Weigh in on Baker Lake sockeye fishery

By Wayne Kruse, The Herald

Never been interested in getting involved in the annual salmon season-setting process? Maybe you should rethink that position, and here’s a specific example of how public input can affect your fishing opportunity:

The preseason forecast for the uber-popular Baker Lake sockeye fishery is 35,380 fish, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Brett Barkdull in La Conner. That’s not as good as the numbers for the initial fishery in 2012, when the run clocked in at about 48,000, but much better than last summer’s meager 18,000 fish.

So there should be plenty of sockeye for a pretty good season this year. But the guy in the back of the room raises his hand and asks, “Who gets to catch ’em?”

Will it be primarily the bank fisherman on the lower Skagit, plunking with Spin N Glo and shrimp? Or will it the boater on Baker Lake, with downriggers and trolling gear? Or should the catch be split between the two very distinct user groups? That’s the question you can help answer by being at the public meeting 6-9 p.m., March 22nd at WDFW’s Mill Creek office (16018 Mill Creek Boulevard, phone 425-775-1311).

“The public will decide,” Barkdull said. “It’s their fish, and we’re taking input right now.”

The recreational sockeye catch on the river during the 2012 season was 4,300 fish, despite terrible fishing conditions. “The river was high, cold, dirty and people were dodging trees,” Barkdull said. The catch in the lake that summer was 9,600 salmon.

The river opened June 16 and the lake on July 1 in 2012. There were not enough fish predicted last year for both a river and lake fishery, so the lake opened July 10. This year?

“Nothing’s set,” Barkdull said. “It’s a relatively new fishery, and the where and how are still shaking out.”

He said last year’s preseason discussions were influenced more heavily by a larger contingent of lake-oriented anglers. Many of the river fishermen, by contrast, were apparently afraid that if they once lost the river option, they would never get it back.

“That’s not true,” Barkdull said. “One of our management goals is to harvest more than the roughly 50 percent of hatchery sockeye caught in the first two seasons, and both a river and a lake fishery might be one way to do that.”

If a river opening becomes part of the sockeye scenario, it will not be at the mouth of the Baker River. Barkdull said that small area drew crowds and some confrontations in the past, so the fishery was moved downstream. The hot spots during the 2012 river fishery, Barkdull said, were Young’s Bar, just upriver from downtown Mount Vernon; the “soccer fields,” farther upriver; and at Gilligan Creek, above Sedro-Woolley.

Only about 6,000 sockeye were trucked last year from the power company fish trap to the lake, resulting in a slow — and short — season. If, say, 15,000 fish could be trapped and trucked this year, that would likely result in a very good fishery.


Next up in the Northwest salmon derby Series is the 8th running of the Everett Blackmouth Derby, March 22, marine areas 8-1, 8-2 and 9, offering a first place cash prize of $3,000. Tickets are limited to 100 boats, at $100 per boat (up to four anglers), and available at John’s Sporting Goods, Bayside Marine, Greg’s Custom Rods, Ted’s Sport Center, Ed’s Surplus, Three Rivers Marine, Performance Marine, and Harbor Marine.

For more information go to www.everettblackmouthderby.com.

Learn how

Tackle shop owner John Martinis and expert angler Mike Greenleaf will host an hour-long chinook fishing seminar at 7 p.m. March 19 at Bayside Marine, 1111 Craftsman Way, Everett. The free seminar will cover where to fish, rigging gear, rigging bait, selecting tackle and more. Martinis’ phone number is 425-259-3056; Bayside Marine’s number is 425-252-3088.

Local blackmouth

All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein said the fairly good fishing for blackmouth on outer Possession Bar has held up well, but that near-flood-level rivers have pumped mud, logs and other debris into the area, making getting from Everett to the outer bar a risky endeavor.

“And we had to go at least halfway across the bar to find clean water early this week,” Krein said.

Columbia River

Still no springers showing in the popular fishing areas of the lower Columbia, according to Joe Hymer, state biologist in Vancouver.

“Despite sampling 100 boats and just over 100 bank fishermen, we checked one steelhead last week,” Hymer said on Monday. “In fact, we still haven’t sampled our first spring chinook of the season.”

Farther upriver, walleye fishermen were doing much better. State checks on The Dalles Pool last week showed 35 boat fishermen had kept 38 walleye and released 21 more. On the John Day Arm and vicinity, 39 fishermen kept 22 and released nine fish.

And above the Tri-Cities, the Ringold-area steelhead fishery has finally come on. State personnel last week checked 14 bank and 12 boat fishermen, with 18 hatchery steelhead. Anglers averaged between six and 16 hours per fish.


Recreational smelt dipping in the Cowlitz on Saturday was excellent, state biologist Joe Hymer said. Most dippers were harvesting their 10-pound limit in only a few dips.

Smelt were reported as far upstream on the Cowlitz as Blue Creek, and also reported in the North Fork Lewis and as far up the mainstem Columbia as Vancouver.

No more recreational smelt fisheries were scheduled, as of early this week, Hymer said.

Record walleye

A record Washington State walleye was caught Feb. 28 on Lake Wallula (McNary Pool, Columbia River) by John Grubenhoff of Pasco. The fish weighed 20.32 pounds, was 35.5 inches long, and had a girth of 22.75 inches. Grubenhoff was trolling upstream along a current break in 22 feet of water, using a Rapala J-13, six feet behind a 2-ounce bottom walker.

The previous record walleye was also caught in February, 2007, in the same Columbia pool, by Mike Hepper of Richland, and weighed 19.3 pounds.

