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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

May 2, 2009 at 10:05 AM

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Commission concerned about upriver spring chinook returns; state confirms run is disappointing so far, but could be late

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The Columbia River Tribal Commission this past week sent a letter to both Washington and Oregon Fish and Wildlife Directors over their concern about the alarming status of this year’s upriver Columbia River spring chinook returns, and how both states approached their fish management of the fisheries.

The tribes point out that this year’s upriver spring chinook returns are similar to last year, when the return was late and smaller than the forecast, resulting in a catch imbalance and fisheries that exceeded allowable Endangered Species Act impacts.

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Yet, the tribes claim the states chose to prosecute fisheries downstream of Bonneville without taking that into account.

In mid-April, the tribes recommended that the states’ close all remaining Columbia mainstem and tributary fisheries including those upstream of Bonneville Dam. The tribes proposed to close the fisheries until the run was coming back as predicted.

“TAC [the Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee] met this past Monday and basically said the run size is tracking significantly below the prediction, and the next two weeks are key,” said Cindy LeFleur, a state Fish and Wildlife Columbia River salmon manager.

LeFleur went on to say that TAC pointed out the daily fish counts should be in the several thousands, and a lot higher than what we are seeing right now even with a late run timing.

“These counts are disappointing right now, however, there are some other years when we have had late runs,” LeFleur said. “We keep reminding ourselves about 2006, because it was a very late run.”

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Through April in 2006 only six percent of the run was over Bonneville Dam, so the halfway point that year was May 12.

Another late timed year was 2005 when the halfway point of the spring chinook return was May 6; in 2007 it was May 6; and last year it was May 8.

“I don’t think we are at the halfway point yet this year, and what TAC said the next two weeks are key, but we do need some improvements in the dam counts, and we can’t keep at this 2,000 fish pace,” LeFleur said.

TAC will meet again on Monday, May 4.

The predicted upriver Columbia River spring chinook forecast is 298,900, and if it that pans out this would make it the third largest spring chinook return since 1977.

Here is how the fish counts have looked at Bonneville Dam over the past week: April 24, 1,509 adult spring chinook; April 25, 1,604; April 26, 1,765; April 27, 2,095; April 28, 1,483; April 29, 2,904; and April 30, 2,151. So far this year, 21,996 adult spring chinook have passed over Bonneville.

Here is the statement Tribal Concern Columbia River sent by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Commission.

(Photos taken by Mark Harrison and Tom Reese, Seattle Times staff photographers)

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