All posts by John Twa

Bonneville Passage Report 06/12/17

bonneville spring chinook
Final Bonneville Spring Chinook Return Chart

Spring Chinook

At Bonneville Dam, the spring Chinook run ended on May 31st.  The run started late due to river conditions and never fully recovered.  The final number of adults across the dam was 83,624.  This is a 39% reduction from last year and a 44% reduction from the 10 year average.



bonneville dam
Bonneville Summer Chinook Passage Chart

Summer Chinook

The summer run started on June 1st.  As of 6/11/17, the run total was 17,384.  This is a 27% reduction compared to last year, and a 23% reduction from the 10 year average.   River conditions have been difficult for Chinook salmon this year.  But we cannot forget that 61% of juvenile Chinook perished in the hydropower system in 2015, the year that they migrated out to the ocean.



The steelhead run at Bonneville dam is just getting underway and is currently at 3,712 adults, including 1,149 wild fish (not from a hatchery).  Last year at this time, 7,164 steelhead, including 2,611 wild fish had passed.  The 10 year average is 6,985 adults including 2,017 wild fish.  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has restricted the steelhead fishing season as a result.  This is predicted to be the worst steelhead run in 37 years.   A WDFW fishery manager, Ron Roler, left out a key piece of information when he tried to explain these poor results.

“Many of the fish returning this year were subjected to drought conditions in the Columbia Basin in 2015 and unusually warm water in the ocean through 2016,” Roler said. “We saw the effects of these conditions in last year’s upriver steelhead return, and this year they’re even more pronounced.”

When these adults were just smolts out-migrating to the ocean in 2015, steelhead mortality through the 4 lower Snake dams and 4 Columbia dams was 64%.

HR 2083 targets the wrong source of salmon mortality

HR 2083 bonneville dam
The target of HR 2083

HR 2083 “Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act”

On June 8th, 2017, a legislative hearing was held regarding HR 2083.  The purpose of this bill is to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to reduce predation on endangered Columbia River salmon and other nonlisted species, and for other
purposes.   It was introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA.

Bill Summary

To assist the recovery of Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed salmon in the Columbia
River watershed and to protect tribal ceremonial, subsistence and commercial fisheries, H.R. 2083 authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to issue expedited permits authorizing states and tribes to lethally take California sea lions and non-ESA listed Steller sea lions (hereinafter referred to as “sea lions”) under certain conditions.

Testimony by Mr. Gary Dorr, representing Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, was included in the hearing.  His statement targets the true root-cause of salmon mortality on the Snake-Columbia River system.  To hear more of Gary’s testimony, begin listening here at minute 42.

Comments from Jim Waddell

“Once again federal agencies and prodam advocates are pitting endangered marine mammals against salmon recovery in another effort to deflect attention to the real problem, four too many dams endangering Snake River salmon and steelhead.  Immediate breaching of the lower Snake River Dams not only benefits all the endangered harvesters, whether you be a sea lion, a killer whale, a tribal, commercial or sport fisherman, or a farmer, but adds thousands of jobs to the region and saves tax/rate payer money. “

Little Goose Dam maintenance issues killing salmon

Little Goose Dam maintenance issues
Little Goose Dam on the lower Snake River.
2017 Incidents at Little Goose Dam on the Lower Snake River

A short summary of issues jeopardizing salmon recovery since April 11th

Incident #1

On April 11th, the first juvenile salmon and steelhead deaths at Little Goose Lock and Dam were reported. This was the day after the lock was finally returned to service after three weeks delay due to numerous operations issues. “Higher than normal debris load” through the juvenile collection system killed 94 juveniles.

