Tag Archives: bonneville dam

Managers Look For Ways To Reopen Lower Columbia For Coho

Don’t put those lures away just yet, Columbia salmon anglers.

Washington managers say they’re looking to see if they can reopen a large section of the lower river for coho, but it depends on Snake-bound Chinook getting out of the way first and federal buy-in.

COHO RETENTION HAD BEEN SCHEDULED TO CONTINUE DEEP INTO FALL ON THE COLUMBIA BUT WILL CLOSE EARLY DUE TO CONCERNS ABOUT LOW RETURNS OF CHINOOK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

The good news comes after a sharply downgraded fall king forecast earlier this month put nontreaty fisheries on that ESA-listed stock over allowable impacts by half a percentage point, leading to the big river being shut down to salmon fishing all the way from Buoy 10 to the Tri-Cities.

Yet as Idaho Chinook begin to clear the Lower Columbia, angling has already been greenlighted in side channels at the mouth starting this coming Monday, and more water below Bonneville could be reopened as well.

“We know there are healthy numbers of harvestable coho returning to the Columbia over the next month that could be harvested, so we are making every effort to explore the options,” said WDFW Fish Program head Ron Warren in an unusual statement posted to the agency’s website yesterday.

He added that while managers will be going over all of the fisheries, he didn’t anticipate that the river above the dam will be reopened.

October does produce coho below Bonneville, but not like above there as late stocks return to east Gorge tribs like the Klickitat River next month and in November.

This month’s “rare” closure of the Columbia displeased anglers who have otherwise enjoyed stellar salmon seasons this decade.

And they want to raise our fees for next year?” Timothy Hermsen posted on our Facebook page in response to the news.

But they [just] opened the mouth of the Deshutes … makes sense … SMFH,” added Troy Broders.

And Jamie N Travis Larson theorized, Hanford Reach is going to get a whole lot busier.”

Yes, but even there the limit has been reduced to one adult king a day.

The upriver bright run, which returns to the Reach and Idaho, was originally forecast to come in at 205,060, but last week was downgraded to 122,600 fish, “60% of the preseason forecast,” and it potentially could end up as “the lowest return since 2007,” according to a fact sheet.

Accrued impacts by recreational and nontreaty commercial fishermen on Snake wilds hit 8.73 percent; the allowable rate at this runsize was 8.25 percent.

Warren said that keeping the river open, even under rules requiring kings to be released, would have been a violation of the Endangered Species Act because of potential additional mortalities.

“It is a rare event to exceed an ESA impact limit, and we take this apparent overage very seriously,” he said in what also reads in part as a mea culpa, the second offered by top salmon managers for the fall season on the Columbia. “Fishery managers take great care to plan fisheries that remain within the federally allowed ESA limit, and we will be considering changes to our management to avoid repeating this situation. After all, we expect project proponents and others whose actions affect salmon to adhere to ESA requirements, and we have the same expectations for our own areas of responsibility.”

This year’s preseason prediction was a far cry from recent ones, when as many as 954,100 fall Chinook were counted at Bonneville and over 1.3 million entered the Columbia.

Warren blamed the low numbers on 2015’s drought and the Blob, the effects of which lingered as this year’s fish were in the North Pacific, and he said that 2019 could see poor returns too due to the age structure of the run, comprised largely of 4-year-old fish.

But in the meanwhile, there’s a chance anglers will be able to get back on the lower river this fall as late coho roll upstream.

“For that to happen, fishery managers must be able to demonstrate that ESA-listed Snake River wild fish are no longer likely to be caught or handled in the fishery,” Warren explained.

Coded-wire tag data shows that angling near the mouth of the Columbia has “virtually no impact” on listed upriver kings after September’s third week, allowing for SAFE zones to reopen to recs and comms.

He said that WDFW and ODFW will coordinate with federal overseers to open “individual fisheries” where appropriate as number crunching shows it’s possible.

