Tribes Recovering from Geoduck Ban

Mar 19th, 2014 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Western Washington tribes are quickly recovering from a sudden ban in December 2013 on selling geoduck to China.

The Asian country claimed it received a shipment of geoduck from Ketchikan, Alaska, that had high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning, and a shipment from Poverty Bay in Puyallup, Wash., that had high levels of arsenic.

Suquamish Seafoods employee James Banda packs geoduck for international shipping.
Suquamish Seafoods employee James Banda packs geoduck for international shipping.

As a result, China announced it was banning all imports of bivalve shellfish from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California. This was just before the Chinese New Year, a lucrative time for harvesters and buyers, when geoducks are traditionally served.

“It was bad at the beginning because we didn’t know what was going on,” said Tony Forsman, general manager of the Suquamish Tribe’s Suquamish Seafoods, which regularly ships shellfish internationally. “China didn’t tell us for two weeks they were doing this.”

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been working with Chinese officials to determine how they came to their conclusions and have been in close communication with Washington Department of Health and western Washington tribal officials about the progress. Officials from NOAA are meeting in person with officials from China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine this month to further discuss the situation.

The shellfish in question from Poverty Bay passed all the rigorous tests needed to be exported to China, said David Fyfe, shellfish biologist for Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“We’re working with China to figure out why we suddenly don’t meet their standards,” he said.

In the meantime, harvesters and buyers are continuing to send their catches to other Asian countries, including Vietnam. U.S. officials are asking China to reduce the ban area from the West Coast to just the two original areas of concern.

Suquamish Seafoods had to layoff nine employees in December – including those who sort, pack and ship the shellfish – but everyone was re-hired by mid-February. Suquamish Tribe harvesters annually gather nearly 500,000 pounds of geoduck.

“There have been blips in the market, such as having to sell smaller geoduck, plus market pressure forced prices down,” Forsman said. “We’ve all just had to adjust – divers, market, buyers, us. Things are fine now but we had to adjust and adjust fast.”

Despite the “blip”, it did prove that the United States shellfish quality control system works, Fyfe said. Harvesters have to meet the National Shellfish Sanitation Program standards, which includes providing information about the harvester, day and tract from which shellfish was harvested.


Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe brings in more efficient incubator system


Feb 21, 2014

With the influx of chum salmon last fall, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe was able to take twice as many eggs as usual, up to 1.2 million.

In anticipation of the large run, natural resources director Paul McCollum brought in an idea from his time in fisheries in Alaska – a NOPAD incubator, a tower of six 4′ x 4′ x 15” aluminum trays that can accommodate up to 1.5 million eggs.

Little Boston Hatchery technician Jeff Fulton works with a tray of eggs in the new NOPAD incubator system. More photos can be found by clicking on this photo.
Little Boston Hatchery technician Jeff Fulton works with a tray of eggs in the new NOPAD incubator system. More photos can be found by clicking on this photo.

“The small tray incubation system, or Heath tray system, we have been using for decades can only hold up to 600,000 eggs in total,” McCollum said. “The NOPAD has only been around since the 1970s and is commonly used in Alaska. One of the NOPAD trays can hold 45 small Heath trays worth of eggs.”

The tribe is maxed out with the old system, McCollum said, so the NOPAD trays will help increase its chum production while using minimal additional water or floor space.

“Most of our chum will go into our raceways, as we’ve always done, but now we’ll have more to put in the net pens, which, in the end, will result in bigger fish at release.

“The survival rate is a little more beneficial with the NOPAD,” he added. “But our main focus is on increasing production for better returns.”


For more information, contact Paul McCollum, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe natural resources director, at (360) 297-6237 or; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission public information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or

Tribes study chinook use of small coastal streams


Kari Neumeyer Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Jan 29th 2014

The Tulalip Tribes and Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) recently completed a six-year study of juvenile chinook salmon use of small coastal streams in the Whidbey basin.

“Small coastal streams are often overlooked as potential salmon habitat because many flow seasonally and do not provide spawning habitat,” said Todd Zackey, the marine and nearshore program manager for Tulalip who obtained grant funding for the research. Derek Marks, Timber/Fish/Wildlife manager for Tulalip, was an additional principal investigator on the research.

The researchers electrofished 63 streams in the Whidbey basin and found juvenile chinook using more than half of them. The migrant fry originated from the three nearby rivers: Skagit, Snohomish and Stillaguamish.

Todd Zackey electrofishes Hibulb Creek to determine whether there are juvenile chinook using the small coastal stream.
Todd Zackey electrofishes Hibulb Creek to determine whether there are juvenile chinook using the small coastal stream.

