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Tribes return to Tri-Cities to sell chinook salmon

This story was published Saturday, September 10th, 2005

By Anna King, Herald staff writer

Five-year-old Larissa McConville balanced a tiny translucent salmon egg on the tip of her index finger with great concentration.

"Look mom!" she cried. "There's a baby in here!"

The tiny girl kept staring Friday at the bright orange orb with her sparkling dark eyes as her mother, Kris Sampson, looked on and smiled.

Larissa is the tiniest member of a fishing family from Lyle, Wash. Everyone, including Larissa, helps haul in and sell the king salmon from the Columbia River each fall.

She and her sister Charice, 12, helped their mother sell salmon from their silver minivan in the Columbia Point parking lot in Richland on Friday afternoon. Larissa's father and two brothers were on the river catching even more fish to sell.

"They've had some over 40 pounds -- monsters," said Kris Sampson.

Tribal officials say this year's fall chinook run -- about 464,700 fish -- is less than predicted but still fair. They had been apprehensive after the spring return fell short of what was expected.

And Oregon and Washington wildlife officials are trying to help the salmon all they can in a drought year when tributaries and rivers are running lower than usual. They are removing barriers in streams, releasing water from reservoirs to increase flow in rivers and improving habitat.

This week, the run of kings up the river has strengthened noticeably, Sampson said and her husband has been very busy. However, she said Friday's winds made conditions dangerous and whipped up whitecaps on the Columbia.

Larissa appeared to enjoy the parking lot salmon sales, helping unload the large fish from icy coolers and into plastic garbage bags for customers. They had 30 salmon to sell before the family returned home.

The long trip to the Tri-Cities this particular day was partly work and partly fun. A flat tire delayed the family in The Dalles, but they had stopped earlier for a cool dip in the Columbia. A fluffy pink towel was still drying, draped over the van's rearview mirror.

The family's fish sales are important. The upper river brights, which sell for $3 a pound, make up about 30 percent of their income.

Sampson and her husband have other jobs, but the entire family pitches in and puts in extra hours during salmon season.

Although Larissa's family won't be selling salmon at Columbia Point today, other tribal families will be selling fish from Bonneville to the Tri-Cities for the next few weeks.

Sales are usually cash only and buyers should be ready with a cooler.

So far, about 180,869 adult Chinook have passed over Bonneville Dam, along with 228,000 summer steelhead and 27,000 coho, said Stuart Ellis, a Portland-based harvest management biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Ellis said he and other fish biologists initially had been worried that the run might not materialize.

While this return of kings is smaller than last year's bumper run of 662,000 fish, it's still respectable, he said. Tribal fishermen should be working the river until the end of September, he said.

-- For more information about how to buy salmon from tribal fishing families, call 1-888-289-1855 or visit www.critfc.org.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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