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The agreement clears the way for the resumption this spring of fin-clipping coho reared in state hatcheries. About 3.2 million young Puget Sound coho will have their adipose fin (the fleshy fin near the tail) removed so that they can be distinguished from wild coho. Fin-clipping or mass marking could provide increased opportunities for fishermen to harvest hatchery fish while minimizing impacts to wild salmon stocks.
"This agreement reiterates our strong desire to build on our relationship with the tribes and work together in a cooperative, productive fashion," said Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Bern Shanks. "I'm extremely pleased this joint agreement has been worked out and we can jointly move forward with our cooperative coho management efforts."
"We are pleased that the tribes and state, as co-managers, have been able to work out our concerns regarding mass marking," said Billy Frank Jr., Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chairman. "However, this plan will have little value in the years to come if we don't address habitat loss and degradation. The tribes are eager to move forward with the state and others to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to protect weak wild salmon stocks."
While current fisheries harvest management efforts are conserving wild salmon stocks, one of the costs often is reduced fishing opportunities for hatchery fish. This is especially true in mixed stock fishing areas, such as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and north coast, where hatchery stocks mingle with depressed wild stocks before each seeks out its stream of origin. In recent years, fishing in these areas has been severely reduced to protect weak wild stocks.
Mass marking and selective fisheries provides fishing opportunities in mixed stock areas while maintaining the ability to conserve wild stocks. Anglers are able to identify and keep the fin-clipped hatchery fish, while releasing the unmarked wild fish.
Under the agreement a process and schedule have been established to reach agreement or resolve disputes about marking the rest of Puget Sound hatchery fish this fall. Beginning in 1998, proposed coho selective fisheries will be evaluated individually and will be implemented only as part of agreed annual fishery management plans that address a wide range of fisheries issues.
Treaty tribes obtained a court order last fall to stop the mass marking program mandated by the state Legislature because of its potential harm to the coastwide coded wire tagging program. The state proposed to use the same fin-clip for mass marking that is used by tribal, state and federal hatcheries along the West Coast to mark hatchery and wild fish that have had the coded wire tags inserted in their snouts. The tribes, federal agencies and Canada were concerned that the mass marking program would compromise the accuracy of data obtained through the tagging program. That data forms the foundation of domestic fisheries management in the region, is critical to implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada, and is necessary to evaluate the effects of selective fisheries on wild salmon populations.
Under terms of the agreement, tribal, state and federal fisheries managers will work together, as well as with Canada, to ensure that the coded wire tagging program continues to be implemented as an integral part of overall coho management. The framework also calls for the state and tribes to improve scientific procedures, adopt consistent, coordinated management procedures and resolve any differences that may arise.