North Bonneville, Wash. The numbers of salmon and steelhead heading up the Columbia River are well above average, including a record run of sockeye, biologists say.
Officials at NOAA Fisheries told the Tri-City Herald that the chinook run as of Tuesday was 326,176, or 140 percent above the 10-year average, while the sockeye run of 353,044 fish is a record. They credit favorable ocean conditions, improvement in habitat and hatchery practices, and work to improve fish passage at dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The steelhead count at Bonneville Dam was 244 percent above the average, with 50,711 hatchery-raised and 22,497 wild steelhead. And biologists say returns of wild and hatchery salmon and steelhead appear promising for next year and beyond.
“The overall pattern looks good,” said John Ferguson, director of the fish ecology division at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “Our ocean survey is just one indicator, and we caught a lot of (juvenile) fish. So overall we are looking for average to better than average returns in the future.”
NOAA Fisheries and managers of other federal agencies involved in the recovery of the 12 species of wild salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act in the Columbia River Basin say they are encouraged by this year’s run, which follows two strong years.
Sockeye numbers have dwarfed expectations. The 10-year average at Bonneville, where counts have been made since 1938, is 87,675, and the previous record for a year was 237,748 in 1955.
“Huge. It’s amazing,” said Rock Peters, fish program manager for the Northwest Division of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Most of the run is headed to the upper Columbia River. Nearly all the Columbia River sockeye, which are not listed, come from Canada’s Osoyoos Lake.