Wolves stable

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released over the weekend its official annual count of gray wolves living in the state: 52 individuals; one more than found in the 2012 count, and the same number of breeding pairs as reported in 2012. Wolves in eastern Washington were federally delisted a few years ago, but they are still protected under state endangered species laws.

Free seminars

Cabela’s Tulalip store presents Spring Great Outdoor Days this weekend, March 15-16, offering free seminars, turkey calling contests, Dutch oven cooking, bow fishing and more.

Highlights include: Introduction to Reloading; Dutch Oven Meals; Turkey Calling Techniques and Fine Tuning Your Hunting Skills; Applying for Out of State Tags; and Spring Bear Hunting and Calling Tips & Tactics.

Larsen Announces Funding for Skagit Valley Flood Study and Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration

 Press Release, U.S. Representative Rick Larsen
WASHINGTON—Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, announced $760,000 in funding for local flood protection and estuary restoration projects. The Skagit General Investigation (G.I) Study will be receiving $400,000 and the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project will be receiving $360,000. Citing the need for long-term flood protection in the Skagit River valley, Larsen pressed the Army Corps for funding last month.
“Communities in Skagit County have stayed focused on getting the G.I. Study finished,” Larsen said. “This ongoing commitment from the Army Corps is great news and sends a clear message that the federal government is going to keep its agreement in Skagit County. 
“The Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project will be the largest tidal marsh restoration project ever completed in our state. This project is not just about protecting the environment. It is about protecting our economy. Restoring the estuary will enhance the role of fishing in our economy and keep a commitment to our tribal and city partners and provide critical habitat for salmon.”
More information on the Army Corps’ announcement of funding is available here.

Good winter blackmouth fishery in Area 9

By Wayne Kruse, The Herald

One of the better winter blackmouth seasons in the past several years is underway on Possession Bar and in the rest of Marine Area 9, according to Gary Krein, All Star Charters owner/skipper in Everett.

“The triangle — Possession, Double Bluff and Point No Point — had a good opener and have held up well since,” he said. “It’s been a much better fishery than we saw here a year ago,”

Saturday creel checks by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel at the Port of Everett ramp tallied 45 anglers in 24 boats with 22 chinook. By comparison, 45 anglers had seven chinook on the same day at the Washington Park ramp in Anacortes, and 27 anglers had 11 fish at the Ediz Hook Public Ramp in Port Angeles.

Possession is probably the most consistent producer right now, Krein said, particularly on a strong tide. On weaker tides, Point No Point and Double Bluff fish better. Pilot Point and Midchannel Bank are also good bets.

The Area 9 fisher stays open through April 15. Areas 8-1 and 8-2 remain open through April 30 with a daily limit of two hatchery chinook. Marine Area 10 (central Sound) closes this week.

Krein likes 3-inch or 31/2-inch Kingfisher Lite spoons in white or greens, such as Irish cream, Irish flag, or red racer, behind a Gibbs Moonglow flasher and 38 to 40 inches of 25-pound monofilament leader. He puts his gear near bottom in 90 to 150 feet of water, and he says good electronics will pick up individual fish, not necessarily around bait this time of year.

Blackmouth are running from just-legal 5-pounders up to about 10 pounds, with good numbers in the 8-pound range.

“Surprisingly, shakers haven’t been the problem we had anticipated,” Krein said.

But seals have. Lots of seals, taking taking lots of hooked salmon.

“They’ve really been pests,” Krein said, “to the point that we’ve had to move to a different area at times, in order to boat a fish or two.”

Areas 8-1 and 8-2 — Possession Sound and Saratoga Passage — haven’t shared in the early action to any degree, Krein said. A fish or two from south Hat Island, but nothing much from Onomac, Ole’s Hole or any of the other north-end prospects.


The winter hatchery steelhead season was pretty much a non-event, but recent catches (and releases) of wild-stock fish in the Forks-area streams have been pretty good at times. On the Bogachiel last week, 63 fishermen had released 13 wild steelhead, kept eight and released four hatchery fish. This included 12 bank anglers and 47 boat fishermen. On the Calawah, seven bank anglers kept two hatchery fish. On the Sol Duc, 46 fishermen, mostly boaters, kept one and released 33 wild fish, and kept one hatchery fish. The wild fish kept was illegal.

On the lower Hoh over the weekend, 122 anglers released 14 wild-stock steelhead, and kept 17 and released 11 hatchery fish.

Enough hatchery broodstock steelhead now have been taken in a couple of local rivers to enable biologists to reopen the pair, in whole or partially. The Fortson Hole section of the North Fork Stillaguamish opened last Friday and will remain open through Friday. The Cascade River, tributary to the Skagit at Marblemount, will reopen Saturday and remain open through Feb. 15.

And hey, steelheaders. When was the last time you saw a steelhead fishery disrupted by tumbleweeds? Yeah, tumbleweeds; Russian thistles. State biologist Paul Hoffarth reported that the weekend saw large numbers of the dead, dry, round shrubs coming down the river after strong winds last week and making things difficult for fishermen at the Ringold hatchery upriver from the Tri-Cities. Fishing has been slow, tumbleweeds or not, Hoffarth said.


Discussions are still ongoing between fish managers of Washington, Oregon and the feds about opening at least a limited sport smelt (eulachon) dipping season on the Cowlitz River this winter as a means of gathering catch-per-unit data on the fish, which were listed as a threatened species in May, 2010. Following the ESA listing, both Oregon and Washington enacted permanent rules prohibiting directed harvest of eulachon on the Columbia and its tributaries. Commercial fishing closed permanently on Dec. 1, 2010, and recreational fishing on Jan. 1, 2011.

