The May 16 sudden fishery closure came as a surprise to many tribal fishers. Since the announcement, there has been a lot of questions about why the tribes made this difficult decision. Below are some of the frequently asked questions along with answers to them.
Q: Why was the tribal Zone 6 fishery closed early?
A: The spring chinook pre-season forecast was 198,600. To play it safe, the tribes planned early season fisheries based on the potential that the run might come in only about 75% of that forecast. It turned out that the run came in even smaller than that. The fisheries had better catch rates than anticipated as well. This combination resulted in the treaty fishery being much closer to the harvest limit than the tribes were anticipating for this date. It is important for the tribes to live up to their commitments to manage their fisheries to stay within the allowed harvest limits. It protects tribal sovereignty and helps protect the fish.
Q: Did CRITFC close the fishery?
A: No, CRITFC has no authority to set fishing seasons or create fishing regulations for any of the member tribes. This power lies solely with the tribes themselves. The four member tribes created CRITFC partly to provide a forum where they could all meet to coordinate their fishery responsibilities and activities.
Q: How do the Tribes decide on their opening and closing determinations?
A: The tribal leaders had a difficult decision to make when they chose to close the 2023 spring fishery. They knew it would impact tribal fishers, but they also have a responsibility to take care of the salmon for future generations. After reviewing all the available data, analysis, and projections, they made the call. Click here more detailed information on how the tribes set fisheries.
Q: When will the treaty fishery be re-opened?
A: The tribes are closely monitoring the run and assessing catch projections for treaty fishing. If the run size changes enough to allow for additional harvest, the tribes have indicated they will re-open fisheries as soon as possible. If the run size estimate does not change, the summer management period begins June 16 and fisheries will re-open no later than then.
Q: Why are non-Indians still allowed to fish while tribal fishers are not?
A: At the current run size projection of 139,000 the treaty fishery is at a 7.4% harvest rate which comes out to a total allowed catch of 10,286 fish. That number is also the non-treaty catch balance limit. The treaty fishery caught 9,907 fish through last Saturday, so the treaty fishery is basically at its harvest limit. The non-treaty fisheries have only got total mortalities of 2,831 through last Saturday. Since they also have an allowed mortality of 10,286 at this run size, they can expand their fisheries to catch some more fish. So that is why they set another 5 day opening starting Friday.
Q: How did this allocation system get established?
A: The Boldt and Belloni fishing rights cases determined that the tribes were to receive half of the harvestable surplus of salmon in the Columbia River. The process to decide how to allocate these shares and what is considered the harvestable surplus was created as part of the US v. Oregon court case. The US v OR Management Agreement manages the fishing of upriver spring chinook salmon. The agreement is between the tribes and states who have co-management authority over the fisheries. This agreement sets rules for how many fish can be caught by treaty and non-treaty fishers. The agreement also limits the impact on endangered spring chinook populations. There is a limit on non-treaty fisheries so they don’t catch more fish than the tribes are allowed to catch. They can keep fishing as long as their total catch doesn’t go over what the tribes are allowed to catch.
Q: What about all the fish caught in the ocean and river mouth? Do those count against the non-treaty allocation?
A: For some salmon stocks they do, but upriver spring chinook are almost never encountered in ocean fisheries. This is probably due to these fish just not being present in areas where there are fisheries occurring when those fisheries are happening. As an example, spring chinook are probably off the Washington Coast in February and March, but there are no salmon fisheries happening then.
Q: How were the numbers and allocations set?
A: The allowed harvest rates change with different run sizes. Harvest rates are lower at low run sizes and higher at higher run sizes. The river mouth run size is calculated as the Bonneville count plus all fishery impacts on upriver fish (both landed catch and release mortalities). There is also a catch balance provision that says that the non-treaty fisheries (all the mainstem fisheries plus WDFW sport fisheries in the lower Snake River) can no kill more fish that the tribes are allowed to catch. So both their landed catch plus their release mortalities count.
Q: Isn’t this just managing forecast guesses or “paper fish” rather than the number that are actually in the river?
A: Both the treaty and non-treaty fisheries are manage on in-season updated river mouth run sizes, not just the pre-season forecasts. This gives the tribal and state fisheries managers the flexibility to make adjustments to the fisheries to respond to new information. It was the new information from current counts and conditions which resulted in the recent treaty fishery closure.
Q: Who conducts the fish counts at the mouth of the Columbia River?
A: The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, which is made up of fishery managers from all four tribes along with the states and federal government, calculates the river mouth run size by adding all known fishery impacts to the Bonneville Dam counts. These river mouth run calculations are reviewed as often as every week and are modified throughout the season as appropriate.
Q: Are these estimates accurate considering how hard the fisheries have been hit recently?
A: Both treaty fisheries and non-treaty recreational fisheries use “creel sampling programs” to determine the catch in fisheries. These involve determining the effort for different gears and then sampling the fishers to determine the catch per gear over a period of time. Expansions are made to determine the total harvest. There are minor differences between how it is done between the treaty and non-treaty fisheries, but the principles are the same for both. These methods have been reviewed and found to be technically sound. Data are shared between the state and tribal managers.
Q: What is US v. Oregon?
A: United States v. Oregon is a continuing federal court proceeding first brought in 1968 to enforce the reserved fishing rights of the four Columbia River Treaty tribes: Yakama Nation, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce. The agreements’ purpose is to provide a framework within which the parties may exercise their sovereign powers in a coordinated and systematic manner in order to protect, rebuild, and enhance upper Columbia River fish runs while providing harvests for both treaty Indian and non-treaty fisheries. The current agreement is valid for the dates between 2018-2027. The text of the agreement can be found here.