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September 12, 2014 at 8:56 AM

Fall chinook set daily records, but fall short of Bonneville forecast

Yakima Herald-Republic

BONNEVILLE DAM — It’s crowded in the fish ladders this week at Bonneville Dam.

A record-setting 67,521 fall chinook salmon passed over the Columbia River dam on Monday, besting the record set the day before and bringing this season total to 435,135 and counting.

Despite the daily records, the fall chinook are not on track to hit the 1.5 million fish run that scientists predicted for 2014.

“Currently, it looks like we are not going to get that record-high abundance, but something closer to last year, which was still a really big run of fish,” said Stuart Ellis, a harvest biologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Last year, a record 953,000 fall chinook returned to the region. Most headed to the Hanford Reach, and there’s a growing population in the Snake River, Ellis said. Only 7,000 made the sharp left turn required to come up the Yakima River last year.

Despite falling below the forecast, this year’s run is shaping up to be well above the 10-year average of 389,000 fall chinook.

Ellis said the large runs are likely a result of changes by dam managers to improve conditions for fish, habitat restoration, and favorable conditions in the ocean. A fall chinook hatchery program run by the Nez Perce Tribe is growing the Snake River population, too, he said.

Right now, recreational fishing is good. As the season continues, fisheries managers will adjust restrictions to reflect the actual run size, not the overblown predictions, Ellis said.

Using that data is an advantage fisheries managers in the Columbia River system have that un-dammed coastal rivers don’t, Ellis said.

“While dams are arguably not good for fish in a lot of ways, in the Columbia we are fortunate that we have a way to count fish on their return journeys,” Ellis said.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: bonneville dam, Chinook, salmon

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