Columbia River coho forecast not encouraging

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

State biologists are forecasting another down year for Columbia River coho salmon.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released a forecast Tuesday predicting 317,200 coho will be headed for the Columbia in 2012. The forecast is "ocean abundance,'' which means before sport and commercial fishing seasons.

A year ago, the forecast was 362,500, while the actual run was 429,700. Of the 429,700 coho, 368,000 returned to the Columbia River mouth

"Coho are just ugly this year,'' said Steve Watrous of Vancouver. Watrous is the Washington sport-fishing representative on the salmon advisory panel of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The tri-state council sets ocean fishing seasons.

Columbia River coho are considered two stocks.

The early stock enters the river from mid-August until mid-September. The early coho forecast is 229,800, which compares to a forecast of 216,000 and an actual run of 288,500 in 2011.

Early coho are key for good coho fishing at Buoy 10. They tend to be a south-migrating stock once they leave the Columbia River mouth.

Late coho enter the Columbia in October and November. The 2012 forecast is a dismal 87,400, which compares to a forecast of 146,500 and an actual run of 141,200 in 2011.

Late coho are a north-migrating stock.

Late coho tend to be caught off the mouths of the Cowlitz, Sandy and Washougal rivers.

Since 1970, the worst adult coho return to the Columbia River was 74,800 in 1995, while the best was 1,549,100 in 1986.

Fewer coho are released from state and federal hatcheries than in the past.

The hatchery system averaged annual releases of 28.9 million in the 1970s, 29.4 million in the 1980s and 28.8 million in the 1990s.

The releases in 2009 through 2011 averaged 20 million, said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The smaller releases of coho don't necessarily mean the adult returns must be down, she said.

The last big coho return year was 700,000 in 2009. That run came from a release of 22 million young coho in 2008.

"Ocean survival varies and that has a lot to do with the adult return,'' LeFleur said.

A public meeting to discuss all of Washington's fall salmon forecasts will begin at 9 a.m. Feb. 28 in room No. 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.

A more detailed discussion about fall fisheries on the Columbia River will begin at 9 a.m. March 14 at the Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way.

The PFMC will adopt the 2012 ocean seasons April 1-6 in Seattle. Washington normally announces the Columbia River sport-fishing rules at the same time.