Netting on the Sound

It's all habit right?!

Bellingham is a tight knit commercial and treaty fishery and will take some time, but I do think change is doable. I am not giving up.

Dehlan G

Active Member
I'm actually writing a debate right now in Debate/Speech class in school about Tribal Fishing laws. Some girl chose "protecting tribal fishing and hunting rights" as her authorship speech, and I chose to be the opposition for the topic. Little does she know what she is up against lol. Can anyone provide me some photos of nets strung across the rivers/beaches? Thanks in advance. Oh yeah, last week a friend invited me onto his boat to (downrigger) fish right outta Shilshole. As we went through the locks, we couldn't believe the amount of nets in that little channel outside the locks. They had nets stacked up like every 10 feet or so, tying them onto every object on the beach. It was pretty cool watching the salmon jump around the boats as you're going up/down in the locks too.


Sculpin Enterprises
This issue seems to come up quarterly. So, let me type real slow and see if you can follow. Because of the Boldt Decision, the treaty tribes (those that signed treaties ceding huge amounts of land in return for maintaining their usual and accustomed fishing and hunting access) are entitled to half the harvest. What this quantity will be is set at the infamous North of Falcon meetings between the various fishing interest groups, WaDFW, and the tribes (as co-managers with WaDFW), except with the tribes, there is a lot of backroom dealing. If the biologists state that there are 10,000 coho above escapement on a particular river, half, 5000 fish "belong" to the tribes. The other 5000 are caught by commercial trollers off the coast of Washington, B.C., and SE Alaska, by recreational boats along the coast, by boats out of Neah Bay, Sekiu, Everett, Seattle, and even the occasional flyfisher off Point No Point. etc. Many of these (especially on the coast and north) are mixed-stock fisheries; not only are hatchery fish harvested, but wild fish as well, from both strong and weak stocks.

The tribes harvest their share at the rivers, at their "usual and accustomed areas". In the end, it makes no difference if the tribes catch their 5000 in one day in a single huge net or in dribs and drabs over weeks or months. Those 5000 are theirs to harvest. [When you think about it, wouldn't you rather have the tribes catch their quota rapidly via wall to wall nets and then stop or to be constantly in the way, but at lower frequency???] If you are concerned about harvest, it is more than a bit shortsighted to focus on the tribal catch that you can see and ignore the deaths by 1000 hooks of the other 5000 fish that are happening beyond your little world. In fact, because the tribes are catching their share of the quota at or near the terminal area, one can be reasonably sure that their effort is focused on those stocks which have some quota available, as opposed to the mixed stock fishing that happens elsewhere on wild fish from weak stocks and strong stocks alike.

Here are the questions you should be asking, in my opinion.
1) Are the escapement values for a specific stock in a specific river adequate for sustainable returns, especially in the face of environmental fluctuations (in the rivers and in the ocean) and habitat loss?
2) Are the estimates of returns accurate enough to determine, reliably, the number of "excess" fish, fish above escapement targets, that are available for harvest?
3) How do we know when these excess fish have been harvested and does each side "trust" the other side to harvest only their share? And remember, the "tribes" are not one unit, but fiercely independent groups, some better run, some not so much.

After Boldt, whining about tribal fishing effort may be popular, but it is also useless. When the state has treated the tribes as adversaries, they got their butts handed to them. You may not like the treaty, thinking that some groups got a raw deal, but that is the deal that our government signed. I don't think that the tribes want to catch the last salmon, but for a variety of valid historical reasons, they have little reason to trust WaDFW (or us). Yet, if we don't hang together, at some point, we'll all hang separately. And no one will have any fish.

To question #1 - It would appear that the obvious answer is NO. My personal view is that escapement values are based on the wrong factors (fecundity, genetic diversity, expected survial). While these factors are of course important, I believe others are as important, if not more.

Historical returns represent a biological equilibrium, and they are orders of magnitude higher than what we allow today. I think one important factor that continues to be overlooked is the number of dead carcasses that is required to adaquately fertilize a river bed for the benefit of the next generation. An undernurished or undersized parr/smolt is not going to exhibit good ocean survival.

Understandably, letting "excess" fish die and rot in the rivers is a tough sell, but I believe it needs to happen. The commercial fishermen are quick to blame degraded habitat for reduced run sizes - not overharvest. It seems likely to me that overharvest is a very important factor in habitat degradation.

Whatever the actual cause, if we continue to take as many fish as our current models allow, we are leaving no buffer for the unknown and we will continue to watch them all dissapear.


Active Member
many, many issues in this debate. first off MSY denies darwinian thinking in terms of survival of the fittest. MSY is ALL about harvest! secondly, no one is interested in denying the indians their 50%, only the means used to achieve that harvest level. third, no one at the state or federal level is interested in enforcing the law regarding harvest of currently listed ESA fishes.

stir this pot and what you end up with is extinction, happenning right now at a river near and dear to your black fly fishing heart. just another example of the corporatization of the USA!
I regularly complain loudly about overharvest and abuse from all sides. Rarely on this forum, but anybody who has fished with me for more than 5mins has heard me rant about something of the sort.

