Great Fishing Meant Big Bucksby Fenton Roskelley
Spokesman Review, December 19, 2001
This year's record-breaking steelhead and salmon runs are an excellent example of what large numbers of the kind of fish that anglers dream about catching can do for the economies of towns and cities in the Northwest.
The runs were so big along the Washington coast and along the Columbia River and its tributaries that thousands of anglers, many from throughout North America, spent millions of dollars on everything from gas to motel fees.
They contributed significantly to the economies of numerous businesses in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Anglers bought steelhead licenses and lures, and meals at restaurants from Lewiston to Westport. They hired guides and paid charter boat operators $65 to $75 a day to fish on saltwater.
The Idaho Fish and Game Department said this month that "a sizeable chunk of the record $46.2 million spent fishing for chinook in Idaho this year might have gone out of the state had it not been for the attraction of a huge salmon run."
If the salmon run hadn't been such a big one, six out of 10 Idaho anglers, the department said, would have gone out of state to catch big fish. Hundreds came from other states to fish for the chinooks.
Eventually, a state agency will estimate how much fishers spent to catch salmon and steelhead in Washington.
For charter boat operators and businesses along the Coast, this was the first year in several years that their incomes were back to the levels of the "good old days" of the 1970s, said Mark Cedargreen, executive director of the Westport Charter Boat Association.
"It was an excellent year for everyone," he said. "We haven't had many shots in the arm the last few years. We needed one, and we got it. Charter boats were full through the season. Restaurants, gas stations, motels and other businesses did exceptionally well. We just hope next year will be another good year."
If the runs hadn't been so big, anglers still would have spent a lot to fish for salmon and steelhead. However, because the runs set records, expenditures were possibly twice what might have been spent otherwise.
Anglers will continue catching steelhead along the Columbia and its tributaries for a couple of months. The fishing will be sensational at times, particularly along the Clearwater, Grande Ronde, Salmon, Tucannon, Touchet and Walla Walla rivers. Then the big run of 2001 will be history.
So what's in store for the region's fishers in 2002? Fishery biologists have been considering various factors that govern the salmon and steelhead runs and they're making educated guesses.
It's doubtful, in the opinion of Ed Schriever, Lewiston regional manager for the Idaho Fish and Game Department, that runs of the next two years will be anywhere near as large as this year's.
The Corps of Engineers counted nearly 172,000 spring chinook salmon at Lower Granite Dam this year, making the run a record since the agency began counting spring chinooks. Fishing was sensational along the Clearwater and Salmon rivers. The run was so big the department boosted the limit to three fish a day. Anglers who fished the Snake in Washington also could keep three chinooks.
Schriever said biologists are basing their predictions for the 2002 adult chinook run on the number of jack salmon (immature chinooks) that were counted this year.
"The number of jacks this year was considerably lower than last year, which was a predictor for this year," he said. "We expect the number of hatchery adults next year to be about the same as in 1997, or about 35,000.
"We did have a limited sport fishery in 1997, and we could have one next year."
Next year's steelhead run is tough to predict, Schriever said. It's remotely possible, but not likely, that the run will be as big as this year's. The Corps of Engineers has counted nearly 260,000 steelhead at Lower Granite Dam this year. Fishing has been so good that some anglers have claimed they regularly hooked and released as many as 20 a day.
Incidentally, the WDFW is predicting the spring chinook run for the upper Columbia next year will be about 333,700 fish, compared with this year's 416,500
Schriever said biologists expect the steelhead run over Lower Granite Dam next year to total about 100,000, or less than half of this year's run.
"Next year's steelhead run will be made up of fish that migrated to the ocean in 2000 and 2001," he said. "The outward migration in 2000 was an average one, but not as good as that of 1999. This year's out-migration, however, was a disastrous one. We had a drought, power emergency and no spill over the dams. It was the worst out-migration in many years. The survivors will come back next year as one-ocean fish."
Schriever said steelhead and salmon runs are a combination of ocean conditions and downstream migrations. In 1999, ocean conditions and the downstream migrations were excellent. That's why this year's runs were record breakers. Ocean conditions have remained good, but out-migrations have varied dramatically.
The chinook run up the Columbia above the Tri-Cities this year was a good one, but not a record-breaker. The Corps of Engineers counted 110,517 fall chinooks at McNary Dam. About 13,500 migrated up the Snake.
Anglers fished for fall chinook from the lower Columbia to the Hanford Reach. It was so good at times that experienced fishers regularly boated two to six fish a day. Even novices took home 10- to 40-pound chinooks.
If this winter's snowpack is above normal -- and snow depths are looking good now -- next spring's runoff could fill the reservoirs and then some. Survival rates of downstream migrant salmon and steelhead could be relatively good. And ocean conditions might remain favorable for the young fish.
So the runs of 2003 might be larger than normal. A lot of anglers and business operators hope so.
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