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Columbia-Snake Steelhead Run Again Downgraded; Treaty Salmon Fishery Set

Columbia fishery managers heard more grim news about this year’s steelhead run, now forecast to come in at 71,600, the third downgrade from the preseason forecast.

WILD UNCLIPPED A- AND B-RUN STEELHEAD ARE OUTPACING HATCHERY RETURNS SO FAR AT BONNEVILLE, SOMETHING THAT “HAS NOT BEEN OBSERVED” IN THE QUARTER CENTURY OF TALLYING THE DIFFERENCE AT THE DAM. (BRIAN LULL)

Weaker than expected hatchery A-run numbers continue to largely be to blame, but B-runs, which return later and haven’t been updated, are now also “tracking below expectations.”

The preseason forecast was 118,200 As and Bs, but was dropped to 86,000 on Aug. 28 and 74,000 on Sept. 3.

Unusually, more unclipped summers have been tallied at Bonneville than clipped fish, 29,658 to 26,856 since July 1, something that “has not been observed” at the dam since managers began counting the number of adult steelhead with and without adipose fins in 1994, according to today’s fact sheet.

The new forecast calls for 35,000 unclipped steelhead.

Also troubling — though not concrete — is that Dworshak Hatchery-bound fish are “almost absent, based on PIT tags,” WDFW’s Bill Tweit said during a state-tribal conference call this morning.

PIT tags are passive integrated transponders placed in smolts at the hatchery or in the wild and which record a fish’s passage to and from the ocean.

If the steelhead run comes in at this new low forecast, it would be the worst since at least 1984.

Already, state managers have shut down retention on large sections of the Columbia, extended it in some places and reduced upriver bag limits from three to one for when the fish arrive in Southeast Washington, Northeast Oregon and Central Idaho streams.

The main thrust of today’s call, however, was to hear about CRITFC plans to hold a two-and-a-half-day tribal commercial gillnetting opener in Zone 6, the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day Pools, from 6 a.m., Monday, Sept. 16 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 18.

According to the fact sheet, it and a “late fall platform” fishery are modeled to bring the tribal harvest in the fall management period to 28,448 Chinook, including 11,794 upriver brights and 2,152 steelhead, including 425 B-runs.

The fact sheet states that at current run forecasts, that would leave 24,834 URBs for tribal fisheries. It also says that based on typical run timing, the goal of getting at least 60,000 past McNary Dam will be met.

While URBs, which spawn in the Hanford Reach and Snake River and provide sportfisheries there and in the aforementioned pools, are “tracking similar to pre-season expectations,” there is more concern about Columbia Gorge hatchery tule returns meeting broodstock needs.

CRITFC’s Stuart Ellis acknowledged that it “seems likely we will be quite tight” in reaching goals at Spring Creek Hatchery, but that if necessary, Bonneville Hatchery fish could be substituted as they are the same strain.

When ODFW’s John North asked other tribes, WDFW, NOAA and the public for comment on the proposed tribal opener, none was given.

State managers did query Ellis about a preliminary estimated catch of “0” steelhead during last week’s tribal Chinook fishery, to which he explained that none had been sampled, leading to the zero for that week. He also said that actual steelhead catches had been less than were being modeled.

He added that managers need to keep an eye on the Dworshak situation.

ODFW’s Jeff Whistler, who chairs the Technical Advisory Committee, which puts out run updates, said that one for A- and B-run steelhead, URBs and tules was “quite likely” to come out next Monday.

In a weekly newsletter out last Friday evening, NSIA noted that TAC was also reviewing Chinook passage at Bonneville this past Monday and that managers “have committed to acting as quickly as possible to reopen chinook fishing from Warrior Rock to Bonneville if the passage numbers warrant.”

No sport fisheries were proposed today, but next week’s update might show whether any are possible.