HOODSPORT (Nov. 19, 2004) – A joint project between the Skokomish Tribe and a Bellingham fish processor is helping protect marine life by keeping hatchery chum salmon carcasses out of oxygen-starved Hood Canal during tribal salmon fisheries this fall.

“The tribe wants to do what it can to help Hood Canal,” said Dave Herrera, fisheries director for the Skokomish Tribe. “By taking as many chum salmon carcasses out of the canal as possible, we might be able to help decrease the chances of further low dissolved oxygen problems. But carcasses are only a small part of the problem. An increase of nutrients into the canal from septic systems, agricultural practices and storm-water runoff will continue to pose a much greater threat to marine life in Hood Canal.”

Prompted by the canal’s oxygen problem, the tribe and American-Canadian Fisheries Inc. have developed a pilot project that will put the carcasses to good use. All male chum salmon harvested by tribal fishermen can be dumped into net pens on the fishing grounds. American-Canadian will process the male chum salmon, which will be donated to food banks or used for pet food.

Tribal fishermen also can sell female chum salmon to American-Canadian, or sell just the salmon roe – eggs – to the company. American-Canadian will process all salmon the company purchases.

Tribal fishermen have the opportunity to sell their product to other buyers. Carcasses that are not purchased will be disposed of at a designated site on the Skokomish Tribe’s reservation. Those carcasses will be mixed with wood chips and used to create compost for the tribe’s timberland and community garden.

Every fall, Indian fishermen harvest chum salmon returning to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Hood Canal Hatchery at Hoodsport. Salmon markets in the United States have been flooded in recent years with farmed Atlantic salmon from Canada, Chile and other countries, driving down prices and market opportunities for Indian and non-Indian fishermen in western Washington and all along the West Coast. Unable to sell their catch of chum salmon, tribal fishermen have turned to the roe market where salmon eggs can fetch $5 per pound.

Because the current market for chum lies not in the flesh but in the eggs, treaty fishermen strip the eggs from the fish. This results in tens of thousands of carcasses requiring disposal, even after thousands of the fish have been frozen or smoked by tribal members or given away to regional food banks. Those remaining salmon carcasses are returned to the canal – a standard enhancement practice in natural resource management.

Plants, insects, wildlife and even other fish benefit from the nutrients that the carcasses provide as they decompose. Hood Canal, however, is desperately starved for the oxygen that is required to break down salmon carcasses. This is because most of the oxygen is used in dissolving high levels of nutrients deposited daily by thousands of septic systems lining the canal, as well as nutrients from storm-water and agricultural runoff.

For thousands of years, salmon have returned to the streams of Hood Canal to spawn and die. Today, however, oxygen levels in the canal can no longer support the natural process of decomposition. Because of the oxygen problem, the tribe is forced to look at other disposal options for the chum salmon carcasses.

“The tribe is very concerned about the low oxygen problem, and we are going to step up and do what we can to resolve this issue,” Herrera said. “We expect local governments, with the help of the federal government and the State of Washington, to address the problems caused by septic systems, agricultural practices and storm-water runoff.”

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For more information, contact:Dave Herrera, fisheries director for the Skokomish Tribe, (360) 877-5213, davidh@skokomish.org. Keith Dublanica, natural resources director for the Skokomish Tribe, (360) 877-5213, keith@skokomish.org. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, dfriedel@nwifc.org.