WENATCHEE — Fishermen use it to figure out when to head to their favorite spot.
Fish biologists use it to track salmon runs.
And agencies that oversee fish harvests use it to decide when to open and close fishing seasons.
If you’re involved with salmon or steelhead in the Pacific Northwest, the daily fish counts at hydroelectric dams are important to you.
“The basic purpose of fish counting hasn’t really changed much,” said Steve Hays, senior advisor for Chelan County PUD’s fish and wildlife program, where they’ve been counting fish since 1933, when Rock Island Dam was built. “People want to know how many fish are getting up the Columbia River.”
One major difference is how quickly the fish counts are available to the general public.
“Back in those days, people might not even see the information for weeks or months. It was all written down by hand, and sent by mail,” Hays said. Now the information is usually available within a couple of days, if not the next day.
“The dam counts are critical for fishery management,” said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
LaFleur’s agency uses the counts to set seasons and predict the size of runs, and to make sure there are enough of the endangered varieties headed to the spawning grounds to allow fishing.
The numbers can also act as a red flag, pointing out a problem at a dam if fish aren’t getting passed it, LaFleur said.
And, the counts help estimate how many fish are heading up various tributaries, she said. “If they go over Rock Island but they don’t go over Rocky Reach, a good portion of them are likely moving into the Wenatchee River,” she said.
Even if you’re not a fisherman, LeFleur said, the counts let everybody time their visit to a nearby dam. “It is the most fun you can imagine to go to a dam in the peak of these fish runs,” she said. “When that window’s full of fish, it’s pretty exciting.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512