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Poor Steelhead Runs Into The Upper Columbia Means No Steelheading

Low returns of upper Columbia River
steelhead mean no fishing season

EPHRATA – A precipitous drop in the abundance of the upper Columbia River steelhead run means there will be no fishing season for them this year in northcentral Washington.

Jeff Korth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) northcentral regional fish program manager, said the run is only 33 percent of the 10-year average of counts at Priest Rapids Dam.

The latest forecast anticipates count of 6,300 steelhead at Priest Rapids Dam, far short of the minimum 9,550 fish NOAA-Fisheries requires to allow a fishing season on the mainstem or tributaries of the upper Columbia River.

Korth said the overall run timing appears to be tracking the 10-year average, so it is not likely that the missing fish are just late.

"Every fish will count to make sure enough reach the spawning grounds," Korth said. "All wild fish and those produced from wild parents in the hatchery are already being allowed on the spawning grounds. All steelhead produced from hatchery parents as a backup will probably be needed to reach escapement goals, too."

Normally, the steelhead fishery is used to remove these "back-up" fish when they are not needed for escapement.

The last time upper Columbia River steelhead runs were this low was in the 1990s, resulting in a federal "endangered" species listing in 1997. The run was later classified as "threatened" as returns improved.

Korth said the weakest component in 2016 upper Columbia River steelhead run is "one-salt" fish that stay in the ocean one year. This year's one-salt fish are expected to make up 36.5 percent of the run as Priest River Dam, compared to an average of 50-60 percent, he said.

Limits for lower river fisheries, from the mouth to Highway 395 south of the Tri-Cities, have already been reduced to one hatchery steelhead. The only steelhead fishery remaining in the Columbia River above Highway 395 will be at Ringold, a "bubble" fishery held on hatchery steelhead specially marked with both a clipped adipose and left ventral fin.

"Those steelhead are not federally listed, but that run, too, will be a shadow of the usual number of fish," Korth said. 


Once again salmon and steelhead runs have been all over the board! This year has provided more up's and down's in predicting returns than I haver ever seen in the past. Perhaps predicting the weather is much easier!

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