Spring Chinook Numbers Lower Than Expected

Jun 20, 2012

You might remember predictions of really high spring chinook runs this year. But, turns outs, after spring salmon runs wrapped 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. But it looks like forecasts were off by a little more than one-third. Biologists say, 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.”

“They’re precocious males is what we call ‘em.”  That’s John North. He’s with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. North says these jack counts have been off in recent years. And no one knows why.  “They’ve been kind of giving us fits. 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.

It’s still early to tell, but spring numbers are also coming in below what was expected on Oregon’s Willamette River.

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.

And even though these 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.”

If the high counts continue, they’ll be a boon to summer fisheries.