Missing salmon in the northwest – 04/15/2005

  • October 22, 2013 at 12:14 am #671


    Chinook run hasn’t happened yet along Columbia RiverThe Associated Press
    Updated: 8:52 a.m. ET April 14, 2005PORTLAND, Ore. – Usually by now,
    the Columbia River’s spring chinook salmon are heading upstream over
    fish ladders in the tens of thousands to spawn. Not this year.

    Fish biologists had predicted a spring run of about 229,000 chinooks
    at the Bonneville Dam, about 140 miles from the Pacific Ocean. As of
    Tuesday, near the customary midpoint of the spring run, only about
    200 had been counted there.

    “It’s a never-before-seen scarcity,” said Charles Hudson of the
    Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

    It’s so bad that the Indian tribes on the river had to get salmon
    somewhere else for their ceremonial celebration marking the return of
    the fish.

    The chinooks enter the Columbia River from the Pacific at this time
    of year to return to the streams where they were hatched two or three
    years before. There, they spawn and die.

    ‘It’s a mystery’

    Scientists say they don’t have an explanation for the scarcity.

    “Nobody knows why,” said Brian Gorman of the Pacific Marine Fisheries
    Service in Seattle. “It’s a mystery.”

    Gorman also described the run as “mysteriously late.”

    Most of this year’s spring run went to sea in 2002 or 2003, said
    Norman, adding there were no conditions in those years that would
    readily explain the dearth of fish this spring.

    Some fish managers wonder whether low water levels as a result of a
    dry winter — combined with murky water caused by recent rains — are
    keeping chinook from swimming up the Columbia.

    “Spring chinook are pretty finicky when conditions are abnormal,”
    said Guy Norman of the Washington state Department of Fish and
    Wildlife. “April and early May are the most significant times for
    spring chinook movement over the (Bonneville) dam. We’re hoping for
    good things to come.”

    Count sets fishing quota

    Fish swimming upstream on the Columbia are tallied at the Bonneville
    Dam, where they go up fish ladders — which resemble stairs — and swim
    past a large window. Their numbers are a factor in setting fishing
    seasons for sport, tribal and commercial fishermen.

    Hudson, the tribal spokesman, said he’s optimistic “there are fish
    out there gathering at the mouth of the river waiting for some
    biological trigger to send them up.”

    The economic impact of the small chinook return is not clear.

    Fish managers hold weekly meetings to look at the size of the run and
    the size of the catch, and regulators aren’t ready yet to recommend
    trimming the fishing season, said Curtis Melcher, marine salmon
    fisheries manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    Melcher said sport fishermen are catching some chinooks but not as
    many as usual. He said many of those caught were bound for the
    Willamette River and other tributaries below the dam.

    Hudson said the fish are back in near their usual numbers in the
    Willamette River, which joins the Columbia well below the Bonneville
    Dam, the first dam the returning fish encounter on their return.

    Bonneville is required to release a certain amount of water past dams
    to help fish if the water flow is low to keep young salmon out of
    hydroelectric turbines. The turbines kill about 10 percent of the
    fish that go through them.

    “With an impact of this kind you’re usually talking about
    hydroelectric operations as a likely cause,” Hudson said.

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