PORTLAND — Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribal fishers are making their way to the Columbia River after the tribes announced the first commercial gillnet fishery of 2021 opened Wednesday, June 16, according to a press release from the tribes.
The tribes will harvest summer chinook, sockeye and a small number of steelhead that will be available for purchase by the general public through the summer and fall.
“The tribal fishery on the Columbia River is a long-honored custom that can be traced back to ancient times when the rivers ran wild,” said Aja DeCoteau, interim executive director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Whether people come to the river to enjoy fresh Columbia River-caught fish or engage tribal fishers directly, the commercial fishery allows the public to enjoy a taste of history.”
Fisheries managers estimate 115,600 sockeye and 78,000 summer chinook will return to the Columbia River over the next few weeks. The peak runs will occur around the end of June, and the abundance may drop quickly, the release said.
Due to the pandemic, a number of guidelines and recommendations have been made both to the tribal fishers as well as those interested in buying salmon directly in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Those planning to visit the river to buy a salmon are encouraged to wear a mask and should expect to see fishers make social distancing accommodations. Many fishers now accept credit cards or mobile payment to avoid handling cash.
As a population that is extremely at-risk for developing complications from COVID-19, the tribes have been particularly cautious, and they encourage fish buyers to help in this effort to protect not only themselves, but the tribal community, as well.
Both treaty and non-treaty fishery catches have been agreed to as part of the U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement and will be adjusted throughout the season as the run sizes are updated. Besides chinook and sockeye, limited numbers of steelhead are available during the summer period. The tribal fishery is protected under treaties the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes signed with the federal government in 1855. These treaties reserved their rights to fish for ceremonial, subsistence and commercial uses at all usual and accustomed fishing places in the Columbia Basin.