“Juvenile chinook salmon are not just present in these small streams, but they are actively rearing and growing,” said Eric Beamer, research director for SRSC, the natural resources extension of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes. “They appear to be using the streams as a nursery, much like they use natal and pocket estuaries.”

The results of the study suggest that better mapping is needed to improve the protection of small stream habitat.

“The streams are small enough that the habitat can easily be degraded through direct actions such as channel straightening, armoring, removal of riparian vegetation, and culverting,” Beamer said.

To protect and restore small streams, new culverts should not be built near stream mouths, and existing culverts should be removed or retrofitted to allow upstream passage.

“The next phase of research will determine key stream characteristics that can be used to develop a predictive model to identify the coastal streams used by juvenile salmon,” Zackey said. “If we are to protect this critical rearing habitat for threatened chinook, we need to continue our research and monitoring efforts.”

The study was funded by the tribal allocation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency National Estuary Program administered by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and a state Department of Ecology watershed grant funded by the EPA NEP. Additional collaborators include the Adopt A Stream Foundation and Whidbey Watershed Stewards.

Read the report.

For more information, contact: Eric Beamer, research director, Skagit River System Cooperative, 360-466-7228 or; Todd Zackey, marine and nearshore program manager, Tulalip Tribes, 360-716-4637 or; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or

Being Frank: Good Relationships Don’t Just Happen

By Billy Frank, Jr, Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – Good relationships don’t just happen. We have to work together to build and maintain a strong foundation of trust and commitment to keep a relationship healthy and strong.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision this year, the tribal and state natural resources co-managers met recently to re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of co-management.

At the core of co-management is a pledge to seek cooperation first and avoid litigation. The approach is based on a government-to-government relationship that respects the decision-making authority of both the tribes and state. Its success depends on jointly planning and developing clear objectives with agreed-upon data to support consistent, coordinated natural resources management programs.

Trust and cooperation go hand in hand. In the first decade following the 1974 Boldt decision, the tribes and state did not trust each other as co-managers. We spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours arguing before a federal court about whose data was more accurate and whether this fishery or that fishery should be allowed at this place or time.

All that time and money spent in court was wasted. It could have been better spent protecting and rebuilding the resource.

After a difficult first decade, we found a way to work together built on mutual respect and consideration for each other’s needs. Co-management took giant steps forward.

In 1984 the tribes and state started the annual joint season-setting process called North of Falcon. In 1985 the tribes and state worked together to develop the Pacific Salmon Treaty that governs shared U.S. and Canadian salmon fisheries. In 1986 came the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement that provided protection for fish and wildlife on private timberlands while also ensuring a healthy timber industry. Next came the 1989 Centennial Accord that further cemented the government-to-government relationship between the tribes and state.

All of these accomplishments clearly show the great things that can be done when we choose to work together. We can’t afford to lose that.

That doesn’t mean we agree on everything. We don’t. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t come to an agreement. The case of fish-blocking culverts is a good example.

After many months of negotiations failed, the tribes were forced as a last resort in 2001 to file a lawsuit against the state to fix fish-blocking culverts under state roads that closed access to hundreds of miles of good salmon habitat. The federal court agreed that culverts blocking fish passage violate tribal treaty fishing rights and gave the state 17 years to fix the problem.

While we are disappointed that the state has appealed the ruling, we will continue to work together for the health of the salmon and all of our natural resources. That’s because we know cooperation is the way forward. It always has been and always will be.

Being Frank: Boeing, Let’s Talk

By Billy Frank, Jr., Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – It was the mid-1980s, and Roy dairy farmer Jim Wilcox was worried.

As an owner of Wilcox Family Farms, one of the largest dairy producers in western Washington at the time, he was concerned how his business would be affected by the activities of a new group called the Nisqually River Task Force. I was part of that task force of tribal, state, federal and local governments, businesses and others charged with developing a management plan for the Nisqually River watershed. The aim of the plan was balanced stewardship of the watershed’s economic, natural and cultural resources.

Fearing that possible environmental regulations in such a plan could put his family farm on the Nisqually River out of business, Wilcox quickly joined the task force to protect his interests. But before that, he teamed up with other large landowners in the watershed – including Weyerhaeuser – to try and shoot down any plan that might be developed.

But those fears melted one day when the task force was touring the watershed and our bus broke down. Waiting for help, Jim and I started talking. I told him that we wanted him to stay in business, but that we needed to protect salmon as well, and that if we worked together, we could come up with a solution.

