Where have all the Chum gone?

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by davec, Jan 26, 2013.

  1. davec

    davec New Member

    Where have all the Chum gone?
    I have been fishing the Skagit/Sauk system for over 25 years and can remember large runs of Chum salmon returning to this river system. Over the last decade I have been observing less and less fish, especially in the last two or three years. Is it my faulty sampling or are the Chum ending up in the fish market? While I do not activelly fish for Chum their decline concerns me because their presents adds to the overall river health.
  2. cmann886

    cmann886 Active Member

    The mommies are all dead and the babies aren't born yet.
  3. davec

    davec New Member

    Cute, let me clarify, I am referring to usual and accustomed Chum season.
  4. Jamie Wilson

    Jamie Wilson Active Member

    I have noticed the same thing. Particularly worse over the last 3 years. Same systems - might as well add the Stilly too.
  5. Stonefish

    Stonefish Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater

    Commercial harvest........
  6. Jerry Daschofsky

    Jerry Daschofsky Moderator Staff Member

    Yup, BIG money is being paid overseas for those fish.
  7. Tacoma Red

    Tacoma Red Active Member

    It's really the roe that at $10 per lb is most commercially feasible. Even Costco sells it. How ironic.
  8. DimeBrite

    DimeBrite MA-9 Beach Stalker

    Our amazing world class north Sound chum fisheries were sold out to commercial harvest in exchange for more sport fishing access to summer run chinook in the salt. This started back in 2008. Another great fishery sold out by Washington state. It was a good deal if you own a nice saltwater boat tricked out with downriggers, but not so good for late fall river anglers.
  9. I remember 20+ days about 5 years ago. Now I'm lucky if I can hook one everytime. And when I do the quality of fght has been down as far as moldy nasty chum on verge of death
  10. Runejl

    Runejl Josh

    I have also watched the runs decline, and I think it is a huge problem for our Puget Sound Rivers. These fish (Besides odd year Pinks) were really the last consitiently strong return of salmon to our rivers. Once done spawing their dead bodies provided a large amount of food for the whole river system. I beleive that without reigning in the commercial harvest of chum we will see declines in the all other fish species for the affected rivers.

    Pull the nets and let them spawn.
    hookedonthefly likes this.
  11. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

    Chum like the rest of our salmon and steelhead populations experience good and bad periods of marine survival. Early last decade we were seeing record returns of chum through out Puget Sound. As nearly always the case when we see a period of record or near-record returns those abundances become the expected norm and as those abundances decline (which they will always do) we find that unexceptable. We are current seeing returns more typical of a couple decades ago than those recently.

    While the above is true it is equally true that the lion share the harvest (whether real or paper fish) goes to the commercial fleet. That reflects the long term state policies. If anglers would like to see an increase emphasis on providing fish for recreational fisheries then they must lobby for changes in those policies (which is determine by the WDFW commission under its North of Falcon policies). Or of course we can sit on the river banks and keyboards and complain about what used to be.

    davec -
    The above is generally the case for Puget Sound chum however the Skagit have its own chum problems. During the periods of excellent chum returns across the sound the Skagit fish did not respond nearly as dramatically as the other populations. Clearly something is going on in the basin that is less than favorable to chums; and while no one knows for sure what those factors are. Over the last 30 years or so there has been signficant efforts enhance upper Skagit chum habitats as part of City of Seattle light mitigation for its dams. However those enhancements have not seem to have provided the expected benefits. I have to wonder whether there are some flow issues that may be affect the in-river chum production.

    Just another example of how complex anadromous fish issues can be.

    Nooksack Mac likes this.
  12. HauntedByWaters

    HauntedByWaters Active Member

    This has long been a sore subject for me as someone who grew around the Nooksack and Skagit, two rivers that used to host a ton of chum. It was hard to keep them off your line just a handful of years ago....

    Problems in order of most important to least important IMO:

    1. Eggs are worth 60$/lbs in Asian markets. Chum eggs do taste great. I have tried caviar from all the Pacific Salmon and surprisingly chum are the best! Who would have guessed? if it weren't for this, I doubt the fishing pressure on these guys would be so intense.