I fully support the tribes' rights to harvest salmon. I even would support that if given rod and reel, for them to have increased limits for subsistence, or whatever use they have for them. My opposition lies with the non-selective gill nets at river mouths for commercial harvest, and inaccurate escapement "estimates".

I'm also a huge opponent of overharvest, poaching, and overall abuse of the resource from "sport" anglers. I've mentioned before on this site, I strongly believe that a resource education course AND TEST should be required of ALL fishing license holders. When we have thousands upon thousands of clueless, ignorant, careless, casual "fishermen" out snagging, poaching, and keeping everything they catch, regardless if they can properly identify what the fish is, there lies a whole other problem that to me, is every bit as important to address.

I know that my ability to do anything about commercial harvest is pretty minimal. But spreading the idea of mandating resource education is a goal that I feel is much more realistic.


Active Member
Getting information out to the public that reveals the actual methods and conduct that characterize tribal fishing may never change the law, but it certainly has the potential to change public sentiment.

Very few of the people who support tribal fishing rights in principle are inclined to uncritically support resource abuse in practice. Capturing and publicizing graphic evidence of that abuse may never change the law, but it certainly has the potential to change public sentiment. Maybe the tribes will respond to that, maybe they won't.

Seems to have worked for the whales.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
"Graphic evidence of the abuse"...well we can include commercial fishermen and sports fishermen, including guides, of every stripe in that photo essay as well!

The basic premise of MSY is that one has an adequate escapement to begin with, a number of fish that is related to pre-exploitation numbers. Originally the MSY science pointed to having escapement goals of roughly 50% of the pre-escapement numbers.

As an example of how failed the modern application of the MSY model is we can look at how they have winnowed down the Hoh River Wild Winter Steelead runs to an escapement goal of around 2500 fish, and they have routinely failed escapements in recent years. It does not help that the tribes are taking well over 50% of the harvestable fish there either. And it is legal under the curent management plans with wdfw for them to do so. Some estimates of the WW1 and WW2 era fish runs on the Hoh River put the spawning numbers at between 44,000 and 65,000 fish. One can only guess at what the "pre-exploitation" numbers were prior to that.

But we can look at every great river in our egion and see how the wild fish were winnowed down to nearly nothing; one run at a time, one season at a time, based soley on the goal of continued harvest and opportunity for all fishermen.

Under these circumstances it would be better if we just closed it down and began working together to preserve and protect what little we have left, for the sake of the last wild fish. as long as the goals are only to support "harvestable numbers of fish", then we will continue to ride the decline into extirpation.
Evan, I dig your education idea. But I see one big problem with it- A requisite education program would drastically reduce the number of people who buy licences a become fishermen. This would worsen one of the big problems in fisheries management here in the PNW, namely that the sportfishers get no respect. Inspite of the fact that the sportfishing industry is worth more than commercial fishing industry, we continue to get shafted by the managers. Reducing the size of the industry, and the number of fishermen would likely only make the situation more lop-sided.

It is possible that a smaller number of more educated fishermen would have more political impact, but I don't know..

It is possible that a smaller number of more educated fishermen would have more political impact, but I don't know..

I believe they would. I think it is better than what the future most likely holds for the growing groups of sport fishermen, and the growing sub-segment who are ignorant of the resource.
Yep, this is pretty standard for that river. Every year they net the piss out of the lower reaches. I truly believe the Nooksack could be a good fish producer, but I've heard as much as 50-70% of the fish in that river are harvested. With the hatcheries and netting in that river it's basically managed as a put n' take.
That is exactly what it is a " Terminal Fishery", as long as they get enough eggs for the hatcheries, they don't care! B-ham bay is open to commercial fishers from from mid sept to the end of oct. 24-7, been that way since I can remember. It's a damn shame! the commercial guys don't even like it! All the fall kings are of hatchery origin, the natives are springs, and they haven't been fished on for 30 yrs. The N. fork springs are comming back pretty well but the S. forks are lagging, a few years ago they were down to 100 spawners.

If you want to change the way this drainage is managed, you need to call fish and wildlife, your state rep and attend meetings. E-mails don't do it, they are to easy to ignore, they have to answer the phone.
... I think one important factor that continues to be overlooked is the number of dead carcasses that is required to adaquately fertilize a river bed for the benefit of the next generation. An undernurished or undersized parr/smolt is not going to exhibit good ocean survival.

I've asked that question to every biologist I've ever met. Funny, they always change the subject.

Also, Some dude down the sky not so long ago was walking up and down the banks telling everyone cleaning their fish that it was a $100 fine to gut a fish and toss the entrails back into the water. WTF? I couldn't find it in the regs. Even if it was there, I wouldn't follow it. Has anyone else heard this?

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