Plentiful Chinook Run Leads to Third Fishing Season



Yakima, WA - The second-strongest run of summer chinook in the Columbia River in more than four decades prompted the river's treaty Indian tribes on Tuesday to open a new fishing season.

It's the first time in 38 years the tribes have allowed their members to commercially target the summer chinook.

The three-day harvest, from next Monday to Wednesday, will focus on the stretch of river between Bonneville and McNary dams.

The decision by the tribes, including the Yakama Nation, means a rare third commercial fishing season this year an opportunity for fishermen to sell their product to wholesale buyers and the public.

Known as "June hogs," the summer chinook historically ruled the river as the largest of the salmon runs, sometimes coming in at 50 pounds apiece.

Heavy netting by cannery boats gutted the fishery in the early part of the last century, but this year's summer chinook are expected to arrive in the 20-pound range, said Charles Hudson, a spokesman for the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commission in Portland. The Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes make up the commission.

"We probably won't ever see returns that match historic levels, but it's encouraging to see returns this big after so many decades," Hudson said.

Harvest managers are predicting about 120,000 fish to come up the river. Approximately 129,000 summer chinook were counted last year, but the tribes did not request a season.

The run numbered about 125,000 in 1960, but the size has varied greatly since then. In 1992 and 1995, for example, the runs hovered around 15,000.

Fisheries managers hesitate to say that the past two years indicate any sort of long-term recovery for the summer chinook.

"We're making progress. That's the message," Stuart Ellis, harvest management biologist for the intertribal commission, said in a statement.

Ellis credited the high counts to good ocean conditions.

"The tribes look at the opportunities presented by the 2003 summer chinook return with much hope and anticipation for the future," Davis Washines, a member of the Yakama Nation tribal council, said in the statement.

Sales are also under way from platforms and a hook-and-line fishery through July 16.

Chinook, steelhead, walleye, shad and carp will be available during the special gillnet season. Sockeye salmon and sturgeon will not be for sale.

More information about the location of bank sales is available by calling (888) 289-1855.


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