Opinion

Despite efforts, salmon declining | Being Frank

OLYMPIA — We are losing the battle for salmon recovery in western Washington because salmon habitat is being destroyed faster than it can be restored.

Despite massive cuts in harvest, careful use of hatcheries and a huge financial investment in restoration during the past four decades, salmon continue to decline along with their habitat. As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads, and we are running out of time.

That’s why we are asking the federal government to come to align its agencies and programs, and lead a more coordinated salmon recovery effort. We want the United States to take charge of salmon recovery because it has the obligation and authority to ensure both salmon recovery and protection of tribal treaty rights. That responsibility is alive today, just like the treaties.

We held up our end of the bargain when we ceded most of the land in western Washington to the U.S. government through the treaties of 1854-55. In those treaties, we retained certain rights for ourselves, such as the right to harvest salmon in our traditional fishing places as we have always done. But those rights are meaningless if the salmon disappear. Already some of our tribes have lost their most basic ceremonial and subsistence fisheries.

Up until now, the federal government’s main response to declining salmon runs has been to restrict harvest. Habitat must be held to the same standard as harvest if salmon are to recover.

That must start at the watershed level.

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

 

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