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Anemic chinook return predicted for Snake River

A young chinook salmon moves through the fish ladder at the Lower Granite Dam on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A young chinook salmon moves through the fish ladder at the Lower Granite Dam on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Eric Barker The Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – Anglers can expect another ho-hum year for spring and summer chinook returning to the Snake River and its tributaries, according to a forecast from a group of state, tribal and federal fisheries managers.

The Technical Advisory Committee is forecasting about 56,400 spring and summer chinook bound for the Snake River will return at least as far as the mouth of the Columbia River, about 53 percent of the 10-year average. The forecast includes 9,600 wild fish and 46,800 hatchery fish.

Biologists from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are expecting 37,133 spring and summer chinook to return past Lower Granite Dam. That total includes 28,644 adipose-fin clipped hatchery fish, 1,424 unclipped hatchery fish and 7,065 wild fish.

Most of the hatchery fish forecast to return above Lower Granite Dam, about 26,000, will be bound for hatcheries in Idaho, including 11,393 to the Clearwater River and 14,565 to the Salmon River. The hatchery component returning to the Salmon River includes 8,982 bound for Rapid River Hatchery.

Another 1,541 hatchery chinook are forecast to return to the upper reaches of Hells Canyon.

The overall forecast represents a modest improvement over last year’s return of 43,077 Snake River-bound spring and summer chinook to the mouth of the Columbia. That return was just 39 percent of the the 10-year average of 110,447. It ranked 24th in abundance of Snake River returns since 1980.

The 2019 return was worse for all upriver spring chinook – fish that return above Bonneville Dam. In addition to the Snake River fish, the upriver run includes fish returning to the Columbia River upstream of the Yakima River, and Columbia River tributaries between Bonneville Dam and the Yakima River. It numbered just 73,101 fish last year, which was 37 percent of the 10-year average and the lowest return since 1980.

This year, the technical advisory group is forecasting an upriver spring chinook run of 81,700 adult fish, which would be 43 percent of the 10-year average and rank 29th in abundance in the past 30 years. The forecast includes the 56,400 spring and summer chinook heading to the Snake River, 12,600 to the upper Columbia River and 11,700 to tributaries along the mid-Columbia River.

The entire Columbia River is forecast to see a return of 135,800 spring chinook. That number includes 51,400 fish returning to tributaries below Bonneville Dam. Most of those, 40,800, will be bound for the Willamette River.

Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Olympia said sport and commercial fisheries in the lower Columbia River are likely to be constrained by predicted low returns of chinook to lower Columbia River tributaries. Hatchery returns to the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers are unlikely to meet spawning targets.

“I don’t anticipate any recreational fishing downstream of those,” Tweit said. “The first opportunity for spring chinook will be upstream of the Lewis River – what we call the Boyer Rock line. That will focus the fishery on Willamette (River) fish and upriver fish.”

He anticipates the fisheries are likely to be structured similarly to the way they were in 2019.

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