Salmon and steelhead co-management

Washington's salmon and steelhead fisheries are managed cooperatively in a unique government-to-government relationship. One government is the state of Washington, and the other is Indian nations whose rights were established in treaties signed with the federal government in the 1850s. In those treaties, the tribal nations agreed to allow the peaceful settlement of much of western Washington, and provided the land to do so, in exchange for their continued right to fish, gather shellfish, hunt and exercise other sovereign rights. A 1974 federal (U.S. v. Washington) court case (decided by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt) re-affirmed the tribe's rights to harvest salmon and steelhead and established them as co-managers of Washington fisheries.

Cooperation in salmon management

Each year, state and tribal representatives participate in two key public fish management processes. One is the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) process and the other in North of Falcon.

Pacific Fishery Management Council

This process sets annual fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. State and tribal representatives sit on the council and its technical committees. The council manages groundfish as well as salmon fishing in the Pacific Ocean.

North of Falcon

Parallel to the PFMC planning effort is the annual North of Falcon process, which sets salmon fishing seasons for tribal treaty and non-tribal fishers in inland waters such as Puget Sound, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and state rivers. As with the PFMC, state and tribal fisheries experts participate in the North of Falcon process and sit on its technical committees.

Those committees analyze technical information and use computer programs to set conservation goals for wild fish along with the state and tribal fisheries that focus on healthy runs of hatchery and wild salmon. Tribal and state biologists also cooperate in analyzing the size of fish runs as salmon and steelhead migrate back to their native rivers and hatcheries.

This so-called "in- season management" ensures sport, tribal, and non-tribal commercial fisheries are appropriate for the actual salmon returns and allow optimum numbers of fish to spawn. Fisheries in the Columbia River and its tributaries also are co-managed by the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho as well as four treaty tribes and other tribes that traditionally and historically have fished in those waters. The federal court continues to oversee the management of the Columbia River through the U.S. v. Oregon proceedings.

Cooperation in restoring fish habitat

Government-to-government fish management in Washington is much more than negotiating fisheries each year. The state and tribes have been working closely to develop the scientific tools necessary to address one of the key reasons for the decline of Washington salmon stocks: loss and degradation of freshwater and estuarine habitats.

The state and tribes in 1992 produced the Salmon Stock Inventory (SaSI), a critical document for wild fish recovery. SaSI definitively identified the status of each wild stock in categories ranging from extinct to healthy, and provided a system to monitor their status.

As habitat recovery efforts by the state, tribes and citizen groups shift into high gear, SaSI, currently being updated, will help ensure restoration efforts are working. Besides SaSI, the state and tribes also collaborate with citizens on another key science-based research program essential to wild salmon recovery: the Salmon and Steelhead Habitat Inventory and Assessment Project (SSHIAP). SSHIAP is a computerized information system developed by the Washington department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the tribes and others to catalogue details about habitat and map fish stock distributions as well as stock status. SSHIAP, in conjunction with other tools, also enables scientists to estimate the number of wild salmon that can be produced in sections of rivers. State and tribal biologists also are working cooperatively to develop comprehensive management plans for coho and chinook salmon, among the most prized species in the Northwest.

Cooperation in hatchery production

In the hatchery arena, the state, tribes and federal government have developed a fish and egg health policy that sets standards for all fish production facilities in the state. The policy requires testing of fish and eggs before transferring them to another hatchery or planting them in streams outside their native waters. This policy regulates approximately 40 tribal facilities and more than 100 state and federal hatcheries. It is designed to prevent the spread of diseases among salmon in the state.

The state and many tribes also mark their hatchery-produced salmon by clipping their adipose fin, which is located on the back between the dorsal fin and tail. Clipping hatchery salmon enables fishers to distinguish hatchery fish from wild ones, promoting wild fish conservation. Marking hatchery fish also assists biologists as they try to manage some hatchery stocks from wild salmon in streams and rivers.

WDFW and treaty tribes also are developing management plans for Dungeness crabs, shrimp, clams and other shellfish, following a federal court decision that reaffirmed the tribes' treaty right to equal shares with non-Indians in harvesting these species in the areas in which they traditionally fished.

A living process

These examples demonstrate that co-management is an ongoing, evolving process. Its guiding principle is that much more can be done to strengthen, preserve and restore salmon and steelhead resources by working together in a cooperative manner with our tribal co-managers.