Incident #2

On April 28th, another debris blockage killed 395 juveniles. This time the Corps implemented additional efforts to
manage debris issues. The salmon deaths prompted a letter from NOAA.
Eric & Ann (Army Corps of Engineers),
If I’m not mistaken this is the second debris caused high mortality incident in the Little Goose juvenile sampling and
collection system in April. I know we all hate to see these incidents that can usually be avoided by due diligence and
observation. I am wondering if its time for you to meet with the staff at Goose and walk through the system to
identify areas that may get plugged and point out how continued observation can alert staff to a developing
problem. I am hopeful this may emphasize the needs and help to avoid further problems. Thank You!

Bill Hevlin
NOAA Fisheries

Incident #3

On May 3rd, another debris clog killed 2,240 juvenile salmon and steelhead. This time gatewell orifices were found
plugged by debris. After this kill incident, orifice monitoring was to take place every 2 hours until further notice.

Incident #4

On May 1st another deadly event occurred when juveniles were mortally injured in passing or wedged into defective
vertical barrier screens because the screens had not undergone seasonal maintenance and repairs. Debris further
damaged the screens and was given as the cause of the approximately 5,000 mortalities, but reporting was late and
To repair the screens, the Corps took the turbines out of service. Incredibly, 25% of the turbines (6 of 24) at the
four lower Snake River dams have been out of service this Spring (including one at Little Goose). Then the Corps
removed another 3 turbines from service, which left 2 turbines running during these times of high flow. If water
isn’t flowing through turbines, it must spill over the dam. This creates high levels of dissolved gas in the water, that
at certain levels causes short and long term harm to juvenile and adult fish. Biologists generally agree that fish can
survive gas levels of 120%, but not a lot higher. With this years excessive spill at Little Goose, dissolved gas levels
went off the charts to 132% below the dam. Downstream at Lower Monumental Dam, 22% of juveniles were
measured with gas bubble trauma and some was severe. Additionally, adults are currently migrating upstream past
the dams and seem to be delayed at Little Goose. This means they too are being forced to endure deadly levels of
dissolved gases and for extended periods of time. This may indeed prove to be Incident #5, and potentially the
most deadly of them all for the fish.

Why did this happen?
Little Goose Dam total dissolved gas concentrations
Total dissolved gas concentrations at Little Goose Dam during emergency maintenance operations peaked at 132%, which is far above the recommended peak levels of 120%.

All of these issues stemmed from a lack of maintenance and repair of complex fish passage systems that the Corps does not have the budget to maintain. It is not because of nature, which has become the standard excuse. The flows experienced this year are not unusual and mitigating river debris is designed into the system, but only works if maintained properly. In February 2014, the Little Goose Dam debris boom that had prevented past debris issues was damaged. As a result, debris issues have occurred at the dam each year since the failure. Repairs will not occur until winter 2017-2018. Why has this taken so long? These dams are aging and much of the equipment, including the massively expensive turbines and fish passage equipment, is past its useful life. Operation and maintenance costs are escalating rapidly as predicted 10-15 years ago and budgets are not. Delayed repairs are resulting in exponentially higher future replacement costs. At some point, the Army Corps of Engineers will realize that sinking more money into these dams is futile and a poor way to spend tax and rate payer money.

Little Goose gas bubble trauma
Inspections at Lower Monumental Dam (downstream of Little Goose) showed 22% of juvenile salmon and steelhead had signs of Gas Bubble Trauma.

Bonneville Dam Chinook & Steelhead returns, 5/26/17

Bonneville Dam
Slow and low would be a good description of Chinook returns this year.


As of 5/25/17, the current and recent past counts of Spring Chinook Salmon that have completed passage of Bonneville dam and entered the Columbia River system are:

2017:  69,046

2016:  128,949

10 yr avg:  141,414

As a result of the extremely low returns this year, Washington State fisheries managers have closed fishing on the Snake River.  In addition, Idaho has also closed fishing for Spring Chinook on the Salmon, Little Salmon, and Clearwater Rivers.


As of 5/25/17, the current and recent past counts of Steelhead are:

2017:  3,049

2016: 4,903

10-yr avg:  5,024

This years returns are forecast to be the worst in decades.  Consequently, fisheries managers in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon are all very concerned about B-run steelhead.  They are mulling measures to protect the fish this season.  That could result in rolling closures, length restrictions, and limit restrictions.

