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Ecology and salmon related articles

Tribal, Commercial Salmon Seasons Set

by Barry Espenson, Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 20, 1999

The Columbia River Compact Tuesday approved a non-Indian "2S" salmon fishery that spans a 10-hour period from 8 p.m. Aug. 23 until 6 a.m. Aug. 24 as well as two tribal fishing periods.

The Compact left open the possibility that the 2S fishery could be reopened Aug. 25 if the catch during the initial 10-hour period fell short of the proposal's harvest target. The 2S fishery is below Bonneville Dam from Beacon Rock to Light 50.

Dennis Austin of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Bernie Bohn of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife represent their states on the Compact, created by Congress to establish Columbia River mainstem commercial fishing seasons.

"That's the best quality fish" and the only fishing option open to non-tribal commercial fishers that's economically viable, Les Clark of the Northwest Gillnetters Association told the Compact.

He and other non-tribal fishers who testified said they preferred to fish now, rather than wait for a late September fishery when most of the upriver brights are gone and when worries about Endangered Species Act impacts might preclude a fishery.

"There's no guarantee what's going to happen in September," said Jack Marincovich of the Columbia River Fish Protective Union and Salmon for All. The fish migrating now have good market value, he said.

"We better take this little bit we've got now" and hope the Compact can also provide non-tribal fisheries later, he said.

The approval of the 2S fishery prompted a change in strategy for the four Columbia River treaty tribes.

An initial tribal gill net period was submitted and approved beginning at 6 a.m. on Aug. 31 and closing at 6 p.m. on Sept. 3. The proposal includes a "small sanctuary," a 150-foot radius around the Spring Creek hatchery fish ladder that encourages the harvest of chinook tules bound for the hatchery.

The tribes in a 1999 management agreement reached with the states said they would attempt to take advantage of a surplus of harvestable tules estimated at 61,000 -- triple the 1998 run and the highest since 1982.

The tribes came to the Compact Tuesday with a proposal for two fishing periods with the smaller sanctuary in force for both, shifting the pressure more toward the tules and less toward the upriver bright run that includes threatened Snake River fall chinook.

But with the approval of the non-Indian 2S fishery, the tribes changed their proposal to include a larger sanctuary -- a half-mile upstream and 1 1/2 miles downstream -- and expanded the second fishing period from 3.5 to 4.5 days. The second fishing period would be from Sept 7 to Sept. 11. The management agreement gave the tribes the option of employing the larger sanctuary if the 2S fishery was implemented.

"We wanted to provide an additional day of opportunity for treaty fishermen," said Randy Settler, the treaty tribes' spokesman at the Compact.

The tribes anticipate catching 13,000 chinook during the first period -- 5,400 upriver, 1,200 Mid-Columbia and 6,400 Bonneville hatchery fall chinook -- and 2,300 steelhead, including 350 wild "A" and 70 wild B ESA-listed fish. The latest forecast calls for a return of 55,000 A steelhead, the highest since 1991, but only 4,000 from the B component of the listed "evolutionarily significant unit," about average for recent years. The B index fish are those 78 centimeters or longer mostly bound for Snake River tributaries in Idaho.

The second fishing period (the revised proposal), approved by the Compact estimates a catch of 25,000 fall chinook -- 8,400 upriver and 1,900 Mid-Columbia brights, 14,700 Bonneville pool tules and 4,000 steelhead including 600 A and 160 B fish. The initial proposal with the smaller sanctuary would have been a 3.5-day period Sept. 7-10 with a 7,300 brights and 15,500 tules anticipated in the catch, along with 490 A and 130 B steelhead.

The chair of the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, Bill Bosch of the Yakama Indian Nation, said the anticipated catch for the two tribal fishing periods would represent a 13.5 percent upriver bright impact and a 5.8 percent impact on B steelhead.

"It goes to the value of the fish," Bosch said of the tribes' switch to the larger sanctuary, which prevents a honing in on returning tules and likely results in the netting for a higher ratio of the more marketable upriver fish.

The Compact meets again Sept. 2 to assess the cumulative impact of sport and commercial fisheries to that date on listed species. New tribal proposals are expected when the compact meets Sept 10.

The fall chinook catch in the Columbia is limited, and allocated, through a variety of measures. A management agreement in effect from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31 calls for a 30 percent reduction in the harvest of threatened Snake River fall chinook based on a 1988-1993 base period. That Snake River fall chinook impact is to be judged based on a 31.29 harvest rate index of the aggregate upriver bright chinook run.

The management agreement fishing plan was judged by a National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinion issued earlier this month as not posing jeopardy to stocks. To keep within those ESA bounds, the treaty fishery will be managed not to exceed a 15 percent take of wild Group B index steelhead bound for the Snake River and its tributaries. The Snake River Basin steelhead listed as threatened are snared in commercial nets along with fall chinook.

