Message from Clearwater fisheries manager, Joe DuPont.
Well, things are looking better than last week. Last week counts at Bonneville Dam were the worst we had ever seen for that time of year (April 26). Now (as of 5/3/18) we have moved up five spots to the 6th worst out 80 years of counting fish at Bonneville Dam. To give you a feel for how our counts compare to last year and the 10 year average, I put together the graph below for your viewing pleasure. We obviously have a ways to go before we are comfortable with what we are seeing. There is some good news though. Yesterday (5/3/18) we had our highest count of the year (2,705), and based on the number of PIT-tags that are passing over Bonneville, it looks like counts should increase today as well.
Test fisheries conducted by OR/WA and NOAA Fisheries in the lower Columbia found that catch rates dropped after three straight weeks of increases (see tables below). Hopefully, that means the fish have stopped milling about and are starting to move up river. One of the objectives of NOAA Fisheries test sampling is to evaluate movement of Chinook based on fish they tag (PIT and radio). To date they have tagged 177 Chinook Salmon and only three of those have been detected at Bonneville Dam. In addition, based on the 59 fish they have radio tagged, only four have made it past river mile 52. Bonneville Dam is at river mile 146. This means to me that there are still a lot of fish yet to come, and the run is very late. Some worry (including me) that the more the Chinook Salmon hang out in the lower Columbia, the more susceptible they are to being eating by a seal or sea lion. NOAA Fisheries reported that 4 of the 59 radio tags implanted in Chinook were observed in sea lions. That doesn’t seem too bad to me, but I’m sure not every radio tagged Chinook eaten by a sea lion swallows the radio tag.
If you ask me what all this information means, it suggests to me that our forecast might not be that far off: not a good run, but better than last year. Obviously, only time will tell. One thing to pay attention to is that flows over Bonneville Dam are projected to pick up. Last year when this happened, fish counts dropped off. So, don’t lose hope if we see that happen again.
So far, we haven’t documented or heard of any Chinook being harvested in Idaho. There are a few diehards out there fishing, but with only 48 fish counted over Lower Granite Dam, catching a fish now would be like winning the lottery.
Have a good weekend everybody, and I’ll talk to you next week. - Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fisheries Manager