So, what’s the dam problem?

All of these low salmon and steelhead returns are the result of a hydrosystem that kills over half the juvenile fish on their journey to the Pacific Ocean.  Fish ladders do help adults get up the river to spawn. But passing juvenile salmon down the river is difficult.  As a result, despite the increase in hatchery fish, improvement of habitat, and limits on harvest, salmon and steelhead returns continue to decline.  Removing the four lower Snake River dams would immediately improve fish passage, open up around 70 miles of Fall Chinook spawning habitat, and lead to steelhead, Chinook, Sockeye, and possibly even Coho salmon recovery.

All data is from the Fish Passage Center website (

Finally, while what seem to be impressive numbers of fish return to the Columbia River basin today, be aware that historically 17 MILLION salmon returned to the Columbia River each year.

Fisheries managers move to protect B-run steelhead

protect steelhead
Steelhead returns forecaste to be worst in decades.

Washington, Oregon mull rolling closures, while Idaho adopts wait-and-see policy

  • By ERIC BARKER of the Lewiston Tribune

Washington and Oregon are poised to implement rolling closures of the steelhead fishery from the mouth of the Columbia River to the mouth of the Snake this summer and fall in an attempt to protect the dismal B-run, projected to be the lowest on record.

On the Snake River from its mouth to Clarkston, anglers would be required to release all steelhead more than 30 inches in length. The two states also are looking to restrict most fishing on the Snake and Columbia rivers to daylight hours only, and to implement the same rolling closures on the lower sections of Columbia River tributaries, where Idaho-bound B-run steelhead often make short detours while in search of cool water.

Protective regulations for the Snake River upstream of the Idaho-Washington state line at Clarkston and the Clearwater River have not yet been set. Idaho fisheries officials are considering adopting regulations similar to those implemented in 2013, when anglers were only allowed to harvest steelhead less than 28 inches in length.

“We have the advantage in Idaho of seeing the run materialize downriver before we fish,” said Lance Hebdon, salmon and steelhead manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise. “So we’ll keep our options open and implement regulations that are appropriate to meet the objectives of ensuring we meet brood stock targets while maintaining opportunity for our steelhead anglers. Length restrictions are certainly on the table, and we’ll continue to coordinate management with Oregon and Washington.”

Columbia River fisheries managers are forecasting a return of only 7,300 B-run steelhead to Bonneville Dam, including 1,100 wild fish. The fishing restrictions are designed to both protect the wild fish, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and to ensure enough hatchery fish return for spawning.

“Everybody is going to feel some pain,” said Ron Roler of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Olympia.

He said Washington and Oregon are adopting a one steelhead bag limit when fishing is allowed. But there will be periods when anglers won’t be allowed to keep any steelhead. Federal permits authorizing the fisheries will allow the two states combined to incidentally kill just 22 wild b-run steelhead during the fishing seasons.

Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said the Columbia River treaty tribes, including the Nez Perce, haven’t yet adopted rules designed to limit take of B-run steelhead during fall chinook gillnet fisheries. But he said the tribal fisheries will be constrained because of the low number of steelhead.

“We will probably have to be a little creative to try to focus fishing on getting the chinook we can get without running into the steelhead limits,” Ellis said.

Under the proposal, nontribal steelhead harvest will be closed during the following dates and locations:

  • The mouth of the Columbia River to the Dalles Dam, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31.
  • The Dalles Dam to John Day Dam, from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30.
  • John Day Dam to McNary Dam, from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31
  • McNary Dam to the Oregon-Washington state line, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.
  • The lower reaches of the Cowlitz, Lewis, Wind, White Salmon and Klickitat rivers, as well as Drano Lake, will be closed to steelhead harvest from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31.
  • The lower Deschutes River from Moody Rapids to its mouth will be closed to all fishing from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31.
  • The John Day River, downstream of Tumwater Falls, is expected to be closed from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.

