About 315,000 spring Chinook salmon migrated up the river this year, nearly doubling last year’s total, and tribal fishermen caught 42,000 of them. The fish average about 15 pounds each and sell for at least $5 per pound (much more for specialty markets), adding up to a catch worth at minimum $3.15 million.
Add to that total the surprising return of the Columbia River sockeye, all but given up for dead several decades ago. Sockeye have recovered powerfully as a result of good ocean conditions, more water spilling over dams to help young fish migrate downstream and habitat restoration in the tributaries of the Columbia River.
This year’s run of 375,000 Columbia River sockeye is by far the largest since the federal government built the fish-blocking Bonneville Dam in 1937. Tribal fishermen this year caught about 25,000 sockeye, selling them for prices of $5 per pound and up.
Sockeye are much smaller than Chinook, but even at an average of two-and-a-half pounds a fish, that’s another $312,500.
It adds up to a sizable boost for the 400 or so fishers from the four tribes with treaty fishing rights to the Columbia: the Yakama, the Nez Perce, the Warm Springs and the Umatilla. Mike Matylewich, a fish manager for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, expects the full value of all of the 2010 tribal fisheries to approach $7 million. That’s a huge improvement from just seven years ago, when the fisheries combined for less than $1 million per year in sales.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is also predicting better than average summer and fall Chinook runs on the Columbia.