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Whoa: Forecast Pegs 2014 Fall Chinook Return to
Columbia Mouth at Record-Breaking 1.6 Million Fish

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 21, 2014

(Edward Stratton photo) Parker Ostrom, 12, pulls in a salmon while fishing on the Columbia River near Astoria, Oregon A U.S. V Oregon Technical Advisory Committee subgroup and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is predicting that an almost unfathomable number of adult fall chinook salmon will return to the mouth of the Columbia River this year -- 1.6 million.

Such a total would be by far the most returning fish on a record dating back to 1938. The current record is a return to the Columbia River of 1.27 million adult fall chinook last year. The fall chinook forecasts include returns to lower Columbia (downstream of Bonneville Dam) tributaries, but are heavily weighted toward expected upriver spawners.

"It's basically the upriver brights that are driving the forecast," said the WDFW's Joe Hymer. "It's off the charts."

If forecasts pan out, fishers will have the opportunity of a lifetime. During the late summer-fall time frame the lower Columbia should be brimming with fall chinook salmon as well as coho salmon spawners. Ocean abundance (before any fisheries) of Columbia River-origin early and late run coho is expected to be more than three times larger in 2014 than in 2013. A forecast released earlier this month by TAC says ocean abundance this year should total 964,100 adult fish as compared to a final estimate of 301,500 for the 2013 run.

Those coho estimates are for pre-ocean harvest abundance, not for actual Columbia returns. Still, even with ocean harvests subtracted the coho return to the river has the potential be the fourth highest since 1980.

Fall chinook generally enter the Columbia River from late July through October with abundance peaking in the lower river from mid-August to mid-September and passage at Bonneville Dam peaking in early to mid-September. Coho are the latest arriving of the salmon stocks entering the Columbia beginning in latest summer.

The forecast released last week includes a prediction of nearly one million "URBs," which are fish bound for the mid-Columbia's Hanford Reach, the Snake River basin and elsewhere upstream of the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam.

The 2014 forecast is for a return of 973,300 adult URBs, which would surpass the 2013 total of 784,100. That 2013 return turned out to be nearly twice what had been forecast in preseason. About two-thirds of the 2014 return is expected to be made up of 4-year-old fish.

The 2013 return included an estimated 431,000 3-year-old URBs to the mouth of the Columbia, "which was the highest since at least 1962… by a long shot," said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's John North. Next highest yearly return was 162,000 3 year olds.

And the 2-13 4-year-old return at 332,000 was also the highest in the past 50 years. Additionally in 2013 was an estimated 95,000 jacks returned, which was the seventh highest total. Jacks are 2-year-old fall chinook that return after only one year in the Pacific Ocean. They are not tallied as "adults."

The huge forecast for 2014 is based in large part on the fact that there were "strong returns in multiple age classes," in 2013, North said. The 2014 return is expected to include a strong age 4 component, fish that went to the ocean as juvenile fish alongside last year's 3 year olds.

The Pool Upriver Bright fall chinook forecast showed similar age class trends last year as the URBS. The PUB 2013 forecast was for a return of 70,000 adult fish. But a record 207,800 headed up the Columbia. The forecast released on Valentine's Day predicts a return of 310,600 PUBs in 2014.

PUBs are a bright stock reared at Little White Salmon, Umatilla, and Klickitat hatcheries and released in areas between Columbia's Bonneville and McNary dams, according to the July 2013 Joint Staff report produced by ODFW and WDFW. Natural production of fish derived from PUB stock is also believed to occur in the mainstem Columbia River below John Day Dam, and in the Wind, White Salmon, Klickitat, and Umatilla rivers.

The Bonneville Pool Hatchery adult return is expected to include 115,500 adult fish, which is up from the total estimated return of 86,600 last year. Such a 2014 return would be 40 percent greater than the 10-year average of 80,700.

The BPH "tules" are produced primarily at the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery in the Bonneville Pool, although natural production of tules also occurs in Washington's Wind, White Salmon and Klickitat rivers and Oregon's Hood River, all of which feed into the Bonneville reservoir.

The 2014 estimate for Bonneville Upriver Bright stock returns is 49,500, which would be an improvement over the 2013 return of 3,5600. BUB production occurs just downstream of Bonneville Dam at the Bonneville Hatchery in Oregon. If the 2014 forecast proves accurate, the LRH return would be similar to the five-year average, but the LRW would be the largest since 1989 and more than double the 10-year average (13,600).

The Lower River Hatchery return is expected to number 110,000 adult fish, which would be slightly higher than the actual return of 103,200. Likewise the Lower River Wild return is expected to be up slightly, from 25,800 in 2013 to an estimated 34,200 in 2014.

The LRH stock is currently produced from hatchery facilities (four in Washington and two in Oregon) while the LRW stock is naturally-produced primarily in the Lewis River system, with smaller components also present in the Cowlitz and Sandy rivers. Natural production of LRH stock occurs in most tributaries below Bonneville Dam.

Also see, CBB, Feb. 7, 2014, "Forecasters Expect Huge 2014 Coho Return To Columbia River, Almost A Million Fish Pre-Fisheries"

Whoa: Forecast Pegs 2014 Fall Chinook Return to Columbia Mouth at Record-Breaking 1.6 Million Fish
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 21, 2014

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