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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Idaho’s spring chinook returns remain low, Clearwater unlikely to open to anglers

UPDATED: Wed., May 12, 2021

Spring chinook await feeding time May 3 as they swim in a tank at the Nez Perce Tribe’s Cherrylane hatchery on the Clearwater River in Idaho.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Spring chinook await feeding time May 3 as they swim in a tank at the Nez Perce Tribe’s Cherrylane hatchery on the Clearwater River in Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Daily returns over Bonneville Dam peaked at about 4,500 fish in late April, Joe DuPont, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s regional fisheries manager, wrote Tuesday. Since that late April peak returns have steadily declined.

As of Monday, 37,320 adult chinook Salmon had passed over Bonneville Dam this spring season, which is about 45% of the 10-year average.

Daily counts of Chinook Salmon over Bonneville Dam 5-11-21
Daily counts of Chinook Salmon over Bonneville Dam 5-11-21

“This is not a good sign as it suggests that we have seen the peak and most of the spring run has passed over Bonneville Dam,” DuPont said. “We were hoping the run timing was a little late, but this data is suggesting the run may actually be a little early. To expect another surge of fish at this point, we would want to see high and/or dirty flows that could explain for a delayed migration. However, flows in the Columbia River have been average to below average lately.”

DuPont and other fishery managers look at PIT tags on the hatchery fish passing over Bonneville Dam to determine how many are headed to Idaho. This helps determine Idaho’s fishing seasons and harvest shares.

Based on those returns, DuPont said, it’s unlikely the Clearwater River opens for angling this year, an increasingly common reality as spring chinook returns continue to decline.

In March, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission opted to not open a season because of forecast low returns.

“Last week I mentioned that we were seeing improvements in the Clearwater River return and were hoping counts would continue to improve so that we could open a fishery there,” DuPont wrote. “However, as you can see in the table above, our estimates indicate there will be no available harvest share unless things turn around dramatically. ”

Spring Chinook Salmon harvest shares based on PIT tags at Bonneville
Spring Chinook Salmon harvest shares based on PIT tags at Bonneville

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife closed all spring chinook salmon fishing on the Snake River after just three days of fishing.

“Based on in-season creel estimates through May 11, the harvest allocation has been utilized for the season,” states the emergency rule closing the fishery.

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