    2. Chum hatchery programs (which were very successful I am told due to unique life history) were cut because you can't clip these fish when they are at the smolting phase since they are the length of a fingernail. In most cases, WDFW Hatchery policy requires reared fish to be clipped.

    3. Traditional runs of fish targeted by commercials are all gone and the chum is the bone that was thrown to the struggling commercials for better or worse. Much of the fishing pressure on these guys is non-native commercial fishing. It is about the only opportunity around the Puget Sound for non-native commercial salmon fishermen.

    4. Sports anglers snagging them and harassing them. I have seen the few remaining spawning grounds on the Skagit get raked again and again and again. It seems the, "there are unlimited chum!" mentalities haven't caught up to the reality and sporties still don't respect these fish.
    Nooksack Mac likes this.
  13. Plecoptera

    Plecoptera Active Member

    North PS chum runs have been trending down for the the last 8 years at least. Seems to be a number of contributing factors, the most significant being harvest (increased market value) and biological (entering the low end of a population cycle).

    The finger pointing fishermen in me wants to put more of the blame on commercial harvest, but I don't have all the facts to support that. I do know that the first couple years the big commercial harvest took place, the runs got obliterated and have never seemed to recover. If Chum are indeed in a natural downward population cycle, the corresponding harvest efforts have been very poorly timed and managed.

    I understand that every species experiences up and downs, but the disappearance of the Chum has been pretty extreme. This past November I floated a section of an S river where I used to see thousands of Chum... and saw exactly ZERO the entire float... zero! Side channels and other habitat that used to be packed with spawning chum were 100% empty. That degree of change can't just be a population cycle.

    Sadly, because its just Chum, nobody seems to give a sh*t.
    Nooksack Mac likes this.
  14. KerryS

    KerryS Ignored Member

    You mean like the constant dewatering of chum reds by the dam operators during low flow periods in winter?

    Over harvest indeed, over harvest of water.
    Derek Day likes this.
  15. Patrick Gould

    Patrick Gould Active Member

    Thanks for the good info Curt. I'd be interested in some data on Chum returns to the system if you have some links to reports.
  16. freestoneangler

    freestoneangler Not to be confused with Freestone

    Sad, because they take flies fairly readily and are great sport.
  17. Steve Saville

    Steve Saville Active Member

    Somewhere, recently, I read a report about the fish run trends. As I recall, I read that the runs seem to follow a cycle of ten and one hundred years. Perhaps what we are seeing is a downturn in the run and can be contributed to the ten year cycle. That, I am sure , is not the only reason. Habitat degredation has a bunch to do with it, I am sure, as well as the netting policies. It seems we can't get out of our own way when it comes to the fisheries. It's interesting that as the chum seem to be disappearing, the pink runs are gaining momentum. They have been huge in the past eight to ten years and the fish are getting bigger each run. I wonder if Nature is compensating in some way?
  18. Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson Member: Native Fish Society

    There was no non-treaty commercial fishery on Skagit chums this year.
  19. Stonefish

    Stonefish Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater

    A lot of the fish get taken in the sound, long before they ever get a chance to hit the river.
    My "commercial harvest" comment covers both tribal and non-tribal harvest.
    Patrick Gould likes this.
  20. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

    A number of factors influence chum salmon abundance. The over-harvest that is often referred to was limited only to the 2008 run (IIRC) when actual abundanse was much lower than forecast. That set up the low return of dominant 4 year old fish in 2012. Odd year chum runs are normally much smaller than even year runs in river systems that also have pink runs, like the Nooksack, Skagit, Stilly, and Snohomish. Another factor is the burgeoning PS pink runs, especially in river systems that formerly had extremely small pink salmon runs. Clearly something has changed when the Green River system that used to have almost zero pinks has a run larger than the Skagit's. Pink salmon fry hatch and out-migrate earlier than chums, most likely causing the odd-even differences in chum abundance. Huge increases in PS pink salmon means the estuary is heavily grazed or over-grazed when the later arriving chum fry get there. That doesn't do the chum population any good. And then there are the natural swings in abundance Smalma referred to, along with floods during key incubation periods for certain Skagit and other system cohorts. And suddenly it's no longer as easy as it used to be one or two decades ago to be a PS chum salmon.

    Jamie Wilson likes this.