It Wasn’t That Long Ago …

Man, what a difference three years makes.

On this day in 2015 I posted* that Columbia River salmon managers had upped their fall Chinook forecast to a staggering 1,095,900.

ANGLERS ENJOYED SUPERB FALL CHINOOK FISHING ON THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM IN 2015 AS A RECORD 1.3 MILLION RETURNED, BUT THIS YEAR WE ARE SEEING THE OPPOSITE END OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE SALMON CYCLE SWING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

They were off by a mile — 210,000 miles.

The final estimate is that 1,305,600 upriver brights and tules made it to Buoy 10 that year.

Of those, 954,140 were counted at Bonneville, the most on record.

And more than all but two other entire annual returns of Chinook — i.e., springers, summers and fall fish — at the dam since counts began in 1938.

The fishing was preposterous — 36,535 kings kept at Buoy 10, 41,525 on the Lower Columbia, 13,260 from Bonneville to Highway 395. Treaty and NT comms got their shares.

We were all smiles — our smiles couldn’t have been any wider or we would have broken our faces.

“These are the good ol’ days for Chinook, ladies and gentlemen,” I wrote later that month.

CRITFC FISHERIES TECHNICIAN AGNES STRONG HOLDS A COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK TRAPPED PRIEST RAPIDS HATCHERY DURING THE 2015 RUN. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AGNES STRONG)

Looking back, it was the culmination of three outstanding years of salmon fishing, but there were troubling signs, other blogs I wrote that month show.

Sept. 23: Columbia Early Coho Forecast Reduced Sharply; Snake King Return On Record Pace: “Even as what could be a record return of Snake River fall Chinook heads for Idaho, Columbia salmon managers took the fishbonker to this year’s prediction for early-run coho, smacking it hard from an expected 140,000 to just 27,000 past Bonneville.”

Sept. 15: Clearwater Coho A No-go, IDFG Announces: This year’s run of coho up the Columbia is not living up to expectations, at least not yet.”

Sept. 11: No Plans To Halt State Humpy Fishery On Skagit: “Initial netting by the Upper Skagits turned up just 10 percent of the expected catch during what is typically the peak of the run of the odd-year fish.”

Earlier that summer hundreds of thousands of sockeye died as they migrated up the too-warm Columbia, as did dozens of oversize sturgeon.

Summer streams were bone dry due to the previous winter’s snowpack failure. Many waters were closed or under restricted fishing hours. Forest fires roared in the mountains and hills.

The Blob was hungry in 2015, though the high numbers of Columbia kings and relative snappiness of starving coho and pinks initially hid it from us, and we foolishly didn’t consider how long the North Pacific’s hangover would last.

Now in 2018 we’re at the other end of the salmon cycle.

ODFW’s Tucker Jones said that if the fall king run continues tracking as it has, it will be the lowest return since 2007, when 220,200 limped into the mouth of the Columbia.

I wonder if it won’t ultimately come in at lows not seen for two and a half decades — the 214,900 in ’93.

Funny how that number and the offage between the mid-September 2015 runsize update and what it ultimately came in at are so close.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER SHOWS THE 2018 FALL CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) VERSUS LAST YEAR AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

There is some hope, though. Last year’s run spiked unexpectedly after the usual high-count days, so we’ll see.

But in the meanwhile Chinook as well as coho and steelhead fishing have been closed from Buoy 10 all the way to Tri-Cities, and the steelie bag reduced to one hatchery a day in the Snake River basin.

CRITFC postponed a gillnet opener decision, though platform fisheries remain open, and nontreaty commercial fishing in the SAFE zones were shut down.

In the usually productive free-flowing Hanford Reach, the adult URB limit has been cut to one a day.

Just three falls ago, we harvested a record 33,885 in the Reach, and that November I wrote, “What a year!!!!!!!! Remember this one — it truly is The Good Ol’ Days.”

There were warning signs, but to hit the bad old days after such highs so fast is a reminder that the runs do ebb and flow.

