Our state’s approach to salmon recovery isn’t working. At a government-to-government meeting on Oct. 24, Gov. Jay Inslee asked Lummi Nation representatives if we disagree with the way salmon recovery money is being spent. The answer is yes.

A year ago, we asked for the state’s help to prevent another fish die-off. We had declared a disaster in September 2021 after more than 2,500 chinook salmon — listed under the Endangered Species Act — died outside our Skookum Creek hatchery facility.

Our successful hatchery conservation program rescued these imperiled fish from the brink of extinction — just 13 fish returned in 2011. We were expecting 3,000 chinook, but the record-breaking heat dome amplified existing low flow and lethal temperatures in the South Fork Nooksack River, resulting in the majority dying before they could spawn.

The few that survived to build redds and lay eggs were then hit by devastating high flows in the November 2021 flood that wiped out most of the salmon nests.

We called for the state to develop a crisis team. We outlined the urgent need for tribes to have additional capacity and salmon restoration resources to prevent this from happening again.

We might have been able to prevent the salmon die-off in the first place if South Fork Nooksack River habitat projects ranked higher on the lists prioritizing how recovery money is spent. We watched road relocations receive millions of dollars in funding, while we received nothing in the aftermath of a salmon emergency.

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During the past year, we sought funding from the governor, the state Legislature and the federal government. We made presentations. We engaged with the Puget Sound Partnership’s various processes, boards, councils and lead entities.

The lack of response was just as astonishing as the die-off itself.

And once again this year, we saw several hundred chinook die on the South Fork Nooksack River before they could spawn.

Treaty tribes in Western Washington have been comanaging salmon fisheries with the state since federal Judge George Boldt’s 1974 ruling in U.S. v. Washington, which reaffirmed our treaty-reserved right to 50% of harvestable salmon.

Every year, state and tribal comanagers work through the North of Falcon season setting process to develop precise salmon harvest plans, down to the single fish.

The Lummi Nation also worked with our comanagers to develop a 10-year hatchery production plan with the goal of recovering salmon to mid-1980s numbers — not just for our community, but to benefit nontribal fishers as well as threatened southern resident orcas and the ecosystem as a whole.

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We need the same comanagement approach to salmon habitat restoration and protection. Tribes should be directing 50% of the funding to salmon recovery projects that we know will work.

The answer is not to spend more money to create more processes. Tribes shouldn’t be competing for funding with stakeholders. We are co-managers and sovereign governments who should receive directed — not competitive — funding.

We did not cause this salmon crisis. It began with settlers who cut the once-abundant trees to the river’s edge to make way for houses, farms, businesses, dams and roads. That led to an even more destructive, pollution-based economy. The environmental damage continues today, made worse by climate change, and now we are losing salmon habitat faster than we can restore it.

The Lummi people — the Lhaq’temish — are the people of the sea. We will never give up fighting for an abundance of salmon for future generations. But we are watching our salmon go extinct right before our very eyes. Tribes need fewer barriers to funding and our state partner’s help to access the resources we need to recover salmon.