This fall there likely won’t be any coho fishing on the Stillaguamish River. And for the Stillaguamish Tribe, who are by treaty bound to fish only in their home river, this year’s low coho forecasts are a direct threat to their way of live.
Things are so bad this year, that if last year’s planned fisheries were put on the river this year, more than 100 percent of the Stillaguamish coho run would be caught.
The Everett Herald took a close look at how this year’s bad coho situation is deeply impacting the tribe:
To families in the tribe, the salmon population is more than numbers. Losing the salmon means losing their culture, Yanity said.
“They’ve always fed our people. They’re one of the links between us and the river,” he said. “They’re in our songs, they’re in our stories, they’re in our creation.”
Without enough fish in the river, the tribe can’t catch salmon to have at its ceremonies, to feed its elders or to teach the next generation where and how to fish. Each family has a place on the river to fish and salmon is one of the staples of the tribe’s traditional meals.
“I hear our elders say they’re hungry, they’re starving for that food,” Yanity said. “People don’t understand that. They say, ‘You have food at home.’ But our souls are hungry.”
The Stillaguamish Tribe is a terminal fishing tribe, meaning they fish as far as the mouth of the river, Yanity said. They’re the last stop on the salmons’ journey. Alaska, Canada and the Puget Sound are the first areas the salmon reach.
King 5 went out on the river with Yanity and a tribal biologist:
For the second year, the Stillaguamish Tribe is willing to give up fishing coho in order to protect the future.
“For 30 years, we’re watching our fisheries decline. Pretty soon we’re not going have anything,” said tribal chairman Shawn Yanity. “We start losing our link to our culture. The salmon are so closely linked to our life.”
Tribal and state salmon co-managers are currently negotiating this year’s fishing seasons in western Washington. Fishing seasons, if any, will be announced in early April.