Hopefully the closures and restrictions WDFW and ODFW have announced help rebuild the stocks and get us out of this hole and back on the water sooner.

*Editor’s note: Hat tip to Mike Fisenko who brought back this memory on Facebook.

Shad Top 6 Million Mark At Bonneville

Just over 6 million shad have now been counted at Bonneville, adding to a tally that exceeded 2004’s old high mark of 5.35 million nearly three weeks ago.

A BIG RUN OF SHAD YIELDED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE THE SECOND HIGHEST SPORT CATCH SINCE 1969. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

The 10-year average is 2.1 million. The true count is likely higher because some portion of the fish go through the locks instead of past the counting windows.

This year’s biggest days were 379,739 on June 18, 373,447 on June 20 and 349,260 on June 21.

While those didn’t challenge the biggest days on record — 520,664-shad June 6, 2003 and 504,224 on June 5, 2003 — a 10-day period between the 17th and 26th produced nearly half the run, 2.93 million.

Bank and boat anglers were catching thousands of shad a week during the peak of the run

Shad are not native to the Northwest or West Coast and those that return now are the descendants of those introduced into the Sacramento and stocked in the Columbia in the late 1800s.

Their numbers have been rising since counting began at the dam, with 1979 the first year they topped 1 million.

Interestingly, while 2004’s and 2005’s high shad runs occurred in years that also saw high overall Chinook returns, that coincidence isn’t likely to repeat this year, at least by numbers we’ve seen and the fall forecast.

It’s possible that shad are benefiting from a good spawn in 2015, when the Columbia was low and warm, but the anadromous species doesn’t necessarily spawn after dying like salmon.

For more on shad, including their history, biology, fishing tips and a recipe, go here.

States Add Columbia Springer, Sturgeon Days

THE FOLLOWING IS ODFW PR

Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington extended the ongoing recreational spring Chinook fishing season on the lower Columbia River, set a one-day white sturgeon season  in the estuary, and approved a two-fish bag limit on Chinook above Bonneville Dam today during a joint state hearing.

Andy Schneider holds a Columbia Estuary Sturgeon caught on a recent retention day. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

 Downstream of Bonneville Dam, the states approved a nine-day extension to the ongoing spring Chinook season starting June 7 and continuing through June 15. The effective area is from the Tongue Point/Rocky Point line up to the boat and bank deadlines near Bonneville Dam. The bag limit is up to two adult salmonids (Chinook, coho, or steelhead) per day, and only hatchery fish may be kept.

From Bonneville Dam upstream to the OR/WA border, the ongoing spring Chinook season was modified to allow fishermen to keep two adult hatchery Chinook per day instead of one beginning June 7.

The spring Chinook seasons were approved in light of catch and fish passage information that affirmed a previous forecast of 116,500 upriver spring Chinook returning to the river mouth, leaving additional fish for harvest.

Fishery managers from the two states also set a one-day white sturgeon retention season for Saturday, June 9, ending at 2 p.m. on that day. The open area is the mainstem Columbia River from Wauna powerlines downstream to the river mouth at Buoy 10, including Youngs Bay and all adjacent Washington tributaries.

The legal size slot for this fishery is 44-inch minimum and 50-inch maximum fork length, with a daily bag limit of one fish and an annual limit of two fish.  Anglers are reminded that green sturgeon may not be retained.  Identification signs have been posted at local launching ramps.

For more information about upcoming Columbia River seasons, including regulation updates, visit ODFW’s online fishing reports atwww.myodfw.com.

‘New Record Low’ For Columbia Upriver Springer Run

This year’s Columbia River upriver spring Chinook run is off to a dubious start.

The 101 of the year’s first salmon counted at Bonneville so far is a “new record low,” according to Joe Hymer, a supervising fisheries biologist in Ridgefield.

A SPRINGER HOUND WONDERS, “WHERE ARE THE DANG FISH?” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s just 4.62 percent of the 10-year average at the dam for the date, 2,186.

