Forecast looks down for Columbia River spring chinook

MARK YUASA THE SEATTLE TIMESDecember 20, 2012 

More spring chinook forecasts were unveiled, and three Lower Columbia tributaries could see mediocre returns.

"There will be nothing spectacular coming out of the Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama for spring chinook," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

The Cowlitz forecast is 5,500 fish down from 8,700 in 2012 and an actual return of 9,200. The Kalama return is 700 and identical to 2012, which had an actual return of 600; and the Lewis is 1,600 down from 2,700 in 2012 and an actual return of 1,800. The Kalama return continues to remain low as was seen the past four years, and Cowlitz and Lewis are below their five-year average run size.

Fisheries managers say it's likely the Cowlitz will have some kind of fishing season although the Lewis and Kalama remain undecided.

More spring chinook will be needed in 2013 for reproduction in the Upper Lewis watershed so that could throw a wrench on Lewis fisheries. The Lewis forecast is slightly above the 1,300 spawning escapement goal.

The Columbia upriver bright chinook stock mainly headed to the Hanford Reach area, and the numbers destined for the Snake and Deschutes rivers should be strong in 2013, and above average or similar to the 2012 forecast of 466,500.

The 2012 fall adult chinook run-size in the Columbia River was predicted to be 654,900, and the actual return was about 10 percent less. Total returns in 2013 should be less than 2012 actual return.

In Oregon, the Willamette River is expecting a return of 59,800 spring chinook compared to a forecast of 83,400 in 2012 and an actual return of 59,600.

These figures come on the heel of a 2013 Columbia upriver spring chinook forecast of 141,400, which came out last week. It would be the 12th largest since 1985, but the smallest since 2007.

Predictions on spring chinook returns vary wildly and can be inaccurate.

Last year's forecast of 314,200, which would've been the fourth-largest since 1980, fell far short at 203,100.

The largest spring chinook return on record was 416,500 (364,600 was the forecast) in 2001, and the worst was 9,800 (12,000) in 1995.

Spring chinook fishing opens Jan. 1 in the Columbia River downstream of the I-5 bridge. Daily limit is six hatchery-marked salmon, and two may be adult fish.

A total of 114,675 angler trips were taken on the Lower Columbia last season, with 13,332 adult spring chinook kept (11,105 kept from April 1-22) and 2,409 released.

Other preliminary Columbia River fall chinook returns and outlook for 2013 were also released this week.

A Lower Columbia fall chinook catch of 22,400 kept was the third highest on record, and 128,800 angler trips was the second highest on record.

The Columbia River coho return in 2012 was less than 240,800 forecast but should be better in 2013. The jack coho return was about 23,000, which is greater than past two years and similar to 2009.

Fisheries managers also released a forecast of 73,500 Upper Columbia summer chinook compared to 91,200 last year with an actual return of 58,300.

The Columbia River sockeye forecast in 2013 is 180,500 down from 515,700 (462,000 was the forecast) that were counted at Bonneville Dam this past summer.

A sport catch of 3,400 below Bonneville Dam was a record figure last summer.

Spring chinook fishing seasons will be decided Jan. 30 by state, federal and tribal fishery managers in Portland.

Summer and fall fishing seasons will be decided in April.

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