Columbia Salmon Sharing
by Allen Thomas
Ending a decade of negotiations, U. S. District Court Judge Garr King in Portland has approved a 10-year agreement governing the catch of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River between the four tribes with treaty rights and non-Indians.
The 143-page document will determine salmon catch numbers, hatchery production and the sharing of restrictions when runs are poor.
The last Columbia River Fish Management Plan expired in 1998. The agreement is part of the U.S. v. Oregon court judgement of 1969. That decision required an equitable division of fish harvests, later defined as half the fish destined for upstream of Bonneville Dam.
Four Columbia River tribes — the Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Warm Springs — have treaty rights. They fish for both subsistence and commercially in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools.
Some Yakama members also fish off the Washington shore between Bonneville Dam and Beacon Rock.
The draft makes few changes in the management of coho, sockeye, summer chinook and steelhead. It gives the tribes slightly more spring chinook salmon at small and medium run sizes, while non-Indians gain during years of very large spring salmon runs. Fall chinook shares stay the same at typical run sizes. Non-Indians would gain significantly if the large returns of a few years ago occur again, but lose if runs are poor like in the 1990s.
State, federal and tribal officials have been managing fish runs this year under the new plan, even though King did not approve it formally until earlier this month.
Originally, the agreements under U.S. v. Oregon dealt just with harvest.
But this agreement includes a plethora of details involving hatchery fish programs by species, and even down to a watershed-by-watershed levels.
All fisheries for chinook and steelhead will be managed according to the strength of the run, rather than fixed harvest levels.
Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was the state's lead negotiator.
While the plan maintains the same level of protection for spring chinook, but redistributes the harvest slightly, it is more conservative and offers more protection for threatened Snake River wild fall chinook, he said.
The plan also dovetails with the new 10-year Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada.
N. Kathryn Brigham, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the agreement recognizes each party's role and responsibility in managing fisheries.
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