Tulalip Tribes Celebrate A Century of Cooperative Management

Around the turn of the last century, Tulalip paddlers delivered salmon to a state-run hatchery. Today, their descendents are helping deliver plentiful fish runs back to the waterways of Snohomish County.

One hundred years ago, when Tulalip Indians canoed the Snohomish River toward a fish hatchery operated by the State of Washington, they carried wild salmon for a nascent supplementation program. They also brought with them the origins of today’s forward-thinking resource management in the basin.

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Tulalip Tribes’ cooperative salmon enhancement program with the state.

“It’s a significant milestone,” said the Tulalip Tribes’ Fisheries and Wildlife Director Danny Simpson. “It shows that we have always been concerned with the future of fish runs, and been willing to work together to protect them.”

Hatcheries in the Snohomish basin provide recreational opportunities for sport anglers, income for commercial fishermen and hope for recovering imperiled chinook salmon. Joint hatchery programs and agreements with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on how the facilities are operated ensure that management practices are constantly improving.

“Co-management in this area is critical for our hatchery program,” said Simpson. “We rely on each other for so much, and our cooperative agreements are helping us achieve salmon recovery.”

The tribes have made innovative changes in hatchery policies after consultations between tribal biologists and some of the best state biologists. The Hatchery Scientific Review Group, an independent scientific panel established by Congress, has suggested that the Snohomish could serve as an example of joint action for all other watersheds to follow.

“In this region, we’ve been able to work well together for many, many years,” said the Tulalip Tribes’ Terry Williams. “By focusing on what works for fish, we’re able to put the most productive policies in place.”

Examples abound. To name a few:

– Following the best available science, the tribes and state have systematically adopted initiatives to preserve the genetic integrity of wild fish. The co-managers began phasing Green River fall chinook eggs out of Snohomish hatcheries in the 1990s, instead opting for local Skykomish summer chinook. By 2004, the tribes and the state were producing no hatchery fish with origins outside of the Snohomish basin.

– Using federal Hatchery Reform funding to the fullest, the tribes undertake various programs to increase fish survival rates. For instance, studies of otoliths (salmon ear bones) and tracking hatchery fish marked with coded wire tags offer valuable information for managers. Other improvements include a special net designed to prevent cormorants from preying on young fish.

– The Tulalip Tribes are also leaders in integrating wild stocks with hatchery broodstock. Though hatchery programs are fundamental to the long-term survival of certain fish runs, when a hatchery salmon mates with a wild fish, undesirable genetic traits may result in offspring. To minimize these risks, the tribes and the state follow federal Hatchery Reform guidelines closely, helping to preserve the genetic integrity of both the hatchery and the natural stock.

In a broodstock program, wild fish are captured and spawned by hatchery staff. The progeny are then reared in hatchery, resulting in increased survival rates for the fish after release. This type of supplementation program can be an effective means to boost dwindling runs of endangered fish.

In each arena of hatchery management, the tribes and WDFW work together. The protective net is a prime example: Tulalip staff came up with idea and secured funding; the state provided the labor and expertise to install the net.

“The co-managers here have made great strides in putting cutting-edge science into practice, and in monitoring to be sure what we’re doing works,” said Steve Young, manager of the Tulalip Tribes’ Bernie Kai Kai Gobin Salmon Hatchery. “These are mutually beneficial programs, since they’ll provide us with more fish now and in the future.”

At a time when salmon populations are flagging in many areas, robust hatchery production in the Snohomish system allows people to fish; while at the same time advancing the cause of salmon run restoration.

Today, 95-97 percent of the Tulalip Bay chinook caught are hatchery fish. Enabling people to fish on hatchery stocks instead of native fish makes wild salmon recovery more likely.

“The tribes and the state have managed to put together a fishery during a time of recovery and tremendous cutbacks. That’s a real achievement, and it benefits everyone in the area,” said Kit Rawson, senior harvest management biologist with the Tulalip Tribes.