Representatives of upriver and downriver tribes, and of the state of Idaho, trooped to the microphone Thursday to express dissatisfaction with the way the states of Oregon and Washington manage fisheries in the lower Columbia River aimed at spring chinook salmon.
Testimony by the tribes and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game came during Thursday’s season-opening Columbia River Compact and a joint Oregon/Washington sport hearing in Portland. The Compact, which sets mainstem commercial fisheries, is comprised of representatives of the directors of Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
The tribes, and IDFG, say the current state management of sport and commercial fisheries in the lower river (below Bonneville Dam) focuses too much fishing on upriver fish during the early season. That emphasis, which results in wild fish mortality as well as hatchery harvest, can tilt the genetic scale and prevent an equitable sharing of the early harvest.
“The tribes would like to see lower river fishery impacts spread out over the season instead of being used primarily in the early season fisheries. This ensures that harvest impacts are spread out among the different stocks instead of just targeting early returning fish,” Herb Jackson told the Compact. He was speaking for four Columbia River treaty tribes – the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and the Yakama. Jackson is a member of the Nez Perce Fish and Wildlife Committee.
“Our management agreement contains the commitment of the states to ensure that they will not take more spring chinook than the tribal fisheries that will come later upstream,” said Bruce Jim, a member of the Fish and Wildlife Committee of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “But if there is over harvest early in non-treaty fisheries, perhaps because the predicted numbers are too high, you cannot put fish back in the water or in our net to meet the catch balancing requirement.”
That management agreement is a 10-year plan constructed under the auspices the U.S. v Oregon lawsuit, which includes as primary parties the federal government, the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington and the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakima and Shoshone-Bannock tribes. It outlines who gets what share of the returning fish, but it does not prescribe how individual fisheries might be timed within a harvest season.
It describes that equal share – mainstem non-treaty fishers cannot harvest more than the allowed treaty harvest.
“The management agreement also requires that non-treaty mainstem fisheries be managed to a ‘buffered’ run size of 30 percent less than the preseason forecast prior to the first TAC run-size update,” Jackson said. The state’s 2012 harvest management plan does contain a 30 percent buffer, meaning that the goal is to hold non-Indian harvest to 70 percent or less of their spring season allocation until the Technical Advisory Committee updates the run-size estimate at the midpoint of the run, which usually occurs in late April to early May.
“We see this as a minimum if you are to manage conservatively,” Jim said.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes told the Compact that a 50 percent buffer would be more appropriate so that more wild fish from the early part of the run should be allowed to escape and help build depleted runs in the Salmon River basin headwaters and elsewhere. The Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation is located is southeast Idaho and their hunting grounds include those Salmon River headwaters. A total of 10 tribal members and/or tribal employees made the 10-hour drive to Portland to testify to the Compact.
“The Tribes strongly urge the Compact to make an allocation decision that targets hatchery fish using space, time and gear constraints, including a minimum 50 percent impact buffer for ESA listed fish, at least until the forecast is validated or updated,” said Nathan Small, chairman of the Fort Hall Business Council for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.
“Past escapements of natural-origin fish in the Snake River basin still result in most of the populations being well below recovery thresholds and still within the 25 percent extinction risk threshold, developed by the Interior Columbia Basin Technical Recovery Team,” Small said.
“As such, you do not always have to harvest up to the last fish and efforts should be made to be conservative in all management of fish stocks protected under the Endangered Species Act,” Small said. Wild Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon that return to the Salmon River and elsewhere in Idaho are ESA-listed.
The tribal spokesmen, and Hassemer, noted most of the fish caught in the lower river comes from upriver production of both wild and hatchery fish.
Hassemer said that 53 percent of the fish caught during the spring season in the lower Columbia are of Snake River origin, and 28 percent come from Idaho hatcheries – three in the Clearwater and one in the Salmon.
“They’re providing at least half of the fish in those fisheries,” Hassemer said. About 40 percent of the upriver fish are past Bonneville by May 7, and 70 percent of that downriver harvest takes place before that date.
Like the tribes, the Idaho would like to see the harvests spread across the run so that no particular genetic stock takes a hard hit.
“The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is interested in a distribution of the fisheries across of the stocks,” Hassemer said. That would include a better distribution across the pre-update period.