So-so spring chinook forecast for Willamette

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Only a mediocre return of spring chinook salmon is forecast to return to Oregon's Willamette River in 2014 and poor runs are projected for Southwest Washington's Lewis and Kalama rivers.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is anticipating 55,700 adult spring chinook will enter the lower Columbia bound for the Willamette, of which 46,200 are of hatchery origin.

The 55,700 compares with an actual return of 47,300 in 2013. In the past decade, Willamette runs have ranged from 100,500 in 2010 to 27,016 in 2008. The average for the past 10 years is almost 53,000.

"I'm not impressed with this run,'' said Robert Moxley of Oregon, a member of the bistate Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group. "I think the Willamette can handle more. I'd like to see 100,000 with an 80-percent mark rate.''

Sport catch was down considerably in the lower Willamette in 2012. There were 99,000 angler trips between March 2 and June 2 with 7,200 adult chinook kept and 1,300 released.

About 8,200 chinook of this year's Willamette forecast are expected to enter the Clackamas River.

Dams built in the 1950s and 1960s blocked 400 miles of wild spring chinook rearing areas in the Willamette River. Four large hatcheries upstream of Willamette Falls fuel the run, plus habitat remains in the McKenzie River and a portion of the North Santiam River.

John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the Willamette forecast breaks down to 34,000 4-year-old chinook, 21,400 5-year-olds and 290 6-year-olds. The older chinook tend to return earlier in the run.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is predicting 1,100 spring chinook back to the Lewis River, 500 to the Kalama and 7,800 to the Cowlitz River.

Those would be poor returns to the three Southwest Washington streams. In 2013, the Lewis got 1,800 spring chinook back, the Kalama got 1,300 and the Cowlitz run was 9,500. All three exceeded their forecasts in 2013.

In the past decade, the Kalama has been as high as 8,000 in 2007 and as low as 400 in 2009. The Lewis has been as high as 7,600 in 2007 and as low was 1,300 in 2011.

In 2013, the Lewis stayed closed until early June due to the poor forecast. Only about 100 adults and 30 jacks were kept after angling opened. The Kalama did not open until mid-July and no catch was reported.

The Cowlitz had a catch of 4,200 adults and 300 jacks.

The forecast for Oregon's Sandy River is 5,500. That would be down slightly from the 5,700 return in 2013.

Fortunately for anglers, a fairly good run of 227,000 spring chinook are forecast to enter the Columbia River headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam. That compares to 123,100 in 2013.

If the 227,000 materialize, it would be the fifth best return since 1979.

Fall chinook — A forecast for the fall chinook run to the Columbia will not be complete for a couple of months, but another huge run of bright-stock fish is anticipated in 2014.

Coho — Returns in 2013 were smaller than forecast, but an improvement is expected in 2014 based on jack returns. The return of early-stock coho to waters upstream of Bonneville Dam was predicted to be about 100,000 and turned out to be 30,000, said Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Sockeye —

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A big run of 345,900 is predicted. The return in 2013 was 185,500 at Bonneville Dam. Sockeye are not good biters in the lower Columbia and are caught mostly incidental to summer steelhead.