Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Good returns, poor fishing

High numbers for chinook donít translate to big takes


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A spawning chinook salmon swims in the upper Salmon River, near Stanley. Photo by Mountain Express

This year is shaping up to be one of the best years for chinook salmon since the Bonneville Dam was completed on the Columbia River. Unfortunately, local salmon anglers won't be able to benefit much.

A news release issued by the Federal Caucus, a group of 10 federal agencies coordinating salmon recovery efforts, stated that 291,000 adult chinook salmon have passed the dam so far this season. The number is well above the 10-year average of 204,000. The increase, it is believed, is mostly due to a rise in the numbers of wild salmon.

"Most of the fish coming back weren't available to anglers," said Jon Hansen, regional fisheries biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Anglers are only allowed to retain hatchery fish, identified by a clipped adipose fin. Hansen said the hatcheries in Stanley didn't release as many fish this year as they have in years past, due to a high mortality rate.

Though the Stanley reach of the upper Salmon River was open to fishing from July 3-5, anglers were limited to one adult chinook per day. Anglers were able to catch an additional two "jack" salmon, which are smaller and younger, but Hansen said the jack counts this year have been low, resulting in poor fishing.

Hansen said he only knew of a total of nine jack salmon caught during this year's three-day season.

Chinook and steelhead in Idaho have been listed as "threatened" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Chinook in Washington and Oregon are listed under the more critical "endangered" label.

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When the species was listed in 1994, the 10-year average number of chinook passing Bonneville Dam was only 60,500.

The fall steelhead season is set to begin Sept. 1. Some 27,500 steelhead had passed Bonneville Dam through June 27, beating the 10-year average and continuing this decade's pattern of improved steelhead runs.

"Steelhead numbers are looking pretty decent," Hansen said, but added that numbers were still coming in.

Spring steelhead runs this year were higher than normal, following an explosive fall run last year when 312,000 fish surged past Lower Granite Dam in southeast Washington, a record since the dam's construction in 1975. The previous record was 262,000, set in 2001.

Sockeye numbers also show a promising trend, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year's run on the Columbia River over Bonneville Dam totaled 274,782 fish as of June 29—a sharp upswing from last year's total of 177,000 fish, 833 of which passed into the Stanley Basin.

Sockeye were listed as endangered in 1994, and have not been open to fishing since.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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