The holidays are still a couple weeks away but there couldn’t be a better present for anglers who plan their trips to the Columbia River each spring.
“It is good a good spring chinook return for sure,” said Cindy LeFleur, the Columbia River Policy Coordinator for state Fish and Wildlife.
The upriver Columbia River spring chinook forecast is 314,200 compared to a forecast last year of 198,400 and an actual return of 221,200. It would be the fourth largest dating back to 1938, with the largest return of 440,300 happening in 2001.
The second largest occurred in 2002 when 335,000 upriver springers returned, and the third largest was 315,000 in 2010.
The Upper Columbia spring chinook forecast in 2012 is 32,600 compared to a 22,400 forecast last year and an actual return of 16,500. For Upper Columbia wild spring chinook the forecast in 2012 is 2,800 compared to 2,000 and 2,200.
The Snake River spring/summer forecast in 2012 is 168,000 compared to 91,700 last year (127,500 was actual return). The Snake River wild spring chinook is 39,000 in 2012 compared to 24,700 last year (31,600).
The Columbia River spring chinook are prized by anglers for their tasty, Omega-3 laced, red-orange-colored meat, which is similar to fish from Alaska’s Copper River.
The height of the spring chinook return is March and April, when anglers by the thousands turn out for this fishery that creates long lines at boat ramps on both sides of the Columbia, and also stirs a frenzy for tribal and nontribal commercial fishermen.
Sport angler trips in the Lower Columbia have averaged 129,000 since 2002.
Looking further ahead the Upper Columbia summer chinook forecast also looks very promising with a forecast of 91,200 in 2012 (91,100 was 2011 forecast; 80,600 was actual return), and the sockeye return of 462,000 (161,900 was 2010 forecast; 187,300 was actual return).
“The summer chinook is a good forecast, and last year’s was a record forecast, but we will have to wait and see,” said Kathryn Kostow with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife and chairman of the Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).
TAC is a group of state, federal and tribal fishery managers who oversee the Columbia River fish runs.
“Sockeye can be difficult to forecast, and they’ve shown in the Fraser River (in British Columbia) how unpredictable they can be, plus the fisheries are quite constrained by the Snake River sockeye which are on the endangered species list,” Kostow said. “That Snake River return has not increased (1,900 is forecast for 2012, compared to 2,100 in 2011 and actual return of 1,900), and that is going to be a constraining factor again.”
The 2012 adult spring chinook returns for the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers look slightly better than last year with a total forecast of 12,100 compared to 10,600 forecast in 2011 and an actual return of 6,300.
The Cowlitz forecast is 8,700 (6,600 was 2011 forecast, and actual return was 4,100); Kalama, 700 (600 and 800); and Lewis, 2,700 (3,400 and 1,400).
The spawning goals in the Cowlitz and Lewis are 1,250 each; and the Kalama is 500. Spring chinook fishing restrictions are likely in the Kalama and Lewis.
The Cowlitz had a strong jack spring chinook return in 2011, and the Cowlitz forecast in 2012 is above the recent five-year average. Kalama returns have been down for the past three years, and the forecasts for the Lewis is slightly below the five-year average.
The forecasts for spring chinook in tributaries above Bonneville Dam like the Wind River, White Salmon River and Drano Lake usually come out in late January.
On the Oregon side of the Lower Columbia, the fisheries managers are working on the Willamette River spring chinook forecast and it should come out by the end of this week.
No specific forecasts have been released for fall salmon runs, but some general information has been announced.
The upriver bright fall chinook return in 2012 is expected to be strong again, and all stocks should be similar to 2011 actual returns although the Bonneville Pool hatchery return will be less than 2011.
The total fall chinook returns in the Columbia River last year were predicted to be 766,300 adult fish, and actual returns are about 600,000.
All appear to have been less than predicted, and the largest differences were in the lower river hatchery, Bonneville Pool hatchery and mid-Columbia bright stocks. Jack salmon returns were average or similar to 2010 returns except upriver bright jacks appear to be above average.
The 2011 coho return is slightly greater than 270,800, and the jack return about 13,000 compared to 10-year average of 28,00.
LeFleur says all the fishing seasons will be set on Jan. 26 when the compact meets in Oregon.
(Photos by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times staff photographer)