Then, what was estimated as one of the strongest eulachon runs in 10 years surprised everyone when it showed up in 2013. This winter’s run may not mirror last year’s, but then again, it might. As of last week, smelt have been confirmed in the Cowlitz and also in the Grays.

Free classes

Cabela’s Tulalip Store offers three interesting upcoming free classes: Long Range Shooting; Beginning Decoy Carving; and Successful Chironomid Techniques for Stillwater Fly Fishing.

The shooting class will include equipment, types of rifles and scopes, calibers and ammunition, reading the wind, using a spotter and ballistics computer, and more. It’s scheduled for Feb. 1, 11 a.m. to noon. Please RSVP by calling 360-474-4880.

The intro to decoy carving runs on Feb. 7, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., offering hands-on training in carving and painting a mallard drake working decoy. Participants must bring their own carving tools to class. Paint and wood are provided by the instructor for a minimal fee. Please contact instructor Kurt Benson directly with any questions at 425-231-6497. Space is limited to first 20, so RSVP by calling 360-474-4880.

Learn how to successfully fish chironomids, an insect seldom used but which comprises 40 percent of a trout’s diet in still waters year-around. Jerry Buron’s Feb. 8 presentation from 2-3:30 p.m. will introduce chironomids as a food source, how to fish them, when to use them and finally, how to tie chironomid patterns. It will explore the fly fishing equipment used, and how to set up your gear to catch fish. RSVP by calling 360-474-4880.

Razor clams

State razor clam manager Dan Ayres in Montesano said the ongoing razor clam dig should produce improved results over the mid-January dig, because of better tides and flatter surf.

The remaining tides and open beaches are: Jan. 30, minus 1.4 feet at 6:11 p.m., at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Mocrocks; Jan. 31, minus 1.4 feet at 6:55 p.m., at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Mocrocks; Feb. 1, minus 1.0 feet at 7:38 p.m., at all beaches except Kalaloch; and Feb. 2, minus 0.5 feet at 8:20 p.m., at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Mocrocks.

San Juans blackmouth

Rosario Strait remains the hot spot in the islands, according to Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington. Blakely Island/Thatcher Pass is producing and Strawberry Bay also has held a lot of fish to 12 pounds or so. When tides are right, Eastern and Salmon banks have been good places to catch blackmouth in the eight- to 10-pound range. A few more fish, John said, are coming from Fidalgo Head and Lopez Flats, while Reef Point remains slow.

Bait behind a flasher is still the go-to setup, John said, or small lures such as the 3-inch Kingfisher, needlefish squid, or Brad’s mini cut-plugs.


Fishing life at Tulalip

Salmon cooked traditionally, Sebastien and Eleanor Williams, Tulalip Bay by the old dining hall, now Tulalip Montessori. Totem Beach, Tulalip c.1960s. Courtesy of Mae Williams.

Salmon cooked traditionally, Sebastien and Eleanor Williams, Tulalip Bay by the old dining hall, now Tulalip Montessori. Totem Beach, Tulalip c.1960s. Courtesy of Mae Williams.

By Andrew Gobin, Tulalip News

It was the first day of my fifth grade year, but I was not going to be in class. At 5:00 a.m. while my classmates slept, waiting to start yet another year of school, I had already had breakfast and bundled up for the opening of the Silver (Coho) Salmon run. We made a beach seine set, right around a school of Silvers. I had never seen so many fish. We had 1500 fish in that set, and one lone chum for good measure. Growing up, this was my life. My summers were spent beach seining and roundhauling as much as I could. Each year, I would miss the first week of school, which always seemed to coincide with the start of the Silver run. And as the fishing seasons continued into November, the weather worsened, and I would beg to go fishing with dad. It is a way of life for my family, for many families, at Tulalip and all along the Puget Sound. For many, it was a living.

Tulalip fisherman Clyde Williams recalls early fishing in the 40s and 50s.

“We moved to the beach the day after school got out. We would buy our shoes at the commissary; everyone had Navy shoes. We were beach seining. We lived on the beach. Next to me was Stan, Bernie, and the Cheers. When we were fishing, if there was something wrong with our net we’d have to stretch it out at low tide and rehang it.

Just about everybody around here had a smoke house, back when we lived down there at the big house. We fished all day to fill the smoke house. That’s when everybody stayed at the big house. All the women would butcher fish all day long, we’d have to go out there as kids and pack wood in for the smokehouse, and we were the ones that had to keep the fire up. They’d always tell us ‘don’t you pile too much wood on you’ll burn the smokehouse down.’ We tended fires all day, we had to go check the fire every hour, make sure it was still burning. Even all night we’d have to go out there. They’d leave it in there for two days, and that was enough.

Fishing really took off. Everybody was catching fish, and then we went further out, changing from seining, to gillnetting, to roundhauling. Wes Charles and Chuck James brought the gillnetting to Tulalip. They were the first ones. A lot of people don’t know that anymore. Roundhauling was really something different. Bernie and Herman were the first ones to go out there; they roundhauled by hand for years before they did it with power. All of those guys used to get two or three hundred kings in a set. There was a state gillnetter that used to shoot at us. Other state boats tried to ram our boats and run up our nets chopping them all up.”

Fishing Kings Lawrence Jones, Penny Jones, and Stan Jones, Spee-Bi-Dah c.1950s. Courtesy of Stan and JoAnn Jones.

