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Tribes Make Salmon Season Offer

by Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian, June 15, 2000

Saying they hope to avoid a devisive salmon allocation fight in court, the Columbia River treaty tribes have offered Washington and Oregon a proposal for this fall's fishing seasons.

And while state officials have not responded formally, the triibal offer essentially is a replay of 1999, which is not acceptable, said Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

In May, the states said they were poised to go to federal court over the salmon allocation matter.

The states and tribes have not reached a catch-sharing agreement for the fall Columbia River salmon seasons, which begin Aug. 1.

Although there are sport-fishing seasons scheduled to begin Aug. 1, until the states and tribes reach agreement, and the National Marine Fisheries Service issues the appropriate permits, angling cannot begin.

In limbo are the popular Buoy 10, lower Columbia and Columbia Gorge sport salmon seasons, plus the lower Columbia commercial gillnet season for this summer and fall. Steelhead fishing could close too.

Those sport seasons involve a total of more than 100,000 fishing trips. The Buoy 10 season is key piece of the Ilwaco-Astoria late summer economy.

At the center of the issue is a complex dispute involving salmon allocation, Indian fishing rights and the Endangered Species Act.

Intermingled in the Columbia are a healthy run of wild Hanford Reach fall chinook and a weak run of wild Snake River chinook, protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The states and tribes need permits from the federal fisheries service to authorize fishing seasons because endangered species are involved. The service, which adminsters the Endangered Species Act, will allow no more than 31.29 percent of the Snake River wild run to be caught.

The Snake River wild run is expected to be 1,764 salmon. The Hanford Reach run is forecast at 208,000.

In a nutshell, how the allowable catch of about 550 wild Snake River chinook is divided largely determines how the harvest of 150,000 or more of the Hanford chinook is split.

In 1999, the states and tribes agreed to split the 31.29 percent catch of endangered Snake River chinook 6 percent for non-Indians and 25 percent for the four tribes with Columbia River treaty rights.

Limiting non-Indians to 6 percent resulted in an early sport-fishing closure in August at Buoy 10 and a mid-September shutdown in the lower Columbia.

Initially, the tribes said they wanted the full 31.29 percent this year, which would let them take half the harvestable salmon upstream of Bonneville Dam, a right guaranteed under longstanding treaty.

But that would mean no non-Indian fishing downstream of McNary Dam.

The tribes changed their proposal, offering 7.25 percent to non-Indians.

The states seek 12 percent for non-Indians and 19.29 percent for the tribes.

Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, told the states in a letter the tribal offer reduces the Indians' treaty-guaranteed 50 percent share of chinook.

The tribes also catch far fewer steelhead and coho than their share under the law, he said.

"It is in the best interests of the parties to reach an accommodation that will avoid costly, time-consuming and misplaced litigation," Sampson said. "Rather than spending the coming months fighting over allocation, we should focus our efforts on recovering the fish."

Tweit said although the agreement in 1999 was for a 6 percent non-Indian share, non-Indians actually ended up with 7.22 percent.

"The states are at an impasse because last year we took too deep a cut to our fisheries," he said. "We delighted we've got an opportunity to negotiate, but we're leaving our other options (court) open."

Guy Norman of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlfie said not only does is a catch-sharing agreement needed for this fall, but for the longer term.

"We need to clarify the rules with regard to the Endangered Species Act and allocation for the fall and spring seasons," Norman said. "We need to establish some certainty in the pre-season period so people can make plans."

Mike Matylewich of the Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland said the tribes want to widen the discussion to issues besides catch allocation.

The tribes have given the states proposals such as planting more hatchery fish in underseeded watersheds of upper Columbia and Snake rivers.

"We're trying to expand the discussion to all aspects of recovery," Matylewich said.

"The states are limiting on harvest allocation and we think that's a little misguided and doesn't serve anyone's interests."

Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
Tribes Make Salmon Season Offer
The Columbian, June 15, 2000

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