Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Historical Decline of Columbia River Fall Salmon

Salmon belong to a family of fish called Salmonidae. This family appeared between 30 and 50 million years ago with modern salmon appearing in the fossil record about six million years ago. All species of salmon are anadromous, which means adults migrate from the ocean to freshwater streams to deposit their eggs. After variable periods of rearing in freshwater, juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean to grow and mature, when the lifecycle repeats itself with the next generation. Except as noted, all salmon are semelparous, meaning that they die after spawning once.
Four main species of salmon return to the Columbia River:
Salmon once occupied nearly 13,000 miles of Columbia River Basin streams and rivers. According to conservative estimates, the Columbia River Basin, both above and below Bonneville Dam, once produced between 10 and 16 million salmon annually. Historically, salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin consisted of 16% fall chinook, 12% spring chinook, 30% summer chinook, 11% coho, 23% sockeye, 8% steelhead, and less than 1% chum. These runs generally extended from March through October, though steelhead runs extended through the winter. Below is a video showing how the area accessible to salmon has been reduced over the 120 years between 1890 and 2011.

Wild Salmon Life Cycle

After 1 to 7 years in the ocean, the adult salmon that have survived countless hazards from predators, ocean conditions, and commercial harvest return to the Columbia River and head for their home streams.
Arriving at her home stream, a female builds a nest, or redd, in fine, clean gravel.
As a female deposits her thousands of eggs, a male releases milt, fertilizing them. Both male and female salmon die soon after spawning, except steelhead and cutthroat, which may survive another year or more to spawn again.
Yolk-sac fry, or alevins
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Jeffrey Rich photo
Tiny yolk-sac fry, or alevins, hatch after 2 to 8 months.  They stay in the gravel for another 1 to 3 months until the food from the yolk sac is used up.  They need cold, pure water to breathe and wash away their wastes.
The fry emerge from the gravel and begin to feed on their own.  Many are lost to predators, competition, or failure to adapt to stream conditions.  Some types of salmon begin their migration downstream soon after emergence, while others stay in freshwater for a year or more.
During migration the fry are vulnerable to predators, such as birds or northern pikeminnow, walleye, and bass, which thrive in the reservoirs.  Seven to 15 percent die passing each dam.
By the time they reach the estuary, the fry have become smolts, and their bodies are adapting to saltwater. Here they linger to feed and grow before entering the ocean.  Predators, unfavorable conditions, and failure to adapt will deplete their numbers further.
Once adapted to the ocean, the smolts will spend one to seven years in the ocean, migrating thousands of miles and growing into adults before returning to their home streams to repeat the cycle.
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Big runs of Columbia River chinook, coho highlight 2014 salmon forecasts

OLYMPIA - Salmon fishing in the ocean and the Columbia River this summer could be great thanks to an abundant run of hatchery coho and a potentially historic return of chinook, according to state fishery managers.
Opportunities for anglers also look good in Puget Sound, where another strong run of coho salmon is expected this year.
The forecasts - developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes - for chinook, coho, sockeye and chum salmon were released at a public meeting in Olympia today, marking the starting point for developing 2014 salmon-fishing seasons.
Ron Warren, fisheries policy lead for WDFW, said protecting and restoring weak wild salmon populations will continue to be the top priority as fishery managers develop salmon seasons.
"It's early in the process, but these forecasts point to an exciting summer of salmon fishing," Warren said. "We look forward to working with our tribal co-managers and constituents to establish fishing opportunities on abundant runs of hatchery salmon while ensuring we meet our conservation goals for wild fish populations."
This year's forecasts include a return of more than 1.6 million Columbia River fall chinook salmon - which would be the largest since record-keeping began in 1938. A return of nearly 1 million Columbia River coho salmon is expected back this summer as well.
"This certainly could be a banner year for summer salmon fisheries, particularly off the Washington coast and in the Columbia River," Warren said.
As in past years, salmon-fishing prospects in 2014 vary by area:
  • Columbia River: Of the 1.6 million fall chinook expected to return to the Columbia River this season, nearly 86 percent of those fish are "bright" stocks. Those fish, most of which are destined for areas above Bonneville Dam, are the foundation of the in-river recreational salmon fishery.

    If that run comes in as forecast, the total number of brights would exceed last year's entire Columbia River run of 1.2 million chinook salmon. Additionally, the ocean abundance of Columbia River coho is forecast to be about 964,000 fish, three times as many fish as last year's actual abundance.
  • Washington's ocean waters: The strong return of Columbia River salmon should also boost fisheries in the ocean this year.

    About 225,000 lower river hatchery chinook are expected back this season, 35,000 more fish than last year's return. Those salmon, known as "tules," are the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery.

    The abundant coho salmon return projected for the Columbia River will contribute to fisheries off the coast of Washington as well, said Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for WDFW.

    "This is the first time in more than a decade we have had exceptionally strong forecasts for chinook and coho in the same year," Milward said. "That's good news for anglers because those abundant runs could result in higher catch quotas for both species this summer in the ocean."
  • Puget Sound: Summer/fall chinook salmon returns to Puget Sound are expected to total nearly 283,000 fish, slightly higher than last year's forecast. Most chinook fisheries in Puget Sound, where hatchery chinook make up the bulk of the returning fish, will be similar to last year, said Ryan Lothrop, recreational fishery manager for WDFW.

    A strong run of coho salmon is expected back to Puget Sound as well. Nearly 873,000 coho are forecast to return to the Sound's streams, similar to last year's projection. Lothrop said bright spots for coho include the Nisqually, Skokomish, Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers, as well as Lake Washington and the marine waters of mid- and south Puget Sound.

    Another bright spot is Baker Lake, where an abundant sockeye return of 35,000 salmon is expected back this year. Fishery managers will once again consider sockeye fisheries in Baker Lake and the Skagit River, Lothrop said.

    Another possibility is bonus bag limits for sockeye during summer salmon fisheries in marine areas around the San Juan Islands and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. "About 23 million sockeye salmon are forecast to return to Canada's Fraser River this year, and a portion of those fish will make their way through those marine areas," Lothrop said.

    However, a sockeye fishery in Lake Washington is unlikely this year, Lothrop said. The sockeye forecast is about 167,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.
State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 8-13 in Sacramento with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year's commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
Additional public meetings have been scheduled through March to discuss regional fishery issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the "North of Falcon" and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2014 salmon seasons.
The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 5-10 meeting in Vancouver, Wash. The 2014 salmon fisheries package for Washington's inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC's April meeting.
A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW's website at