Feds Issue Early Warning About 2018-19 Columbia Salmon Runs

As if I wasn’t depressed enough about what feels like an even worse return of Puget Sound pinks than forecast, federal fishery managers pushed out an early warning we could see diminished Columbia River salmon runs in coming years.

NOAA says that this year’s annual longterm ocean surveys off the Northwest Coast turned up some of the lowest numbers of juvenile Chinook and coho seen in the past two decades, which could translate into “lean times” in 2018 and 2019.


The “highly anomalous conditions” observed off Oregon and Washington also included low catches of baitfish, which may mean predators higher up the food chain focused more on salmon smolts — a result seen with murres outside San Francisco Bay and possible but unproven here.

They say that though the ocean has cooled from the Blob, “the biological responses to these warm waters are likely to be evident for a longer period.”

Indeed, high numbers of southern visitors are still being seen.

Surveys showed Pacific pompano catches peaked in 2016 and declined this year but are still well above where they were between 1998 and 2013, while 2017’s jack mackerel catches were the highest ever. Pyrosomes also invaded this spring and researchers report a “complete shift” in the predominate jellyfish species off the coast.

The Daily Astorian has been working the ocean beat hard this summer, and broke this news earlier this week. In a report yesterday, the paper said the tuna season has been “abysmal” so far, with boats having to go 125 miles or further out to find fish, though the albies have been nice and fat.

The caveat in my case is that, while I’ve been fishing two spots — my local beach and the Duwamish in Tukwila –without success, that doesn’t mean the salmon are necessarily not there, though the lack of jumpers certainly is suggestive.

Similarly, scientists need to take a deeper dive with what they’ve initially collected and compare it to other data before they issue 2018 Columbia salmon forecasts.

“Our results are still in the preliminary stage, with several next steps,” reads a mid-August memo to Michael Tehan, NOAA’s Assistant Regional Administrator at the Interior Columbia Basin Office in Portland. “Zooplankton and salmon samples that we collected at sea still need to be processed to estimate important biological metrics, such as copepod biomass, salmon condition and stomach contents, and salmon growth hormone levels. All results will be placed into a broader context by integrating them with oceanographic data derived from satellites and ocean buoys. We will also corroborate our results with other coastal ecosystem surveys (e.g., Gulf of Alaska) that regularly catch Columbia River salmon. Finally, each year we synthesize results of this work, including an estimate of adult salmon returns to the Columbia River.”

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