Salmon crowd the fish ladder on the Washington side of Bonneville Dam, Sept. 21, 2013
Fall Chinook salmon are returning to the Columbia River this year and crossing Bonneville Dam in numbers not seen since the dam was completed and counting began in 1938. The Bonneville count, already at nearly 900,000 fish by mid-September with about a month left in the run, is expected to top 1 million fish, nearly 400,000 more than any previous year in 75 years of fish-counting at the dam. In one day, Sept. 9, 63,780 fall Chinook were counted crossing the dam.
Chinook returning to tributaries in the 140 miles of river downstream of the dam add to the huge run.
State and tribal biologists attribute the historic run to several factors, including high spring river flows when the fish migrated to the ocean as juveniles two to five years ago, spill of juvenile fish over dams, good ocean conditions, ongoing projects to improve habitat where fish spawn, and improved survival of fish produced in hatcheries.
The fall run includes wild fish headed to the Hanford Reach, the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia downstream of Priest Rapids Dam, and also hatchery fish returning to production facilities and release sites in central Washington along the Columbia and southeastern Washington and central Idaho on the Snake River.
Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Vancouver, was quoted in a news story saying the historic run of upriver fall Chinook is “a positive sign that regional efforts to rebuild this salmon population are making a difference.”
Chinook crossing Bonneville Dam between August 1 and mid-October are classified as the fall run.