the film

Early 2016 Salmon Run Projections: Spring, Summer Chinook
Higher than 10-Year Average, Sockeye Lower

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 18, 2015

Salmon nests, known as redds, in the Clearwater River. Fall 2013 saw a record number along with an equally record number of returning salmon. Following a year with salmon returns to the Columbia River basin largely better than average, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee is forecasting mixed results for early runs of salmon to the Columbia and Snake River basins in 2016.

According to TAC's latest forecast released last week, returns at the Columbia River mouth of spring chinook and summer chinook salmon will be lower next year than in 2015. Still, the tally will be much higher than the ten-year average.

However, the forecast for sockeye salmon is nearly five times lower than 2015's actual return and about half the ten-year average.

A forecast by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife this week is estimating a run of spring chinook salmon into the Willamette River that is higher than last year's forecast, but lower than last year's actual return.

TAC, made up of federal, state and tribal representatives, was formed by the parties to the U.S. v. Oregon court case. The membership and function are laid out in the 2008-17 Management Agreement (

According to Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and TAC's chair, the forecasts are largely age-based and the number of jack salmon from the current year also aid in the following year's forecast.

"We reconstruct the runs based on age data collected at Bonneville, in the fisheries, and in escapement areas," Ellis said. "One of the most common methods is to do statistical regressions between the ages. Sometimes we use ratios. We look at relationships between various time periods too."

TAC also tries to incorporate environmental information, such as ocean conditions, into its forecasts, "but it has been difficult to put together models which appear reliable," he said. For example, forecasts of coho salmon abundance -- not included in this latest preseason forecast -- work well using ocean indicators like upwelling. "But for other stocks, we don't seem to have found the right indicators that give good results."

Jacks have always served as a pretty good index of the survival of a certain brood to date. In a way, Ellis said, jacks can be looked at as a type of ocean indicator. "For spring chinook, jacks play a big part in our assessment of the 4-year old return which is normally the biggest age class in any year."

TAC forecasts a spring chinook run to the Columbia River mouth of 188,800 fish, down from the technical group's 2015 forecast of 232,500 and considerably down from the actual return of spring chinook, which was 289,000 fish.

Of those fish forecasted to return, some 27,600 will return to the upper Columbia River, down from the 2015 actual upper river return of 37,500 fish, but about the same as TAC's preseason forecast for 2015 of 27,500 fish.

Some 5,000 of those are forecasted to be wild. TAC forecasted 4,500 wild upper Columbia River spring chinook in 2015 and the actual run totaled 5,800.

As of Nov. 15, 2015, this year's run of spring chinook to the upper Columbia River as counted at Priest Rapids Dam was 27,716 adults and 1,570 jack salmon. Last year the count was 23,742 adults and 2,649 jacks. The ten-year average for passage at Priest Rapids is 15,720 adults and 1,631 jacks. (Salmon counts at Columbia and Snake River dams are available at the Fish Passage Center website at and ten-year averages can be found at

Of the full run of spring chinook, 124,800 spring/summer chinook will head to the Snake River, considerably lower than the 140,800 estimated in 2015 and much lower than the 162,700 that actually arrived in the Snake River this year. Still, the estimate is far above the ten-year average actual count of 50,576 adult spring chinook at Lower Granite Dam, the uppermost of the lower Snake River dams.

Of those, TAC says 23,700 will be wild, again down from the 2015 preseason forecast of 45,300, but not that far off of the 2015 actual run count of 30,000 fish.

As of Dec. 15, this year 104,873 adult and 8,379 jack spring chinook had passed Lower Granite Dam. In 2014, the totals were much lower for adults with 79,167 fish, but higher for jacks with 13,732. The ten-year average for jacks is 11,930.

The estimate for 2016 would put the year at fourth best in the past ten years, but just third best of the past four years. Over the past ten years, the actual number of spring chinook salmon returning to the Columbia River mouth has been: 2005, 106,900; 2006 132,600; 2007, 86,200; 2008, 178,600; 2009, 169,300; 2010, 315,300; 2011, 221,200; 2012, 203,100; and 2013, 123,100.

