NW Coho Returns Are Low, According to WDFW

WDFW Reporting Columbia River coho Returns Aren’t Meeting Expectations, But Those in the Field Beg to Differ

Jai Colvin

While the Columbia River fall chinook return appears to be the second largest on record, it looks like the coho aren’t so gung-ho. Now Fish and Wildlife sources are saying that the coho returns are unusually low.  “The coho returns aren’t like we expected, and not so favorable,” according to Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “I looked at data and the lower river return are about seven percent compared to last year. The Jack coho return is about half of last year, and counts are down at Bonneville Dam.”

But while Fish and Wildlife is reporting low returns, those out there in the water disagree.  Brent Stevens of Renton says he has been out and the runs seem good. “I’m hearing from buddies that they are nowhere near disappointed in the coho this year, so I’m not sure just how bad it really is.”

It’s a mystery what’s causing the split in opinion.  Here’s a list that breaks down coho returns up to now, and how they compare to last year:

Hatchery adult coho returns to Washington lower Columbia River stations are reportedly less than 10% of what we saw at the same time last year:

River                     2015                       2014                      

Toutle                   116                         175

Cowlitz                 571                         15,288

Kalama                 74                           1,262

Lewis                    1,802                     19,490

Total                      2,563                     36,215


Meanwhile, Hatchery Jack coho returns are a little better but still significantly down.   The numbers are just slightly more than half what they were last year:

Toutle                   2                              17

Cowlitz                 735                         1,398

Kalama                 1                              130

Lewis                    1,040                     1,736

Total                      1,778                     3,281


Bonneville Dam reports of early stock adult and Jack coho are also way down from the same time last year (thru September 30th):

Adults                   26,917                   181,514

Jacks                      3,594                     10,254


And late stock coho reported from October 1st-12th are dismal:

Adults                   2,618                     36,435

Jacks                      496                         2,518

Low Coho Returns Cause Closure

As of the third week in October, Fish and Wildlife has made the decision to close some rivers to salmon fishing based on the current numbers.  The state fishery managers are closing the Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie, and Wallace rivers for Salmon fishing until further notice.  The Snohomish from the mouth of the Snohomish River upstream to the confluence of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers; Skykomish from the mouth upstream to the confluence of the North and South Forks; Snoqualmie from the mouth upstream to Snoqualmie Falls; and Wallace from the mouth upstream to 200 feet above the water intake for the salmon hatchery. The hope is that these rivers will reopen when the hatcheries have met their spawning goals.  More than a few anglers aren’t pleased with the closures, but they do understand the point. “If we are actually having low numbers then I get it,” says Jim Martin of Granite Falls. “It does cut into my fall routine though…I take my grandsons every year when they visit; we will have to fish somewhere else this time.”

There is some wiggle room in terms of numbers since not everyone reports their catches.  The real test comes from the anglers in the water, and so far we aren’t hearing a lot of complaining.  If you’ve been out hitting the waters for coho let us know about your experiences.  Are the runs really as bad as reported?

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