PORTLAND, Ore. Salmon fishing guru Buzz Ramsey was waiting for the weather to get milder to take his two sons salmon fishing on the Columbia River, but a mysterious collapse in spring chinook returns means their fishing season may be over before they even get out on the water.
With chinook counts at Bonneville Dam a tiny fraction of preseason predictions, the Columbia River Compact voted to shut down sport fishing as of midnight Wednesday for salmon, steelhead and shad in the West Coast's biggest river. The compact also suspended commercial fishing on selective stocks of hatchery fish that stay below Bonneville.
The shutdown was imposed to avoid taking too many wild salmon, many of them protected by the Endangered Species Act, that are headed above Bonneville to spawn.
The Columbia River and its tributaries in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana have historically been the world's largest producer of chinook, the biggest of the Pacific salmon species.
Based on the returns of sexually immature males known as jacks last year, authorities had predicted a return of 254,000 chinook to the mouth of the Columbia this year, and 229,000 to Bonneville. But as of Tuesday, only 2,030 had shown up at the dam.
Meanwhile, returns to tributaries below Bonneville are much closer to targets. Biologists and fisheries managers are at a loss to explain why.
For every possibility they come up with there is conflicting information showing some other run facing the same hazards has come back on target, said Bill Tweit, anadramous fisheries policy leader for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state's representative on the Columbia River Compact.
''Maybe it's just a little bit of everything adding up,'' Tweit said.
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