Last week included one of the signature events on the Pacific Northwest’s annual calendar: the setting of spring fishing seasons on the Columbia River.
The forecast for the important spring Chinook run is about 300,000 to the river’s mouth, about 28 percent fewer than last year but more than the 10-year average of 285,000. Forecasts are one thing and reality quite another, but there is a good chance that fishermen and the businesses that rely on them will have a fun few weeks from March 1 to April 9.
The initial allocation is 7,515 fish for recreational fishermen below Bonneville Dam, 1,222 for the mainstream non-tribal commercial fishery and 198 for select area commercial fisheries. Gillnetters will get two days of fishing — tentatively March 29 and April 5.
This also is a good time to note that in 2015 sea lions killed 8,500 spring Chinook salmon in the tailrace just below Bonneville, and many more in the relatively unobserved 140-plus miles between the dam and the river’s mouth. Smart beasts that they are, it is widely anticipated they will again be showing up in the river in force in coming weeks.
The differences between all these numbers may come as a surprise to those who don’t pay attention to Columbia fishing issues. From the rhetoric of those who oppose commercial fishing, you might suppose gillnetters were swallowing up a vast proportion of the salmon run. In fact, in this rather typical year, mainstream gillnetters will harvest perhaps half of 1 percent of the run. And that’s if they’re lucky — accidentally catching too many fish from a run protected by the Endangered Species Act sometimes drastically curtails even this sort of conservative season.
It’s no wonder consumers have to pay so much for a precious meal of our homegrown spring Chinook salmon. If we want this first taste of Pacific Northwest spring to remain part of our culture and economy, we need to continue speaking up for commercial fishing families who put Columbia salmon on our tables.
Sensible salmon management requires all fishermen to work together — along with tribes, river managers, conservationists, elected leaders and others — to continue rebuilding runs.