Chinook return in record numbers
CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. _ The way Tony Gardee sees it, the Columbia River gives, and the Columbia River takes away.
This week it's giving, and for the first time in 38 years, treaty tribes on the river have a commercial season for summer chinook.
The 20-to-30-pound fish -- some are bigger -- almost fly out of the ice chests in the beds of pickups the fishermen bring to parking lots and boat landings off of Interstate 84, along 150 miles of the Oregon side of the river.
With the fish priced at $2 a pound, many fisherman sell out in an hour or so and await more salmon from the gillnets set in the river for the three-day season. Commercial fishing stops Wednesday evening. Sales to non-Indians can continue beyond that if the fish were caught during the brief commercial season.
Simon Sampson of Toppenish, Wash., in the shade of the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the river 45 miles north of Portland, has his pitch down pat.
"It's full of Omega-3 (fatty acids), doctors highly recommend it," he said Tuesday to a gathering around his tailgate.
"Our old people have eaten this for centuries, some of them live to be 100. It's the American culture, the cheeseburgers and fries full of fat that our killing off my people."
In a short time, his supplies dwindle to a few steelhead, and those also sell quickly.
Wads of bills and large plastic bags of fish rapidly change hands.
"I'll take two, I don't care what they weigh," one buyer offered.
An unusually high 120,000 summer chinook are expected to come upriver. The tribes have three days to catch up to 6,000 of them to sell or keep for their own use.
It is the second-highest return since 1960. As recently as the mid-1990s the return was at only about 15,000. While fisheries specialists say the increase is encouraging, they are not yet declaring the run recovered.
But while the money flows on the riverbank this week, there is a sense of bitterness as well over fishing restrictions.
Sampson and other tribal fishermen said Tuesday that Indians covered
by 1855 treaties should be allowed to fish without restrictions.
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