Spring Chinook Salmon Fishery Update (6/1/2021)
Rapid River Run, Hells Canyon, and Clearwater River Fisheries
Hi everybody, it is time for my weekly spring Chinook Salmon update (6/1/2021). Spoiler alert – our genetic analysis indicates we can increase the Rapid River run's harvest share!
The migration of Idaho-bound spring Chinook Salmon past Bonneville Dam is, for the most part, done for the year. As of yesterday (May 31, 2021), 66,781 adult Chinook Salmon had passed over Bonneville Dam this spring season which is about 54% of the 10-year average. That ranks this spring return as the third worst in the last 20 years. The figure below shows how daily counts at Bonneville Dam this year have compared to last year and the 10-year average. The vast majority of Chinook Salmon migrating over Bonneville Dam now are Snake River and upper Columbia River summer run fish.
So let’s talk about our harvest shares seeing that is what I think most people want to know. The table below shows what we are projecting our harvest shares will be for the three spring Chinook Salmon fisheries in Idaho (see third column). You may notice this table looks a little different from what I shared last week. The reason for this is I removed one of the columns that estimated how many for fish we projected would make it to Bonneville Dam. There is no need to “project” anymore seeing Idaho’s spring run is about complete. Another one or two PIT-tagged Idaho spring Chinook Salmon may still pass over Bonneville Dam, but they will not cause the overall harvest shares to change much. The other difference in the Table below is the run estimates for the Rapid River and Hells Canyon returns now include the corrections using genetic data. I’ve got some good news for you! This analysis indicates that we can increase our harvest shares without risking our ability to meet broodstock needs. We now project the Rapid River harvest share will end up at 1,759 adult fish and the Hells Canyon fishery at 272 fish. No adjustments were made to the Clearwater River return, and the projected harvest share is 175 adult fish.
Rapid River Return
For the third week in a row, fishing just got better. Anglers enjoyed the best catch rates of the year in all river reaches open to fishing. In fact, I would say fishing was excellent in sections 1 and 2 of the lower Salmon River (Rice Creek Bridge to Time Zone Bridge) as the average catch rates were 5-7 hrs/fish. The slowest catch rates were in the Little Salmon averaging 22 hrs/fish which isn’t bad. Last week we estimated 503 fish were harvested throughout this fishery with 65% of them being harvested in the lower Salmon River (see Table below). That brings the grand total adult harvest for this fishery to 934 fish leaving another 825 to harvest. What that means is the Little Salmon River will remain open for at least another week (Thursday through Sunday). I suspect fishing in the Little Salmon will only get better.
As a reminder, the lower Salmon River (Rice Creek Bridge to Vinegar Creek Boat Ramp) closed last week at the end of fishing hours on Friday (May 28) to help ensure harvest was divided evenly between the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers. Now that the harvest share has increased, we have 139 fish to go before the lower Salmon River reaches the 50% mark (880 fish). The Fish and Game Commission will be meeting this Thursday (June 3) to decide whether we should reopen any of the lower Salmon River. The proposal the Commission is being presented with is to reopen from Time Zone Bridge to Shorts Creek for Saturday and Sunday only (June 5-6). Other reaches of the lower Salmon River are not being proposed to open to help protect depleted upstream hatchery stocks and wild returns. We will send out notices as soon as the Commission makes their decision.
We estimate that 38 adult Chinook Salmon were caught below Hells Canyon Dam last week. That brings our total estimated harvest for the season to 88 adult fish. Based on people we interviewed, the average catch rate below Hells Canyon Dam was 26 hrs/fish. The Hells Canyon harvest share is currently at 272 fish meaning we have 184 to go before we have to shut this fishery down. As such, this fishery will remain open. As a reminder, we started trapping below Hells Canyon Dam today (June 1) which makes it unlikely that catch rates will get better unless effort drops significantly.
Clearwater River Return
Last week I let you know that the Fish and Game Commission would be meeting on June 3 (this Thursday) to determine if enough fish will be returning to open a fishery of any kind in the Clearwater River basin. Right now our projected harvest share for adults is 175 fish whereas it is around 500 for jacks. As I mentioned last week, our strategy in the past has been to only open an adult Chinook Salmon fishery in the Clearwater basin when returns were large enough to provide a harvest share greater than 200 adult fish. With a harvest share of only 175 fish, a jacks-only fishery seems our best option. In fact, the proposal the Commission is being presented with is to open a 4-day a week jacks-only fishery in select river reaches. We will send out notices as soon as the Commission makes their decision.
That is all I have for you until next week’s update. I hope you have all been enjoying this warm weather!