The Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) has closed all its fisheries in Grays Harbor and Queets River due to low returns of wild coho salmon.

“Closing the fisheries was a tough decision,” said QIN President Fawn Sharp. “The closure will have serious consequences and substantial financial losses for our community, but it’s the right thing to do as stewards for future generations.”

QIN also declared an economic disaster for the fishery.

“We will be seeking economic relief for our fishermen and their families, as well as providing what support we can through the tribe,” Sharp said.

“As we do every year, we participated in all pre-season planning with our state and federal co-managers, through the North of Falcon and Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission processes,” said Quinault Fisheries policy spokesperson Ed Johnstone. “After analyzing all available data, we concluded that the actual run sizes of wild coho returning to the Queets River and Grays Harbor are so far below expectations that closure was warranted.

“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,” Johnstone said.

The Quinault Nation is working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage fisheries directed at other salmon and steelhead. WDFW has closed non-treaty fisheries in Grays Harbor and the Chehalis River and its tributaries. WDFW and the National Park Service have not announced decisions regarding sport fishing on the Queets River and its tributaries.

Johnstone said the “Godzilla-sized” El Nino has resulted in a warm blob of water off the coast that is believed to be partially at fault for the low returns. “These conditions are expected to linger for the next few months,” he said. With forecasts of drought and continuing adverse ocean conditions expected to severely impact food chains, QIN is concerned about the survival of the fish now in the ocean and those produced this year.

“Not only are few fish returning, but they are in poor physical shape,” Johnstone said. “There’s a lot at stake. We want to minimize the potential to dig ourselves in a hole that will be hard to get out of. The condition of wild coho stocks from the Queets and Grays Harbor will affect future Quinault and ocean fisheries for years to come.”

“These fish need a healthy ocean and we are facing severe challenges in the Pacific, ranging from acidification and sea level rise to storm events,” Sharp said. “We worry about the uncertainty of climate change impacts and developments like dams and oil terminals that could have disastrous consequences for the environment. We care about the Earth and the fish, wildlife, bugs, water, air and soil.

“These are not resources that can be wantonly exploited, but rather our relations that must be treated with honor and respect,” she added. “It’s not an easy job, but it’s one we must undertake, not only for Quinaults, but everyone.”