Salmon recovery: It takes all of us to make it happen | Being Frank

Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission - Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
— image credit: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Producing and protecting salmon go hand in hand for the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington, and we are doing a lot more of both lately.

At a time when state and federal funding for salmon is scarce, tribes are increasing production of salmon for harvest and expanding the use of hatcheries in recovery programs for weak wild stocks.

We all know for a fact that hatcheries are no substitute for good habitat and natural salmon production. But the small amount of poor quality habitat we have left can’t support harvest. If there were no hatcheries there would be almost no salmon fishing at all in western Washington.

Tribes produce an average of 40 million salmon and steelhead every year. These fish are harvested by everyone. The Suquamish Tribe added to that average recently by re-starting its Agate Pass coho salmon net pen operation. Funding and other factors had forced the tribe to stop the program seven years ago.

Net pen operations can be strong contributors to fisheries. In the first 20 years of the Suquamish project, the tribe released more than 600,000 hatchery coho, all marked for harvest with an adipose fin clip.

I was excited to hear that a new Stillaguamish tribal facility is expected to be coming online soon. This hatchery will help recover a very weak chinook run in the river’s south fork.

The Stillaguamish Tribe sacrificed its chinook fishery for decades to protect these fish. A captive broodstock program at the new hatchery will help protect these fish even more. It’s kind of like putting the run on life support, but it’s all we can do until we can fix the real problems: lost and damaged habitat.

Out on the coast, the Quileute Tribe is helping to supplement wild summer chinook in the Sol Duc River. Each year, the tribe captures adults from mid-July to September and rears more than 200,000 of their offspring cooperatively with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Supplementation programs are designed to support, but not replace, natural salmon production lost to damaged and disappearing habitat.

The tribe paid for final rearing costs of more than 350,000 young coho that were scheduled to be destroyed at the state’s Sol Duc Hatchery because no money was available for their care. Many will benefit from the tribe’s generosity.

These are just a few examples from across the region of how the tribes are increasing production of salmon for harvest and expanding the use of hatcheries in salmon and steelhead recovery efforts.

The treaty tribes are managing salmon 24 hours a day. We’re working hard right now with the state to complete Hatchery Action Implementation Plans for each watershed in western Washington. These plans will support our recovery efforts for healthy, harvestable populations of salmon and steelhead.

Please understand why we are putting so much time, effort and funding into the salmon resource:

It’s not because there’s a lot of money to be made fishing for salmon. Our fishermen haven’t been able to make a living at fishing for decades.

It’s not because of ESA. That law holds little hope for the recovery of salmon.

No, the reason we are increasing our efforts to recover and enhance the salmon resource is because our culture demands it.

We will not stand by and see our treaty right made worthless. Salmon recovery is about us. All of us. And it’s going to take all of us and all we can do to make it happen.

— Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Members include Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and the Suquamish Tribe.

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