Chinook Salmon update for the Middle Fork Clearwater River and Rapid River run (6/27/19)

Hi Everybody.  I have a couple things I want cover today (6/27/19).  One is a quick update on the Middle Fork Clearwater Chinook Salmon fishery and the other is the status of brood collection at Rapid River Hatchery.


Middle Fork Clearwater River Chinook Salmon Fishery

Fishing effort certainly slowed on the Middle Fork Clearwater River last week, probably because people had a hard time catching a fish.  In fact, last week we estimated that just one adult Chinook was harvested.  At this point, most of the spring run has pushed through the Middle Fork Clearwater River, but the summer run should keep tickling by over the next couple weeks.  Based on PIT tags detected at the Selway River arrays, 15-20 fish a day are migrating by.  That means there is still a chance to catch one if you need an excuse to hang out on the river.  Who knows, maybe it is your time.


Rapid River Hatchery Brood Collection

I have been getting a lot of calls and e-mails asking about what our plans are for the Rapid River run once brood needs are met.  The reason people are asking this is because it looks like we will meet brood needs for this hatchery in a day or two.  As of today, we have collected 2,290 adult Chinook Salmon, and our brood needs are 2,353.  That leaves 63 fish to go!  In making our decision on how to proceed, we considered three things:  1) How many fish are yet to come and could they provide a meaningful fishery?  2) Should the fish trapped be used to help meet brood shortages in the Clearwater basin?  3) What would the Nez Perce Tribe like to do? 

If you look at the figure below, it shows the cumulative number of adult Chinook Salmon that have been trapped at Rapid River Hatchery this year and the projected number we could trap based on if the run timing up Rapid River is early or late.  Interestingly, just because the run timing of Chinook over Lower Granite Dam is late doesn’t mean it will be late entering Rapid River.  For example, last year the run timing over Lower Granite Dam was one of the latest timed runs in the last 10 years, but overall, it had an earlier run timing into Rapid River.  Based on the projections I have provided, we could end up trapping another 500 to 1,300 adult fish.  To me there are a lot of similarities with this year’s run to last year's run (more compact and earlier on average) which makes me think we will be closer to trapping an additional 500 fish.  I know many would argue that 500 (or more) extra fish are enough to reopen the fishery.  However, there are some important things to consider.  First, these fish are not going to be coming all at once.  Based on previous years, trapping should drop off considerably fairly soon and then fish will just trickle in through July and August.  Twenty fish a day swimming by will result in very poor catch rates especially when you consider that often later in the year the fish seem to be less prone to bite.

Creative Commons Licence
Joe DuPont

The other thing to consider is we are projecting a brood shortage of about 800 fish for our Clearwater basin hatcheries.  The 500 or more extra fish trapped at Rapid River could go a long ways in helping to fill the Clearwater basin hatcheries.  One thing to remember is that back in 2012 we actually used extra brood stock collected in the Clearwater basin to fill in a shortage at Rapid River Hatchery. In that case, over 360 adult Chinook from the Clearwater basin were used to fill the shortage at Rapid River Hatchery.

Finally, in our discussion with the Nez Perce Tribe, both parties agreed that filling brood shortages in the Clearwater basin was a high importance.  Although providing fishing opportunities are our ultimate goal, we both felt that this year the most important thing to do was use the extra brood trapped at Rapid River Hatchery to help cover the shortages in the Clearwater basin.  This mean we will not be reopening up a fishery in the Little Salmon River.  I know this will frustrate some of you, but our hopes are that this sacrifice could play big dividends in the future. 


I will probably provide just one more spring Chinook Salmon update this year, and that will be my way to early forecast for next year.  After that it will be time to talk about steelhead and fall Chinook Salmon. 


Take care everybody.