Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter 12/11/2016
State, federal and tribal biologists are forecasting that 188,800 spring chinook salmon will enter the Columbia River in 2016 destined for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam, a 100,000 drop from this year.
However, an excellent run of 93,300 summer chinook also is predicted, although that, too, is down from 126,900 in 2015.
The Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee released the forecasts on Thursday.
Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, chair of the technical committee, said various models for the 2016 spring chinook return range from low to unreasonably high, as spring salmon are the most difficult to forecast.
“We’re confident it’s a reasonable number,’’ Ellis said. “There is some concern about ocean conditions.’’
Ocean conditions have not been favorable to salmon recently, but the 2016 run went to sea when conditions were better, he said.
The forecast calls for 124,800 spring chinook destined for the Snake River basin, 37,000 for the mid-Columbia tributaries and 27,000 for the upper Columbia.
If the forecast is correct, the 188,800 spring chinook falls right in the middle of recent years. Since 2005, six of the Columbia runs are larger and five smaller.
“Several springs we’ve been around this number and everyone’s survived,’’ Ellis said about the respective sport, commercial and tribal fisheries.
“It’s a exciting number, but not something that will get me to start buying tackle before March,’’ said Robert Moxley of Oregon, a member of the bi-state Columbia River Recreation Advisory Group.
“It will be a season with a typical moderate-to-decent catch, depending on water conditions,’’ he said.
In 2015, anglers in the lower Columbia kept 19,586 adult spring chinook and released 5,052 from 151,173 trips.
The forecast of 93,300 summer chinook is a good number. In 2015, the forecast was 73,000 and the actual return was 126,900.
“That’s a huge number for summer chinook,’’ Ellis said. “This will probably be the second or third largest if it comes in as predicted.’’
In 2015, lower Columbia River anglers caught a record-high 5,928 adult summer chinook and released 1,491 from 50,555 trips. Summer chinook catches were excellent just upstream of the Astoria Bridge in July.
“I’m very excited about summer chinook,’’ Moxley said. “The departments Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife) allowed some non-selective fisheries (retain any fish) last year and it was the right decision based on the size of the run and (warm) water conditions.’’
The outlook for sockeye salmon is way down. A return of 101,600 sockeye is anticipated to enter the Columbia River. In 2015, the sockeye count at Bonneville Dam was almost 511,000.
Ellis said the forecast is for 57,800 sockeye headed for the Wenatchee River and 41,700 sockeye destined for the Okanogan River. Most years, the Okanogan run is much larger than the Wenatchee run.
Sockeye do not bite well on sport gear. Sportsmen kept 956 sockeye and released 492 in 2015. They are mostly an incidental catch by anglers targeting on summer chinook and summer steelhead.
Spring chinook forecasts for the Willamette, Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama rivers are expected to be completed and released soon.