Fisheries managers now expect only 205,000 steelhead to pass Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River between July 1 and Oct. 31. The run hasnt been that low since 1999 when the Bonneville count for the same time period was 198,500. For perspective, in both 2001 and 2009, more steelhead returned past Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River than are forecast to return to Bonneville Dam this year. But those were outstanding years.
We have kind of gotten used to since (the year) 2000 some pretty good steelhead runs, said fisheries biologist Alan Byrne from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Boise. You have to go back to 1999 to find a run that was as low as what we are predicting is going to come over this year.
Despite the lower-than-average numbers, Don Whitney, a fisheries biologist for the department at Lewiston, said people are still catching fish.
There is no way I would look at this and say its going to be a dismal year, he said. There are still plenty of fish to be caught.
Earlier this week, the technical advisory committee, a group of state, tribal and federal salmon managers, reduced the number of A-run steelhead forecast to return at least as far as Bonneville Dam to 185,000 and the B-run steelhead forecast to 20,000. Byrne said typically about 50 percent of the A-run steelhead that pass Bonneville will also pass Lower Granite and about 70 percent of the B-run fish counted at Bonneville will make it to Granite. Based on those rates, the return to Granite would be 92,500 A-run steelhead and 14,000 B-run fish, for a total of 106,500. That total will include about 60,100 hatchery A-run fish, 11,000 hatchery B-run fish, 32,400 wild A-run fish and about 3,000 wild B-run steelhead.
Pete Hassemer, the anadromous fish manager for the department, said there are no discussions about reducing bag limits on the Clearwater River, where most of the B-run fish are bound. The catch-and-keep season on the Clearwater above Memorial Bridge at Lewiston doesnt open until Oct. 15.
We have a little time to see how fish do getting up to Granite and what the numbers look like coming across Bonneville, he said. We are just looking back at our records to see when weve had similar returns and what the harvest was like to get some perspective on it at this time.
Byrne said there is no obvious reason for the run not living up to recent returns or the preseason forecast.