October 18, 2002
Treaty Indian salmon fishermen are struggling. There’s no market for our product.
We can’t compete with cheaper farmed Atlantic salmon, even though everyone knows that our Pacific salmon is better – better tasting and better for you.
All of our salmon comes onto the market in about a six-month period. Then it’s gone. Farmed salmon – from Chile and Norway and elsewhere – is heavily subsidized by those countries and is available year round. Restaurants and grocery stores like farmed salmon because it’s uniform in size and color. It can be sent almost anywhere in the world overnight. And it’s cheap.
Forget about the fact that these pen-reared fish are treated with hormones and chemicals, or that the flesh of these fish is dyed to make it more appetizing.
I’ve heard some folks say there’s not much point to continuing salmon recovery efforts – or producing salmon in hatcheries – if we can’t even sell the fish we catch.
But salmon management isn’t based on market demands. The tribes and State of Washington – as co-managers of the resource – are not going to change our approach based on the price of salmon.
The tribes will continue their salmon recovery efforts. It is not a choice. There must be salmon in this place all of us call home.
We will continue producing salmon in our hatcheries. We use hatcheries for more than just producing fish for fishermen to catch. They are nurseries to help increase the survival of weak wild salmon stocks whose habitat is being battered by urban sprawl, deforestation and pollution. We manage hatcheries and the fish they produce as part of an entire ecosystem. Over time, as naturally spawning runs rebuild, our hatcheries may play smaller roles.
Our tribal cultures aren’t based on selling fish either.
We fill our smokehouses and our freezers with salmon. We give our fish away to our neighbors and to food banks. We return salmon carcasses to the rivers and bays where they provide nutrition to other creatures. It is only recently that some people have begun to measure the value of salmon in dollars and cents.
We fish because we are fishermen. We have always been fishermen.
Yes, we would prefer to make some money for our efforts. We have families to support, too. But even if we don’t make money at it, we will still fish. It’s who we are.
We will not stop trying to restore wild salmon stocks. To do that would be to deny our heritage, our culture, our identity, and the needs of future generations. That we will not do. Ever.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
For more information, contact: Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180, [email protected]