One of 2019’s first Northwest salmon forecasts was quietly posted late last week, a not-so-stellar prediction for Columbia spring and summer Chinook as well as sockeye.
All of those figures are well below 10-year averages but should come as no surprise given recent ocean conditions.
Expectations for next year’s first salmon runs of the year were essentially set all the way back in 2017 when federal fishery overseers warned that that spring’s offshore survey of juvenile Columbia salmon foresoothed poor 2018 returns continuing into 2019.
Still, some individual stocks are expected to hold steady or even improve slightly this coming season.
And things may improve down the road as 2018’s spring ocean sampling did find above-average numbers of coho and average to just slightly below average numbers of Chinook. That might translate into better silver fishing this summer and for springers and summer kings in 2020.
“Stay hopeful” was Liz Hamilton’s reaction last Friday when asked about this year’s adult numbers.
The executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association pointed to a linkage between spring spill down the Columbia hydropower system to benefit outmigrating smolts and subsequent increased adult spring returns in past years.
“The ocean isn’t as quite as good as it was then, and the high waters of the last two springs weren’t quite as high, but we do have a court order for spill that we didn’t have then combined with more fish to start with. And if we win our battle for more spring spill, you’ll see even better smolt to adult returns, as much as two to three times improved!” she said.
Hamilton is among the state fishery managers and industry officials who are meeting today at 1 p.m. in Clackamas to go over 2019’s figures, the first steps as we move towards setting the seasons in midwinter.
As for the forecasts, those are:
Columbia springers (all runs, SAFE to Central Idaho): 157,500, down 91,000 from the overall 2018 forecast and 20,000 fewer than the actual return; just over half of the 10-year average and would be the lowest since 2007 if it returns as predicted
Willamette: 40,200, one of the lowest forecasts in 10 years but above 2018’s actual return; 10-year average is 64,900
Sandy: 5,500, slightly more than 2018’s forecast and more than actually came back last year
Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis: 4,300 (1,300, 1,400, 1,600), the lowest forecast this millennium; 10-year average is 15,300
Mid-Columbia (Wind, Drano, Hood, Klickitat, Yakima, Umatilla): 40,000, slightly up from 2018 and 5,000-plus fish more than actually returned
Upriver (Upper Columbia, Snake springs and summers): 99,300, 60 percent of last year’s preseason forecast and 16,000 fewer than actually returned; would be the fewest since 2007; 10-year average is 204,500
Upper Columbia summer Chinook: 35,900, down from the 2018 forecast of 67,300 and actual return of 42,120; would be lowest since 2000
Columbia, Snake sockeye: 94,400, down somewhat from 2018’s forecast; includes 74,500 to the Okanogan/Okanagan and 18,300 to Lake Wenatchee; overall, less than a third of the 10-year average
The caveat to that last one is that sockeye have proven somewhat tough to reliably forecast. Last year’s prediction didn’t allow for Columbia fisheries, but when the run came in twice as large, managers were able to open a season.
Columbia spring Chinook seasons are typically set by late February, usually with a 30 percent upriver runsize buffer to guard against an unexpectedly low return. Managers can add additional fishing time if angling is slower than expected or the midseason update is better than expected.