Strong salmon runs expected in the upper Columbia River

Chinook salmon are expected to have a big year in the upper Columbia.

Chinook salmon are expected to have a big year in the upper Columbia. U.S. Forest Service photo via Wikimedia Commons

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KENNEWICK — Anglers should expect strong salmon runs this year, state Fish and Wildlife officials said Thursday.

Around 227,000 spring Chinook are expected in the upper Columbia — above the Bonneville Dam — and Snake rivers, nearly doubling the 123,000 that returned in 2013, officials said.

The largest increase is expected in the Snake River, where 125,000 marked Chinook are forecast, up from 67,000 last year.

“The spring Chinook run is a good solid number, the best we’ve seen in a couple of years,” said John Whalen, the department’s regional fish program manager based in Spokane.

Summer Chinook returns are expected to be flat, but upriver, bright fall Chinook are forecast to increase to more than 973,000. Last year, 784,100 fall upriver bright Chinook returned, which was above the forecast of 432,500.

Sockeye salmon are also expected to run strong, particularly to the Okanogan River, where returns are forecast to increase to 282,500 from 149,000 in 2013.

A number of factors have gone into the improved returns, Whalen said. They include habitat enhancement, protection programs and better fish passages on Columbia and Snake river dams. The conditions in the Pacific Ocean have also been good.

“We’re seeing a bunch of things work out well,” Whalen said.

About 50 people attended a two-and-a-half-hour Fish and Wildlife meeting Thursday at the Benton Public Utility District offices in Kennewick. Some expressed frustration with rules limiting the days they can fish in certain fisheries, as well as limits that allow more fish to be caught in the lower part of the Columbia.

Fish and Wildlife and the Grant County PUD are working on making sure the Wanapum Dam is passable for fish this year, said Jeff Korth, regional fish program manager based in Ephrata. The PUD lowered the water level in the reservoir behind the dam by 26 feet after a crack was found last month in a spillway pier.

The PUD plans to artificially water the fish ladder to allow fish to climb the dam starting in mid-April, and then put in a slide so they can get into the reservoir without a large drop, Korth said.

A good bit of money and brain power have gone into the plan, he said.

“The level of confidence is pretty high that it’s going to work,” he said. “It’s unthinkable to all of us that the run will be lost. It would be a disaster.”

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