Fall chinook numbers highest ever

This story was published 12/3/02

By John Stang
Tri-City Herald staff writer

The largest numbers of adult fall chinook since counting began have passed by the Bonneville Dam this year in their journey up the Columbia River to spawn.

The tally is about 474,000 salmon, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced Monday. NMFS began counting fish passing Bonneville in 1938.

That number does not include about 90,000 fall chinook estimated to be caught by sport and commercial fishermen in the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam, NMFS said.

Numbers were unavailable Monday for adult fall chinook passing Bonneville Dam last year. However, the annual average for the past 10 years has been about 203,000 fall chinook salmon.

This year's return includes about 40,000 jacks -- adult fall chinook that return from the Pacific Ocean after one year instead of the normal three or four years. NMFS sees that number as an early indicator that a huge fall chinook return can be expected for 2003, said agency spokesman Brian Gorman.

About 80 percent of the returning fall chinook are hatchery fish that will return to the streams from which they were released as smolts.

Between 50 percent and 80 percent of the wild returning fall chinook are expected to try to return to the Hanford Reach to spawn. That translates to about 47,000 to 76,000 fish returning to the Reach if all survive the trip upriver past dams, fishermen and predators.

While various inland salmon revival efforts contributed, the main reason for the increased fall chinook numbers is naturally occurring favorable conditions in the Pacific Ocean, Gorman said.

The cyclical changes in air currents and temperatures over the Pacific have drawn deep water -- laden with food for salmon -- toward the surface for the fish to eat. Also, ocean temperatures have been more salmon friendly in recent years, he said.

Other anadromous fish species have made good showings this year as they pass Bonneville Dam to go upstream. The dam recorded 269,000 spring chinook, 127,000 summer chinook and 480,000 steelhead in 2002.

This year's steelhead count is the second largest ever, NMFS said, surpassed only by last year's total of 630,000.


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