June 21, 2012
You might remember predictions of really high spring chinook runs this year. But, it turns outs, after all the returning salmon were tallied up, the numbers were not as high as everyone had hoped.
Biologists had predicted the Columbia River would see one of the stronger spring salmon runs in the past decade. Similarly big expectations were set for returning salmon numbers in other Northwest river basins.
But it looks like forecasts were off by a little more than one-third. In the Columbia, around 314,200 were predicted but 203,000 salmon were counted. Biologists say that’s still a decent run, just not all that exciting.
One tool they use to predict salmon runs are early returns of male salmon, known as “jacks,” says Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist John North.
“They’re precocious males is what we call ‘em,” North says.
He says these jack counts haven’t proven to be such accurate predictors of overall adult salmon returns in recent years. And no one knows why.
“They’ve been kind of giving us fits,” North says. “Generally, if you had a strong jack return, you’d have a pretty strong adult return. That relationship is getting a little trickier lately.”
Biologists say ocean conditions could be causing the lower-than-predicted run numbers.
These Columbia River fish also make up the spring runs on the Snake River. But biologists won’t know how many wind up on the Snake until the end of the year.
In the Northwest, there are different salmon runs in the spring, summer and fall. In the spring, Columbia River chinook salmon make up some of the larger runs.
It’s still early to tell, but spring numbers are also coming in below what was expected on Oregon’s Willamette River. North says while 83,000 salmon were predicted this spring in the Willamette River, only 70,000 were counted.
Anglers are turning in good reports on the Rogue River, says ODFW biologist Dan Van Dyke. He says Oregon’s Rogue River usually keeps pace with the Klamath in northern California, but a noticeable increase in salmon numbers isn’t expected until the fall runs.
Larger salmon runs also don’t arrive in Puget Sound until later in the season. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist John Long says summer and fall runs in Puget Sound and along the coast will be similar to previous years.
And even though this year’s spring numbers were lower than biologists thought, they’re taking another glass-half-full approach for summer run predictions. The Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission is reporting recording-breaking sockeye counts just days into summer runs. Stuart Ellis is a biologist with the commission.
“The overall count to date is nearly 20,000 fish higher than any previous record count to date. So we’re getting a lot of fish back this year,” Ellis says.
If the high counts continue, they’ll be a boon to summer fisheries.