Spring chinook run just a trickle

BOISE, Idaho – Spring chinook salmon runs appear to be even smaller than forecasters expected, officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game say.

That’s bad news for anglers after last year’s limited chinook season. Salmon fishing on the lower Columbia River in Oregon and Washington has been off-limits for decades.

“We won’t have a robust season, we’re almost sure of that,” said Bill Horton, an anadromous fish manager with the department.

By late last week, only 316 chinook had crossed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia, compared with the 10-year average for that period of more than 59,000. Idaho-bound fish have to cross eight dams during their upstream migration, and only a portion of the fish that cross Bonneville actually make it to the state.

So far no salmon have reached Lower Granite Dam, their last hurdle before reaching Idaho waters, according to the department.

For the second year in a row, the spring salmon return appears to be later than normal, officials said. Still, 3,000 salmon had crossed Bonneville Dam by this time last year, with a total of 32,764 spring and summer chinook returning to Idaho in 2005.

“We’re getting concerned, there’s no doubt about that,” Horton said. “It could be a late run and they’re going to come on, or a weak run and they’re not going to come on.”

Generally, salmon runs start slowly and then build. Last spring, fish didn’t cross Lower Granite Dam in significant numbers until late April, with most of the run crossing the dam in May and early June.

“Some late runs have materialized with respectable numbers, but I am not holding my breath. Every day that goes by, that becomes less likely,” said Ed Schriever, fisheries manager for the Clearwater Region. “I know there are a lot of heavy hearts out there in the salmon fishing public who are watching these salmon counts.”

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