He agreed to try. Today, Wilcox Family Farms is still in business and the Nisqually River watershed is one of the healthiest in the state. It’s a model of how a watershed can be managed for the benefit of everyone.

About that same time, a war was raging in the woods of Washington. Timber companies, environmental groups, tribes, state and federal agencies, and others were battling each other in court over the effects of timber harvests on fish and wildlife. I asked Stu Bledsoe, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, a forest products industry trade group, to see if his members would be willing to join a cooperative effort to develop a solution for everyone involved.

He agreed to try. After many months of negotiations by all of the parties involved, the result was the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement – now called the Forests and Fish Law – which put an end to the war in the woods with a cooperative science-based management approach that ensures a healthy timber industry while also protecting fish and wildlife.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today with the state’s extremely low fish consumption rate that is used to regulate pollution in our waters. The lower the rate, the higher the level of pollutants allowed.

Washington has one of the highest populations of seafood consumers, but uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the country to control water pollution. State government is quick to admit that the current rate of 6.5 grams of seafood per day – about one 8-ounce serving a month – does not protect most Washington citizens from toxins in our waters that can cause illness or death.

That fact is especially true for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as recreational fishermen and others who eat more seafood than most. For us tribes, fish and shellfish have always been basis of our cultures. Our treaty-reserved harvest rights depend on those resources being safe to eat.

Oregon recently increased its fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day, the most protective rate in the U.S. We think everyone in Washington deserves at least that level of protection.

Sadly, the effort to adopt a more accurate fish consumption rate has become one of the biggest public policy battles in the country, pitting human health against the economy. Some industry leaders such as Boeing are digging in their heels to delay or kill rule-making on a more accurate rate because they say it will increase their cost of doing business.

To find a solution, Gov. Jay Inslee has put together an informal advisory group of tribes, local governments, businesses, environmental organizations and others to help resolve the issue. That group met for the first time recently, and although Boeing was invited, the company chose not to participate.

That’s too bad, because I would have told them that we don’t want Boeing to leave the state or go out of business. We want them to keep making planes here in western Washington, but at the same time we have to protect the health of everyone who lives here by adopting a more realistic fish consumption rate. I also would have told them about Jim Wilcox and Stu Bledsoe and the many great things that can be accomplished when we sit down together to solve a shared problem.

Being Frank: One small stream could mean better water quality statewide

By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – A little creek in eastern Washington was at the center of an important water quality ruling recently by the Washington State Supreme Court, reaffirming the state’s right to regulate nonpoint sources of pollution in streams. Nonpoint pollution takes many forms, such as higher water temperatures, sediment, stormwater runoff, fecal coliform bacteria from failing septic systems and agricultural practices.

For 10 years the state Department of Ecology (DOE) tried to work with rancher Joseph Lemire to keep his 29 head of cattle out of Pataha Creek, a small stream that runs through his property near Dayton. Lemire’s cattle had unrestricted access to the creek, leading to manure in the stream, eroded streambanks and increased sediment in the creek.

When DOE finally ordered Lemire to stop polluting by fencing cows out of the creek, the rancher appealed, claiming that a fence would restrict use of his land and therefore was an unlawful “taking” of his property. The state Supreme Court disagreed in an 8-1 ruling.

The fact that it took nearly a decade to get one rancher to do the right thing is made even more disturbing because Pataha Creek was selected as a model watershed in 1993 by the Bonneville Power Administration. BPA and other agencies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars working with ranchers and farmers to provide everything from streamside fencing to tree and shrub planting to help improve the creek.

Twenty years of voluntary efforts haven’t turned the tide of nonpoint pollution in many Washington watersheds. As the Lemire example shows, sometimes it takes more than money and voluntary efforts to protect our resources. And sometimes, all it takes to jeopardize our work is one landowner who’s not willing to do the right thing.

Thankfully, the state has the authority to control these sources of pollution, and was willing to take the case to the state Supreme Court to defend it. That’s encouraging, because the ruling wasn’t anything new. It’s just a matter of the state having the will to use its authority to regulate nonpoint source pollution. We shouldn’t have to look to the courts for leadership.

Let’s hope the court’s ruling will translate into better water quality protection on this side of the mountains, too. Our treaty rights depend on it.

Our treaties guaranteed us the continued right to fish and gather shellfish, which depends on good water quality to ensure healthy salmon habitat and shellfish that are safe to eat. Nonpoint sources of water pollution constantly threaten our natural resources. When a shellfish harvest area is closed because of pollution, or salmon runs are reduced because of poor water quality, our treaty rights are denied altogether.

