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

Promising signs in fish runs

Aug. 3, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 3, 2022 at 7:11 p.m.

Anglers concentrate in the lower Clearwater River on Wednesday, as they attempt to catch spring chinook.  (Austin Johnson/Tribune News Service)
Anglers concentrate in the lower Clearwater River on Wednesday, as they attempt to catch spring chinook. (Austin Johnson/Tribune News Service)
By Eric Barke Tribune News Service

The spring chinook fishing season in Idaho’s Clearwater Region is slowly winding down and will officially come to a close Aug. 7.

While fisheries managers are pleased the run hit or exceeded preseason forecasts and provided ample angling opportunity, they aren’t spiking the football.

“We can’t forget what we are striving for, which is a lot more than we got back,” said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston. “But the upward trend is very good to see.”

The Clearwater River and its tributaries ended up with a harvest share of about 5,700 hatchery chinook. That number has yet to be reached and it’s likely anglers won’t hit it before the season sunsets. The preseason forecast was for a harvest share of about 2,500.

The harvest share of chinook returning to Rapid River Hatchery ended up at 3,630, which hit the preseason forecast of 3,600. Anglers ended up catching 3,634 adult spring chinook.

DuPont said he’d like to see harvest shares on both rivers closer to 10,000. A harvest share is the number of hatchery fish that are in excess of spawning needs. By court precedent, fish not needed for spawning are split 50-50 between tribal and nontribal anglers. So a harvestable surplus of 20,000 would mean both groups would be able to harvest 10,000 hatchery chinook.

DuPont is pleased the Clearwater and Rapid River returns were strong enough to allow fishing seven days a week and that both seasons lasted for several weeks. He said high flows helped moderate catch rates.

“The length of time we were able to keep these fisheries open, especially when there is a decent number of fish in the river, was very good, better than most years. I think the high water played a role and made fishing difficult at times,” he said. “People tend to tell us they would rather have the fishery stay open long than catch a bunch of fish and close it.”

Wild run

The number of wild fish returning to Idaho, including those protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, also surpassed expectations. While the official number of wild fish in the run won’t be known for several months, fisheries managers expect it to be between 12,000 and 15,000. They had forecast a return of 9,000 and 10,000, said Jay Hesse, director of biological services at Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries.

For context, consistent returns of about 43,000 wild fish to Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River and 33,500 to spawning grounds are in line with delisting criteria, according to Hesse. He said this year’s return is welcome news but far short of what is needed.

“It reduced the extinction risk but it’s still super high and again those are minimum abundance thresholds we are below,” he said.

Next year

DuPont and Hesse would like to see a string of years in which returns trend upward. There is one piece of evidence that next year could build upon the 2022 run. The number of jack chinook – those that spend just one year in the ocean instead of two or three – was up this year over the 2021 return. Fisheries managers use the return of jacks the previous year as one data point when they compile preseason run forecasts.

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