The agreement reached by parties to U.S. v Oregon follows case law by providing for a tribal harvest of 50 percent of the harvestable surplus for the river's fisheries. It also allots a non-Indian fishery impact, including sport and commercial, of 8 percent of the upriver bright run.

The agreement also allows in-season adjustments that shifts 2 percent of the non-Indian bright impact to treaty fisheries if higher than expected returns are realized. A higher than forecast return would seemingly allow more harvest but the impact on Snake River fall chinook is limited to that 1988-1993 base period harvest. So a high return means the impact on Snake River fall chinook could limit the tribal catch.

The 2S discussion focused on whether time, or the number of fish caught, were intended as the limiting factor. The non-tribal fishery proposal put forward by joint staff (Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments) was for a total chinook catch of 2,500. The stock composition goal is 1,100 upriver brights, 800 Bonneville Pool hatchery tules, 200 Lower River Hatchery fish and 400 Mid-Columbia brights.

A second night of fishing would be considered if the catch numbers from the first 2S fishery were well below the 2,500 limit.

If all 1,100 brights were caught, it would represent about 1 percent of the anticipated 102,000 upriver bright return, leaving 7 percent for other non-Indian sport and commercial fishers. More precise fish run updates will be made amidst the run, Sept. 10 and Sept. 17.

Even as the Compact was preparing to consider fishing options, a coalition representing a variety of industrial entities challenged the tribes' commercial fishing plans.

"The salmon netted by tribal gill nets above Bonneville Dam are much more valuable than $2 a pound received on the back of their pickup trucks," said Bruce Lovelin, the Columbia River Alliance executive director. "This commercial harvest makes absolutely no sense -- the region spends hundreds of millions to aid salmon so a few tribal members can make a few thousand dollars."

The CRA announced in an Aug. 13 press release that it will "campaign to oppose the 1999 commercial harvest of endangered Snake River salmon" by the tribes. The press release says the organization will use its "regional and national network to inform the public, elected officials and key decision makers of the fish agencies sanctioned effort to exploit an endangered species for commercial sale."

The CRA press release also chided state and federal resource management agencies for "internal conflicts over saving salmon while managing harvest.

"With salmon populations in their current distressed state, this action is such an affront to the public's desire to save salmon and a violation of the Endangered Species Act," said Lovelin. "I have difficulty understanding how fishery agencies involved can support it."

Lovelin cited statistics in which fishery agencies he said consistently overestimated chinook salmon returns on which harvest levels are based.

"The effect of these errors was a higher level of harvest on already very low population level of Snake River endangered chinook salmon," according to the press release. He said the permitted ocean and in-river harvest will total more than 50 percent chinook stocks.

"Since endangered salmon were listed in 1992, the Pacific Northwest has funded a Snake River salmon recovery program that has now grown to $400 million a year. Despite these investments, salmon numbers continue at their low depressed state while other West Coast populations receive ESA protection," according to the press release.

"Out region is making an investment in our environment, an investment in saving salmon. To allow a commercial harvest at this time is, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, an egregious violation of the Endangered Species Act."

Settler, reading from the treaty tribes' prepared statement to the Compact, defended the harvest and challenged the CRA's members to contribute as much as the tribes do to conserve and restore salmon stocks.

"The members of the Columbia River Alliance should look in the mirror and ask themselves how many millions of dollars they have made at the expense of listed salmon stocks," Settler read. "The Columbia River treaty tribes have, through voluntary measures, reduced their incidental harvest of listed steelhead and fall chinook in the treaty commercial fall fishery by about two-thirds.

"Tribal fishing families have suffered greatly as commercial fisheries were closed for summer chinook in 1964, spring chinook in 1977, and sockeye in 1988. To our knowledge, no other entity has voluntarily ceased its commercial activities in order to protect and rebuild those stocks," Settler read. "The members of the Columbia River Alliance should ask themselves what they can contribute to the rebuilding of salmon resource, rather than trying to curtail the last commercial tribal fishery so that CRA's commercial activities can continue to decimate the fish."

The CRA "represents agriculture, navigation, electric utilities, forest products, communities, labor organizations, and manufacturing companies supporting science-based, economically affordable salmon recovery," according to its press release.

The tribes' statement also says that they alone have been burdened with the responsibility of conserving listed salmon stocks through harvest limitations.

"The federal government also allows more fish to die passing through the dams than the fisheries will take. Barging is not the answer to the fish passage problem. The actions by the federal government are discriminatory. The federal government is obligated to address its trust responsibility to the tribe by making sure all activities shoulder the conservation burden fairly and justly."

Barry Espenson
Tribal, Commercial Salmon Seasons Set
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 20, 1999

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