WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

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June 27, 1997
Contact: Jeff Weathersby, (360) 902-2256 or Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180

U.S. commercial fishers delay fishery plans on Fraser River sockeye harvest

SEATTLE -- U.S. tribal and non-tribal commercial fishers have postponed the harvest of fish from the Early Stuart component of the Fraser River sockeye run.

Washington state, tribal, and federal fisheries managers met today in Seattle to evaluate current information about the Fraser sockeye run. Based on careful consideration of current run size and in-season test fishing information, U.S. managers decided that a U.S. fishery on Fraser sockeye should not begin at this time.

It had been anticipated, based on pre-season information, that the U.S. fishery might begin as early as Monday. However, information made available today to both countries' managers by the staff of the bilateral Pacific Salmon Commission suggested the run was either a few days late, or smaller, than forecasted. U.S. managers will meet Monday, and are expected to determine at that time when a fishery should begin.

Friday's decision to postpone fishery plans was made after tribal, WDFW and federal members of the U.S. side of the Pacific Salmon Commission's Fraser River panel reviewed scientific data about the size and expected timing of the various components of the sockeye run. American commercial fishers will harvest the sockeye as they move through the U.S. waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands and Point Roberts.

The Canadian government was informed earlier this week of the U.S. plans. These plans were designed to harvest 2.8 million Fraser sockeyes.

The fishery decision, normally made by the bilateral Fraser Panel, was made by the Washington State and tribal managers after American and Canadian negotiators tried for months without success to reach a salmon harvest agreement under the auspices of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Even lacking such agreement, U.S. managers fully intend to comply with agreed procedures for coordinating with Canada all decisions about managing the sockeye fishery.

"Obviously, we had opted to have a long-term agreement in place by now," said Bern Shanks, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But the fish will soon arrive in Washington waters. The issue considered today was when to start fishing so we do not miss opportunities to harvest a portion of the run that is not needed on the spawning grounds."

Lorraine Loomis, Tribal representative on the U.S. Fraser Panel, said "We plan a conservative, responsible fishery that will give our fishers an opportunity to harvest a fair share of the sockeye, well within our historic harvest averages. We will not overfish. The first priority of American managers will meet the spawning goals established by Canada to ensure conservation of the resource."

The first few weeks of the season will focus on the so-called Early Stuart run of sockeye. This run, just one of several stocks heading for the Fraser River during the summer, is expected to number more than a million fish. The Early Stuart fish return to Stuart Lake, hundreds of miles up the Fraser River.

This year's U.S. share of the Early Stuart run is consistent with the share tribal and non-tribal fishers have harvested historically. The U.S. catch, which varies annually with the size of the run, has ranged as high as 900,000 fish.

Biologist estimate this year's total Fraser River sockeye run will total 18 million salmon.

Treaty Indian and non-tribal fishers expect to share a U.S. harvest objective of about 20 percent of the run. U.S. federal, tribal and WDFW fish managers will obtain weekly updates of the run size and catches, and then decide the following week's fishery openings.

"If there are fewer fish, we will cut back our harvest. If there are more, we will increase it," Shanks said. "This is the essence of abundance-based management, which has been very successful for many years for the Fraser sockeye."

"Conservation is the most important goal for all the salmon species, and we won't lose sight of it." Loomis added.

Shanks and Loomis called upon the Canadians to mirror Washington's conservative approach to managing the Fraser runs, when they make decisions regarding Canadian harvest of Washington-bound coho off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

"Wild coho from some American rivers - as well as native coho from British Columbia streams - are in serious trouble," Shanks said. "We must face the fact that overfishing off the west coast of Vancouver Island is a major contributor to this decline. We will not successfully rebuild either country's wild runs unless Canada makes major adjustments in how it manages its west coast Vancouver Island troll fishery."

Under the original terms of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, Canada was allowed to take up to 1.8 million coho off Vancouver Island's west coast. Approximately half of those fish are from the United States. In recent years, changed ocean conditions and reduced production have rendered that harvest level far too high. As the treaty negotiations neared their recent collapse, Canada announced it would agree to the United States proposal of 560,000 coho for the West Coast Vancouver Island troll fishery in 1997, but still insisted on a ceiling of one million for 1998, without any indication of the size of next year's runs.

As much as three-quarters of the wild coho originating in the Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Quillayute, Queets, Skagit and other Washington rivers can be taken if Canada harvest 1.8 million coho off Vancouver Island, providing far too few fish for spawning needs and U.S. fisheries.

Shanks and Loomis repeated their desire for a long-term, science-based formula for managing coho that is as effective as the regime that has governed Fraser sockeye harvests for many years. They added that the most important requirement is to meet the conservation needs of the fish. That means large harvests when fish are abundant, and limited or no harvest when wild runs are small.