In many locations, only anglers targeting northern pikeminnow will be allowed to fish at night.

Roller said the closures are designed to be in place at the times B-run steelhead are present in different river sections and intended to reduce the number of anglers targeting steelhead.

“We are in a serious hurt here so we have to take some serious measures to curtail fisheries on steelhead.”

Jeromy Jording, biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the record-low flows and elevated water temperatures during the spring and summer of 2015 combined with the warm mass of water off the coast of Washington that year – known as the Blob – is responsible for the dire prediction, as well as this year’s poor return of spring chinook. Last year, the collapse of the A-run also was blamed on the poor river and ocean conditions of 2015.

“This is the lowest return we have forecasted I think on record,” he said. “Even if you go back into the 1990s, this year would be even lower than anything we observed during that poor period of survival.”

Jording said climate change could cause greater frequency of the kind of drought and poor ocean conditions responsible for this year’s poor steelhead showing.

“The effects of climate change give us a great cause for concern on how we can expect run size abundance to behave in the future,” Jording said.

Weekly Lower Snake River Passage, 5/26/17

Adult Chinook salmon passage at Lower Granite Dam.


A total of 5,059 spring Chinook salmon have crossed Lower Granite Dam as of 5/25/17.  In 2016, a total of 42,093 had passed by now.  The ten year average on this date is 43,019.


A total of 7,291 steelhead have crossed as of 5/25/17.  These are fish that spent the winter in-river.  In 2016, a total of 5,467 had passed.  The ten year average on this date is 9,022.

Of those steelhead, only 3,038 were wild.  The rest were hatchery fish.

We are either experiencing a slow start to the spring Chinook run, a very small run, or a combination of both.  River flows have been high and cold this year, making passage difficult.  The 2015 juvenile Chinook, many of which are returning this year as adults, experienced extreme levels of mortality in the hydrosystem during their migration to the Pacific Ocean.  You  can read more about that here.

As a result, the Spring Chinook fishing season in Idaho was halted on the Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon Rivers in response to these low returns.  Idaho Fish and Game officials are worried that not enough Chinook will return to the hatcheries to satisfy their needs (to make more fish for the future).  You can read more in this article by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune.   Spring Chinook fishing was also closed in Washington State due to anemic runs.

In addition, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon are all currently considering fishery closures for B-run steelhead too.

This seems like a return to the years of low returns experienced in the 1990’s.

Idaho Fish & Game sets Chinook season closures

season closures Idaho
Historic and current range of spring/summer Chinook.

IDFG sets chinook season closures

Only fishing in Hells Canyon will remain open

  • By ERIC BARKER of the Lewiston Tribune

Idaho’s spring chinook season will end early on the Clearwater, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers but continue on the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

State fisheries officials determined Monday the closures are needed to guard against the uncertainty surrounding the flagging run. Despite a surge of chinook passing Bonneville Dam over the weekend, the run remains dramatically late, and officials fear too few fish may return to fill hatcheries and to spawn naturally in headwater streams.

“We still have concerns regarding the collection of brood at our hatcheries to make fish for the future,” said fisheries biologist Brett Bowersox at Lewiston. “In the Salmon River, the natural chinook abundance and estimate is currently lower than we need to be able to have an incidental mortality buffer on the fishery there.”

Fishing on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers will close Wednesday night. Fishing on the Clearwater and its tributaries, which was approved for Thursdays through Mondays only, will remain closed.


Bowersox said the run, as measured at Bonneville Dam, normally is 96 percent to 97 percent complete by this time of year. Through Monday, 50,693 adult chinook had been counted there, compared to the 10-year average of more than 136,000.

Nearly 10,000 of those fish were counted Saturday and Sunday. However, Bowersox said, many of them were destined for other tributaries of the Columbia.

