Tribes, State Unable to Reach Agreement on Puget Sound Fisheries

Despite extended negotiations, treaty tribal and state salmon co-managers were unable to reach agreement today on a package of salmon fisheries for Puget Sound. The impasse means that the co-managers will seek separate federal permits for salmon fisheries in Puget Sound this year.

“We are disappointed that we were unable to reach agreement with our state co-managers,” said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“Discussions today centered on a proposal from the Puyallup Tribe to the governor’s office and NOAA Fisheries that met management objectives for Puyallup, Nisqually and Mid-Hood Canal chinook populations under NOAA’s guidance document,” said Fred Dillon, natural resources policy representative for the Puyallup Tribe. “Although it closed some fisheries, it still provided harvest opportunities for both parties.”

Tribal fisheries will be greatly reduced this year as poor returns of chinook and chum are expected. Coho returns are expected to be at historic low levels. Tribes will close all directed coho fisheries except in a few terminal areas with harvestable returns of hatchery fish.

“In some cases tribes are giving up ceremonial and subsistence fisheries that are a cornerstone of our cultures,” Loomis said. “But this year is not about salmon harvest. It is about conserving the salmon for future generations.”

What is needed is commitment from the state co-manager to a long-term strategy to increase production of both hatchery and wild salmon, Loomis said, adding that habitat must be at the center of the effort.

“Hatchery and wild fish rely on the same habitat for most of their lives, and that habitat is being lost faster than it can be restored,” Loomis said. “Our treaty rights are at risk because salmon are disappearing right along with their habitat.”

Tribes are not responsible for the decades of salmon habitat loss and damage, Loomis said, yet they are expected to share equally in the consequences.

“There is a direct connection between salmon habitat and fishing opportunity,” she said. “We can’t expect salmon to thrive while their habitat continues to be lost and damaged.”

Tribes have documented habitat loss in western Washington in the soon-to-be-released 2016 State of Our Watersheds report. The 2012 report is available here.