Summer chinook run downgraded in Columbia River

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

The summer chinook run in the Columbia River will be about 40 percent smaller than forecast this year, while the sockeye return will be a mega-record exceeding 500,000 salmon.

Biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Columbia River Compact on Thursday the summer chinook projection has been downgraded from 91,200 to 54,000.

Sockeye, predicted to return at about 462,000, will number about 540,000, she said. The old record was 388,000 in 2010.

Sport fishing for summer chinook and sockeye downstream of Bonneville Dam will be closed beginning Monday, as scheduled. Fishing for hatchery-origin steelhead remains open.

Angling for chinook and sockeye between Bonneville Dam and Priest Rapids Dam near the Tri-Cities will continue through July 31.

With the downgrading of the summer chinook run, the allocation to lower Columbia gillnetters and sportsmen drops to 900 for each group.

However, the commercial caught 1,679 chinook in one night of fishing in mid-June and the sport total by July 31 will be 3,185 chinook.

Ehlke said the sport catch upstream of Priest Rapids Dam will have to be cut by about 3,300 chinook to stay within the overall non-Indian allocation.

“We count at Bonneville and fish below it, and that’s what gets us into trouble,’’ said Nathan Grimm, a mid-Columbia sportsman.

Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for Washington, said there will be about 5,000 summer chinook to split between sportsmen upstream of Priest Rapids Dam plus the Colville and Wanapum tribes.

Steve Williams, an assistant administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said this is the second year in a row the lower Columbia has had a larger catch than anticipated.

Ed Wickersham of Ridgefield, government relations chair of the Coastal Conservation Association in Washington, said there is a perception east of the Cascades the Columbia River ends at Portland.

“Those east-side fisheries need predictability to get people to invest along the river, he said.

The non-Indian sockeye harvest is projected to total 5,014 fish. The guideline is 5,400 sockeye, which is 1 percent of the new forecast.

Estuary sturgeon — Sturgeon retention downstream of the Wauna power lines near Cathlamet will be closed beginning July 5, instead of the scheduled July 9.

Ehlke said sturgeon fishing is improving in the estuary. The catch guideline is 4,160 and the projected harvest through July 8 would be 5,220 sturgeon.

Closing the fishery after July 4 would result in an estimated catch of 4,400. The states agreed to transfer 233 sturgeon not caught in the Willamette River in February to the estuary allocation to cover the shortfall.

Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association said keeping sturgeon retention open through the Fourth of July holiday is important for coastal tourism.

Tribal netting — The state approved six more days of tribal commercial fishing in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools.

The four treaty tribes will fish from 6 a.m. July 3 to 6 p.m. July and 6 a.m. July 9 to 6 p.m. July 11. They are projected to catch 4,900 chinook and 10,600 sockeye.

Stuart Ellis, a biologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said there has been good market demand for sockeye this year.