We all live downstream – every one of us. We need to keep that in mind and work together to restore and protect water quality in this state.

“Being Frank” Fish Consumption Rate Unjust

By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – Medical experts say eating a Mediterranean diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil and fish is one of the best things we can do to reduce our risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating more fish and other seafood is a healthy choice as long as those foods don’t come from polluted waters. We think the state of Washington needs to make sure our waters stay clean.

Washington uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the country – about 6.5 grams a day, or one 8-ounce fish meal a month – to set rules for how much pollution that industry can put in our waters. That rate is supposed to protect us from more than 100 toxins that can make us sick or kill us, but it was set more than 20 years ago. Even the state Department of Ecology recognizes that the inaccurate rate does not protect most of us who live in Washington, a state with one of the largest populations of seafood consumers in the country.

We should not face an increased risk of illness from toxic chemicals when we try to improve our health by eating seafood.  Washington’s fish consumption rate should be at least as protective as Oregon’s, which has been raised to 175 grams, or about one fish meal per day. Plenty of scientific evidence supports an increase to that amount or more.

Treaty tribes have been trying for years to get Ecology to update the fish consumption rate. Our health and our treaty rights depend on our food being safe to eat.

Work to raise the rate finally began last year, but about halfway through the process Ecology did an about-face and progress skidded to a halt. The cause? A phone call from industry representatives who said revising the rate would be bad for our economy because it would increase the cost of doing business.

We’re trying to get the process back on track, and remain hopeful that Gov. Inslee and new Ecology Director Maia Bellon can help make it happen. We’re also working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to form a Government Leadership Group to move forward.

It’s not going to be easy, though. We’re up against some powerful interests.

Opponents claim federal water quality standards in place here already protect all of us. But how can that be, if we already know the fish consumption rate is wrong? Their answer is that existing rules can include a larger fish consumption rate as long as those who eat more fish accept a higher risk of getting cancer.

Imagine that. What they’re saying is that most people in Washington would be protected by a rate of risk that one in one million people will get cancer from toxins in water. But for anybody who eats more than one seafood meal per month, including Indians, Asians and Pacific Islanders, that risk rate can be as high as one in 10,000. That’s unacceptable. Current state law requires cancer risk rates to protect everyone at the rate of one in a million. That standard should remain unchanged.

There’s no question that seafood is good for us, but it won’t be that way for long if pollution is allowed to contaminate the waters it comes from. It is unjust for Indian people and others who consume a lot of seafood to be at greater risk for getting cancer than everyone else.

Developing a more realistic fish consumption rate and keeping risk standards in place to protect our health is a matter of justice – social justice and environmental justice – for everyone who lives here. None of us deserves anything less.


For updates on the fish consumption rate debate, go to


Puyallup Tribe Helps Spring Chinook Program Continue

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is making sure juvenile spring chinook will still find their way to the upper White River each year.

The tribe is raising 250,000 spring chinook at their hatchery so they can stock acclimation ponds in the upper White. Legislative budget cuts forced the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to cease their White River spring chinook program.

“We used to get these fish from the state, but now the Muckleshoot Tribe is allowing us to have some of their excess spring chinook,” said Blake Smith, enhancement manager for the Puyallup Tribe. The Muckleshoot Tribe also raises White River springers at one of their hatchery.

Before picking up the state’s effort completely this year, the Puyallup Tribe has chipped in with the cost of clipping the spring chinook.

The state’s White River spring chinook program had been one of the oldest salmon recovery projects in the state. The effort began almost 40 years ago when the state began capturing fish for broodstock from the weak early run. “Probably the only reason we have White River springers to protect is because of the state’s early action,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the tribe.

In 1986 only six spring chinook returned to the White River, putting the viability of the run in question. “At the time, there was a chance that so few fish would return that the run would blink out,” Ladley said.

When the Muckleshoot Tribe opened their hatchery on the White River, fisheries managers began releasing the spring chinook back to the river to supplement the run. Because of diligent hatchery management, the spring chinook population on the White River has slowly increased since, with returns now normally in the thousands.

After being transported to the acclimation ponds, the juvenile spring chinook will be fed by the tribe for eight weeks. Once they are imprinted on the upper watershed creeks, they’ll be released to begin their journey to the ocean.

The acclimation pond program has played a large role in the recovery of the spring stock. “More and more springers are coming back each year to the upper tributaries,” Smith said. “Some creeks went from zero spawners to dozens in the last decade.”