Fishing Kings Lawrence Jones, Penny Jones, and Stan Jones, Spee-Bi-Dah c.1950s. Courtesy of Stan and JoAnn Jones.

Tulalip fisherman Stan Jones remembers fishing growing up in the 40s and 50s, and the struggle that grew through the 60s as the state began enforcing new laws, leading up to the Boldt Decision. Stan stepped away from fishing serving 44 years on Tulalip Tribal Council and was a key player during the Boldt Decision.

“Dad always had a net in the back of the house, in the back room. He hung his nets in there, sewed every mesh out of linen. Once when he was out I went in and tried to sew his net; he came home and cut all my work out and redid it. We just had short nets, dad stayed on shore or up in the river.

When dad was sick, me and my brother Junior, we’d take the boat out and fish. Once up in the river we had about 25 or 30 Kings.

We couldn’t fish during the day, so we fished at night. The state fisheries officer John LaPlant, he used to come by and harass us. ‘If you’re gonna be here, put some lights on your boat,’ he’d say. Then the other rule was we couldn’t be more than 600 hundred feet offshore, so we just had little short nets. They were always coming by to see how far we stretched our nets out. If they thought you were too far, they arrest you right off the boat, and let your boat and net go adrift.”

Growing up, I heard these stories constantly. I almost feel like I was there, like I knew John LaPlant. I grew up in a post war era. Playing in the backyard there were many parts to boats and old fishing equipment,  old corks scattered from hanging nets, and there was the old smokehouse. Grandpa used to smoke fish, not like the old days. Fishing and smoking fish though, that’s when the stories came out.

I learned the shores of Tulalip by the fishing landmarks and family grounds. Dad always says things like, “Run this end of the net up there into Roy Henry’s grounds.”

I didn’t know then, but I was learning about who we were, who we are, and the struggle to protect that. Dad would point out places on the shoreline, telling some fish stories. Even if we weren’t fishing, maybe driving around Tacoma or up across Deception Pass, Dad was always telling fishing stories. If grandpa was with us we had twice the stories. Amidst the stories, there was talk about the regulations and the law, and the fish wars. Today, I realize that the life I live fishing, like many others, was hard fought to protect. It is so much more as well. It is our identity, it defined our parents and grandparents, and it is our way of life.

Fishing in common in usual and accustomed areas

Celebrating Indian fishing and treaty rights 40 years after the Boldt decision

Early Tulalip beach seining photos courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.

Early Tulalip beach seining photos courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.

By Andrew Gobin,  Tulalip News

A landmark case for Washington Indians and treaty fishing rights, the Boldt decision continues to have far reaching implications for tribes across the United States. For Washington tribes, the Boldt decision settled a conflict that began with the signing of the treaties. It upheld the tribe’s reserved right to fish, hunt, gather, and take shellfish as they always had. The crux of the Supreme Court case was the interpretation of the treaty, specifically the terms “in common with the citizens of the territory,” and “at usual and accustomed grounds and stations.”

The Boldt decision, or U.S. v. Washington as the legal case title reads, was heard in the 9th District Appellate court in 1973, decided in 1974 by Judge George H. Boldt. The decision was later affirmed in the United States Supreme Court. The interpretation of the terms “in common” and “usual and accustomed areas” (U&A) is paramount to understanding questions of whether Indians have the right to fish off of the reservation and whether Indians are guaranteed an allocation of the available fish.

The case stemmed from the fish wars, in which tribal fishermen were arrested and injunctions were filed limiting tribal fisheries. At the time, as soon as state fisheries were open, fishermen took all of the available salmon resource before they reached tribes’ harvestable waters. One crucial interpretation in the Boldt decision was the definition of “in common,” a legal term that means, in equal parts.

Early Tulalip beach seining photo courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.

Early Tulalip beach seining photo courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.

This was not the first look at what the treaty meant by “in common with the citizens of the territory.” Judge Boldt cited U.S. v. Winans, a case from 1905 settling a dispute between then Yakima Nation (now Yakama Nation) and a private company that was operating a fish wheel on the Columbia River on private deeded land. They built fences intended to exclude access by Yakima Indians in an effort to optimize their business. The lower courts decided that deeded land could exclude Indians from exercising their rights in their U&A, a decision that was overturned by the Supreme Court, upholding the Yakama’s treaty. Similarly, Boldt decided on that precedent that the right of a tribe to take fish in their respective U&A, which was secured to them through various treaties, meant they had a right to do so off of the reservation. For this case, “in common” meant equal access and opportunity.

Nearly 70 years later, when the Boldt decision was filed, the fishing industry had grown immensely on a global scale thanks to advancing technology. State fisheries were harvesting salmon in the ocean where tribes had no claim to U&A. Tribal fisheries were then closed under the guise of preserving the salmon runs, though state fisheries continued on inland waters. Judge Boldt reexamined the term “in common with the citizens of the territory.”

Early Tulalip beach seining photo courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.

Early Tulalip beach seining photo courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.

Boldt broke down this phrase, defining the territory as it would have been defined at the time of the treaty, meaning the Washington Territory. He then looked at the term “in common,” which he defined not only as equal access and opportunity, but also as equal portion.

Finally, Boldt decided that that State had a responsibility to ensure the tribes’ allocation was met, meaning that the salmon resource had to be kept at healthy levels to ensure there was enough to go around. From his interpretations he drafted what is commonly referred to as the blue book, which outlined what fish allocations and management of the salmon resource would look like. Basically, Washington tribes share amongst them half of the available salmon resource for the state, each tribe receiving different allocations of salmon based on U&A.

