Puget Sound Fishing Dispute May Be Settled For Now, But Concerns Linger

Some fishing retailers won’t be able to recuperate the loss of potential sales due to the delayed salmon fishing season.

Puget Sound Fishing Dispute May Be Settled For Now, But Concerns Linger
Under the pending agreement, salmon fisheries will be closed during September and October in the Skagit, Cascade, Snohomish, mainstem Stillaguamish, Green and Nisqually rivers. Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish will be closed to salmon fishing during those months, also. Photo: Andrew Ressa.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and local tribal leaders have reached an agreement on how they will share the salmon harvest from Puget Sound fisheries. As a result the state and tribes were able to file a joint permit with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries in order to harvest salmon protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

WDFW officials hope to have the federal permit approved by June 10, at which point recreational salmon fisheries approved under the state-tribal agreement will be able to open.

September And October Fisheries Restricted

The new agreement between the state and tribal fisheries includes changes from last year’s season. Salmon fisheries will be closed during September and October in the Skagit, Cascade, Snohomish, mainstem Stillaguamish, Green and Nisqually rivers. Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish will be closed to salmon fishing during those months, also.

Another change closes all Puget Sound piers that are normally open year-round, to salmon fishing in September and October only, to protect coho. When these piers are open, anglers will be able to keep one chinook, but must release any coho they catch. The only exceptions are piers inside the Sinclair Inlet, which will be open year-round and where anglers will be able to keep hatchery coho.

During the initial negotiations the tribes had pushed for further protections for coho as well as chinook, which are expected to be in low supply this year. However, boating businessmen and WDFW felt the restrictions were too stringent. Marine industry entrepreneurs also perceived it as micromanaging on the part of the tribes, something they said has been going on for years.

It’s A Compromise, Say Tribes

Information and Education Services Manager Tony Meyer with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) views the agreement as a compromise between the state and the tribes. “I think nobody got everything they wanted,” Meyer said. NWIFC provides natural resources management support services for 20 local tribes.

Boating businessmen like Gary Klein think “it takes a microscope to see any gain they (the state) accomplished” with the new agreement, on behalf on non-tribal fisherman and the marine sports industry. “I believe the tribes were very successful in their negotiations and holding our feet to the fire,” he said.

Instability Tough For Industry

Klein owns All Star Fishing Charters. Although “any season is better than no season” the instability each year has made it very tough for the recreational fishing industry, he added.

Still unclear is whether a reprise of the dispute will occur next year. WDFW officials say they hope to make changes to the process.

Concerns About Habitat, And Business Impacts

As part of talks next year, the tribes will want to discuss increasing salmon hatchery production and improving habitat conditions in order to address low salmon stock, said Meyer. “If you want more fish you improve the habitat,” he said.

Some fishing retailers won’t be able to recuperate the loss of potential sales due to the delayed salmon fishing season. Scott Weedman owns 3 Rivers Marine, a Woodinville-based boat and fishing retailer. As earlier reported by Lens, he canceled more than $3 million worth of orders to manufacturers for boats, trailers and motors as a result of the cancelled salmon fishing season. Even now that the season is back on, the orders won’t be put back in.

Recreational fisheries and businesses initially faced a closed salmon fishing season starting May 1 when the fishing season normally begins. WDFW and the tribes were unable to come to an agreement for the first time in 32 years in April. WDFW then closed all fishing in several lakes and numerous rivers that flow into Puget Sound. Salmon and steelhead fishing was also closed in the Sound.

After an agreement couldn’t be reached in April the tribes sought their own permit and received permission to open several fisheries while it was being processed.

However, NOAA officials told Lens this is normal. The difference this year was that recreational salmon fisheries were not able to open as well.

In the Puget Sound region the permit process is known as the North of Falcon process in reference to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon. That marks the southern border of the Washington salmon supply managed by the state.


MORE: Other restrictions for this year’s fishing season.


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