Chinook forecast looking thin

Area fisheries officials say a shorter season with low bag limits is likely

Eric Barker / The Lewiston Tribune /

Chances for a long chinook season with liberal limits next spring are looking slim.

Fisheries managers from state, tribal and federal agencies are predicting 141,400 spring chinook bound for tributaries above Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River will return at least as far as the mouth of the Columbia. That includes 58,200 chinook bound for the Snake River and its tributaries like the Salmon and Clearwater rivers.

If the forecast proves accurate, it would be the lowest return since 2007, when only 86,000 upriver spring chinook returned to the Columbia, and similar to 2006, when the mouth of the Columbia saw a return of 132,600 spring and summer chinook. The Snake River component of the 2006 run was 53,200. Fishing in Idaho was limited to four days a week that year and the harvest quota was about 800 fish for the Clearwater River and around 1,330 on the lower Salmon River.

Alan Byrne, a fisheries biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game at Boise, said based on preliminary numbers, the 2013 spring chinook season could see a harvest limit of about 750 to 800 on the Clearwater and as many as 3,500 for the Salmon River, most of which would be allocated to fisheries on the Lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers near Riggins.

“We will have some harvest opportunities, it looks like, but it’s not going to be a very big season compared to last (spring),” Byrne said. “It’s just paper fish right now, but we may have a couple of thousand fish to harvest if they show up the way they are forecast.”

Sport anglers caught about 4,700 chinook from the Clearwater River last spring and about 7,300 from the lower Salmon River, Snake River in Hells Canyon, South Fork Salmon River and the upper Salmon.

The forecast is built on a number of factors, none more important than last spring’s return of jack chinook, those that spend only one year in the ocean. Fisheries officials use jack counts to predict future returns of chinook that spend two years in the ocean. Last spring, only 7,592 spring chinook jacks were counted at Bonneville Dam compared to a 10-year average of 20,116.

“We just didn’t get a lot of jacks back last year,” Byrne said. “That is what is causing the forecasts to be much lower than what they have been the last several years.”

The 2013 forecast calls for the Snake River return to include 18,900 wild chinook and 39,300 hatchery fish.

Last year, the spring chinook forecast called for a return of 314,000 chinook to the mouth of the Columbia River, and the actual return was 203,100. The river mouth return was 221,000 in 2011 and 315,000 in 2010.