“The Idaho component is a fraction of that total count. Even though the numbers have increased down there the last couple of days, we still have uncertainty surrounding how much longer these (higher count) days will continue because the run is so late.”

He said there is a chance that fishing seasons could be reopened if the surge is sustained.

“We will continue to monitor the counts over Bonneville, and the data we get over the next week or two weeks and see if there are any opportunities to reopen,” he said.

The Snake River between Dug Bar and Hells Canyon Dam is remaining open in part because high flows there damaged a trap that is used to collect hatchery fish, and because there is less concern over the possible impacts to wild fish.

“We expect to have very limited impacts,” Bowersox said.

The closure comes just as fish were starting to reach Idaho in catchable numbers. Counts at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River climbed from several dozen a day early last week to more than 1,100 Saturday and 600 Sunday. The department estimated 32 adult chinook and two jacks were caught and kept on the Clearwater River over weekend. The department has not documented any harvest on the Salmon or Little Salmon rivers.

Growing support in Lewiston, Idaho for dam breaching

Lewiston growing support
The City of Lewiston’s waterfront planning begs for free-slowing Snake and Clearwater Rivers

Three recent Letters to the Editor in the Lewiston Tribune have supported the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams.  Citizens are having visions of a thriving economy based on a revitalized riverfront, recovered fish stocks, and 140 additional miles of free-flowing Snake River.  Local economic growth has been lagging behind other areas of Idaho and folks have come to the realization that the dams are actually holding them back.  At one time, Lewiston had beaches.  And they could again if the reservoirs were drawn down and the 30-foot high levees removed.  The Lewiston-Clarkston area is world renowned for it’s jet boat manufacturing.  Opening up another 140 miles of shallow, free-flowing Snake River would boost sales and open the opportunity for races all the way to the Tri-Cities area and back.

You can read all 3 letters to the editor here.  Click on the link to view the whole document.

A future sans dams

Liked Twa’s vision

Dams hold region back

Chinook & Steelhead returns to Bonneville Dam, 5/17/17

closed salmon season
Low returns prompt fishing season closure on the Snake River.


As of 5/15/17, the current and recent past counts of Spring Chinook Salmon that have passed Bonneville dam and entered the Columbia River system are:

2017:  33,798

2016:  109,650

10 yr avg:  124,691

It appeared that the run had finally started to take off, but then river flows spiked and salmon returns slowed.  Now, Washington State fisheries managers have closed fishing on the Snake River due to low numbers and a slashed forecast for returns.


As of 5/15/17, the current and recent past counts of Steelhead are:

2017:  2,741

2016: 4,286

10-yr avg:  4,410

All data is from the Fish Passage Center website (

While what seem to be impressive numbers of fish return to the Columbia River basin today, be aware that historically 17 MILLION salmon returned to the Columbia River each year.

More info on the fisheries closure

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

May 16, 2017

Snake River spring chinook fisheries to close

Action: Closes the chinook fishery on the Snake River.

Species affected: Spring chinook salmon.

Effective date: Immediately.


  1. Below Ice Harbor Dam: Snake River from the South Bound Highway 12 Bridge near Pasco upstream about 7 miles to the fishing restriction boundary below Ice Harbor Dam;
  2. Below Little Goose Dam: Snake River from Texas Rapids boat launch (south side of the river upstream of the mouth of Tucannon River) to the fishing restriction boundary below Little Goose Dam. This zone includes the rock and concrete area between the juvenile bypass return pipe and Little Goose Dam along the south shoreline of the facility (includes the walkway area locally known as “the Wall” in front of the juvenile collection facility);
  3. Clarkston: Snake River from the downstream edge of the large power lines crossing the Snake River (just upstream from West Evans Road on the south shore) upstream about 3.5 miles to the Washington state line (from the east levee of the Greenbelt boat launch in Clarkston northwest across the Snake River to the WA / ID boundary waters marker on the Whitman County shore).

Reason for action: The spring chinook run size was downgraded from 160,400 to 83,000. This extreme drop in run size requires WDFW to close this fishery immediately.

