Quilcene Coho Salmon Fishery Helps Sustain Tribes’ Way Of Life

QUILCENE (Aug. 12, 2003) – Each summer, fishermen are lured to one of the most popular fisheries in western Washington. The goal is the same for everyone: catch coho salmon making their way back to the Big Quilcene River. But while most anglers come out for the sport, others are fishing primarily for a meal.

For several Treaty Indian tribes, the Quilcene hatchery coho fishery provides a source of food for families living on reservations, where unemployment can range as high as 80 percent. Harvested salmon also play a big role in the tribes’ traditional ceremonies.

“This subsistence fishery is vital to the tribes. Harvested coho salmon from the Big Quilcene provide food for tribal members: from the youngest to the oldest. And most importantly, this fishery preserves the tribes’ culture,” said Randy Harder, executive director of the Point No Point Treaty Council. The council is a natural resource management agency that serves the Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam tribes.

Recreational anglers and tribal fishermen share the same stretch of river during the coho sport fishery, which runs from Aug. 16 to Oct. 15. Hundreds of sport anglers licensed by the State of Washington fish the river each day. However, tribal participation during the Big Quilcene subsistence fishery is much smaller, about a dozen tribal members. Because there are only a few tribal fishermen, collectively taking only a small part of the total coho harvest, there is no limit on the number of coho they can catch daily.

“It’s important to remember that these tribal fishermen are not out there for the sport of catching a coho salmon, they are out there to provide a meal for their families,” Harder said. “And with so few subsistence fishermen on the river at one time, they barely make a dent in the hatchery coho run. So, there are more than enough coho salmon for everyone, Indians and non-Indians alike.”

Occasionally, when runs are large enough, the Treaty Council may authorize net fisheries, in which tribal fishermen primarily use dip nets, on surplus coho returning to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Quilcene National Fish Hatchery. The commercial fisheries, if any, are limited to the vicinity of the hatchery outfall, upstream of the U.S. Highway 101 crossing, away from the area open to recreational fishermen. Like the hook-and-line tribal subsistence fishery, the surplus harvest does not affect the recreational fishery or impact protected Hood Canal summer chum salmon. Hood Canal summer chum are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Over the past several years, the tribes have worked hard to help Hood Canal summer chum recover. The tribes and the State of Washington have in place a comprehensive summer chum recovery plan, which addresses harvest and hatchery management, as well as habitat protection and restoration measures.

“As co-managers of the salmon resource with the state, the tribes are committed to responsible fisheries management,” said Harder. “We want to give treaty fishermen the best opportunity to harvest salmon, but we also want to make sure we have abundant and healthy returns of salmon coming back to the Puget Sound each year. Plus, we need to protect threatened summer chum. Doing all that ensures fishing opportunities for everyone.”


For more information, contact: Randy Harder, executive director of the Point No Point Treaty Council, (360) 297-6500, [email protected]. Nick Lampsakis, finfish program coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council, (360) 297-6522, [email protected]. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, [email protected].