Tribe blocks salmon fishing on Skokomish River
#645 (In Topic #399)
Recreational anglers are getting the boot from one of Hood Canal's most popular fishing spots.
Backed by the federal government, the Skokomish Tribe is reasserting control over its namesake river and will block public access for the upcoming salmon fishing season.
"We've always known the river was ours," Skokomish Tribe Chairman Charles "Guy" Miller. "We never doubted that for a minute."
The state doubts it. For now, though, it will go along with a recent legal opinion issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The department's solicitor agrees with the tribe that the portion of the Skokomish River running alongside its reservation is part of the reservation and falls under the tribe's control.
The department's opinion boosted the tribe's standing during this year's protracted negotiations with the state over the Puget Sound salmon fishing season. The late-breaking agreement reached last week greatly reduces fishing opportunities and makes the lower main stem of the Skokomish off-limits to nontribal fishers.
The change has angered many recreational anglers and might lead to a legal challenge from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"(We) don't agree with the claim but until we fully evaluate it and legal action is explored, we're going along with it," said Laurie Peterson, Fish and Wildlife's Puget Sound fisheries manager.
The lower main stem of the Skokomish River runs along the reservation's south and east borders before flowing into Hood Canal near Union. The 2 miles between a state-run salmon hatchery and the river's mouth attracts thousands of salmon-hungry anglers each year.
"On opening day, we'll get thousands of them," Miller said. "They'll be casting from the shore, sometimes lined up shoulder to shoulder."
The typical "Skok" angler comes from nearby communities and isn't a boat owner. The river's closure means they'll likely have fewer opportunities for salmon fishing, said Mark Downen, a Hood Canal fisheries biologist.
The river's popularity has lead to environmental problems and conflicts with the tribe and nearby shellfish farms.
In 2009, the abundance of human waste along the river forced an emergency closure of commercial, tribal and recreational shellfish beds near the river's mouth.
Shellfish inspectors found numerous piles of poop and trash in bushes along a stretch where 2,000 sport fishers had been at one time. Many anglers had accessed the river through a farm alongside the reservation. Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers found that many of the anglers lacked fishing licenses and were taking more than their legal limit of salmon.
Thousands of pounds of commercially harvested clams had to be dumped, and the tribe was forced to delay large harvests of oysters and other shellfish.
In the late 1970s, anglers had to get a permit from the tribe to fish the Skokomish. According to the Interior Department, the state acknowledged the tribe's authority over the river in 1978. Nearly a decade later, "the state's position seems to have changed," the department stated in its opinion.
In 1987, the state and tribe signed an oddly worded memorandum asserting that the state "does not acknowledge that the Skokomish River is part of the Skokomish Reservation, and the Skokomish Tribe does not acknowledge that it is not."
In its opinion, the Interior Department relied on an 1855 treaty and 1874 executive order that established the reservation's boundaries.
"The bed of the Skokomish River along the southern and eastern boundary of the Reservation … was reserved for the benefit of the Tribe, and did not pass to the State of Washington at statehood" in 1889, the Interior Department concludes.
Fish and Wildlife will have enforcement officers at the river when the fishing season begins. Their purpose is less to catch anglers breaking jurisdictional rules the state doesn't fully acknowledge and more to ease expected conflicts between tribal police and anglers. Some anglers might have not heard about the new restrictions. Others might know but will "try to fish anyway," Peterson said.
"Tribal police could be out there seizing gear and boats," she said. "That's a looming concern. There could be problems there this season."
1 guest and 0 member have just viewed this.