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Tribal Fishers Target Tail End
of 2004 Spring Chinook Run

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - May 28, 2004

Tribal gill net fishers targeted the tail end of the 2004 upriver spring chinook salmon run this week in a mainstem fishery approved Tuesday by the Columbia River Compact.

The final commercial fishery of the spring season began Wednesday morning, May 26, in mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville Dam. The fishery concludes at 6 p.m., May 28. The Compact, comprised of representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, set tribal and non-tribal fisheries on the Columbia mainstem.

Commercial sales of fish caught from tribal platforms and hook and line in Yakama Nation tributary fisheries are allowed through 6 p.m. on Monday, May 31. Those tributaries include the Wind, Big White Salmon and Klickitat rivers and Drano Lake.

Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission biologist Stuart Ellis told the Compact that he expected the 2 -day harvest to yield, at most, 1,000 fish. A catch of that magnitude would push CRITFC's member treaty tribes up against their allowed impact on the upriver fish. The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes are allowed a 9 percent impact on the upriver run. The projected harvest this week would bring their impacts to 8.97 percent.

The allowable impacts are based on the size of the overall run. Tribal and non-tribal fishers are each allowed a certain impact on the upriver run according to the terms of a management agreement between the tribes and states. The impact limits are intended to protect portions of the run that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Fisheries officials last winter predicted that the upriver return to the mouth of the Columbia would be 360,700 adult fish, which would have allowed the tribes a 13 percent share. But as time passed it became clear that mid-winter forecasts would not be realized. An updated forecast made earlier this month is for a return of the Columbia of 189,200 upriver spring chinook adults.

With only a few more days of counting it appears the run will exceed that number slightly, Ellis said. Counts at Bonneville Dam had had averaged 1,600 daily for the five days ending May 24 with a total count of 160,736. Tuesday's count was 1,616.

Ellis said that a conservative estimate of 1,000-fish daily counts for the last few days in May would leave the overall 2000 count at 167,000. The chinook passing Bonneville are counted as springers through May 31. After that date, the passing salmon are recorded as "summer" chinook.

Add the 23,221 upriver chinook harvested below Bonneville by non-tribal sport and commercial fishers and the overall 2004 return to the river would be 190,200.

Based on that estimate, the tribal share would be 17,118 spring chinook. So far the tribes have caught an estimated 16,022 chinook during the spring -- an 8.4 percent impact. There were 8,066 fish caught for ceremonial purposes, 3,172 from platforms and nearly 7,800 during earlier commercial fisheries. A 2 -day fishery last week brought out 150 fishers and resulted in a catch of 1,030 salmon.

The projected harvest for this week assumes that 150 nets will be cast, a figure that Ellis told the Compact is probably high. As the stream of fish dwindles, the fishers' task is tougher and so are the odds of having a profitable outing.

The reduced return is still much better than the 10-year average upriver spring chinook count at Bonneville -- 130,328 adults.

Recent years' high returns to the river's mouth have pushed up 10-year averages. The actual return to the river mouth was 178,600 in 2000. A record (since 1938 when counts began at Bonneville) return of 416,500 adults was recorded in 2001 and a 295,100-fish return followed in 2002. Last year's return was 208,900 upriver spring chinook. The upriver spring chinook return exceeded 100,000 only three times during the 1980s and 1990s and sunk as low as 10,200 in 1995.

The actual number of fish making it from the river mouth to the fish ladders at Bonneville over the previous five years was 195,493 in 2003, 269,520 in 2002, 391,842 in 2001, 178,336 in 2000 and 38,669 in 1999.

The upriver chinook are bound for three geographical production areas -- the Columbia River system above its confluence with the Snake River, the Snake system, and Columbia River tributaries between Bonneville Dam and the Snake River.

Through Tuesday, May 25, a total of 95,519 chinook had been counted passing over McNary Dam, the fourth hydro project in the system and the last the fish leap before reaching the Columbia/Snake confluence. Through Tuesday 66,674 of those fish had been counted at Ice Harbor Dam and 56,844 had reached at Lower Granite Dam. Ice Harbor is the first dam the fish pass in the lower Snake hydrosystem and Lower Granite is the last they surmount before swimming toward hatcheries and tributary spawning areas.

The count at Priest Rapids Dam, the fifth hydro hurdle the fish encounter in the Columbia River system, through Tuesday was 10,132 spring chinook.

For this week's tribal fishery, CRITFC, on behalf of Northwest tribes, asked for the fourth time this spring that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide special operations at lower Columbia River dams to aid tribal fishermen while they fish for spring chinook.

The tribes asked the multi-agency Technical Management Team to approve a system operational request (SRO) to hold reservoir levels at three lower Columbia River dams full and free from fluctuations from 6 a.m. Wednesday, May 26, through 6 p.m. Friday, May 28.

Gillnetters used all three pools in the lower river during the first three tribal fisheries. However, the number of nets in each pool is dwindling. As of May 12, there were 204 tribal nets in the river, but last week that number had dropped to 130. Of those, 68 were in the Bonneville Dam pool, 31 in The Dalles pool and 31 in the John Day pool.

The SOR asks the Corps to hold pool fluctuations to within a one foot operating range. Specifically, it asked for the Bonneville pool to hold an elevation between 75.5 and 76.5 feet, The Dalles pool between 158.5 and 159.5 feet, and the John Day pool between 263.5 and 264.5 feet.

Pool fluctuations at Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams during the tribal fishery can cause several problems, according to the SOR. Fluctuations tend to increase currents that sweep debris into nets and can tear nets from their anchors. Rapid drops in reservoir elevation can entangle nets and cause boat access difficulties. Fluctuations can impact "tribal incomes, food resources and cultural practices," the SOR said.

CBB Staff
Tribal Fishers Target Tail End of 2004 Spring Chinook Run
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 28, 2004

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