Overfishing May Limit Chinook Seasonby Greg Johnston
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - February 3, 2005
Anglers are expressing outrage and state fish managers concern about a winter chinook-fishing season by the Makah tribe in the Strait of Juan de Fuca that has caught far more fish than anticipated.
State biologists say the catch likely includes wild chinook stocks protected under the Endangered Species Act, and could limit seasons this summer by non-Indians in the ocean off Washington and inland marine waters. It might also damage efforts by the state to convince Canadian fish managers to limit interceptions of Washington chinook off Vancouver Island.
Members of the Department of Fish and Wildlife's salmon advisory board were informed earlier this week by the agency that the tribes had taken about 20,000 chinook in the strait through Jan. 10 during a fishery that had been expected to take just 500 chinook.
State fish managers said yesterday, however, that it appears the actual catch was not as high as earlier believed, and that the anticipated catch was actually higher than earlier reported.
Phil Anderson, a Fish and Wildlife Department policy coordinator, said that when the tribal season was agreed upon last year, the catch was projected at 1,100 chinook in the western strait and 500 in the rest of the strait. He added that tribal fish managers yesterday told the state the actual catch through last week was just over 19,000.
Attempts yesterday to contact the tribe and the Northwest Indian Fish Commission were unsuccessful.
Some anglers were sending e-mails and letters protesting the catch to the tribe and the state, and there has been talk of boycotting tribal businesses, many of which depend on tourism.
"To say the recreational fishing community is up in arms about it is an understatement," said Tony Floor, a member of the salmon advisory panel and a sportfishing representative for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.
"We are standing firm that recreational fishermen not pay for this fiasco this summer. This should come out of the tribal share."
Before salmon seasons are set in Washington, potential impacts on weak stocks are estimated and typically a total allowable impact level is agreed upon and set. The level is presumably set at a low number that will still allow the weak stocks to rebuild while allowing fishermen to fish for more abundant stocks.
Anderson said state and tribal biologists were analyzing catch data to find out what impact the tribal catch might have on protected wild chinook in Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Much of the chinook catch in the western part of the strait is typically of foraging Columbia and Snake River chinook. Anderson said that the catch very likely could exceed the allowable impact and thus limit options for summer fishing seasons.
It is not known exactly why the tribal catch exceeded state and tribal projections, but Anderson said it is probably because the chinook were more abundant than usual in the area, and the good fishing caused more tribal fishermen to fish for them.
The state is waiting for the analysis of catches before deciding whether to ask the tribe to close the fishery.
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