‘Above Average’ Year Expected for Spring Chinook
Both Washington and Oregon released their spring Chinook forecasts for 2017 and their numbers are on par with the 10-year average. This year’s Columbia River forecast calls for 160,400 springers to return. Other rivers like the Cowlitz and Kalama will see similar returns to previous years.
“It’s not a great number, but we’ve seen a lot lower returns in the past,” says Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for the ODFW.
Each year in December both the ODFW and WDFW release predictions for a handful of rivers with the Columbia drawing most of the attention. These predictions fuel much of the early-season hype and predetermine whether the vast majority of people will fish in the spring.
This year should be similar to past years. The 10-year average on the Columbia is 154,157. In 2016, 187,610 spring Chinook returned.
“It’s a normal up and down cycle in the returns,” says Lisa Harlan, WDFW District 10 fish biologist. “Both last year and this year on the Columbia and Kalama are both good returns, above average.”
A variety of factors are used to determine the forecast. Jack counts play a large role in determining the actual forecast and how many jacks return are determined by ocean conditions and the amount of water spilled over the dams during smolt outmigration.
“We had several years of pretty nice returns of spring Chinook,” says Roler. “It’s all based on flows for outmigration. If we get good flows a lot of fish get out; and if the ocean conditions are good, we’ll get pretty good returns.”
As of this posting this year’s season dates had not been set. The season dates, along with bag limits, are set in late January at the compact meeting. Last year there were restriction on days and the season on the lower river was originally set to close April 9, however it closed a day early. Last year the season was open through May 9 above Bonneville Dam.
Both agencies monitor the fishing effort, fish counts at Bonneville Dam, and spring time flows. If, for example, the flows are low it’s expected the catch will be high. Conversely, if the flows are high fishing could be more difficult prolonging the season. Last year flows were considered normal and the effort was high prompting both agencies to close the season one day sooner on the lower river. The flip side to high flows in the spring is increased smolt survival during their migration to the ocean.
On the Willamette 40,200 springers are expected to return. The 10-year average is 38,902. Whether in-season changes are made for this popular fishery are dependent on the number of salmon that pass over Willamette Falls. The minimum requirement is 20,000.
Columbia River: 160,400
Willamette River: 40,200
Cowlitz River: 17,100
Sandy River: N/A
Clackamas River: 8,100
Kalama River: 3,100
Lewis River: 700