Tribal fishermen return to Willamette Falls

06.04.2019 Danielle Frost Culture, Natural resources
Tribal member Jade Unger holds a salmon he caught at Willamette Falls in May. Tribal fishermen are returning to the falls in pursuit of 12 more salmon to reach the Tribe's state-sanctioned limit of 15. (Contributed photo)

By Danielle Frost

Smoke Signals staff writer

WEST LINN -- Tribal fishermen are returning to Willamette Falls this week on Tuesday, June 4, and Thursday, June 6, hoping to catch the remaining state-sanctioned allotment of 15 ceremonial salmon.

Three salmon have been caught so far with dipnets extended from a removable platform. This week, the fishermen are in pursuit of spring Chinook and summer steelhead.

The Tribe has until July 31 to catch its allotment, per an agreement with the state, but will not be able to reach the platform for that long due to decreasing river levels, Fish & Wildlife Program Manager Kelly Dirksen said.

“We have been averaging two trips a week to the falls,” he said. “Dropping river levels are likely to curtail our efforts here pretty soon, probably within the next two weeks.”

Chinook salmon should run through the end of July and summer steelhead runs will start this month and are expected to continue through July.

There are 13 fishermen, but not all of them have been out to the falls yet this season. Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier caught the first salmon, which was cooked and eaten at the Tribal plankhouse achaf-hammi in early May.

On Tuesday, Tribal fishermen caught another fish, bringing the total so far up to four.

Before fishing could begin this year, Tribal staff first had to reattach a platform, built last fall, to a rock outcropping at the falls. This involved the challenging task of ferrying the structure across rushing water from the Oregon City side of the falls to the West Linn side.

The structure was designed in consultation with the Tribe’s Cultural Resources staff and Tribal fishermen. Having a removable platform allows the Tribe to take fish at the culturally appropriate time of year, instead of later in the season when water levels are lower and rocks for fishing are exposed.

The Tribe’s connection to the falls and river dates back to time immemorial. Willamette Falls, or “ikanum” in Chinuk, is within the ancestral homelands of the Chinookan-speaking Clackamas and Clo-We-Walla peoples relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation after signing the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855.