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Summer Chinook Run Strong

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 25, 2004

Tribal Gill Net Fishery Approved

Steady counts of summer chinook salmon at Bonneville Dam have given fishery officials the confidence to approve tribal commercial gill net fisheries in the mainstem Columbia River targeting the so-called "June hogs" for only the second summer since 1965.

In requesting the gill net season, tribal officials noted that counts through June 17 were on track to achieve the preseason forecast of 102,800 adult summer chinook to the mouth of the Columbia. A return of that size would allow the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes an "impact" on the upriver run of up to 5 percent or 5,140 fish according to the terms of a interim management agreement between those treaty tribes and the states.

Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife officials meet throughout the spring, summer and fall as the Columbia River Compact to set both tribal and non-tribal commercial fisheries on the mainstem. The Compact met last week to respond to a request that tribal fishers be allowed to sell commercially fish caught from shoreline platforms with hoopnets, dipnets and hook and line. It allowed the sale of chinook, steelhead, shad, carp and walleye from the mainstem and from the Wind, Big White Salmon and Klickitat rivers.

The tribal fishermen can also keep those species for subsistence purposes. Sockeye, and in some cases sturgeon, can be kept for subsistence uses but cannot be sold.

With the chinook run holding strong, the tribes returned to the Compact Friday, June 18 to request a gill net fishery for this week. That fishery was approved and will run from 6 a.m. Wednesday (June 23) through 6 p.m. Friday in the mainstem reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary. Again, sockeye and sturgeon can be kept for subsistence purposes only. The tribes will employ nets with 7-inch or larger mesh. The large mesh size is intended to avoid entangling the smaller sockeye.

Chinook passing Bonneville between June 1 and July 31 are counted as "summers." Joining them during the same time frame, though at a considerably different cadence, are the spawning sockeye.

The upriver summer chinook are bound for production areas and hatcheries above Priest Rapids Dam on the upper Columbia and above Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Wild summer chinook destined for the Snake River are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Historically, the vast majority of the summer chinook spawning occurred in the upper Columbia. Much of that spawning territory was blocked by construction of Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1941.

The management agreement calls for summer chinook escapement of 85,000 fish above Bonneville but that had not been achieved, until 2002, since 1969. The upriver summer chinook runs from 1973 through 2000 ranged from 15,000 (in 1995) to 38,700. The 2001 run totaled 76,377 and was 129,000 in 2002 -- a high count since the 1950s. That was followed by a 2003 return of 116,900 adults.

The sockeye are, for the most part, Wenatchee and Okanogan stock bound for the upper Columbia. The preseason forecast was for a return of 80,600 sockeye to the mouth of the Columbia, including 154 from the Snake River. That latter stock is listed as endangered.

The management goal is for escapement past Bonneville of 75,000 sockeye. And with that goal suddenly very realistic there may be the potential for sport harvest and/or tribal commercial sales of the fish. Both were allowed in 2001 when the biggest sockeye return since the mid-1980s appeared -- 116,623 to the mouth of the Columbia River.

Through Tuesday, June 21, a total of 57,459 sockeye had been counted passing Bonneville. During the week leading up to June 21, the daily counts jumped from 2,500 to a peak of 8,008 with four counts over 7,000. The sockeye usually speed through the mainstem, quickly rising to a peak in late June with numbers falling off as rapidly thereafter.

"The peak could come anytime time (this) week," said Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The June 21 tally does, however, match almost exactly the 57,613 count on June 21, 2001. The Technical Advisory Committee, which advises the U.S. v Oregon proceedings and the Compact, meets June 28 to update run forecasts. The sockeye forecast will most likely be upgraded.

"Things are tracking to get to the goals for both chinook and sockeye," Ellis said.

The upriver summer chinook count through June 21 at Bonneville was 41,627 with the high daily count thus far -- 3,078 -- on that date. The counts are tracking at a rate that is more than double the recent 10-year average. The summer chinook run proceeds at a relatively steady pace without the sharp climb to a peak that is witnessed with sockeye. Historically, 50 percent of the run has passed Bonneville by about June 26.

The 5 percent tribal impact threshhold is intended to limit impacts on the listed portion of the upriver run and allow sufficient escapement. A similar limit, 7 percent, is applied to the treaty sockeye harvest. That amounts to 5,645 based on the current forecast.

The tribes had in the platform/hook and line fishery through June 19 caught 400 summer chinook, 720 steelhead and 1,420 sockeye. They expect to catch 1,480 summer chinook and 3,350 sockeye from platforms during the management period that runs through July 31. That would amount to a 1.4 of the 5 percent impact allowed for chinook and 4.2 of the 7 percent impact allowed for sockeye.

The tribes project that they could catch as many as 2,000 chinook during this week's 2 -day gill net opening -- an amount that would still leave them well below their allowable impact. Those estimates are based on the harvest from an initial 2 -day fishery held last year -- the first gill net fishery on the mainstem directed as summer chinook since 1965. There was almost no incidental catch of sockeye in that fishery or in a second 2 -day fishery held last year.

Barry Espenson
Summer Chinook Run Strong; Tribal Gill Net Fishery Approved
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 25, 2004

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