Today the federal government determined there were commercial fisheries failures across the West Coast in recent years, including for treaty tribes in 2015. The fisheries disasters impacting the treaty tribes were centered on poor coho returns in 2015, but also included sockeye and coastal crab fisheries as well.

From the press release:

“The Commerce Department and NOAA stand with America’s fishing communities. We are proud of the contributions they make to the nation’s economy, and we recognize the sacrifices they are forced to take in times of environmental hardship,” said Samuel D. Rauch III, deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs, NOAA Fisheries. “We are committed to helping these communities recover and achieve success in the future.”

Under the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Commerce Secretary can determine a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster, which then provides a basis for Congress to appropriate disaster relief funding to provide economic assistance to affected fishing communities, including salmon and crab fishermen, affected by the disaster.

The impacted fisheries include:

  • Fraser River Makah Tribe and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe sockeye salmon fisheries (2014)

  • Nisqually Indian Tribe, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and Squaxin Island Tribe South Puget Sound salmon fisheries (2015)

  • Quinault Indian Nation Grays Harbor and Queets River coho salmon fishery (2015)

  • Quileute Tribe Dungeness crab fishery (2015-2016)

The treaty tribes took in-season action in the fall of 2015, oftentimes closing fisheries altogether, in reaction to lower than expected runs.

From December 2015:

The Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) saw such low coho returns that it halted fishing for all species in October.

“The closure will hurt our fishermen and reduce opportunity to harvest hatchery coho and other species, but the situation was so dire that Quinault Nation felt that even incidental impacts to wild coho need to be avoided at this point in the season,” said Ed Johnstone, QIN policy spokesman.

“We had expected low returns of natural-origin coho to the Queets River during pre-season planning, but actual returns appear to be well below the spawning escapement goal,” said Tyler Jurasin, QIN fishery operations manager.

The federal disaster declaration doesn’t have any impact until Congress allocates money toward relief. Once that happens the Department of Commerce plans to “work closely with members of Congress and affected states and tribes to develop a spending plan to support activities that would restore the fishery, prevent a similar failure, and assist affected communities.”