Tag Archives: Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Bonneville Shad Count Skyrocketing; Will It Top 2018’s Record 6.1 Million?

Updated: 8:45 a.m., June 7, 2019 with more comments from the Army Corps of Engineers

A record set just last year at Bonneville could soon be broken as the Columbia River’s shad count has surged to highs never seen so early.

Through Thursday, June 5, a whopping 2,875,519 have been tallied at the dam, with 86 percent of those fish — 2.5 million — coming in just the past seven days, a meteoric rise captured by a Fish Passage Center graph.

A FISH PASSAGE GRAPH SHOWS HOW QUICKLY THE 2019 SHAD RUN AT BONNEVILLE DAM RAMPED UP (RED LINE) VERSUS LAST YEAR’S RECORD RUN (BLUE LINE) AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

The run so far has already topped the 10-year average overall return, hit 2.5 million fish four days faster than the next closest run, and set a new best seven-day count ever.

One observer thinks that 2018’s high mark of 6.1 million could be exceeded by 5 million, give or take, at this pace.

However, it’s also early and unclear if the 2019 return will exhibit the multiple peaks across much of June that other years’ returns have. If it doesn’t, this rocket could fall short.

This morning Jeffrey Henon, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Portland District, says the contractor that performs the fish counts for federal dam operators was asked to double check the numbers.

He said that 250,000 shad is the daily capacity of a “crowder” device at the fish-counting station, and counts above that can diminish the accuracy.

In June 2017, what at first appeared to be a 497,000-fish day was revised to 247,366 after a “a technical glitch in (the Corps’) count recording system” was corrected for.

But a short while later Henon called back to say the review had been finished.

“Bottom line, the numbers are accurate,” Henon said.

A CHART SHOWS ALL THE YEARS SINCE 1938 THAT THE SHAD COUNT AT BONNEVILLE HAS EXCEEDED 2.5 MILLION, THE DATE THAT MARK WAS FIRST HIT, EACH RUN’S TOP SEVEN-DAY STRETCH AND THE FINAL RUN SIZE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It also represents good news for the fishermen who gather on the bank below Bonneville to drift shad darts along bottom, or anchor on seams below there and well downriver to run Dick Nites and other small spoons behind lead droppers.

The bony fish are played for sport and quite a few are taken home to be canned or used for sturgeon or crab bait.

In his outdoor report yesterday, Terry Otto at The Columbian in Vancouver noted that 1,730 were kept last weekend by 212 anglers on the Washington bank in the gorge, with fish also being caught in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day Pools.

Nearly 180,000 are already above McNary Dam, over 5,000 are above Ice Harbor on the Snake.

According to the 2019 WDFW and ODFW joint staff report for Columbia spring and summer fisheries, last year’s sport kept catch of 250,000 shad below Bonneville was the highest on record. With low market demand, commercial fisheries are minimal.

Washington anglers won’t need a license to fish for them this Saturday and Sunday as it’s Free Fishing Weekend. There is no size, daily or possession limit on shad.

SHAD SWIM PAST A WINDOW AT BONNEVILLE DAM. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Not much is known about the Columbia’s shad or where they go in the Pacific, much less why their returns are surging.

“I don’t have a great answer for that, and I’m not sure anyone does,” says ODFW’s Tucker Jones, who manages the big river for Oregon.

While he and much of the rest of Northwest anglerdom would probably prefer to see daily Chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead counts as astronomical as those we’re seeing with shad, the nonnative species that feeds on plankton throughout its anadromous lifecycle may be benefiting in part from warmer waters and ocean conditions that negatively impacted salmonids.

While 2004’s and 2005’s big shad runs occurred in years that also saw high overall Chinook returns, that coincidence didn’t repeat last year nor is it expected to this year.

Jones says there’s no research backing this up, but it’s possible that young shad and young salmon could be competing for the same forage in the Columbia and ocean before Chinook and coho switch to a different diet as they grow larger.

LOWER COLUMBIA SHAD COLLECT IN A COOLER DURING A PAST RUN. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Per a species profile put together by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, from 10 million to 20 million shad may annually actually enter the Columbia, with most spawning below Bonneville, meaning the dam count reflects a fraction of the overall run.

Shad can also bypass the counting windows by going through the locks.

Even if no other shad crossed the dam this year, 2019 would still go down as 10th best since shad began to be tallied in 1946, primarily on the strength of the last seven days, which includes the third best one-day count.

While Wednesday’s 412,448 shad was nothing to shake a stick at, the largest daily passages on record occurred on June 5 and 6, 2003, when 504,724 and then 520,664 were tallied.

