why is it that every year a chinook salmon season is set for all waters from the lower salmon river all the way to the ocean based on estimated returns, but those of us that fish the upper river have to wait until the fish are actually counted comming up the river to find out if we can race up to the river for a week or two to try our hand at getting one out of the few hundred fish quota if we even get a season at all? Seems as though Those of us up river are not being represented.
We can relate to your concerns. Being on the upper-most reaches of the Columbia River system, we watch Idaho salmon and steelhead being harvested by anglers, commercial fishermen, and tribal members in the ocean, Washington, and Oregon - with no way for us to influence the number of fish being taken in the fisheries. Afterall, we put all the effort into producing those fish so we should have more control over down-river harvest, right?
Before we set seasons for the Snake/Clearwater/Lower Salmon rivers, the South Fork Salmon River reach, or the Upper Salmon River - we need to have solid information on fish returning to Idaho - and we do, once the fish begin their journey past the lower Columbia and Snake River dams. Here's how we collect the information:
Just prior to the young fish beginning their journey to the ocean, we insert passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags into about 10% of the fish leaving hatcheries. Each of these tagged fish have an individual identifying number (similar to a social security number) that can be read when they pass an antenna located at most of the Snake/Columbia River dams. This allows us to track the salmon and steelhead as they move downstream and when they return as adults on their way to Idaho.
The salmon destined for the Snake River, Clearwater River, and Little Salmon River are all early-run fish. We track, using the PIT tags, catch of Idaho bound salmon in the fishery below Bonneville Dam and when they begin crossing Bonneville dam beginning in late March and early April. Using simple ratios of PIT tagged fish from the various hatcheries, we generate estimated returns of hatchery fish beginning at Bonneville Dam. That is the basis for the lower Salmon/Snake and Clearwater seasons. Salmon destined for the South Fork Salmon River pass Bonneville Dam later in the year. Once we know how many PIT tagged fish pass Bonneville Dam and can project a return to the South Fork Salmon River, then we set a season and quota for that fishery. The last group of spring Chinook to enter the Columbia River are the salmon headed for the Upper Salmon River. A percentage of these fish were PIT tagged at Sawtooth Fish Hatchery and Pahsimeroi Fish Hatchery, so again we use a simple ratio of PIT tagged fish passing Bonneville Dam versus the total count of adult salmon passing Bonneville Dam to generate an estimate of the number of fish returning to the Upper Salmon River. This usually happens in early to mid-June.
We are confident there will be enough hatchery salmon returning to the Upper Salmon River to have a limited fishery in 2014. Dates and quotas will be set once we see the PIT tagged fish passing Bonneville Dam and the lower Snake River dams. Stay tuned.