Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission Report – Day 2 – Salmon Issues

February 1997 – Issues & Opinion

Day two. The second and last item on the agenda:
Trading all or part of the Non-Indian share of the Fraser River Sockeye to Canada for US origin Coho harvested in Canada’s West Coast Vancouver Island Troll Fishery.

This is the most difficult issue for me to report on. This salmon run has been the mainstay of my livelihood for over 20 years. I, among many others, have made sacrifices to make this run achieve it’s rebuilding goals, and paid taxes to both the State and to the US Government that went, in part, to rebuild it.

Over the years I have been forced by court decisions to stand on the side lines as various legal and political forces gave away this part and that, in the name of achieving very dubious goals, which only further the agendas and careers of the court or politician making them. I, and all the rest of the Puget Sound Commercial Salmon fleet, have received no compensation of any kind, but to the contrary, have been reviled for demanding an accounting and fair treatment.

Back when the International Pacific Sockeye Commission oversaw the rebuilding, management and harvest of these Sockeye, we were told that by 1985 we would see and harvest the fruits of some 60 years of sacrifice. However, when 1985 arrived, the Commission was dissolved and we were minimized. The US share was downsized from 50% of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to 16%, despite the then record returns. And the percentage has fallen to last year’s less than 1% of which the Non-Indian share was barely over 2% or some 32,000 Sockeye, probably the lowest Non-Indian harvest in history (the Tribal harvest was in the neighborhood of 225,000 fish); despite the fact that the return was 4.3 million Sockeye, the largest return in the cycle since 1928. Had the old Commission still been in charge, the US share of their Total Allowable Catch (TAC) could well have been in the area of 1 million fish.

Why was our Non-Indian share so minuscule? Because of these self same Coho. Our portion was traded to Canada, not the Tribal portion. What happened to the Coho Canada passed thru to rebuild the Coho runs? The State gave them to the Sport/Charter fleet. What they didn’t catch was harvested by the Tribes. We received nothing, except financial disaster, and scorn.

When our representatives succeeded in applying enough pressure to get some sort of fishery on the increased run size, we were told that we would have to wait until after the Tribes caught their share of the run, that the tribes were busy with their crab fishery, that have to wait even longer until they pulled the crab gear out of the water, switched over and finished fishing. Of course, by that time most of the fish were in the river, but we were given a 4 hour opening. I and my partner boat caught 0 fish; the guy next to us caught 2. So much for $150 worth of fuel I purchased to make the opening. Not to mention almost losing my life and my boat in the storm. Oh yes, did I forget to mention the sharp 8 foot breaking seas and the 40 Kt winds. Oh silly me…
(Note 1)

Why do we persist? Because. Because we are stubborn, believe in what we do and love the life. There’s something about being so close to nature that drives us, something about being so close to death, that makes us appreciate life more fully. Sometimes we even make some money to feed our families and pay our bank mortgages. But to explain on paper or even orally why, just never can convey the immense impact of the experience. Those who, having never done it, come along for a trip, generally go away either determined to do it again or run far away.

Trying to convey what losing the fishery means to us is also nearly an impossible task. But, imagine, you are a vegetarian, who lovingly and tenderly cares for your garden, which you made from scratch, and from which you derive your sole sustenance. Imagine one day, some politician declares you can only eat 50% of what you have raised; you grow thinner, but you persist. Then another politician comes along and demanding that you must make a sacrifice and do with less that others can have more; you tighten your belt around your scrawny waist once again and persist. Then another declares you can no longer tend your garden nor eat from it, and you must eat meat from a supermarket; but you must also pay taxes on your property, which others will now garden and eat from. You get to watch while you die. It feels something like that, only worse.

It seems the new style in these meetings is not to declare what’s fair or right, nor to defend your beliefs with their truths, but rather, to either agree with Staff and compliment them, or disagree with Staff and present the technical facts to back your case. From that, the Commission will ask pertinent questions to each other until a consensus is reached. Of course, only Staff has access to the technical facts, as we, the public have no need of such raw data, and neither the education nor expertise to interpret the data correctly.

Once long ago, when this data was freely available, another Staff declared in banner headlines that WA salmon runs were far below historic averages, likening them to the ‘last of the buffalo’ and us to the ‘last of the buffalo hunters’. Using the raw data, I compiled the numbers, which proved WA salmon runs were in fact far above the historical average. This was presented to the State, forcing them to print a public retraction of maybe 1.5 column inches buried in the ‘back pages’.

Ever since then, Staff has searched for ways to keep data away from the public.

There was no way any of our representatives could use data to make our case. Rather, our case was made on legal issues, and on real world practices.

