September 24, 2002

Coastal treaty tribes will be especially hard hit by the sharp reductions in groundfish harvests off the Washington Coast this year.

Declining salmon runs and poor market conditions have been conspiring against the tribes for the past couple of decades. Now, just when they are beginning to access their treaty-reserved share of groundfish, deep harvest cuts must be made to address declining populations of some groundfish species.

Nonetheless, the Quileute, Hoh and Makah tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation will be doing their part to help protect and rebuild weak groundfish stocks.

The tribes will continue strict “trip limits” on their fishermen which limit the number of fish from depressed groundfish stocks that can be harvested incidentally during fisheries on healthy fish populations. Tribal fishermen targeting halibut, sablefish or whiting, for example, will be allowed only a small incidental harvest of a weak groundfish stock, such as yelloweye rockfish, before being required to stop fishing in a particular area.

The tribes also will implement additional time and location restrictions to further reduce potential effects on depressed groundfish populations. All of the potential impacts from the tribal groundfish fisheries fall well within the guidelines set by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

As a manager of the groundfish resource with the federal and state governments, the tribes want to work together to address a significant lack of data on groundfish populations coastwide. The data gaps result in the need for restrictive fisheries coastwide, regardless of regional differences in the health and abundance of some groundfish stocks.

A federally funded fishery observer program is needed to improve the knowledge – and management – of coastal groundfish stocks. Observers go out on fishing boats to collect data and monitor fisheries, providing important information on the health of groundfish stocks, as well as information on levels of bycatch in fisheries targeting other species.

Better data enables managers to make better management decisions. It also allows tailoring of management plans to take into consideration the differences that exist between groundfish populations from different areas along the coast. This is especially important to the tribes, who are limited to fishing only within their treaty-defined usual and accustomed fishing areas.

In the meantime, the tribes will continue to do their part – and more.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180