The implications from the Boldt decision are still prominent in Federal Indian Law, especially in Washington State. Recently there have been cases that address similar treaty rights as they pertain to harvesting of shellfish, hunting, and gathering of roots, berries, and plants. The most influential issues in the state currently that are built off of the foundations laid in the Boldt decision deal with protecting salmon habitat, which are the Culvert Case and the State’s Fish Consumption Rate.

Early Tulalip beach seining photo courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.

Early Tulalip beach seining photo courtesy of the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center Museum.


Crow & Lummi, Dirty Coal & Clean Fishing

Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationKnown as “home to the Ancient Ones,” Cherry Point in Washington state is home to a stable fishing ecosystem that supports the Lummi Nation, and has become a recent point of interest for a Coal export for the Crow

Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Known as “home to the Ancient Ones,” Cherry Point in Washington state is home to a stable fishing ecosystem that supports the Lummi Nation, and has become a recent point of interest for a Coal export for the Crow

Winona LaDuke, ICTMN, 1/15/14

“The tide is out and the table is set…” Justin Finklebonner gestures to the straits on the edge of the Lummi reservation. This is the place where the Lummi people have gathered their food for a millennium. It is a fragile and bountiful ecosystem, part of the Salish Sea, newly corrected in it’s naming by cartographers. When the tide goes out, the Lummi fishing people go to their boats—one of the largest fishing fleets in any Indigenous community. They feed their families, and they fish for their economy.

This is also the place where corporations fill their tankers and ships to travel into the Pacific and beyond. It is one of only a few deep water ports in the region, and there are plans to build a coal terminal here. That plan is being pushed by a few big corporations, and one Indian nation—the Crow Nation, which needs someplace to sell the coal it would like to mine, in a new deal with Cloud Peak Energy. The deal is a big one: 1.4 billion tons of coal to be sold overseas. There have been no new coal plants in the United States for 30 years, so Cloud Peak and the Crow hope to find their fortunes in China. The mine is called Big Metal, named after a Crow legendary hero.

The place they want to put a port for huge oil tankers and coal barges is called Cherry Point, or XweChiexen. It is sacred to the Lummi. There is a 3,500-year-old village site here.  The Hereditary Chief of the Lummi Nation, tsilixw (Bill James), describes it as the “home of the Ancient Ones.” It was the first site in Washington State to be listed on the Washington Heritage Register.

Coal interests hope to construct North America’s largest coal export terminal on this “home of the Ancient Ones.” Once there, coal would be loaded onto some of the largest bulk carriers in the world to China. The Lummi nation is saying Kwel hoy’: We draw the line. The sacred must be protected.

So it is that the Crow Nation needs a friend among the Lummi and is having a hard time finding one. In the meantime, a 40-year old coal mining strategy is being challenged by Crow people, because culture is tied to land, and all of that may change if they starting mining for coal.  And, the Crow tribal government is asked by some tribal members why renewable energy is not an option.

The stakes are high, and the choices made by sovereign Native nations will impact the future of not only two First Nations, but all of us.

How it Happens

It was a long time ago that the Crow People came from Spirit Lake. They emerged to the surface of this earth from deep in the waters. They emerged, known as the Hidatsa people, and lived for a millennia or more on the banks of the Missouri River. The most complex agriculture and trade system in the northern hemisphere, came from their creativity and their diligence. Hundreds of varieties of corn, pumpkins, squash, tobacco, berries—all gifts to a people. And then the buffalo—50 million or so—graced the region. The land was good, as was the life. Ecosystems, species and cultures collide and change. The horse transformed people and culture. And so it did for the Hidatsa and Crow people, the horse changed how the people were able to hunt—from buffalo jumps, from which carefully crafted hunt could provide food for months, to the quick and agile movement of a horse culture, the Crow transformed. They left their life on the Missouri, moving west to the Big Horn Mountains. They escaped some of what was to come to the Hidatsas, the plagues of smallpox and later the plagues of agricultural dams which flooded a people and a history- the Garrison project, but the Crow, if any, are adept at adaptation. The Absaalooka are the People of the big beaked black bird —that is how they got their name, the Crow. The River Crow and the Mountain Crow, all of them came to live in the Big Horns, made by the land, made by the horse, and made by the Creator.

A Good Country

“The Crow country is a good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place; while you are in it you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever way you travel, you will fare worse… The Crow country is exactly in the right place.”

–Arapooish Crow leader, to Robert Campbell, Rocky Mountain Fur Company, c.1830

The Absaalooka were not born coal miners. That’s what happens when things are stolen from you—your land, reserved under treaty, more than 30 million acres of the best land in the northern plains, the heart of their territory. This is what happens with historic trauma, and your people and ancestors disappear – “1740 was the first contact with the Crow,” Sharon Peregoy, a Crow Senator in the Montana State legislature, explains. “It was estimated… to be 40,000 Crows, with a 100 million acres to defend. Then we had three bouts of smallpox, and by l900, we were greatly reduced to about l,750 Crows.”

“The 1825 Treaty allowed the settlers to pass through the territory.” The Crow were pragmatic. “We became an ally with the U.S. government. We did it as a political move, that’s for sure.” That didn’t work out. The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty identified 38 million acres as reserved, while the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty greatly reduced the reservation to 8 million acres. A series of unilateral congressional acts further cut down the Crow land base, until only 2.3 million acres remained.

