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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

February 5, 2012 at 3:33 PM

Fisheries managers cautiously hopeful for a good Yakima River spring chinook return

Here is a story by Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald Republic on what the outlook is for spring chinook in the Yakima River.

One year after sport fishermen pulled out a record number of hatchery spring chinook salmon from the Yakima River, state fish managers and the people who predict fish runs are cautiously optimistic for an even bigger year in 2012.

Some of them, anyway.

While the NOAA Fisheries Service has predicted a mainstem Columbia River run of 160,000, the state and tribal representatives on the U.S. vs. Oregon Technical Advisory Commission (TAC) are significantly more optimistic.

TAC’s forecast of 314,200 upriver springers would be the fourth-largest on record, meaning the popular Columbia and tributary spots so popular with Yakima-area anglers — like Drano Lake and the mouths of the White Salmon and Klickitat rivers — may be even busier than usual.

As for the Yakima, things could be really good … or even better than that.

“The forecast is for 12,040 fish, and of that, 5,680 are the Cle Elum hatchery fish. That’s a good return,” said John Easterbrooks, regional fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The (2011 spring chinook) forecast was lower than that — it was 10,320 — and we ended up with 13,400 adults to the mouth of the Yakima.”

Thanks in part to the popular Boundary Reach bordering the Yakama Reservation being open for last year’s spring chinook fishery, sport anglers on the Yakima River reeled in 1,579 hatchery-origin adults and jacks. That harvest was the highest on record, exceeding even the 2001 season when a phenomenal run of 21,220 to the Yakima resulted in a 1,252-hatchery fish catch — a total which wasn’t exceeded until last year.

And the 2012 run to the Yakima could easily surpass the 12,040 prognostication, much as the 2011 forecast did, said Bill Bosch, data manager for Yakima Klickitat Fisheries Project.

“There’s some reason to be optimistic that we’re being nicely conservative,” Bosch said. “Things could come in better than forecast.”

Bosch’s reasoning is based on some changes he’s made to his forecast model for the Yakima River.

Previously, YKFP forecasts gave greater credence to jack abundance, but Bosch noted that “over the last 10 years or so, the jack counts haven’t quite panned out as a strong predictor. There’s been some years where we’ve ended up with egg on our faces after having these optimistic prognostications and then the actual runs have come in much lower than expected.”

Beginning in 2010, Bosch began giving greater weight to such factors as smolt estimates at the Chandler facility at Prosser, juvenile survival estimates for natural and hatchery-origin fish from Roza to McNary and ocean conditions. Using all of those factors, Bosch said, would call for a projected return of 16,790 age-4 spring chinook and 1,260 age-5 fish for a total return of 18,050 adult springers to the mouth of the Yakima.

Given the unpredictable relationship of jack counts to age-4 returns in recent years, though, Bosch’s prediction model for the 2012 run took into account the average over-forecast errors of recent years and came up with the 12,040.

But, of course, that 18,050 number is still out there as a possibility. Better to be conservative and be pleasantly surprised, Bosch said, than predict a great year and then be disappointed by a good year.

“It’s a lot harder to cut fisheries back if you overforecast,” Bosch said, “than it is to expand them if you underforecast.”

The 314,200 forecast for upriver spring chinook in the Columbia far surpasses the 2011 projection of 198,400, and the lower river is already open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge.

Under the new rules adopted last week, the sport fishery will expand March 1 upriver to Beacon Rock, where it will run through April 6 except for three Tuesday closures (March 20, March 27 and April 3) to accommodate commercial fisheries.

The Columbia will open to boat and bank anglers above Bonneville Dam on a daily basis March 16 through May 2.

Harvest guidelines on sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia will entail a 38-percent reduction from last year, with this year’s catch being limited to 9,600. This reduction follows 30- and 40-percent reductions in each of the last two years, in response to a decline of nearly 50 percent of legal-size white sturgeon since 2003.

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