Skokomish Tribe ‘Outraged’ Over Closure of Shellfish Beds Due to Sport Fishery

SKOKOMISH – The Skokomish Tribe is outraged that human waste from sport fishermen angling in the Skokomish River has led to the closure of an important tribal shellfish harvest site in Annas Bay, near the mouth of the river.

Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of non-Indian anglers have been fishing for salmon, mostly chinook, since Aug. 1; the river has been open for non-salmon species since early June. Salmon sport fishing in the river is scheduled to continue through mid-December.

The Washington Department of Health (DOH) cited “human waste from sport fishers” as the reason for the closure, which will remain in place indefinitely. Officials from DOH and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) were scheduled to tour the river and tidelands today.

“The fact that the Skokomish Tribe must close an important shellfish harvest area as a direct result of non-Indian activities that are authorized by WDFW is an outrage and violates the tribe’s treaty rights,” said Skokomish Tribal Chairman Charles “Guy” Miller.

The area that is now closed, known as Potlatch East, is a harvest area for the tribe and includes tribally owned tidelands. The tribe currently has more than 170,000 oysters available for harvest on the beaches affected by the closure. In addition, plans to open tidelands along the eastern portion of Annas Bay, which have been closed for years, have now been shelved indefinitely as a result of the contamination.

The tribe recommends the following actions:

  • An immediate closure of the recreational fishery in the Skokomish River until the current emergency shellfish closure is lifted,
  • Clean-up of human waste and garbage along the Skokomish River from Purdy Creek downstream to the culvert replacement project site on U.S. highway 106,
  • Implementation of a public awareness campaign prior to the re-opening of the recreational fisheries,
  • Placement of adequate portable toilets and garbage facilities in key locations prior to the re-opening of the sport fishery,
  • Adequate numbers enforcement officers to reasonably assure compliance of fishers in the recreational fishery.

The problem isn’t new, tribal officials said. In 2003, DOH and WDFW addressed the problem in a report entitled “Skokomish River Detailed Implementation Plan for Fecal Coliform Bacteria,” which addressed the pollution issue and potential solutions.

“We think it is particularly important that the recreational fishery in this area be closed immediately to prevent the problem from getting any worse,” Miller said. “The area also needs to be cleaned up. Simply waiting for floodwaters to flush the area is an unacceptable return to the philosophy of ‘dilution is the solution.’ The tribe is working hard to eliminate sources of fecal and nutrient contamination in Hood Canal. This contamination contributes to poor water quality leading to beach closures and oxygen depletion and we need some cooperation from WDFW.”

The small number of Skokomish tribal fishermen who harvest salmon in the lower river do not contribute to the problem, tribal officials said.

“Our people are taught to respect themselves and the environment in which they live. You take care of your needs before and after you go out, and don’t use the riverbank as your bathroom,” Miller said.


For more information, contact: Charles “Guy” Miller, Skokomish Tribal Chairman, at (360) 426-4232 or [email protected] ; Joseph Pavel, Skokomish Tribe Director of Natural Resources at (360) 877-5213 or [email protected]; Dave Hererra, Skokomish Tribe Fish Policy Analyst, at (360) 877-2100 ext. 2070 or [email protected]; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or [email protected].