More 2020 Columbia Salmon Forecasts, Outlooks Posted; Sockeye A Brighter Spot

Columbia salmon managers are rolling out more 2020 forecasts and sockeye might be a bright spot next year.

Nearly a quarter million sockeye are expected to return to the big river, with just under 202,000 of those headed for the relatively cool Brewster Pool before departing up the Okanogan/Okanagan.

TYLER FLETCHER SHOWS OFF A PAIR OF SOCKEYE CAUGHT AT WELLS DAM DURING 2014’S FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

While forecasters are still dialing in their sockeye prognostication skills, it would be a significant uptick over 2019’s return of 63,222 against a forecast of 94,400. It would also be the eighth largest run since 1980, though still only a third of 2014’s record year.

Lake Wenatchee sockeye anglers could also see a significant bump from this year’s actual return of just 7,900; the prediction calls for 39,400.

As for all-important Columbia spring Chinook, the 2020 forecasts leave as much to be desired as last week’s news of very low predictions for the Cowlitz, Kalama, Wind, Drano, etc.

Managers expect 81,700 upper Columbia and Snake springers, which is about 10,000 more than actually returned in 2019 but also 17,600 less than were forecast.

Along with the annual 30 percent buffer to protect against overforecasting, this spring’s mainstem fishery was constrained by very low returns to the Cowlitz and Lewis, which led to a closure of the Columbia below Warrior Rock to protect springers headed to those two tributaries. Returns to both are again expected to be low.

The Willamette spring Chinook forecast is for 40,800, up a bit from this year’s forecast which didn’t pan out, with only 27,292 back.

The overall forecast of 135,800 springers to the mouth of the Columbia is the fewest back to 1999.

The Columbia summer Chinook forecast is slightly better than last year, with 38,300 expected, roughly 2,000 more than were forecast in 2019 but which also led to no opportunities to target them until later in the season and only in the upper river above Wenatchee.

Anglers are increasingly skeptical of the forecasts, but managers continue to point to very poor ocean conditions as having a strong influence on numbers of returning salmon.  The Blob is back in the North Pacific, maybe not as strong as 2014 and 2015, but still likely impacting prey and marine habitat of kings, sockeye, coho and other stocks.

Managers also put out preliminary word on fall Chinook and coho expectations, and how 2019 shaped up:

2019 Preliminary Returns
• Adult fall Chinook return was predicted to be 349,600 fish.
• Preliminary return is slightly above the forecast.
• Bright jack return appears to be improved over 2018. Tule jack return appears to be slightly improved over 2018.

2020 Outlook
• Bright stocks should be similar to the 2019 preliminary return.
• Tule stocks should be similar to the 2019 preliminary return.
• Ocean conditions between 2015 and 2019 were among the worst observed during the last 21 years and are likely continuing to have a strong influence on the fall Chinook return in 2020.

Columbia River Coho
• 2019 preliminary return is about 30% of the preseason forecast of 611,300.
• Coho jack return to the Columbia River is less than 50% of the recent three-year average.

Tule Chinook power ocean seasons, upriver brights the inriver fisheries. In the Columbia’s Hanford Reach, 30,678 angler trips yielded a catch of 11,820 adult kings, an improvement of more then 3,100 fish over 2018, according to biologist Paul Hoffarth.

The release of the 2020 forecasts and outlooks mark the start of determining how many, if any, fish are available for harvest in the ocean and rivers and setting seasons at North of Falcon later in winter.

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