Being Frank: Data Drives Fisheries Management

Being Frank is a monthly column written by the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. As a statement from the NWIFC chair, the column represents the interests and concerns of treaty Indian tribes throughout western Washington.

Cautious pre-season planning and careful in-season management by the tribal and state co-managers are paying off this fall with limited tribal and sport coho fisheries for surplus hatchery fish.

Drought and other effects of climate change – combined with low out-migration of juvenile fish and poor salmon food supplies in the ocean – resulted in 2015 having some of the lowest coho returns ever recorded in western Washington.

While this year’s final returns won’t be known for several months, it appears that some coho stocks are returning at levels higher than originally forecast. What’s more, most of the returning fish are bigger than those that struggled home last year.

Data drives fisheries management. The co-managers gather critical in-season data by conducting test fisheries and counting fish in terminal areas to determine if enough fish have returned to allow harvest without harming efforts to rebuild weak stocks.

Given the importance of data in fisheries management, we were surprised and disappointed by WDFW’s response when the vendor that operates its licensing sales system was hacked recently.

Forced to suspend the sale of licenses that require recreational harvesters to record their catch, WDFW chose to offer five “Free Fishing” days while the breach was investigated.

From Aug. 25-30, Washington anglers did not need a license to fish or crab in areas open to harvest. That’s reasonable, especially since most sport fishermen already had purchased a license with a catch record card.

However, WDFW also chose not to require recreational harvesters – even those who already had a license and catch record card – to record any harvest of salmon or crab.

That’s disappointing. It sends a message to anglers that their catch information really isn’t that important, at a time when it is more critical than ever.

Treaty tribal fishermen are required to sell their catch to licensed buyers who must report catches to the tribes within 24 hours. That information is often shared with the state co-managers on the same day it is collected.

We still haven’t received an estimate of salmon and crab harvested during the state’s “Free Fishing” days.

Salmon populations are declining steadily because we are losing their habitat faster than it can be restored. We need all the information we can get to help us manage salmon. We can’t afford to take a holiday. We must be as relentless in our efforts to restore the salmon resource as habitat loss is in causing its decline.


Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.