“The previous record low were the 120 fish counted through April 10, 2005,” Hymer reported in an email factoid sent out this morning.

The April 10, 2006, count of 129 appears to be next lowest, a quick check of other low years’ tallies shows.

Even the lowest overall springer run seen at Bonneville, 1995’s, had pushed 1,616 over the dam by this point.

The 2018 forecast called for 166,700, about 90 percent of the 10-year average.

But this year’s top day so far was 27 last Friday, and the count has since posted 18-, 6-, 4- and 2-fish days.

Asked “What is the hold up? Is the water too cold, too shallow, too turbid, too pinnipeddy? Or is the forecast wrong?” Hymer simply replied, “Yes.”

Forecasters had warned of uncertainty — “Poor ocean conditions could potentially have negative impacts on spring Chinook returns” — when they issued predictions for the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis Rivers.

On the flip side, test netting earlier this week produced more than twice as many springers a drift as the previous week, 36 versus 14, but upriver fish declined to just 50 percent of the catch.

The sport fishery ended on Saturday, April 7, and catch stats have been a bit sketchy this season, but Hymer reported half a Chinook per boat (448 kept for 998 craft) landed last week, with continued dismal plunking for Washington-side shore sitters (three for 203).

Lake Washington Sockeye Closing Fast On Forecast, Columbia Tally

More sockeye have now been counted at the Ballard Locks this year than in all of 2016 and 2015 combined.

According to the latest tally posted by WDFW this afternoon, some 62,587 of the salmon have returned to the Lake Washington system.

And with a 6,200-fish day yesterday, the count is rapidly closing in on this year’s forecast of 77,000-plus.

An angler is calling on WDFW to open a fishery on the lake should the count reach 100,000, and that bid got TV coverage late last week.

In response, a state fishery manager spoke carefully in the written version of KING 5’s interview with sport advocate Frank Urabeck.

Urabeck is hoping to highlight the plight of a run that once regularly produced enough sockeye to hold semiannual fisheries, but hasn’t since 2006 because no returns have come anywhere close to meeting the 350,000-fish escapement goal needed to hold sport and tribal commercial seasons.

Meanwhile, as Seattle celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Ballard Locks tomorrow, a pair of local tribes will be gearing up for their annual ceremonial and subsistence fisheries on either side of the structure.

The Suquamish have a target catch of 2,500 sockeye, the Muckleshoots 1,000.

Of note, the Ballard Locks count is poised to take the lead over Bonneville Dam, where only 67,621 have been counted and the run appears to be tailing off a bit.

Columbia River tribes are fishing as if the return will be half of the preseason forecast, according to a state factsheet out last week.

If trends continue, this will be the first year since 2007 that more sockeye will have entered Lake Washington than the Columbia River.

And on Washington’s other sockeye front, 1,631 sockeye have shown up at the Baker River trap, with 546 of those transported up to Baker Lake, where angling opens this Saturday, July 8.

So About Monday’s Huge Bonneville Shad Count … LOL

Remember Monday’s insane shad numbers at Bonneville?

Half a million!!

Third most ever!!!

Oh, my god, the dam’s failing there are so many shad battering against it!!!!

There’s a slight update to report.

The Army Corps of Engineers has since revised its initial 497,738 count for June 19 down to 247,366.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM YESTERDAY. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

True, that’s still a creditable effort for this year’s run, but more workmanlike than anything to get all cray-cray about.

Quarter-million shad days, while not overly common, do happen as the annual run peaks, a review of the records show.

Broadly speaking, there have been three so far this week, and early June 2004 saw five of them in a row.

But there’s a bit of a difference between a quarter and a half mil.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH, SINCE REVISED, INITIALLY SHOWED THE MONDAY COUNT BASED ON DATA FROM THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS. (FPC)

So what happened with Monday’s tally, the one that sent this “reporter” and a certain peddler of fancy fish “factoids” into OMG! mode?

