Via the Squaxin Island Tribe:

The Squaxin Island Tribe is calling foul on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for continuing a commercial chum salmon fishery despite deep doubts about the run.

The chum salmon runs in deep South Sound are all native stocks, and all managed for natural production.

“Today, the Department decided to continue its chum fishery, even though the escapement levels necessary to sustain the Kennedy Creek native stock is at less than 20 percent of what is expected at this time of year,” said tribal chair Arnold Cooper. “We decided some weeks ago not to fish, in order to ensure that enough fish returned to the river to spawn.”

Puget Sound tribes have harvested 50,000 chum. Despite warnings, and the unanimous recommendations of the tribal co-managers to stop, WDFW refuses to close the fishery and has now harvested 150,000 fish. For 2015-2017 combined the state commercial take has exceeded tribal harvest by more than 200,000 fish. Further, WDFW closed its Hood Canal fishery to non-Indian gillnetters and encouraged those fishers to move into Puget Sound, putting further pressure on the Kennedy Creek chum and increasing the risk that escapement will not be met.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife takes no lesson from the history of over-fishing stocks toward endangered status, Cooper said.

“Has the State learned nothing? The State wants to fish today and ignore tomorrow. It is irresponsible. When the co-manager alerts you to a problem in real fish, they need to stop telling us that the computer model says there is plenty of paper fish and there is no problem.”

The tribal and state co-managers largely agree on the estimated run size and have conducted in-season test fisheries to adjust the run size. The models that are used for management presume that a certain escapement will occur for a given run size. However, the expected escapement is more than two weeks overdue with no fish at or near the river mouth.

“The state ignores the warning, on the hope that the rains will come, the rivers will rise, and the fish will show up. The tribe hopes that is so, but is not willing to risk the run,” Cooper said.

“The Department’s mission is to “preserve, protect and perpetuate fish .., while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities,” Cooper said. “The Tribe has asked the Department to live up to its mission statement and stop fishing the Kennedy Creek chum run. The department has refused. That is wrong. The department’s actions are a direct threat to the perpetuating the native run and to having a sustainable fishery. The Department must stop,” he said.

A chum salmon found on the bank of Kennedy Creek during a Squaxin Island tribal spawning survey. Photo: E. O’Connell.