How high will this year’s run go? Stay tuned.

ELLIE, BOO BOO AND McKENNA SHOW OFF A PAIR OF COLUMBIA RIVER SHAD CAUGHT SEVERAL SEASONS AGO NEAR KALAMA. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

28.2-pound Pike Caught In Roosevelt’s Sanpoil Arm

The largest pike yet was caught this month on Lake Roosevelt, a 28.2-pound egg-laden female, and it was a lot further down the 150-mile-long reservoir than nearly all other northerns captured so far.

The 43.3-inch nonnative invasive fish was netted in the Sanpoil River arm, the mouth of which is just 17 miles from Grand Coulee Dam.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES CAPTURED THIS 28.2-POUND NORTHERN PIKE IN LAKE ROOSEVELT’S SANPOIL ARM. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

Even as state and tribal fishery managers are working more and more intensively to keep pike from getting below that dam and Chief Joseph into the salmon and steelhead zone, that a huge one turned up in the arm worries the Colville Tribes too.

“The Sanpoil River hosts the largest wild redband trout run in Lake Roosevelt. We are very concerned about northern pike increasing in abundance in the part of the reservoir,” said Holly McClellan, the tribes’ principal fisheries biologist.

Last year a 6.2-pound pike was caught just 10 miles from the dam, but the fish have mostly been found in the impoundment’s upper arm, up around the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, though they have been moving downlake towards Hunters and beyond.

An intensive joint state-tribal-utility effort to suppress pike numbers ahead of the spring spawn just wrapped up in those waters.

The previous largest northerns were a 27.7-pounder caught at Signers Bay, at Kettle Falls, and a 27.5 in the Spokane Arm.

The implication of a 28.2-pounder showing up so relatively far downlake takes awhile to sink in.

A fish that large will have been capable of breeding for quite some time, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which first reported the catch, said the big female had gonads, where the eggs are stored, that weighed 4 pounds.

Various sources suggest that a near-30-pound pike could carry up to 300,000 eggs.

BEFORE BEING CAUGHT IN A NET, THIS 31-INCH-LONG, 10-POUND LAKE ROOSEVELT PIKE SWALLOWED A TROUT HALF ITS BODY LENGTH. THAT’S NOT MUCH BIGGER THAN THE ADULT SOCKEYE RETURNING TO THE BREWSTER POOL. (WDFW)

That the fish was found so relatively close to the dam underlines grim warnings in a recent presentation from a larger report on predator issues in Roosevelt and the Columbia that the council was given. On northerns it stated:

It is likely that pike will eventually invade the anadromous zone — even with the best efforts in public education, early detection, and control or eradication.

Suppression in Lake Roosevelt could reduce risks of downstream establishment by reducing the number and average body size of downstream dispersers.

Even though the invasion is almost assured to occur in time, there is value in delaying it.

It advises managers that early detection and rapid responses are essential for nipping new outbreaks, that they must come up with those plans now before those occur, and they should monitor areas where it’s likely illegal introductions by bucket biologists would occur.

And it suggests it’s likely that young Chinook would be the most vulnerable to pike, followed by chum salmon.

Subsequent to our posting this story, the Colvilles’ McClellan told the Spokesman Review that at the current pace down the upper Columbia, ” … we think they are maybe three years away from being down below Chief Joseph Dam.”

Fight Against Bucket Biologists Going High Tech

Potential good news from the fight against bucket biologists.

Montana fishery biologists using something called “forensic geochemistry” have figured out the source and timeframe that walleye were moved into Swan Lake, in the state’s northwestern corner.

OTOLITHS, A BONE IN THE EAR OF FISH, CONTAINS CHEMICAL SIGNATURES THAT PROVIDES CLUES ABOUT WHERE THE ANIMAL CAME FROM. (OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY, FLICKR)

And genetic material from northern pike in Northeast Washington is pointing to a different source than the widely assumed one.

Whether or not the new tools help lead to arrests is a good question, but they will at least serve as a warning shot across the bow of those who would illicitly move fish around.

IN THE CASE OF THE WALLEYE, managers have concluded that at least two fish were driven over the continental divide on a 200-mile journey that occurred in the spring of 2015, according to a report in the Columbia Basin Bulletin last month.

“Our findings now allow investigators to look at fishing license sales, webcams, and boat registrations around the Lake Helena area for the time period when the walleye were illegally introduced,” Samuel Bourett, an FWP researcher, told the emailed newsletter.

The species is native to the Mississippi River and lower Missouri River basins, but as was common earlier last century walleye were moved westward for fishing opportunities.

