An estimated 200,000 anglers held Puget Sound salmon licenses during the 2014-15 fishing season.
For the first time in 30 years, state and tribal fishery managers failed to develop a joint plan for the 2016-17 Puget Sound salmon fishing season, effectively closing all of Puget Sound and some lakes and rivers.
“The door remains open (for more discussions with the tribes),” said Ron Warren, the state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy manager. “The tribes and (state) in different ways offered packages that met the conservation objectives, but we couldn’t reach agreement on them.”
This left many — an estimated 200,000 anglers held Puget Sound salmon licenses during the 2014-15 fishing season — questioning what led to this unprecedented situation.
During a meeting April 27 in Fife — around 60 representatives from state, tribal, NOAA Fisheries and officials from the offices of the governor and attorney general — plans were laid out for additional cuts needed to reach an agreement.
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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 made for an expected poor Puget Sound wild coho return.
“We have been in step to meet the conservation objectives for coho and chinook, and yet there is no recognition for that,” said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association in Seattle.
“Something very fundamental is missing in the latest negotiations where the tribes over time have increased their attempt to manage the recreational fisheries,” Floor said. “To the contrary the state doesn’t attempt to manage the tribal fisheries, but yet (the tribes) are deep in the wheelhouse to manage our fisheries.”
A few days before the meeting, the tribes issued two additional packages the state needed to agree on to come to terms. Both 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, closure of the salmon season in south-central Puget Sound, closure of 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 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 about double the average catch of the past 10 years.
Tribal officials Friday released the following statement from Puyallup Tribe chairman Bill Sterud to The SeattleTimes:
“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.”
In the meeting, the tribes did not propose any other closures to their net fisheries to meet conservation goals, which in turn led to another stalemate.
A NOAA Fisheries representative who attended the meeting made an attempt to salvage the discussions but was met with resistance.
The tribal permit for fisheries has been filed to NOAA Fisheries, and the state sent its permit for sport fisheries Friday.
The state permit could take much longer for federal approval than the tribal plan, but neither route will be easy because both groups have not settled on how to share the catch.
This past week, attorneys for the state and tribe met to and hope to revive talks.
On Wednesday, 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.
Another protest Thursday at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/National Marine Fisheries Service Office in Lacey drew a crowd of 100 protesters waving placards emblazoned with “Equality, Fairness, Transparency; Above the Law?; Save Our Fisheries; Restore Fairness; and Common Sense Conservation.”
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.