Salmon must survive to swim up little streams, too

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.

Tarboo Bay
Washington Department of Ecology photo

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:

    • — Expand selective fisheries to increase opportunities for recreational and commercial fishing on hatchery fish and reduce the harvest of wild salmon.
      — Implement in-season DNA stock identification to direct fishing to areas with low impacts on wild salmon.
      — Improve fishery monitoring to assure that impacts to wild fish are accurately assessed.
      — Ensure compliance with fishing regulations.
      — Monitor numbers of juvenile fish that migrate to marine areas and adult fish that return to fresh water to spawn to determine effectiveness of conservation and recovery actions.
      — Work with our tribal co-managers in each watershed to develop joint state/tribal hatchery and harvest management objectives and plans.
      — Coordinate law enforcement with our tribal partners.
  • 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.

    5 thoughts on “Salmon must survive to swim up little streams, too

    1. I think the “Intent’ behind judge Bolt’s decision was for sustinence of the tribes, not commercial harvesting….and maybe it’s time for a judge to revisit that decision, because if we don’t, it may be 20 years we have no small salmon swimming up small creeks.

      I see the geo-duck harvests come into brownseville and it looks like a wholesale slaughter, boatload after boatload…

      I’m all for fair rights to the Natives but maybe there needs to be some accountability.

    2. Another great a article. It does a good job bring to light how politics and science use each other for there very own existence, not for the benifit of the salmon. I look forward to your next article.

    3. I checked the Watershed Resource Inventory Assessment for Quilcene – Snow, to which the Tribes were part of the Planning Unit Members (adopting the recommendations of the report), and a number of actions have been adopted for Tarboo Creek that support salmon habitat restoration and conservation, now and into the future. I also found that Tarboo is the one of only two significant tribs to Dabob Bay, so I can see why people are interested in it.

      I am trying to see where the discussion of how the Tribes decided not to support a larger ‘no fishing” zone in Tarboo Creek fits in. It seems to speak more to the harvest of the salmon….and Treaty rights. If we are going to discuss harvest of salmon, shouldn’t we include everyone who takes a bite of that pie – recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, and illegal fishing? Oh, and don’t forget natural and unnatural mortality…

      Don’t mean to speak for any Tribes…but it seems like they do support habitat restoration and conservation actions in Tarboo Creek to retain salmon, just are not supportive of this proposal to limit their fishing rights.

      Also, if you think that “most don’t care” what goes into long range management plans, then I would argue the general public is willfully ignorant of the history and purpose of Watershed Resource Inventory Assessments, and perhaps you should remind them of how valuable they are by doing a brief article on them. Relate them to Salmon Recovery, PSP, and other conservation planning actions.

    4. Judge Boldt’s decision allows tribes to first take fish for ceremonial and subsistence purposes, then 50% of the remainder that is deemed harvestable. The 50% was determined later (after US v. Oregon), as Judge Boldt originally said a “fair” amount.

      The treaties between the US and the tribes do not give the tribes fishing rights. Rather, those rights were the tribes’ rights and that the tribes gave up some of their rights to the fish by agreeing to share them. They also gave up any claims to land.

    5. I’m catching up on my correspondence. Let me reply briefly to the four comments above:

      1. Scott Turchin: Judge Boldt was very deliberate in his finding that treaty tribes are entitled to half the harvestable salmon. It’s been 20 years since I wrote a brief summary of Boldt’s findings (PDF 5 mb) in “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk,” but you may find it interesting. If you have any doubt about Boldt’s reasoning, I urge you to read his ruling, (U. S. v. State of Wash., 1974) for yourself. I urge everyone who cares about this issue to sit back and carefully read what the judge said. If it’s been awhile, as it has for me, it may be worth reading again.

      2. Phil Klopfstein: If your point is that science and politics can be abused, I agree. But if people put aside their emotions and respectfully deal with the facts, they can overcome most problems.

      3. Groovyjoker: The tribes have been very supportive of habitat restoration. I could provide many examples. They generally believe that far more needs to be done, and you won’t get many arguments from those who know about salmon habitat. Harvest, which is managed jointly by the state and tribes, is mainly a numbers game. Nobody’s to blame for this. We just need to step back and see what’s working for individual streams.

      4. Old Galoot: You are correct about the tribes having the right to all the fish before settlers arrived. Their treaties guaranteed them the right to continue fishing forever at all their “usual and accustomed” places, provided they move peacefully to reservations for their homes. But you should check the links I’ve listed above, for it was Boldt who said “fish in common with” meant 50 percent, and he gave his reasons why.

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