Yakima River fishery goes on

YAKIMA -- Last week, Yakima River anglers wrapped up their sixth sport fishing season on spring chinook in the last decade.

People doubted the Yakima/Klickitat Fisheries Project dreamers who believed they could reconstruct Yakima River spring chinook runs to sustainable -- and even fishable -- levels.

"They thought we were crazy," said Yakama Nation fisheries research biologist Dave Fast.

Marvin Nelson's engineers had their qualms. Nelson was Bonneville Power Admin-istration's project manager on the early-1990s process that resulted in the construction of the Cle Elum Supple-mentation and Research Facility and the revamping of the river's dams to enhance fish passage.

"I'm sitting there at my desk and I'm justifying to my chief engineers why we were going to build a hatchery in Cle Elum," recalled Nelson.

The answer was simple. BPA was "getting beat up in the Portland papers because there were no fish in the Columbia River," Nelson said.

Anglers, state fish managers and tribal leaders all wanted to see proactive measures. But when Nelson began the process of finding a site for the hatchery -- for which BPA would put up the money -- he had to convince agricultural communities up and down the Yakima River that this was a good thing.

"They thought we were going to take their water away from them. That was their big fear," Nelson said.

Even with the delayed and smaller-than-forecast spring returns to the Columbia River system in recent years, the efforts to reestablish the Yakima River runs have been phenomenally successful.

The average Prosser count between 1990 and 1999, before the first arrivals of spring chinook spawned at the Cle Elum hatchery, was 2,632.

Since then, the average return has been nearly 10,000.