Merle Hayes, Suquamish Tribe fisheries policy liaison, was awarded the 2018 Billy Frank Jr. Leadership Award at the recent Pacific Salmon Summit on March 19.
A lifelong tribal fisherman, Hayes spent his professional career advocating for salmon, their habitat and the overall health of Puget Sound.
“I believe everyone sitting in this room has a piece of the sound embedded in them, and the desire to do the right thing for its health,” he said in 2010, during talks about a Bainbridge Island cleanup.
He grew up on the water, first in Tulalip with his father, then in Grays Harbor with his uncle, salmon fishing and crabbing.
As an adult, he fished commercially in the Northwest and Alaska before returning to Tulalip and Suquamish, eventually earning a seat on Suquamish Tribal Council in 1979.
From 1996 until recently, he was the tribe’s fisheries policy liaison, and became known as a consensus builder during fisheries negotiations with federal, state and inter-tribal agencies, often during tense treaty negotiations.
“He had a way of bringing us all back to the table, and getting us to remember why we were all there in the first place,” said former Suquamish Fisheries Director Jay Zischke.
During his 22 years as fisheries liaison, Hayes mentored dozens of policy liaisons and advisers on both sides of the table
In addition to his work in fisheries, Hayes has been a leader in growing economic ventures for his tribe and served on the Port Madison Enterprises Board of Directors.
Though retired, he continues to be active in the community, attending elder gatherings and spending time with his children, who continue the family tradition as tribal fishermen.
Named for the treaty rights activist and longtime chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, the Billy Frank Jr. Leadership Award recognizes initiative, commitment and accomplishment in protecting tribal sovereignty and natural resources in western Washington.