SEATTLE — Washington state fishery managers unveiled surprisingly large Columbia River chinook forecasts Friday, another indication there could be a landmark return of nearly 3 million chinook and coho.
“It is a mind-boggling forecast, and the largest fall chinook return since at least 1938,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “We’ll see if this is a one-time deal or if more could happen in the future. For now, we’ll take what we’ve got on paper.”
The Columbia River fall chinook forecast is more than 1.6 million. The 2013 return of 1.2 million was nearly double the forecast of 686,900.
Most of the 2014 forecast is an upriver bright chinook forecast of 973,300. The majority of those fish are caught in-river, with some in the highly popular late-summer Buoy-10 fishery at the Columbia River mouth near Ilwaco.
The forecast includes 110,000 from the Lower Columbia hatchery, and 115,000 from the Bonneville Pool hatchery. Both are improvements over 2013 and are the driving forces in the sport ocean salmon fisheries.
The news comes on top of a forecast of 1.2 million coho expected to arrive off the Washington Coast in 2014.
The 2013 runs were below forecasts, but Doug Milward, a state Fish and Wildlife coast-salmon manager, said larger predictions are more likely accurate.
“Our coho forecast was off last year, “Milward said of a run of 445,300 after a forecast of 716,400. “But usually when we have these bigger forecasts, we’re much closer to our prediction.”
This summer could rival the 2009 coho season, when about 1.05 million returned.
“The coho catch quota this summer will go up for sure from where it was last year,” Milward said. “We had a dandy catch quota in 2009, and the fish were pretty much everywhere in the ocean. Also, if you recall, they were pretty big in size.”
Of the 1.2 million coho forecast, about 526,600 are Columbia early-stock coho, and 427,500 are late stock.
The early coho run is the main source of the ocean and Buoy-10 fishery. The late stock usually enters in October and November, when sport-fishing interest starts to wane.
If the forecasts are accurate, the ocean-sport fishery quota will likely be much higher than the 80,000 hatchery-marked coho quota of the past several years.
All salmon stocks in recent years are still benefiting from upwelling of colder water from La Nina, which produces better ocean survival rates for the entire food chain.
More salmon forecasts, including the Puget Sound/Strait of Juan de Fuca region, will be announced March 3 at the state Fish and Wildlife public meeting in Olympia.
Final seasons will be decided April 5-10.