Nowadays, the tide has turned against moving nonnative fish — or at least nonsterile ones — into new locations, though decades of population growth provide a ready reservoir for those who want to continue the practice.

But fishery officials are fighting back with increasingly sophisticated means.

In early 2016, several months after two walleye were gillnetted at Swan, Bourett’s agency and conservation groups offered a $30,000 reward for information on the illicit stocking of the lake, which provides critical habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed bull and cutthroat trout.

They also began examining the otoliths of the fish, looking for chemical signatures that could pinpoint where they came from.

In 2017 they built a database with fish from 13 popular Montana walleye waters.

Out of that they determined the origin of the Swan Lake release.

“Core to edge geochemical profiles of [two types of strontium] and (strontium/calcium) ratios in the walleye otoliths revealed that these fish had been introduced to Swan Lake within the past growing season, and their geochemical signature matched that of walleye sampled from Lake Helena, Montana, located 309 road kilometres away,” write Bourett and Niall Clancy in a paper recently published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Illegally stocking fish in Montana is punishable with fines running from $2,000 to $10,000, the loss of all license privileges and cleanup costs.

WDFW BIOLOGIST DANNY GARRETT SCOWLS WHILE HOLDING THE 13.5-POUND GRAVID HEN WALLEYE HE NETTED OUT OF LAKE WASHINGTON IN 2015. (DANNY GARRETT, WDFW)

Well to the west, in 2012 the otoliths of walleye from Lakes Roosevelt and Moses and Potholes and Scooteny Reservoirs were compared with those from Lake Washington fish for a common chemical signature but no match was found, according to state fisheries biologist Danny Garrett, who himself netted half a dozen more in 2015.

“I think there is merit in doing more of this work,” he notes.

THEY’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES TRACING where invasive fish are coming from. Dr. Kellie Carim works for the U.S. Forest Service’s National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation out of Missoula, and she’s looking into pike.

Another Upper Midwest transplant, northerns are also popular with fishermen but present a nightmare threat for Northwest salmon and steelhead managers as the species has crept its way down the Pend Oreille River and into Lake Roosevelt and is now at the mouth of the Spokane River, according to a recent story. Anecdotal reports from anglers put them further down, in Lake Rufus Woods.

With funding from a USDA Tribal College Initiative Grant, Carim has come to a rather interesting conclusion about where many of those pike actually originated.

“The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” she says.

That is, from Noxon Reservoir, down the Clark Fork River into Idaho and through Lake Pend Oreille before arriving in Washington.

“However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage,” Carim says.

Rather than taking an aquatic highway, they most likely took a paved one, in a livewell up US 95 to I-90 to either Idaho 41 or US 2 to Washington 20 and the river.

From there, their population built and the theory has been that in high water years they were entrained out of the Pend Oreille into the Columbia River in British Columbia and then Lake Roosevelt.

DAVEY McKERN HOLDS ONE OF THE FIRST NORTHERN PIKE CAUGHT IN LAKE ROOSEVELT. THE SPECIES HAS BEEN LARGELY CONCENTRATED OFF THE MOUTHS OF THE KETTLE AND COLVILLE RIVERS, BUT SOME HAVE BEEN FOUND DOWNSTREAM AT THE MOUTH OF THE SPOKANE RIVER, ACCORDING TO A NORTHWEST POWER AND CONSERVATION COUNCIL REPORT. (DAVEY MCKERN)

Carim, whose work aims to identify where the pike are coming from to stop the flow into Eastern Washington, adds that DNA from other Upper Columbia and Pend Oreille fish aren’t in the database, meaning there are more potential sources out there too.

“We definitely need to collect more samples. Some fish are aren’t ‘assigning’ very well,” she says.

Next week, she will be presenting before the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on pike.

Meanwhile, state and tribal managers have been teaming up to take a hammer to the species.

According to a recent NWPCC article by John Harrison, 18,000 have been scooped out of the Pend Oreille River by the Kalispel Tribe and another 1,800 have been removed from Lake Roosevelt by the Colville and Spokane Tribes and WDFW. Anglers have also turned in more than 1,000 heads for cash through a Colville Tribes program. And hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to protect the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars put into salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin.

While bucket biologists will likely continue their illegal pike and walleye stockings, the odds are now increasing that someone will get caught.

