Monthly Archives: April 2011

Glimpses into the Columbia spring chinook fishery

In our on-going efforts to monitor Pacific salmon dynamics and interpret them from the perspective of southern resident killer whales, today brings news of a 6-hour commercial net fishery opening on the lower Columbia River.  It’s amazing that it’s even worth going out in a boat when the catch is limited to the first six hatchery-origin chinook!  I guess one can infer there about 200 boats in the fleet, based on the limit and the predicted total catch of about 1200 chinook (70% from upper Columbia and Snake Rivers).

From the southern residents’ perspective, interesting questions are how many fish are expected and when are they arriving (especially compared to past years).  The article ends with this:

The forecast is for an upper Columbia run of 198,000. Through Sunday, a total of 262 spring chinook have been counted at Bonneville Dam.

The source of these data was revealed by a recreational fisher’s guide to catching spring chinook on the lower Columbia as the Fish Passage Center (FPC) which is in the business of counting fish in the ladders of the many Columbia River dams.  The guide also gave a big-picture description of the overall spring run timing as “about 6 weeks in late March through April” and provides a nice summary of how the fishery follows the fish up the various tributaries of the Columbia, starting with the Willamette (because OR releases hatchery fish there a couple weeks before WA).

It would be interesting to juxtapose the timing and locations of all available winter/spring orca sightings outside of Puget Sound from past years with the time series of spring Columbia (and Fraser?) fish passage.  For starters, here is a link to Columbia adult fish passage data, some of which are summarized in the following graph that shows the spring chinook run is just beginning on the Columbia.  And here I was thinking that commercial and recreational openings would not occur until some substantial portion of the run had made it to the spawning grounds!

Now is the time of year when the NWFSC crew would typically be preparing for their spring cruise to search for southern residents on the outer coast of WA, including off the Columbia where they have observed SRKWs feeding on chinook from the upper Columbia and Snake .  Unfortunately, NOAA funding and/or ship logistics have ruled out such a cruise this year.