Columbia spring chinook: Just late or not coming?

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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State, tribal and federal fish biologists agreed Monday the spring chinook run headed for the upper Columbia River is unlikely to reach the hefty expectations.

Or is it just way behind schedule due to a very high Columbia that's also cold and dirty?

The Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee, made up of a variety of biologists, said the run is not anticipated to be 314,200, the forecast made in mid-December.

Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the committee is not ready to make a revised forecast.

The count at Bonneville Dam through Sunday was 21,572 adult spring chinook. Add to that are 4,300 upper Columbia fish caught by the gillnetters and 8,900 caught by sportsmen in the lower Columbia before their seasons closed.

In the past five years, 26 percent of the upper Columbia run has crossed Bonneville Dam by April 29 on average. Fifty percent of the run normally has been counted at Bonneville by May 7.

While the counts to date are not encouraging, they may not be indicative.

LeFleur noted the streamflow at Bonneville Dam has topped 400,000 cubic feet per second for several days. High flows discourage passage at the dam.

"I'm not ready to conclude this run size (forecast) will not materialize,'' said Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "I don't want to put too much weight associated with the way this run is progressing to this point.''

Steve Williams, an assistant administrator of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he will not be surprised if this year's spring run is the latest timed on record.

Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said it was the late 1990s since the streamflow at Bonneville was this high in late April.

Les Clark of Chinook, Wash., a long-time commercial fisherman said the spring salmon still are coming.

Cold, stormy weather is delaying the chinook, Clark said.

"We're late and we're going to be late,'' Clark said. "Everybody keep your hat on, they'll be here.''

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, agreed.

"I have a lot of confidence the fish are coming,'' she said.

Washington and Oregon on Monday agreed to add four more sport-fishing days in the Columbia Gorge.

The Columbia between Bonneville Dam and the Washington-Oregon border upstream of McNary Dam was scheduled to be closed beginning Thursday. The states extended the season through Sunday.

Ehlke said the catch in the mid-Columbia through Sunday was 169 spring chinook kept and 18 released. Catch expectations Monday through Wednesday were another 60 chinook kept and eight released.

That would leave the mid-Columbia sportsmen at 14 percent of their allocation, compared to 73 percent for the commercials and 70 percent for sportsmen in the lower Columbia.

The four-day extension is expected to produce 450 chinook kept and 50 released, Ehlke said.

Nathan Grim, a mid-Columbia sportsman, said mid-Columbia anglers already have taken their vacations and are on the river. He supported the extension.

Washington and Oregon officials will meet at 2 p.m. Monday to review the mid-Columbia catches and Bonneville Dam counts.