We turn to Corps spokesman Karim Delgado in Portland for an explanation:

“I just got off the line with our natural resources team,” he reports by email this morning. “It seems there was a technical glitch in our count recording system, which has since been resolved. The count was redone based on a recording of the fish passage window and the fish counters arrived at 247,366 in the recount.”

For shame, for shame.

Still, that’s a buttload of fish, and it stands to reason there are a few biters amongst them.

For deets on how to fish for shad, go here.

Mayday! Columbia Springer Run Sets New Low Through April

Ever try to start your rig and it just won’t turn over?

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

That’s what comes to mind this morning as I look at the spring Chinook count.

Faced with high, cold flows pumping down the Columbia, the 2017 run has had a heckuva time getting going. Only 10 through March 15, triple digits not reached till April 8, the thousand-fish mark breached April 21, just under 3,350 through yesterday.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

A FISHING BOAT RUNS UPSTREAM IN THE WESTERN COLUMBIA GORGE ON THE LAST DAY OF THE FISHERY THIS YEAR. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The collection of emails from Fish HQ with the words “record low” is slowly building towards grimmer signs.

The Bonneville tally through yesterday, April 30, is less than 60 percent of the old record low for the same date, and not even 6 percent of the 10-year average.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

A total of 3,347 have been counted, well below 1949’s 5,770, the former record low.

And it’s a fraction of 1998’s and 1999’s very low runs in the upper 30,000s, though those appear to have been early-timed returns.

R-r-r-r.

“Weird year. Washington Lower Columbia hatcheries are on track based on the preseason forecasts,” says fisheries biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. “Willamette only has 16 fish through the falls fishway through April 27.”

“Flows, water temps, and pinnipeds all probably are affecting the counts,” he adds.

It almost felt like the run was going to turn over coming out of April’s second fishery extension. Good numbers were caught, especially below Bonneville.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-vrooom-r-r-r.

But in the week after it closed, the count didn’t do much.

Elizabeth Daly at Oregon State University wonders if fishcounting devices at the dam have been affected by water conditions, but she has her doubts that high flows are slowing the progress of springers upstream.

Daly, a senior faculty research assistant at OSU’s and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies in Newport, was a coauthor of a paper published earlier this year that predicted this year’s springer run could come in well below the forecast of 166,000-plus above-Bonneville-bound fish.

She says the paper didn’t give a specific forecast, but gave a range of 200,000 down to 80,000, based on different indicators.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r.

Bill Monroe had an interesting tidbit in an Oregonian article that came out 10 days ago. He wrote:

John North, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Columbia River program, said a rough look at 152 coded wire tags recovered by fish checkers from anglers showed nearly a quarter of the salmon were close to the 24-inch mark.

However, he said, all were 4- and 5-year-old adults.

When this year’s returning adults went to sea as juveniles in summer 2015, The Blob was at its strongest, most destructive for Northwest fish and wildlife.

Offshore surveys found spring Chinook that were “thin, with empty stomachs, just not doing well,” says Daly.

(OSU/NOAA)

“That first year is really critical to survival to adulthood,” she says.

Many probably died, starved or eaten.

Perhaps for some reason this year’s springers are just behaving differently, Daly wonders.

Similar to the adult count, jacks are just 2 percent of the 10-year average. Packed with fat for their long upstream journeys to spawning grounds they’ll visit in summer, maybe springers can afford to wait a bit for better flows.

But on the other hand, steelhead don’t appear to be having issues at Bonneville. Though this year’s return is below the average over the past decade, that rate held steady through April.

This speculation springs to mind: Perhaps a Blob-hamstrung year-class just doesn’t have the strength to swim upstream in the face of such cold volumes of water pouring downstream?

I call this my “have your springer and eat it too” theory.

For the time being, me and Daly will continue watching the dam count — “every day,” she says — hoping there’s some gas in the tank somewhere.

R-r.