Upper Skagit Tribe harvests last full return of hatchery steelhead



By Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


It’s the end of an era for Upper Skagit tribal fishermen as the last full return of hatchery steelhead arrives in the Skagit River this winter.

“Our ancestors gave up everything so that we could continue to fish in our traditional areas,” said Scott Schuyler, natural resources director for the Upper Skagit Tribe. “Without hatchery production, we can’t have a meaningful fishery.”

The last full steelhead fishery is especially bittersweet for Schuyler, whose 14-year-old daughter just received her first tribal fishing card. “Maybe she’ll be able to have one day of fishing a year,” he said. “That’s not a meaningful fishery.”

Steelhead are a culturally important species that the Upper Skagit Tribe harvests for commercial, ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Historically, steelhead were available during the long winter months when other species were not available to feed tribal families.

Hatchery programs have been a part of fisheries management in Washington for more than 100 years, making up for lost natural production as a result of degraded and destroyed habitat. Guided by science, hatchery management in western Washington is carefully managed to protect the genetic health of wild fish. In the Skagit River, hatchery programs also provide mitigation for the ongoing effects of hydroelectric plants.

Last spring, the Wild Fish Conservancy sued the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) over hatchery winter steelhead programs that used Chambers Creek broodstock.

“Hatcheries are under attack,” Schuyler said. “Taking away hatchery programs leaves tribes under certain circumstances with a severely diminished or no opportunity.”

The Upper Skagit Tribe, along with the Lummi Nation and Tulalip and Stillaguamish tribes, released a statement at the time of the lawsuit saying that the Wild Fish Conservancy “erroneously concluded that hatchery production, rather than the loss of habitat, is responsible for the depressed state of the Puget Sound Steelhead populations.”

However, WDFW settled the lawsuit, agreeing to halt the release of Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead in all Puget Sound rivers but one, until the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approves each program. The settlement also put a 12-year moratorium of steelhead hatchery releases in the Skagit River.

This year will be the Upper Skagit Tribe’s last full season fishing for hatchery steelhead, with returns reduced starting next year, and gone by 2017.

Tribes resist elver bill that limits access

By Blake Davis, The Associated Press

The lucrative fishery for tiny glass eels, or elvers, has led to a clash between the state and Indian tribes over sovereignty and federal fishing regulations.2012 Reuters file photo
The lucrative fishery for tiny glass eels, or elvers, has led to a clash between the state and Indian tribes over sovereignty and federal fishing regulations.
2012 Reuters file photo

Officials with an American Indian tribe in Maine are resisting an initiative to impose the same restrictions on all elver fishermen, saying a cap on individual catches would force them to abandon tradition by limiting who has access to natural resources.

Members of the Passamaquoddy tribe say a bill to be considered by the House today is against their tribal values because it could prevent some of its fishermen from gaining access to the fishery.

Under the bill, elver fishermen would be subject to the same individual catch limits as other Maine fishermen. But the Passamaquoddy contend the tribe has made numerous other concessions, limiting itself to just one type of gear and agreeing to a decrease in its overall share of the elver harvest.

Passamaquoddy officials say choosing who can fish is cultural, not just a matter of conservation.

“The issue here is who gets to decide tribal culture,” said Fred Moore, the fisheries specialist with the Passamaquoddy who drafted its elver management plan. He said the tribe supported the bill as part of the state’s conservation plan.

The tribe, he said, enacted its own conservation measures years ago, including weekly catch reports from its elver fishermen.

Elvers are baby eels that have ballooned in value in recent years to become the second most valuable fishery in the state behind lobster.

As the state considers the bill, Moore said the tribe would continue to press the state to honor an earlier agreement. That agreement was the result of months of negotiations and had the approval of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission but state officials abandoned it after the attorney general voiced concern it would not be constitutional to apply two sets of rules in the same fishery.

That move also shed doubt on the authority of tribes in regulating marine resources.

The sponsor of the bill says the tribe’s position is understandable.

“The tribes have a valid point,” said Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, who also co-chairs the joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources. “They have said that they have been treated differently over the years many times and maybe we should take that” into consideration, he said.

Still, Kumiega said, lawmakers would continue to take into account the concerns raised by the attorney general.

Both state and tribal officials have said they would like to avoid the types of disputes that arose last year when the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resource invalidated all Passamaquoddy elver fishing licenses.

The commissioner has said he would take similar steps this year if the tribe did not follow state law.

Lummi Nation holds reef net fishery at Cherry Point

reef-net-fishery_6-300x200Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries, September 17, 2013

For the first time in generations, the Lummi Nation held a reef net fishery at Cherry Point.

“It feels good to say that as of yesterday, we, the Lummi Nation have been reef netting,” said Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew at a tribal event Aug. 28. “To know that tomorrow we will reef net and the days after we will too.”

The traditional reef net is suspended between two canoes. Tribal fishermen watch for the salmon to swim close to the surface, then lift the net.

“A sxwole (reef net) is a gift from our creator, therefore an inherent right,” said Al Scott Johnnie, tribal cultural administrative policy assistant. “The sockeye salmon spirit came to our people and showed them how to make the reef net from the willow and other materials that were used from long ago. This was a way of life for our people, and the method was also to allow our sockeye to go up into the river so they could replenish, because they were our extended family.”

Known in the tribal language as Xwe’chi’eXen, Cherry Point was a Lummi tribal village and traditional reef net site for hundreds of years. After the Lummi Nation signed the Point Elliott Treaty in 1855, tribal fishermen continued to reef net until about 1894, when non-Indian fish traps out-competed them, according to the 1974 U.S. v. Washington ruling that reaffirmed tribal treaty fishing rights.

A 1934 ban on fish traps in Puget Sound gave tribal fishermen renewed access to their traditional sites, but the 1939 opening of a cannery brought more competition from non-Indian fishermen who were able to reef net in more profitable locations.

In the U.S. v. Washington ruling, Judge George Boldt noted that there were 43 reef nets operating off Lummi Island at the time; none of them by tribal fishermen.

“Members of the Lummi Tribe are entitled to and shall have, as a matter of right, the opportunity to fish with reef nets in such areas,” Boldt wrote. “(W)hile non-treaty fishermen when licensed by the State to fish in reef net areas have the privilege of fishing in those areas ‘in common with’ Lummi Tribal members, they do not have the right to do so.”

North of Bellingham, Cherry Point is the site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a coal export facility that would be the largest in North America if built. Lummi tribal leaders strongly oppose the coal terminal, because of the damage it would do to natural resources and the traditional grounds.

The pink salmon reef net fishery celebrated the tribe’s traditional use of the area. “We want our young people to remember some of the teachings of our ancestors and this way of the reef net,” Johnnie said.