Coming to an agreement on the 2016-17 salmon fishing seasons has taken a small step in the right direction, but to say state and tribal fishery managers are close might still be a reach at this point.
“We are not there yet,” a spokesman with state Fish and Wildlife who is close to the negotiation process said on Tuesday to The Seattle Times.
While a lot has been swirling in the media in the past 24 hours on what progress has been made in talks, he says their department is struggling on how to accurately portray it to the public.
“Have we made some progress? Yes, (and) we’ve gotten closer and continue to talk (with the tribes),” he said.
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This is a sign of hope as talks fell apart during a meeting on April 27 in Fife – where around 60 representatives from state, tribal, NOAA Fisheries, and officials from the governor’s and attorney general’s office.
The problem now lies with how to cut-back on the catch and split it between sport and tribal fisheries of an expected poor return of Puyallup River chinook.
At the meeting state fishery managers offered an alternative proposal for sport fisheries with a 50 percent harvest cut on an expected poor Puyallup River return of 353 wild chinook and 3,708 hatchery fish.
The state cuts included a Carbon River sport fishery closure of two months during peak chinook arrival time; closing salmon fishing in south-central Puget Sound – known as Marine Catch Area 11 in the Tacoma area – from November through January; and a Commencement Bay closure.
These reductions come on top of those already made for an expected poor Puget Sound wild coho return.
A few days before the meeting, the tribes issued two additional packages the state needed to agree on in order to come to terms. Each included a much larger cut to the sport fishing package.
One tribal proposal called for a total sport fishing closure in the Puyallup and Carbon rivers; close the entire salmon season in south-central Puget Sound; close the hatchery-marked selective fishery in central Puget Sound from mid-July to mid-August; and a hatchery chinook catch quota reduction in northern Puget Sound from 3,260 to 2,500. The tribes offered to reduce their netting time on the Puyallup to just six hours of fishing, which is similar to recent years.
A second package called for the same freshwater and marine area closures with some slightly lower quotas for the few remaining sport openings in central Puget Sound. The Makah tribal winter troll fishery off the western edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca would be held to 4,500 chinook, which is still about double the average catch of the last 10 years.
In the meeting, the tribes did not propose any other closures to their net fisheries to meet conservation goals, which in turn lead to another stalemate between both parties.
Tribal officials Friday released the following statement from Puyallup Tribe chairman Bill Sterud to The Seattle Times last Friday:
“Salmon have been part of culture for thousands of years. The Tribal Council and our membership find it of great concern regarding the possible extinction of salmon. We will work to negotiate with the state in good faith, but we must all work together to solve this crisis. Increasing the number of fish (that) return each year is of the utmost importance to the Puyallup Tribe.”
A NOAA Fisheries representative who attended the meeting made an attempt to salvage the discussions, but was met with resistance.
“We appreciate the concern over the salmon catch sharing dispute between (state) Fish and Wildlife and the Treaty Indian fishing tribes in Puget Sound,” Will Stelle, the NOAA Fisheries regional administrator said in a statement on May 2. “The dispute has negative implications across the board for families, businesses and communities, Indian and non-Indian, and we are energetically encouraging the parties to work out their differences.”
“We strongly hope the co-managers are able to work it out, and we stand ready to help in any way we can, nonstop,” Stelle said. “If they do, the pathway for authorizing both tribal and non-Indian fishing under the ESA is clear.”
Both the tribes and state have filed permit for fisheries to NOAA Fisheries.
If an agreement can come to head both the sport and tribal fishing seasons could be saved and the process to get those seasons approved through the National Marine Fisheries Service will move much faster.
On May 4, 20 sport anglers gathered to protest a Swinomish tribal spring chinook gill-net fishery on the Skagit River. The fishery – which was consulted under Endangered Species Act as a federal action through the Bureau of Indian Affairs – allows tribal fishermen three, two-day openings in May.
NOAA Fisheries indicates this tribal fishery has limited impacts on spring chinook stocks of concern.
Another protest followed on May 5 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/National Marine Fisheries Service Office in Lacey drew an even larger crowd of 100 protesters waving placards emblazoned with “Equality, Fairness, Transparency; Above the Law?; Save Our Fisheries; Restore Fairness; and Common Sense Conservation.”
The silver lining to the current stalemate is both parties are on the same page about the need to bolster salmon stocks and improve the season-setting process.
State fishery has acknowledged the tribal need to address long-term resource management concerns, such as restoring habitat and increasing hatchery fish production.
All sport fishing for Puget Sound salmon and steelhead are closed until further notice. Marine fisheries not affected include lingcod, halibut, Pacific cod, cabezon and cutthroat trout, which are covered under a separate permit.
The closures also affect those who like to catch other species in freshwater areas that feed into Puget Sound such as Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish – two highly popular bass, perch and cutthroat fishing locations.
Rivers where at least sections, if not all, are closed to all fishing include the Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish. For an comprehensive list, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/pugetsound_salmon_update
Salmon fishing remains open in some sections of the Columbia River and its tributaries, and coastal rivers. A federal fishery council also approved a limited summer ocean salmon season set to begin July 1 at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.