LEWISTON – Spring chinook bound for the Snake River and other Columbia River tributaries upstream of Bonneville Dam will make another decent showing this year.
But that is relative. Fisheries managers are forecasting nearly 200,000 springers will enter the mouth of the Columbia River, including 85,900 bound for the Snake River.
The overall prediction exceeds last year’s forecast of about 123,000 as well as the actual return of about 185,000.
But the Snake River forecast calls for less than the 103,000 adult chinook that returned last year. This year’s forecast includes a poor prediction for Snake River wild spring chinook – just 13,200 compared to 23,000 that returned in 2022.
The number of wild fish is so low that it will serve as a constraint on the fishery for hatchery spring chinook in the Columbia River, said Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River Fishery Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We do have our concerns on the Snake River wild (forecast return). That is why we have an agreement that reduces our impact to that stock when it doesn’t hit the abundance trigger we would expect with the total run size.”
Anglers can keep hatchery-reared chinook but must release wild spring chinook, which can be identified by intact adipose fins.
While the overall run is forecast to be large enough to provide fisheries on the Columbia and Snake rivers, as well as some of their tributaries, it is not as large as managers would like. But it is significantly stronger than runs from 2017 to 2021 and a vast improvement over dismally low returns in 2019 and 2020.
Lothrop said the expected low return of wild chinook to the Snake River Basin this year can be traced to low numbers of adult wild fish returning during the down years.
Washington and Oregon will hold a joint meeting at 10 a.m. Feb. 22 at Ridgefield, Washington, as part of the states’ process to set fishing seasons on the Columbia River. A call-in option for remote participation will be available. Those interested can sign up for meeting notifications, including call-in information at bit.ly/3XZqaV3.
Idaho will hold a series of meetings next month as part of its process for setting a spring chinook season. Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, expects the number of hatchery spring chinook available for harvest on the Clearwater River and its tributaries will be down compared to last year. He’s projecting a harvest share of about 3,200 adult chinook. Last year, 5,700 adult spring chinook were available for harvest.
Anglers on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers are projected to have about 3,200 adult chinook available for harvest, which is similar to last year’s harvest share of about 3,600.
He noted last year’s return of fish to the Clearwater River far exceeded preseason forecasts. He is hoping for a repeat, even if he’s not predicting one.
“I’m still somewhat optimistic we will slightly underestimate the return,” he said.
DuPont said the meetings will feature reports on the agency’s efforts to balance harvest on different stretches of the Clearwater River and between the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers and a review of last year’s four-day-a-week season on the North Fork of the Clearwater River that was designed to increase harvest opportunities for Nez Perce Tribal fishers.
In addition to spring chinook seasons, the meetings will feature other topics, including a report on last year’s change to steelhead seasons on the Clearwater River, and how the department manages fishing on trout streams during heat waves and elevated water temperatures.
The meetings will all start at 5:30 p.m. and last about two hours. The schedule is: the Riggins Community Center on Feb. 13; Clearwater Hatchery at Ahsahka near Orofino on Feb. 15; the Fish and Game Office at Lewiston on Feb. 16; the Cascade Senior Center on Feb. 16; and the Fish and Game office in Coeur d’Alene on Feb. 22.