Commercial fisheries deserve a fair shareColumbia River spring chinook salmon are a culinary treasure, the pure essence of the Pacific Northwest. Deciding who gets how much of this precious commodity requires a delicate balancing act by fisheries regulators.
Because some ostensibly wild chinook are mixed among returning salmon, most are allowed to pass upstream free of hook or net. Of the 13 percent of wild springers that can be legally caught, 11 percent are reserved for Indian tribes. The Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissions will soon decide how to allocate the remaining 2 percent between non-tribal fishermen.
Even here at the river's mouth where all these salmon congregate, most who crave a taste of heaven each spring rely on commercial fishermen to provide the goods. Fun as it is to go out and catch your own, going to the fish market is a whole lot drier, more convenient and economical.
For many years, commercial, sport and charter fishermen have cooperated fairly well in looking out for the long-term survival of salmon runs. They have a common interest in protecting fishing against the electric utilities, irrigators and barge operators to whom the Columbia is primarily a tool for industry. It is sort of ironic but nevertheless true that fishermen are the salmon's best friends.
Some sport fishing interests are pushing for a hike in their spring chinook allocation - 70 percent for those who catch their salmon with a rod and reel versus 30 percent for those who net salmon for the rest of us.
Sport and commercial fishing both are important to the culture and economy of the Lower Columbia. Basic fairness suggests there should be equity between the two, a 50/50 split, particularly when it comes to spring chinook, the river's most valuable and sought-after fish.
All kinds of fishermen - and everyone who loves healthy salmon in the river and on the supper table - need to continue working together, not squabbling. We need to aim for big salmon runs again, not at each other.