kootenai Tribes.   

     Due to the recent incident, security has been added to the site along with cameras.

     Anyone with information about the incident is being asked to call the Colville Tribal Police Dept. at 509.634.2472. The Colville Tribe is offering a $2,500 reward for information that helps solve this crime.  Local businesses are also stepping up to add to this reward.  More information will become available pending further investigation.   

By the way, Jeff Korth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager, says sport fishermen in the Upper Columbia catch about twice as many sockeye as the Colville tribal fishermen.


Tribes to address Northwest Power Council at Spokane meeting

FISHING — Salmon and power production are topics up for discussion as the Northwest Power and Conservation Council meets Tuesday and Wednesday in at the Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane.

On the meeting agenda is a presentation by Upper Columbia United Tribes on proposals to build Columbia River fish passage for salmon migration upstream from Chief Joseph Dam.  The presentation is set for Tuesday, 2:15 p.m. in the hotel's Elizabethan Room.

A presentation on the Spokane Tribal Hatchery is scheduled earlier in the day and an untitled presentation by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is scheduled after the Upper Columbia Tribes speak.

The council manages power issues from the Columbia Basin hydro projects with environmental concerns and mitigation for impacts to fish and wildlife.

New terms required to describe sockeye fishing this good

FISHING — The sockeye and summer chinook fishing in the Brewster area of the Columbia River has been excellent. Depending on whether the river temperatures change, excellent could turn into phenomenal.

Or, as Washington Fish and Wildlife Department regional fisheries manager Jeff Korth described it after seeing the opening day results,

"It's going to be a blood bath."

See Korth's explanation nestled in this story that ran in Sunday Outdoors.

Sockeye, chinook runs looking huge on eve of salmon opener

FISHING — The salmon are charging upstream in near-record numbers for the Wednesday, July 1, season openers on the upper Columbia River.  

Here's the latest update on the chinook and sockeye runs from Joe Hymer, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon specialist:


  • Adult summer Chinook passage at Bonneville Dam during June 16-29 totals 53,197 fish.
  • It’s the 2nd largest total to-date (record is 70,920 adults in 1957).
  • Passage is typically 50% complete by June 29.
  • The preseason forecast was for a Columbia River return of 73,000 adults.
  • The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) began weekly stock status reviews for the summer season on Monday June 29. TAC upgraded the summer Chinook forecast return to 85,000  adults.
  • If the upgraded TAC forecast is correct, this year’s summer Chinook return would be the second largest on record since at least 1980 (record is 89,500 adults in 2002). 


  • Sockeye passage at Bonneville Dam through June 29 totals 339,816 fish.
  • It’s also the 2nd largest total count to-date (record is 364,849 fish in 2012).
  • Passage is typically 50% complete by June 25.
  • The preseason forecast was for a Columbia River return of 394,000 adults.
  • The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) began weekly stock status reviews for the summer season on Monday June 29. TAC upgraded the sockeye return to 450,000 adults.
  • If the upgraded TAC forecast is correct, it would be the 3rd largest return to the mouth of the Columbia since at least 1938 (record was set just last year with 645,140 fish).


Water temperatures at Bonneville Dam

  • Water temperature at Bonneville Dam was nearly 71 degrees yesterday.
  • It’s the hottest temperature to-date since at least 1950.
  • The recent 10-year average on June 28  is 63 degrees.  

Stream temps already uncomfortably high for trout, salmon

FISHING — Stream temperatures are spiking high much earlier than normal because the region's snowpack already has disappeared.

The Snake River near Anatone is reading 72.32 degrees F, that's about 8 degrees warmer than the median for this date.

The Okanogan River at Malott is at 78.62 degrees F, nearly 15 degrees higher than the median temperature for this date.

High water temps are bad news for fish, especially trout, salmon and steelhead.

Warmer water can form a "thermal barrier" that prevents salmon and steelhead from leaving the Columbia and heading up the Snake toward Idaho.  A thermal barrier at the mouth of the Okanagon may keep sockeye stacking up in the Columbia near Brewster. Fishermen can play these temperature issues to their favor in some cases.

But that doesn't mean anglers should overplay stressed fish, especially when trout or salmon are being released.

Be prepared to employ your most sensitive catch and release techniques, such as using stouter rods and heavier leaders to reel in fish as fast as possible for release without taking the fish out of the water.

Expect emergency restrictions to be announced this summer, possibly prohibiting trout fishing in the afternoons in some waters.

Links to USGS gauge and temperature readings for some streams can be found here:

Here are some Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions to help you process the information on the chart.

  • 17C = 62.6F
  • 18C = 64.4F
  • 19C = 66.2F
  • 20C = 68F
  • 21C = 69.8F
  • 22C = 71.6F

Chinook salmon swim 46 miles upstream in a day

Updated 1:32 after receiving info that the numbers were in kilometers not miles.

