Salmon and steelhead co-management

Washington's salmon, steelhead, and other fisheries are managed cooperatively in a unique government-to-government relationship. One government is the State of Washington, and the other are Indian nations whose rights were reserved in treaties signed with the federal government in the 1850s. In those treaties, 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 court case (U.S. v. Washington, decided by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt, and following sub-proceedings) re-affirmed the tribes' treaty rights to harvest salmon, steelhead, and other fish species and established them as co-managers of Washington fisheries.

Today, WDFW and the tribes work together to conserve and sustainably manage fish populations to provide opportunities for recreational, commercial, and ceremonial and subsistence harvest.

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 is 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 PFMC and its technical committees. The PFMC 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 process, state and tribal fisheries experts participate in the North of Falcon process.

Tribal and WDFW biologists cooperate in analyzing and estimating the size of salmon and steelhead runs that migrate back to their native rivers and hatcheries. The fish managers apply fisheries science to analyze technical information and use computer models to establish conservation goals for wild fish along with the state and tribal fisheries that are directed on the harvestable surplus of hatchery and wild salmon. Further, WDFW and the tribes monitor fisheries underway in what is called “in-season management” to ensure that the fisheries stay within the agreed-upon harvest objectives.

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. These parties work under a management plan for Columbia River fisheries that arose from an Oregon federal court proceeding, U.S. v Oregon

Cooperation in restoring fish habitat

Government-to-government fish conservation and 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 separate hatchery fish from wild salmon in streams and rivers.

WDFW and treaty tribes also negotiate annual management plans for Dungeness crab, shrimp, clams and other shellfish, following a 1994 federal court decision that reaffirmed the tribes' treaty right to equal shares with non-Indians in harvesting these species.

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, steelhead, and fisheries resources by working together in a cooperative manner with tribal co-managers.