The representatives from the Sport/Charter/Recreational/Bait Herring communities testified as to there financial suffering and deviation from lack of adequate Coho harvests. None of them mentioned Sport/Charter/Recreational harvest of Fraser Sockeye. Just Coho. The bank manager for Sea First Bank in Clallam County, testified that her branch had a large investment in these people and businesses. Did she stop to think, as she stated the case to trade us away for her clients financial needs, that her parent Bank has multi-hundred million dollar investments in the Puget Sound Commercial fleet, which could be placed in jeopardy by the loss of the Sockeye fishery?

It seems easier for these people to get something at someone else’s experience than to use their much ballyhoo’d economic clout and political pull to force the State to address the issues surrounding the State’s total failure to make any attempt to raise more Coho.

In short they get something for nothing, and we get to pay for it once again.

Did these same people ever stop to ponder what would happen to their business if the Feds decide to List these Coho they need to harvest? For them it was apparent the issue of Coho survival was a moot point; passing them thru to the spawning grounds was not on their agenda. I suppose, should the day come on which the Feds assume control of WA salmon, these people will make eloquent arguments why they suddenly need to harvest Fraser Sockeye…

A number of Commercial fishermen testified on behalf of the industry, making very telling cases. There was testimony that trading the fishery would have the effect of removing all current restoration work being done by the commercial community for both the salmon and the environment, as we would all be forced to do something else to survive.

The Commission was open in admitting that it had little experience in the issues involved, and had a lot to learn.

One of the things it learned was the case made by the commercial representative to the Fraser panel. To wit: if these fish are traded then the precedent will be set that will upset the balance of the Court mandated 50-50 sharing plan, and the Tribes will legally be able take total control of the entire WA salmon fishery. They will dictate any sport/charter/recreational fishery, if any. Needless to say the Commissioners were taken by surprise. Especially when one takes into consideration that the Tribes use this same basis for their game harvest.

In one blow the Commission could satisfy the sport group demands, end the commercial fishery, eliminate the sport fishery, make the Tribes a lot of money, and put itself out of business. Nice day’s work, eh?

I don’t know who testified to this, but it was pointed out to the Commission that, even if they trade away these fish, there is every possibility they would never reach WA waters. It seems the Commission was unaware of the burgeoning West Coast Vancouver Island Sport Fishery, and that salmon caught in it are not counted in any sharing formulae. Canada could and probably would, under pressure from it’s sport groups, reduce the Coho caught by it’s troll fleet, in the same area, by the requested amount, and pass the same number on to it’s sport fleet via increased bag limits. Which would leave the US sports groups harvesting the same stocks at an unacceptable level. Escapement would then be less than if no trade had happened in the first place.

The Commission called for possible positive solutions. I personally missed most of this, but the only ideas were presented by the commercial fishermen. Which made a huge impression.

One of the other commercial issues that was before the Commission was seabird mortality and gear modifications. This is also the basis of an upcoming new sport initiative. I missed most of this as well, believing a foregone conclusion to the matter, despite our being the only group to create a Federally mandated scientific, documented, study of the matter at virtually our own expense.

One of the surprising moments came when a Commissioner who had to leave early made stated that he did not want the State to go into a negotiations with a pre-announced negotiation strategy (as it did last year). Further that he did not like the idea of WA having to do Canada’s bidding, and that next year he would do all he could to see the shoe on the other foot. He voted to give the Director a free hand in the negotiations, and that passed with the proviso, that should the Director feel it necessary to trade off the Non-Indian share, that there would be a public meeting by the Commission on any such trade.

Then the motion was made to pass the seabird mortality section. A motion was made by a Commissioner that the minimization of seabird mortality be applied equally to sport fishing. "Been there, done that," he added. So passed.

The Bait Herring people left in a hurry. Herring bait being a documented cause of seabird mortality in the sport fishery.

Meeting adjourned. We left having giving 3 or 4 minutes of testimony that effects the rest of our lives, and so did the 8 or 9 heavily armed Fisheries Patrol officers and the County Sheriff.

After the meeting one high ranking Staff leader commented in private that he had "newfound respect" for us, and the Chair of the Commission apologized for the "terrible process".

(1) Update 2007:

That day was the last time PIF fished in Puget Sound. That day PIF realized his mortality, and decided to begin the process of leaving the fishery he loved forever. Oh sure, he went to Alaska and fished in subsequent years, but never again in Puget Sound. He sold his beloved boat to and Indian and his permit to the State – both for pennies on the dollar. And left Washington State forever.

Wash. Fish and Wildlife Commission Hearing Report – Day 1 – Sport Issues.
Wash. Fish and Wildlife Commission Hearing Report Day 2 – Commercial Crab Issues.
Wash. Fish and Wildlife Commission Hearing Report Day 2 – Commercial Salmon Issues.

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