FISHING — It's no wonder some salmon don't bite in certain stretches of the Columbia River: They don't have time.

Some adult spring and summer chinook detected at Bonneville Dam were detected at The Dalles Dam the very next day, a distance of 46 miles!

The information comes from recoveries of recent Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags implanted into salmon of hatchery origin, said Joe Hymer, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon specialist in Vancouver. 

Hymer said more fish are swimming faster this year, perhaps because of lower flows.

Here's another observation from Hymer:

A Coleman National Fish Hatchery Chinook with a coded-wire tag (verified) was recovered in a fishery on the lower Columbia mainstem just downstream from Bonneville this week. 

The hatchery is located on a tributary to the Sacramento River in California.  Not only was the fish lost, it was also a fall Chinook. 

109 cormorants, 1,700 eggs destroyed so far to help Columbia salmon

WILDLIFE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says 109 adult double-crested cormorants have been killed and more than 1,700 eggs killed so far as part of a program to reduce the size of North America’s biggest cormorant nesting colony so the birds eat fewer juvenile salmon migrating down the Columbia River.

The figures were posted Thursday on the corps’ website.

Plans call for reducing the number of cormorants on East Sand Island at the mouth of the Columbia between Oregon and Washington from 14,000 pairs to 5,600 pairs by 2018. The birds eat millions of juvenile salmon — some protected species — as they migrate down the river to the ocean.

Wildlife control personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services started shooting birds and oiling eggs so they won’t hatch last weekend.

Government hunters prepare to kill salmon-eating birds

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Not since the market hunting days have waterfowl gunners set their sights so high.

Government hunters reportedly are scouting an island at the mouth of the Columbia River as they prepare to shoot thousands of hungry seabirds to reduce the numbers of baby salmon they eat.

Biologists blame the cormorants for eating millions of baby salmon as they migrate down the Columbia to the ocean. Some of the fish are federally protected species.

Hunters from Wildlife Services went to East Sand Island on Thursday to look over the lay of the land before starting to carry out plans to reduce the population of double crested cormorants from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 by 2018, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Diana Fredlund. 

An environmental impact statement calls for them to shoot adult birds, spray eggs with oil so they won’t hatch, and to destroy nests.  


Court won’t block salmon-saving plan to kill cormorants

WILDLIFE —  A judge has refused to block a plan to shoot more than 10,000 double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River estuary, the Associated Press reports.

The plan was released earlier this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It wants to stop cormorants from eating millions of baby salmon.

Conservation groups sought a preliminary injunction. They say hydroelectric dams — not cormorants — are the main threat to salmon. The groups filed suit in April against the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wildlife Services agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Corps said Wildlife Services will manage the killing.

The plan also calls for destroying 26,000 nests on East Sand Island.

The decision came Friday from U.S. District Judge Michael Simon.

Washington closing Snake River chinook fishery today

FISHING — The spring chinook fishery on the Snake River in the Lower Granite Dam and Clarkston areas closed for the season tonight, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department says.  Here's the official announcement:

Action: Chinook salmon fishing to close on the Snake River.

Species affected: Chinook salmon.

Effective date: May 12, 2015, one hour after official sunset.


C)  Below Lower Granite Dam:  Snake River from the south shore boat launch (Ilia Boat Launch) across to the mouth of Almota Creek upstream about four miles to the restricted fishing area below Lower Granite Dam.

D) Clarkston:  Snake River from the downstream edge of the large power lines crossing the Snake River (just upstream from West Evans Road on the south shore) upstream about 3.5 miles to the Washington state line (from the east levee of the Greenbelt boat launch in Clarkston northwest across the Snake River to the WA/ID boundary waters marker on the Whitman County shore).

Reason for action:  Based on the most current harvest estimates and anticipated harvest through Tuesday of this week, for the Lower Granite Dam area, the Snake harvest allocation will have been met.

How fast can a salmon swim upstream to Idaho waters?

FISHING — How long it takes for salmon to travel from Bonneville Dam to Idaho?

Joe DuPont, Idaho Fish and Game regional fisheries manager in Lewiston looked at data and came up with answers to that often-asked question from curious anglers.

On average, an adult spring chinook takes about 18 days to swim 253 river miles from Bonneville Dam to Lower Granite dam, including passage over a total of four Columbia River dams and four more on the Snake River.  

After crossing Lower Granite Dam, the salmon need another day or two up the Snake to reach Idaho, for a total of about 19-20 days in average flows, DuPont said. 

This year, with lower than normal flows, spring chinook are making it faster to Idaho —about 13 days. 

Considering the fish counts at dams, "the majority of the chinook salmon destined for the Clearwater Region will all be in Idaho in two weeks," he said Tuesday.

Salmon River anglers wonder how long it takes their share of the Snake River salmon run to travel farther upstream, from Lower Granite Dam to Riggins. 

