For years, I’ve heard complaints about tribal fishing. Frankly, many people who complain about tribal fishing, or commercial fishing in general, have no understanding of treaty rights or how individual salmon stocks are managed.
Most don’t care about the work that goes into long-range management plans, preseason forecasts or computer models of harvest options, which make it possible to manage fisheries with concurrence of state, tribal and federal entities. Most folks with concerns wouldn’t think of accepting the public invitation to join the annual discussions about harvest.
Occasionally, however, someone raises a concern that resonates with managers and biologists who understand the issues. Such is the case with fishing in Tarboo Bay, a story I told in Friday’s Kitsap Sun.
It all comes down to a simple proposition: If salmon management plans are working, then why aren’t we getting more chum and coho into Tarboo Creek? Should we be content with ongoing productivity well below what the stream appears capable of supporting?
Putting politics aside, should the overall management plan for Hood Canal strive for some minimum escapement or maximum exploitation rate on individual streams? Oh, what a complex plan that would be! But if low escapement creates sustainability problems on any stream, then someone needs to take a serious look and not be hampered by plans that consider Hood Canal coho and chum as aggregate stocks for all Hood Canal.
Maybe we should elevate Tarboo Bay to a test case, first with some monitoring to determine the stock composition of the tribal beach seine in question. If it turns out that this is an all-or-nothing fishery, then one answer would be to move the closure line farther out into Dabob Bay, as managers for the state and two tribes agreed to do.
Beyond that, however, perhaps more attention should be given to individual streams, their carrying capacity and trade-offs between harvest and escapement. Interesting studies have been conducted for listed species and a few other stocks in Hood Canal. See “Mid-Hood Canal Juvenile Salmonid Evaluation…” But the need to improve escapements of all species remains a concern.
I’m tempted to say that this is an emperor-has-no-clothes moment when it comes to fisheries in Hood Canal, but I don’t believe that’s accurate. It may seem that everybody understands the problem and nobody wants to speak out. In reality, the problems are many; they vary from place to place; and lots of people are speaking out.
Maybe it is more like a house of cards that continues to grow. Many weaknesses are found in the structure, but only so many can be fixed at one time. So people just keep going, hoping for the best.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a management framework to address these kinds of issues. See “21st Century Salmon and Steelhead Initiative.” It seems like a good start, but the agency must not forget that restoration comes together stream-by-stream for harvest as well as for habitat.
Consider these goals, among others, spelled out in the initiative:
As local groups — including the tribes — work hard to remove barriers to salmon passage and improve habitat in specific streams, there is a growing recognition that individual streams can support more salmon than has been possible in the past. Maybe it is time to test the limits of the habitat for selected streams, understanding that decreased harvest in the short term could well translate to greater terminal fisheries in the future.
The Kitsap Sun published an editorial today about the Tarboo Bay fishery.