Bipartisan Salmon Predation Prevention Act Passed By US Senate Committee

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM U.S. SENATORS MARIA CANTWELL (WA-D) AND JIM RISCH (ID-R)

Today, bipartisan legislation to build upon existing laws to manage the sea lion population passed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The legislation, proposed by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID), will give state and tribal fishery managers more flexibility to address predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION HOLDS A SALMONID — EITHER A SPRING CHINOOK OR STEELHEAD — BELOW WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW, FLICKR)

The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, which helps protect endangered salmon and steelhead populations, passed without objection and will be considered next on the Senate floor. The bipartisan bill would allow wildlife agencies to better protect vulnerable fish populations through science-based management of these invasive, non-ESA listed sea lion populations, while also maintaining a strong Marine Mammal Protection Act that supports research, science-based management, and public process.

“Wild salmon are central to the culture, economy, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest and protecting these fish is crucial to the health of Southern resident orcas,” said Senator Cantwell. “This science-based, bipartisan bill enhances existing tools that state and tribal wildlife managers need to address salmon predation, protect the health of sea lion stocks, and ensure that we are managing wildlife based on the best science available. Pacific salmon should be protected for generations to come.”

“Threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River, severely impacting Idaho’s efforts to restore the populations” said Senator Risch. “I’m grateful to Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for making this a committee priority and for quickly advancing our bill.”

Support for this legislation is bipartisan and crosses multiple Pacific Northwest states. The governors of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon wrote to the Northwest Senate delegation in support of the bill, and the four chairs of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission have all voiced their support. The National Congress of American Indians has called the legislation “essential” to protect salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon.

“Congressional action is critical to reducing the numbers of sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Botka. “We welcome the Senate’s progress and look forward to final passage of legislation that will enable the Northwest states and our tribal partners to better protect endangered fish.”

“We applaud the bi-partisan leadership of Senators Cantwell and Risch to get unanimous support today from the Senate Commerce Committee for S. 3119. The bill will expand the ongoing efforts of tribal and state co-managers who have collaborated both on the river and in Congress to address sea lion predation. This legislation reconciles two important conservation laws while it also recognizes the four treaty tribes expertise and role as caretakers of ancestral resources in the lower Columbia River basin,” said Jaime Pinkham, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

“This bill provides a thoughtful and practical approach to addressing sea lion predation in critical areas of the Columbia River,” said Guido Rahr, President of the Wild Salmon Center. “It also for the first time enables managers to respond before the number and habits of sea lions become an insurmountable problem for returning wild salmon and steelhead populations. Salmon recovery requires a multi-faceted response. We appreciate the leadership of Senator Cantwell on this issue.”

“Senator Cantwell has stepped up during a crisis and delivered a solution to prevent extinction of fragile Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks. The businesses of NSIA are appreciative of the Senator’s leadership in resolving this very tough issue. All who care about salmon recovery, food for Southern Resident Killer Whales, and have jobs that depend on healthy fish stocks owe Senator Cantwell our deepest gratitude,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

“Sea lions are killing as many as 43 percent of the spring-migrating Chinook salmon in the Columbia River, including threatened and endangered species. This is an immediate problem that needs an immediate solution, a more streamlined and effective process for removing the most problematic sea lions,”said Guy Norman, a Washington member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. “The bill enables states and tribes to deal with a major bottleneck to salmon survival. It’s a big win for the fish and for the people of the Northwest who are deeply invested in salmon recovery.

Federal, state, and tribal governments and other organizations have made significant conservation and restoration investments throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sea lion populations have increased significantly along the West Coast over the past 40 years; today, there are roughly 300,000. These sea lions have entered into habitat where they had never been before, including areas around the Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.

recent study by Oregon State University found that increasing predation from sea lions has decreased the fishery harvest of adult Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest. According to the study, if sea lions continue their current salmon consumption habits, there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could go extinct. The study also noted that future long-term salmon management plans will need to address the increased salmon predation throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Companion legislation has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

………………………………..

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation today passed a legislative proposal by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would give state and tribal managers more flexibility in addressing predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system that are threatening both ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. S. 3119, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, passed without objection and will be considered next on the Senate floor. Companion legislation has already passed the House.

“Threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River, severely impacting Idaho’s efforts to restore the populations,” said Senator Risch. “I’m grateful to Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for making this a committee priority and for quickly advancing our bill.”

“Wild salmon are central to the culture, economy, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest and protecting these fish is crucial to the health of Southern resident orcas,” said Senator Cantwell. “This science-based, bipartisan bill enhances existing tools that state and tribal wildlife managers need to address salmon predation, protect the health of sea lion stocks, and ensure that we are managing wildlife based on the best science available. Pacific salmon should be protected for generations to come.”

There are ESA threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead being significantly harmed by the increasing sea lion population. This predation of ESA-listed fish is negating the large investments being spent on salmon recovery associated with habitat, harvest, and hatcheries. If enacted, this bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to provide for better management of these invasive, non-listed sea lions.