This year's spring Chinook run has begun to show up at Bonneville Dam, though daily numbers are still in the in the single digits. By this time last year, several hundred fish a day were passing the dam. The slower start is likely due to the fact that the Columbia River is several degrees colder this year. However, some commercial gillnetting in the lower Columbia has already begun to take advantage of early migrating stocks like the Willamette springers, which show before most upper Columbia runs, including the wild ESA-listed Snake River fish that are the main reason for major harvest restrictions. Fishermen are only allowed to keep fish that have a missing adipose fin, which means they are of hatchery origin Four 16-hour fishing periods that ended March 12 had netted fishers nearly 2,000 Chinook, which was estimated to reflect about 8 percent of the allowable impact on upriver stocks and 10 percent of the fishery's allowable impact on winter-run wild steelhead.
Harvest managers have allocated about .8 percent of the upriver spring run to the commercials, which could make for some tidy paychecks, since nearly 500,000 spring Chinook are predicted this year, with the upriver run pegged at around 360,000 fish, good enough to qualify as the second best run since the dams went in.
Short-lived spring bonanza begins for fishermenFish buyers have been shelling out $5.50/lb for these prime specimens, which translated into $17/lb. for fillets at one Seattle fish market.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council has recently estimated the value of last year's Columbia River fisheries, figuring that personal income impacts on Oregon river communities of the non-Indian spring gillnet fishery at $753,000 and Washington's at $147,000.
Treaty Indian fishers last spring had $9,000 in estimated income impacts to Oregon river communities and $359,000 worth of impacts to Washington towns.
Fall fishing in 2003 boosted the total impacts from both Indian and non-Indian fisheries to $8.2 million; $1.9 million and $6.3 million, respectively.
Actual 2003 ex-vessel value for fish harvested in the Columbia River was only $2.8 million, according to the council's report, with the non-Indian catch accounting for about $2.4 million of the total. The analysis didn't count "over-the bank" tribal fish sales, which have amounted to between one-third and one-half of tribal ticketed sales in recent years. Overall, the value of the 2003 commercial catch was 11 percent higher than 2002's, but still down significantly from earlier years, and 80 percent below the average harvest value from 1987 to 1998.