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 user 2005-04-21 at 9:57:00 am Views: 60
  • #9026

    Northwest perplexed by missing salmon
    Chinook run hasn’t happened yet along Columbia

    PORTLAND, 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

    ‘It’s a

    Scientists say they don’t have an explanation for the

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

    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

    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

    “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

    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.