This journey varies more widely depending upon flows and water clarity, DuPont said. 

"When flows are high and dirty it can cause chinook to stop migrating.  In fact there is evidence that the Slide Rapid in the lower Salmon River can greatly delay migrations in higher flows."

However, on a year like this, when river flows are low, the fish will get there fast, he said:

  • 5-13 days to run 90 miles from the Idaho state line to Rice Creek Bridge.
  • 7-20 days to run 135 miles from the Idaho state line to Little Salmon River.

"I suspect on a year like this it will be closer to the lower end of the range," DuPont said.

Faster travel times tend to translate into slower fishing, he said.

"With these lower flows, fish are moving faster and more up the middle of the river making fishing more difficult," he said. 

"Fish are already showing up at Kooskia Hatchery, and PIT tagged fish are passing the array in the lower South Fork Clearwater River.  I suspect by next week we will have documented harvest all the way upstream to around Kooskia."

Snake River flows increased to flush smolts downstream

FISHERIES — While most anglers are thinking of the spring chinook heading upstream in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, water managers are thinking of young salmon that need a boost get get downstream through reservoirs to the ocean.

To help young fish pass the dams safely, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun spilling more water at the four lower Snake River and four lower Columbia River dams to facilitate the timely and safe passage of juvenile salmon and steelhead.

The federally required spill began at the lower Snake River dams April 3 and will pick up at the lower Columbia River dams starting April 10.

Juvenile fish survival past dams has increased as a result of dam modifications, such as surface passage, juvenile bypass systems, turbine improvements and more effective and efficient spill operations, said Rock Peters, senior program manager for the Corps’ Northwestern Division.

Nature isn't cooperating so much in the best interest of salmon and steelhead this  year.

The most recent water supply forecast issued by the Northwest River Forecast Center for the Columbia River Basin (Apr–Aug) is 84 percent of normal as measured at The Dalles Dam and 70 percent of normal for the Snake River Basin, (Apr–Jul), as measured at Lower Granite Dam.

Idaho anglers to enjoy earliest spring chinook opener

FISHING — The earliest spring chinook fishing to be approved for Idaho waters will begin April 25.

The state Fish and Game Commission Tuesday approved seasons and rules for the spring salmon season during its meeting in Boise.

The rules are based on a projected spring chinook run similar in numbers to the 2014 returns.  Last year's Idaho chinook season opened on April 26.

As of Sunday, March 22, almost 500 chinook had been counted at Bonneville Dam, the first of eight dams salmon pass on their journey to Idaho. While this number is larger than for the same date since 2004, it is a small fraction of the number of spring chinook salmon expected in Idaho.

The seasons are based on a projected sport harvest of about 11,700 adipose-clipped chinook salmon in the Clearwater, Snake, lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers.

Season closures to be made as fisheries managers assess the run and harvest as they progress.

In the Clearwater Basin, except for the South Fork Clearwater River, limits are set at four fish per day, only one of which may be an adult. The possession limit in these parts of the Clearwater River drainage will be twelve fish, only three of which may be adults.

In the South Fork Clearwater, lower Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake River fisheries, anglers will be allowed to keep four fish per day, only two of which may be adults. The possession limit in these fisheries will be twelve fish, of which only six may be adults.

The season limit will be 20 adult chinook salmon for seasons prior to September 1. Adult chinook salmon are defined as those 24 inches and longer.

Other rules and special restrictions for the Chinook salmon fishery will be available in the 2015 spring Chinook salmon brochure.

The Commission is tentatively set to consider Chinook salmon fisheries on the South Fork Salmon and upper Salmon Rivers at its May meeting. Fish return to those areas later than to the Clearwater River and Rapid River Hatcheries, giving managers more time to develop fishery proposals for those areas.

Panel at UI discusses breaching Snake River Dams

RIVERS — A panel discussion titled Lower Snake River Dam Breaching: Embracing the Inevitable. Saving Money, Saving Salmon is scheduled for noon on Monday, March 23, in the University of Idaho Commons (Whitewater Room) in Moscow.

The free event is sponsored by the Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition, in conjunction with the University of Idaho Ecology & Conservation Biology Club and Friends of the Clearwater.

Panelists include:

  • Jim Waddell, retired Deputy District Engineer Walla Walla District -Army Corps of Engineers,
  • Kevin Lewis, Conservation Policy Director Idaho Rivers United,
  • Sam Mace, Inland Northwest Director Save our Wild Salmon
  • Linwood Laughy, dam breaching advocate.

Organizers say the panel will examine the decline of commercial navigation on the lower Snake River, the high costs of operating and maintaining the dams, replacing hydropower produced by the dams, potential extinction of wild chinook and the socio-economic benefits of a free-flowing Snake River.

A second discussion will take place at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of the Palouse, 420 E. Second St. in Moscow.