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Protest over Skokomish fishing restrictions set for Saturday

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UNION — Anglers plan to protest the Skokomish Tribe's decision to close one of Hood Canal's most popular sport fishing spots.

Puget Sound Anglers, a recreational fishing group with about 7,000 members, plans to gather Saturday at the river's George Adams Hatchery to demonstrate against the closure.

"Sport fishing for chinook and coho salmon has occurred here for many decades as these fisheries are extremely popular with many thousands of Washington citizens," the group's president, Ron Garner, wrote in letter to the tribe.

The tribe has long held that the portion of the Skokomish running alongside its reservation is under tribal control.

"We want to manage (the river) in a more positive way and protect not only the water but the habitat," Skokomish Tribe Chairman Charles "Guy" Miller said.

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently weighed in with a legal opinion in the tribe's favor. The opinion boosted the tribe's standing during this year's tumultuous negotiations between the state and tribes over Puget Sound's fishing season.

The much-delayed agreement reached in May greatly reduced fishing opportunities and makes the lower stem of the Skokomish off-limits to nontribal fishers.

The state still disagrees with the tribes' claim and likely will launch a legal challenge sometime this or next year.

The lower stem was often crowded shoulder-to-shoulder with sport anglers. The river's popularity led to conflict with tribal members and claims of environmental damage.

"On weekends, we'd get several hundred of them," Miller said of sport anglers. "Sometimes there'd be so many that they'd be pushing and shoving."

In 2009, an abundance of human waste attributed to Skokomish sport anglers led to the emergency closure of nearby shellfish beds. Thousands of pounds of commercially harvested shellfish had to be dumped and tribal harvests were delayed.

Garner said sport and tribal fishers should be allies.

"(We) have mutual interests of saving and restoring our salmon and steelhead resources," he said.

Garner warned that disputes over fishing access could turn anglers against public funding for hatcheries, including the Skokomish's George Adams Hatchery.

"Without our involvement, further significant improvements to habitat and increased hatchery production is unlikely," his letter stated. "Without meaningful fishing opportunities, (our) support will wane."

State Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers plan to patrol the area during August — the month anglers typically congregate along the Skokomish. They hope to prevent expected conflicts between anglers and tribal police.

Saturday's protest is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the George Adams Hatchery, 40 W. Skokomish Valley Road.

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