“The l920 Crow Act’s intent was to preserve Crow land to ensure Crow tribal allottees who were ranchers and farmers have the opportunity to utilize their land,” Peregoy explains.

Into the heart of this came the Yellowtail Dam. That project split the Crow people and remains, like other dams flooding Indigenous territories, a source of grief, for not only is the center of their ecosystem, but it benefits largely non-Native landowners and agricultural interests, many of whom farm Crow territory. And, the dam provides little financial returns for the tribe. The dam was a source of division, says Peregoy.“We were solid until the vote on the Yellowtail Dam in l959.”

In economic terms, essentially, the Crow are watching as their assets are taken to benefit others, and their ecology and economy decline. “Even the city of Billings was built on the grass of the Crows,“ Peregoy says.

Everything Broken Down

“Our people had an economy and we were prosperous in what we did. Then with the reservation, everything we had was broken down and we were forced into a welfare state.”

–Lane Simpson, Professor, Little Big Horn College

One could say the Crow know how to make lemonade out of lemons. They are renowned horse people and ranchers, and the individual landowners, whose land now makes up the vast majority of the reservation, have tried hard to continue that lifestyle. Because of history of land-loss, the Crow tribe owns some l0 percent of the reservation.

The Crow have a short history of coal strip mining—maybe 50 years. Not so long in Crow history, but a long time in an inefficient fossil fuel economy. Westmoreland Resource’s Absaloka mine opened in 1974. It produces about 6 million tons of coal a year and employs about 80 people. That deal is for around 17 cents a ton.

Westmoreland has been the Crow Nation’s most significant private partner for over 39 years, and the tribe has received almost 50 percent of its general operating income from this mine. Tribal members receive a per-capita payment from the royalties, which, in the hardship of a cash economy, pays many bills.

Then there is Colstrip, the power plant complex on the border of Crow—that produces around 2,800 mw of power for largely west coast utilities and also employs some Crows. Some 50 percent of the adult population is still listed as unemployed, and the Crow need an economy that will support their people and the generations ahead. It is possible that the Crow may have become cornered into an economic future which, it turns out, will affect far more than just them.


Big Metal Mine, named after a legendary Crow (Courtesy Big Metal Coal)
Big Metal Mine, named after a legendary Crow (Courtesy Big Metal Coal)

Enter Cloud Peak

In 2013, the Crow Nation signed an agreement with Cloud Peak to develop 1.4 billion tons in the Big Metal Mine, named after a legendary Crow. The company says it could take five years to develop a mine that would produce up to 10 million tons of coal annually, and other mines are possible in the leased areas. Cloud Peak has paid the tribe $3.75 million so far.

The Crow nation may earn copy0 million over those first five years. The Big Metal Mine, however may not be a big money-maker. Coal is not as lucrative as it once was, largely because it is a dirty fuel.  According to the Energy Information Administration, l75 coal plants will be shut down in the next few years in the U.S.

So the target is China. Cloud Peak has pending agreements to ship more than 20 million tons of coal annually through two proposed ports on the West Coast.

Back to the Lummi

The Gateway Pacific Coal terminal would be the largest such terminal on Turtle Island’s west coast. This is what large means: an l,l00 acre terminal, moving up to 54 million metric tons of coal per year, using cargo ships up to l,000 feet long. Those ships would weigh maybe 250,000 tons and carry up to 500,000 gallons of oil. Each tanker would take up to six miles to stop.

All of that would cross Lummi shellfish areas, the most productive shellfish territory in the region. “It would significantly degrade an already fragile and vulnerable crab, herring and salmon fishery, dealing a devastating blow to the economy of the fisher community,” the tribe said in a statement.

The Lummi community has been outspoken in its opposition, and taken their concerns back to the Powder River basin, although not yet to the Crow Tribe. Jewell Praying Wolf James is a tribal leader and master carver of the Lummi Nation. “There’s gonna be a lot of mercury and arsenic blowing off those coal trains,” James says. “That is going to go into a lot of communities and all the rivers between here and the Powder River Basin.”

Is there a Way Out?

Is tribal sovereignty a carte blanche to do whatever you want? The Crow Tribe’s coal reserves are estimated at around 9 billion tons of coal. If all the Crow coal came onto the market and was sold and burned, according to a paper by Avery Old Coyote, it could produce an equivalent of 44.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

That’s a lot of carbon during a time of climate challenge.

Then there are the coal-fired power plants. They employ another 380 people, some of them Crow, and generating some 2,094 mw of electricity. The plants are the second largest coal generating facilities west of the Mississippi. PSE’s coal plant is the dirtiest coal-burning power plant in the Western states, and the eighth dirtiest nationwide. The amount of carbon pollution that spews from Colstrip’s smokestacks is almost equal to two eruptions at Mt. St. Helen’s every year.

Coal is dirty. That’s just the way it is.  Coal plant operators are planning to retire 175 coal-fired generators, or 8.5 percent of the total coal-fired capacity in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. A record number of generators were shut down in 2012. Massive energy development in PRB contributes more than 14 percent of the total U.S. carbon pollution, and the Powder River Basin is some of the largest reserves in the world.  According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the world emits 32.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The Crow Tribe will effectively contribute more than a year and a half of the entire world’s production of carbon dioxide.

There, is, unfortunately, no bubble over China, so all that carbon will end up in the atmosphere.

The Crow Nation chairman, Darrin Old Coyote, says coal was a gift to his community that goes back to the tribe’s creation story. “Coal is life,” he says. “It feeds families and pays the bills….  [We] will continue to work with everyone and respect tribal treaty rights, sacred sights, and local concerns. However, I strongly feel that non-governmental organizations cannot and should not tell me to keep Crow coal in the ground. I was elected to provide basic services and jobs to my citizens and I will steadfastly and responsibly pursue Crow coal development to achieve my vision for the Crow people.”

In 2009, 1,133 people were employed by the coal industry in Montana. U.S. coal sales have been on the decline in recent years, and plans to export coal to Asia will prop up this industry a while longer. By contrast, Montana had 2,155 “green” jobs in 2007 – nearly twice as many as in the coal industry. Montana ranks fifth 
in the nation for wind-energy potential. Even China has been dramatically increasing its use of renewables and recently called for the closing of thousands of small coal mines by 2015. Perhaps most telling, Goldman Sachs recently stated that investment in coal infrastructure is “a risky bet and could create stranded assets.”

The Answer May Be Blowing in the Wind

The Crow nation has possibly l5,000-megawatts of wind power potential, or six times as much power as is presently being generated by Colstrip. Michaelynn Hawk and Peregoy have an idea: a wind project owned by Crow Tribal members that could help diversify Crow income. Michaelynn says “the price of coal has gone down. It’s not going to sustain us. We need to look as landowners at other economic development to sustain us as a tribe. Coal development was way before I was born. From the time I can remember, we got per capita from the mining of coal. Now that I’m older, and getting into my elder age, I feel that we need to start gearing towards green energy.”

Imagine there were buffalo, wind turbines and revenue from the Yellowtail Dam to feed the growing Crow community. What if the Crow replaced some of that 500 megawatts of Colstrip Power, with some of the l5,000 possible megawatts of power from wind energy? And then there is the dam on the Big Horn River. “We have the opportunity right now to take back the Yellowtail Dam,” Peragoy says. “Relicensing and lease negotiations will come up in two years for the Crow Tribe, and that represents a potentially significant source of income – $600 million. That’s for 20 years, $30 million a year.”

That would be better than dirty coal money for the Crow, for the Lummi, for all of us.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/15/crow-lummi-dirty-coal-clean-fishing-153086

Bill would clear convictions during 60s fish-ins

Ted S. Warren / Associated PressBilly Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal elder who was arrested dozens of times while trying to assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ‘70s, holds a late-1960s photo of himself Monday (left) fishing with Don McCloud, near Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River. Several state lawmakers are pushing to give people arrested during the Fish Wars a chance to expunge their convictions from the record.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal elder who was arrested dozens of times while trying to assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ‘70s, holds a late-1960s photo of himself Monday (left) fishing with Don McCloud, near Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River. Several state lawmakers are pushing to give people arrested during the Fish Wars a chance to expunge their convictions from the record.

By PHUONG LE, The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Decades after American Indians were arrested for exercising treaty-protected fishing rights during a nationally watched confrontation with authorities, a proposal in the state Legislature would give those who were jailed a chance to clear their convictions from the record.

Tribal members and others were roughed up, harassed and arrested while asserting their right to fish for salmon off-reservation under treaties signed with the federal government more than a century prior. The Northwest fish-ins, which were known as the “Fish Wars” and modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, were part of larger demonstrations to assert American Indian rights nationwide.

The fishing acts, however, violated state regulations at the time, and prompted raids by police and state game wardens and clashes between Indian activists and police.

Demonstrations staged across the Northwest attracted national attention, and the fishing-rights cause was taken up by celebrities such as the actor Marlon Brando, who was arrested with others in 1964 for illegal fishing from an Indian canoe on the Puyallup River. Brando was later released.

“We as a state have a very dark past, and we need to own up to our mistakes,” said Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, prime sponsor of House Bill 2080. “We made a mistake, and we should allow people to live their lives without these criminal charges on their record.”

Lawmakers in the House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee are hearing public testimony on the bill Tuesday afternoon.

Sawyer said he’s not sure exactly how many people would be affected by the proposal. “Even if there’s a handful it’s worth doing,” he added.

Sawyer said he took up the proposal after hearing about a tribal member who couldn’t travel to Canada because of a fishing-related felony, and about another tribal grandparent who couldn’t adopt because of a similar conviction.

Under the measure, tribal members who were arrested before 1975 could apply to the sentencing court to expunge their misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony convictions if they were exercising their treaty fishing rights. The court has the discretion to vacate the conviction, unless certain conditions apply, such as if the person was convicted for a violent crime or crime against a person, has new charges pending or other factors.

“It’s a start,” said Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal elder who figured prominently during the Fish Wars. He was arrested dozens of times. “I never kept count,” he said of his arrests.

Frank’s Landing, his family’s home along the Nisqually River north of Olympia, became a focal point for fish-ins. Frank and others continued to put their fishing nets in the river in defiance of state fishing regulations, even as game wardens watched on and cameras rolled. Documentary footage from that time shows game wardens pulling their boats to shore and confiscating nets.

One of the more dramatic raids of the time occurred on Sept. 9, 1970, when police used tear gas and clubs to arrest 60 protesters, including juveniles, who had set up an encampment that summer along the Puyallup River south of Seattle.

The demonstrations preceded the landmark federal court decision in 1974, when U.S. District Judge George Boldt reaffirmed tribal treaty rights to an equal share of harvestable catch of salmon and steelhead and established the state and tribes as co-managers of the resource. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the decision.

Hank Adams, a well-known longtime Indian activist who fought alongside Frank, said the bill doesn’t cover many convictions, which were civil contempt charges for violating an injunction brought against three tribes in a separate court case. He said he hoped those convictions could be included.

“We need to make certain those are covered,” said Adams, who was shot in the stomach while demonstrating and at one time spent 20 days in Thurston County Jail.

He also said he wanted to ensure that there was a process for convicted fishermen to clear their records posthumously, among other potential changes.

But Sid Mills, who was arrested during the Fish Wars, questioned the bill’s purpose.

“What good would it do to me who was arrested, sentenced and convicted? They’re trying to make themselves feel good,” he said.

“They call it fishing wars for a reason. We were fighting for our lives,” said Mills, who now lives in Yelm. “We were exercising our rights to survive as Indians and fish our traditional ways. And all of a sudden the state of Washington came down and (did) whatever they could short of shooting us.”

Record Chum Salmon Run in Hood Canal

Skokomish tribal member Annette Smith hauls in chum salmon in southern Hood Canal.

Skokomish tribal member Annette Smith hauls in chum salmon in southern Hood Canal.

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Fishermen in Hood Canal saw a record number of fall chum salmon return this year with an expected runsize of 1.4 million.

Tribal and state managers reported that tribal and non-tribal fishermen caught 1.186 million fall chum in Hood Canal when the expected return was only 324,000. Last year, fishermen caught nearly 582,000 from a final runsize of 674,000.

Skokomish Tribe fishermen in particular were inundated with the amount of fall chum, most of which are produced from WDFW’s Hoodsport and George Adams Hatcheries and the Skokomish Tribes’ Enetai hatchery.

“With the large amount of salmon returning this fall, our fishermen and buyers attempted to keep up with the non-treaty fleet consisting of purse seine and gillnet vessels,” said Joseph Pavel, the tribe’s natural resources director. “The market was flooded by the non-treaty purse seine fleet, landing more than 442,000 fall chum in the last week of October.”

Excess salmon were recycled at a composting facility on the reservation. A local yard and garden supplier has been brought in to manage the composting operation.

IRS proposes rule to address fishing rights income

Source: Indianz.com

Attorneys discuss a proposed Internal Revenue Service regulation that would address income earned from tribal members who exercise their fishing rights:

On November 15, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service published a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) along with proposed regulations regarding the treatment of certain income derived from Indian fishing rights-related activity when it is contributed to a qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored pension plan. The notice can be viewed at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/11/15/2013-27331/treatment-of-income-from-indian-fishing-rights-related-activity-as-compensation. The proposed regulations clear one of the current hurdles to including employees of an Indian fishing rights operation in a typical employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan. Unlike most types of employee compensation, Indian fishing rights-related income is exempt from both income and employment taxes under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7873(a)(1) and (a)(2). Therefore, Indian fishing rights-related income is not included in a taxpayer’s gross income. The IRS has traditionally taken the position that in order to make a contribution to an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k) plan, an individual must have “compensation” that is included in gross income. The proposed regulations clarify that payments received by Indian tribe members as remuneration for services they perform in fishing rights-related activities will not be excluded from the definition of “compensation” for purposes of IRC Section 415 and underlying regulations, merely because such payments are not subject to income or employment taxes. Consequently, the proposed regulations allow employees receiving such payments to participate in and contribute to a retirement plan qualified under IRC Section 401(a).

Get the Story:
Kathleen M. Nilles, Ariadna Alvarez and Robert B. Bersell: IRS Proposes New Rules On Indian Fishing Rights Income For Retirement Plans (Mondaq.com 11/20)
Username: indianz@indianz.com. Password: indianz Federal Register Notice:


Treatment of Income From Indian Fishing Rights-Related Activity as Compensation (November 15, 2013)

Lummi Nation seeks federal relief following fishery closure

Lummi tribal fishermen prepare a purse seine during the 2011 Fraser sockeye fishery. The tribe has declared 2013 a fisheries economic disaster after poor returns canceled this year’s fishery worth $1.3 million.

Lummi tribal fishermen prepare a purse seine during the 2011 Fraser sockeye fishery. The tribe has declared 2013 a fisheries economic disaster after poor returns canceled this year’s fishery worth $1.3 million.

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Lummi Nation is seeking federal disaster relief for its fishing fleet following another year of poor returns of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

In September, the tribe passed a declaration of natural disaster under the federal Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, and a fisheries economic disaster under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Despite a bountiful run in 2010, Fraser River sockeye returns have been declining for 30 years. The U.S. Department of Commerce declared it a fisheries economic disaster in 2002, 2007 and 2008.

There was no commercial Fraser sockeye in 2013. “Our traditional ties to the sockeye are irreplaceable,” said Elden Hillaire, chairman of the Lummi Fisheries Commission. “The lack of harvest interferes with our schelangen (way of life).”

Without a fishery, Lummi tribal fishermen missed out on a potential catch worth $1.3 million. In part, a declaration of a fisheries disaster would provide services and financial assistance to tribal fishermen who are trying to adapt to a changing industry.

After the 2008 declaration, the tribe received a U.S. Department of Labor grant to create a program called Lummi Fishers, which helps fishermen find training and other careers so they can make ends meet when they can’t fish.

Poor ocean conditions, shifting currents and climate change are blamed as potential causes for the Fraser run’s decline. Temperatures in the Fraser River in 2013 were the highest ever recorded; high  enough to be lethal to the salmon.

The Fraser River runs through British Columbia. Nine treaty tribes in western Washington have treaty-reserved rights to catch Fraser River sockeye in U.S. waters before they migrate upstream. In addition to Lummi, they are the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Nooksack, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Suquamish, Swinomish and Tulalip tribes.