Information Contact: Jeremy Trump, District 3 Fish Biologist, (509) 382-1005.

Anemic returns close salmon fishing on Snake

anemic salmon returns
Few spring Chinook have passed Lower Granite Dam.

Anemic return leads managers to close salmon fishing on Snake

Area biolgists, hatchery officials monitoring the spring run of chinook

Lewiston Tribune

A new forecast that slashed the expected return of spring chinook to the Columbia River and its tributaries led Washington to close salmon fishing on the Snake River on Tuesday and cast uncertainty on the future of other seasons in the basin.

State, tribal and federal fisheries managers from around the Columbia River basin now expect only about 75,000 spring chinook to make it to Bonneville Dam, about half of the preseason forecast. If the prediction holds true, it could alter or upend future and present fishing seasons.

Fisheries managers had already closed fishing on the Columbia upstream of the dam, and the closure of the modest fishery on the Snake River is the second casualty of the poorly preforming run. Idaho Fish and Game officials are taking a wait-and-see approach before making any decisions about ongoing fishing seasons on the Clearwater, Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake rivers.

Brett Bowersox, a biologist with the department at Lewiston, said agency officials are concerned and will monitor the run based on counts at Columbia and Snake River dams and the detection of tracking tags many of the fish carry. He said no change will be adopted until after this weekend.

“We are going to operate on the reality of what our fish coming over Bonneville tell us,” he said. “We still have Idaho-bound pit tags crossing Bonneville that is increasing the run, but we are operating at a much later run timing than we have ever seen before so it’s much harder to predict what is going to happen.”

Flows on the Columbia River at The Dalles, Ore., continue to be extraordinarily high, and the number of chinook passing Bonneville Dam is well below the long-term average. Monday’s count of about 2,200 chinook brought the season total at the dam to 33,798. The 10-year average is 124,728. Only 234 chinook have been counted passing Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. The 10-year average is more than 25,000.

Becky Johnson, production manager for the Nez Perce Tribes Fisheries Division, said she and other managers are monitoring the run with an eye toward ensuring enough adult fish will return to meet spawning needs at various hatcheries. She said only one adult chinook has been captured at Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins this spring.

“Typically this time of year we are trapping broodstock,” she said.

Despite the extreme tardiness of the run and the downgraded forecast, some salmon managers still believe large numbers of fish are stalled in the lower Columbia River and could save the run with an upriver surge as soon as flows drop. Ron Roler of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said there is ample evidence to back that theory.

“The recreational fishery, the test fisheries, all the indices say there is fish down there except for (fish counts at) Bonneville. Until the Bonneville counts come up it’s a disastrous run.”

For example, Roler said, most of the 6,900 adult chinook caught by anglers below Bonneville Dam were harvested in the last few days of the season there. The fishing conditions were poor at the time but harvest was distributed over more than 100 miles of river.

“So in order for them to catch lots of fish, there had to be lots of fish,” he said.

If the run doesn’t outperform the latest update, Oregon and Washington will have exceeded their shares of the available harvest even though the states implemented a 30 percent harvest buffer to guard against overfishing when runs don’t live up to preseason forecasts.

Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said there is precedence for an extremely tardy run. For example, in 1952 the peak of the run didn’t hit Bonneville Dam until May 27, and in 1948 it peaked May 12.

“They do kind of point out it is possible for these runs to have some strength in the tails. I hope we get lucky and this run has some strength to it.”

The Snake River fishery in Washington was open for just two days a week, with angling allowed near Clarkston and Little Goose Dam on Sundays and Mondays and at Ice Harbor Dam on Thursdays and Saturdays. Roler said anglers caught 65 fish during the three weekends the season was open. Most of that harvest was near Ice Harbor Dam, and none of it happened in the Clarkston stretch.

As of Monday, Idaho Fish and Game officials had not detected any chinook harvest on the Clearwater River.