The story is a little better for adult upper Columbia River summer chinook salmon. TAC's 2016 prediction of 93,300 fish at the Columbia River mouth is higher than its 2015 estimate of 73,000. Actual this year is 126,900 summer chinook, according to TAC.

The latest count at Bonneville Dam (Dec. 15) for 2015 is 161,735 total summer chinook and 17,730 jacks. The count at Priest Rapids Dam, which accounts for some, but not all of the upper Columbia River summer chinook upstream of Bonneville as of Nov. 15 was 78,139 fish and 3,550 jacks.

Although the 2014 count at Bonneville was lower (109,734 adults and 25,342 jacks), it was still far above the ten-year average of 87,270 adults and 20,126 jacks. For Priest Rapids the count in 2014 was similar to this year with 78,434 adults and 4,889 jacks. Again, that is far above the ten-year average of 53,883 adults and 2,434 jacks.

After this year's record sockeye salmon run, TAC has downgraded its 2016 forecast to just 101,600 fish. An estimated 50 percent of upper Columbia River fish died and about 96 percent of Snake River sockeye died in 2015 due to warm water conditions. Snake River sockeye are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

TAC estimated that 394,000 sockeye would pass the mouth of the Columbia River this year, while the actual run totaled 512,500 fish. Of its 2015 estimate, TAC said 106,700 fish would go to the Wenatchee River basin (139,900 fish actually headed to the basin) and that 285,500 would go to the Okanogan River basin (actual was 370,900).

The 2016 estimate is for 57,800 Wenatchee River sockeye and 41,700 Okanogan River sockeye.

Some 2,100 Snake River sockeye are forecasted for 2016. TAC's 2015 estimate was 1,800 and the actual was 1,700 at the river's mouth, but just 1,052 at Ice Harbor Dam. The ten-year average is 742 fish.

Some 614,179 sockeye passed Bonneville Dam in 2014. The ten-year average is 241,300 fish.

ODFW is forecasting 70,100 spring chinook will enter the Columbia River mouth and head to the Willamette River in 2016. That's about 15,000 fish higher than last year's forecast, but under the actual run of 87,000 fish. The estimate for jack salmon is 2,359 fish.

Even with forecasts, all the in-river fisheries under the U.S. v. Oregon management agreement are managed based on actual rather than forecast run sizes, Ellis said.

"The forecasts just serve as guidance to plan early fisheries," he said.

When TAC thinks that about half of a run has passed Bonneville Dam -- be it spring, summer or sockeye salmon, among the other forecasts for fall chinook and steelhead -- it will then update the actual run size. "Before then, the updates can be wildly off," Ellis said.

The spring runs that once were updated in late April are now usually updated in early May. So about the first week of May TAC will release a fact sheet through the states of the first run size update. After that, the update will often be weekly until the prediction stops changing, Ellis said.

"It can be very hard on the fishers when we keep changing the run size which changes the allowed number of fish that can be caught, but it is better for the fish, because it makes the fisheries much more responsive to the actual number of fish returning," Ellis said.

The current TAC members are: Alan Byrne, Idaho Department of Fish and Game; Robin Ehlke and Ron Roler, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Kathryn Kostow, John North and Jeff Whisler, ODFW; Stuart Ellis, CRITFC (while not a party to U.S. v Oregon, Ellis is on TAC as a joint appointment by the treaty tribes), Joe Oatman, Nez Perce Tribes; Kurt Tardy, Lytle P. Denny, and David Evans, Shoshone Bannock Tribes; Roger Dick Jr. and Megan Begay, Yakama Nation; Preston Bronson, Umatilla Tribe; Mark Manion, Warm Springs Tribe; Enrique PatiƱo, and Jeromy Jording, NOAA Fisheries; the US Fish and Wildlife Service position is vacant.

Related Sites:
Recent High Sockeye Returns To Columbia River Expected To Decline In Next Few Years by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 9/4/15

Post-Mortem 2015 Snake River Sockeye Run: 90 Percent Of Fish Dead Before Reaching Ice Harbor Dam by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 12/4/15

Early 2016 Salmon Run Projections: Spring, Summer Chinook Higher than 10-Year Average, Sockeye Lower
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 18, 2015

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation