Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing Update 6/17/2020

Hi everybody, it is time for my weekly spring Chinook Salmon update (6/17/2020).

This will likely be my last spring Chinook Salmon update of the year, as after this coming weekend the Rapid River run fishery will be closed and the only fishery in the Clearwater Region that will remain open will be the Hells Canyon Fishery.  Read on for more details.

I should note that the commission did approve to open a Chinook Salmon fishery in the upper Salmon River.  These fish are destined for Sawtooth Hatchery.  If you want more information on this fishery you can click on this link upper Salmon fishery.

 

Run Size and Harvest Shares

Yesterday was the last day of the Spring Management Period in the Columbia River and we have now shifted over to the Summer Management Period.  What this means is, in theory, all spring and summer Chinook Salmon bound for the Snake River basin have migrated through the Columbia and now summer Chinook Salmon bound for the upper Columbia River are what is passing over Bonneville Dam.  This basically resets the amount of Chinook Salmon the downstream states and Tribes can harvest based on the number of Columbia River summer Chinook that are projected to enter the system.  Due to the projected poor return of upper Columbia Summer Chinook, Washington and Oregon are not planning on opening a fishing season on them at this point.

In reality, the change in run timing for the different stocks of Chinook Salmon migrating through the Columbia River is not so clean. Upper Columbia River summer Chinook Salmon have been passing over Bonneville Dam for a couple weeks now, and we will likely see a few more PIT tagged Idaho bound summer Chinook Salmon pass over Bonneville Dam in the future.  However, we have not seen a PIT tagged spring Chinook Salmon destined for Rapid River or the Clearwater pass over Bonneville in two weeks.

Because this is my last update, I thought I’d leave you with some final numbers to think about.  The two graphs I have displayed below were developed using PIT tag detections from Chinook Salmon that have passed over Bonneville Dam since 2009.  This PIT tag data is not as accurate as genetic data, but it still does a good job at comparing how this year’s return of Idaho spring Chinook Salmon compare to past years.  If you look at the graphs below you will see that this year’s adult returns (yellow bars) to both the Clearwater basin and Rapid River hatchery are the lowest since we have been collecting PIT tag data.  In addition, the returns of jacks (red bars) are also the lowest we have seen since PIT tag data has been collected which doesn’t bode well for next year.  I wish I had better news for you, but that is what the data shows.

 

clearwater_chinook_returns
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Joe DuPont

rapid_river_chinook_returns
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Joe DuPont

Total calculate harvest shares this week, I have used PIT tag data collected at Lower Granite Dam (see Table below).  The vast majority of fish destined for the Clearwater River, Rapid River, or Hells Canyon have now passed over Lower Granite Dam and is why we are able to use this data.  Using this data, you will see that we are still in the negative for Clearwater River fisheries which means we will be struggling to meet its broodstock needs this year.  The harvest share for the Rapid River return is 625 adult fish and for Hells Canyon it is 198 fish.  These harvest shares are about the same as we projected last week.

harvest_share_table_6-16-20
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Joe DuPont

 

Rapid River Fishery

Once again we had a rainy weekend, but it didn’t stop people from catching fish.  Catch rates average about 15 hours a fish in both the Salmon and Little Salmon fisheries last weekend, the best we have seen this year.  As a result, we estimated 100 adult fish were harvested in the Salmon River and 182 in the Little Salmon River (see Table below).  That brings the season total for harvest of adult Chinook Salmon to 498 fish and leaves 128 in our harvest share.  With sunny weather and dropping flows projected for this weekend, we expect fishing to be good.  As such, we have decided to make the following changes to ensure we don’t exceed our harvest share:

  • All fishing for Chinook Salmon in the lower Salmon River will be closed starting tomorrow (6/18/2020).
  • The Little Salmon River will close to all Chinook Salmon fishing at the end of fishing hours this Saturday (6/20/2020).  Note, this means no Chinook Salmon fishing will be allowed on Sunday.

For more details, you can click on this link https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/chinook/rules.

rapid_river_harvest_summary_6-16-20
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Joe DuPont

Although this year’s return did not provide a lot of harvest opportunities, we were able to keep the season open for multiple weekends after the fish entered the fishery.  This was due to the more restrictive seasons and limits (weekends only and 1 fish daily limit) approved by the public and some rainy weather that kept harvest down.  During next year’s public meetings, I will be curious to hear what your thoughts are on this new approach. 

Hells Canyon Fishery

It seems regardless of where you fished last week, people experienced similar catch rates.  The average catch rate below Hells Canyon Dam last week was 15 hours a fish just as occurred in the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers.  However, because few people fished below the dam, we estimated that only 15 fish were harvested.  That brings the season total to 84 fish.  We are still well short of the harvest share which is currently at 198 fish.  That means this fishery will remain open for at least another week.  Because this will be my last update, to stay informed on what is happening with this fishery you can click on this link https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/chinook/harvest.  In addition, I will also provide an update when we determine it is time to close this fishery. 

 

I want all of you to know that I have enjoyed corresponding with you during this spring Chinook Salmon fishery period.  I am glad so many of you feel comfortable to e-mail or call to let me know your thoughts and concerns.  We can’t always implement what people want but hearing from you lets us know what is on you mind and allows us to bring up your thoughts to others to get a broader view on how to better manage our fisheries.  I know this has been a disappointing year and is doesn’t look good for next year either.  However, we will do our best to keep you informed and implement seasons and limits that satisfy most anglers.

It is hard to believe our catch-and-release steelhead season starts in a couple weeks (July 1).  As soon as I have a feel for what the steelhead fishery looks like, I will start providing you updates.  I will likely have interesting stories on our other fisheries to report on as well.  Until then, I hope you all have an enjoyable summer.