August 15 was the “half-way” point for the typical Columbia River summer steelhead run. Based on the pre-season forecast, at least 59,700 should have passed Bonneville Dam. As of August 14, an alarmingly low 32,870 summer steelhead had crossed Bonneville Dam, a mere 55% of the historic low forecast. The actual 2017 run is 26,830 steelhead short, meaning almost as many steelhead have not shown up than should have. Of the returning steelhead, almost 15,800 are wild, a surprising and welcome 48% of the entire run so far.
To compound the low steelhead return, fishery managers from Oregon and Washington are about to approve mainstem commercial fisheries in the lower Columbia and tribal treaty commercial fisheries above Bonneville (the so-called “Zone 6” area from Bonneville to McNary Dam near the Oregon-Washington border). These fisheries are modeled after and managed based on the existing forecast, which as the numbers show, is only half of what was predicted. The lower Columbia commercial fishery season is set based partially on the expectation that half of the run is already above Bonneville – though this means little when those fish will run directly into Tribal platform and net fisheries soon to be approved as well.
Plainly said, the Columbia River is managed for a mix-stock (different species with different population abundance) non-selective (meaning fishers cannot avoid fish they may not or cannot harvest or release safely) fishery that relies on flawed forecasting, poor in-season monitoring and enforcement, no accounting for environmental conditions and, ultimately, with no assurance that wild fish reach natal rivers in numbers to sustain or increase their long-term viability.
Please read our most recent pleadings with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission below: