By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
As we begin our third decade of the annual state and tribal salmon co-managers’ salmon season setting process called North of Falcon, it’s a good time to look at how far we’ve come and talk about our hopes for the future.
There were some tough days in the decade following the 1974 ruling by Judge George Boldt in U.S. v Washington, which upheld tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights and established the tribes as co-managers of the salmon resource with the state of Washington.
At first the state refused to implement the ruling under the mistaken idea that the Boldt decision would be overturned on appeal. There was chaos on the water. It got so bad that Judge Boldt suspended the state’s authority to manage salmon for several months and turned the state’s management authority over to the federal government.
It took time, but gradually the state and tribes learned to trust one another and work together. We realized the value of working cooperatively together to manage the resource rather than spending our time and money on attorneys fighting each other in court.
Out of that need for trust and cooperation, the North of Falcon process was born. It is named after the cape on the Oregon Coast that marks the southern boundary of the management area for fisheries harvesting Washington salmon and it extends north to the Canadian border.
While North of Falcon negotiations begin in earnest this month, the state and tribal co-managers have been hard at work for weeks developing pre-season forecasts, conservation goals and estimates of impacts to specific salmon stock at various levels of fishing effort.
This year the process has a new participant in Jim Unsworth, who recently replaced Phil Anderson as director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. We look forward to working with him to develop management plans and fishing seasons that will address our salmon recovery goals while providing some fishing opportunity. We will also work with Mr. Unsworth to protect and restore salmon habitat and to properly manage our fish hatcheries that we need to support fishing opportunity.
We have a lot of work to do together in the years ahead to recover salmon and address the many conservation challenges we face. But we know that our communities – and our shared natural resources – are stronger when the co-managers work together.
After all, we have much in common. With the current condition of the degraded habitat in our rivers and marine waters, we all need hatcheries to provide salmon for harvest. We also need good habitat for our fish. Whether hatchery or wild, salmon need plenty of clean, cold water, access to and from the ocean, and good in-stream and nearshore marine habitat where they can feed, rest and grow.
It is the amount and quality of salmon habitat – more than any other factor – that determines the health of the salmon resource. We must carefully manage the habitat, the hatcheries and the fisheries if we are to return salmon to abundant and sustainable levels. Successful salmon recovery depends on it.