Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
6730 Martin Way E.
Olympia, Washington 98516-5540
Phone: (360) 438-1180
Fax: (360) 753-8659
Catching Fewer Fish to Give Them a Chance
Certain images from Kit Rawson’s years of working in front
of the Tulalip Marina stick with him.
“I see, right before my eyes, fishing knowledge being passed
down through generations -- grandfathers and fathers teaching the
next generation how to fish,” says Rawson, senior fisheries
management biologist with the Tulalip Tribes and member of the Puget
Sound Technical Recovery Team.
To promote responsible and sustainable fisheries for generations,
the Tulalips have cut back significantly on their fish take over
the last few decades.
“Our harvest management strategy is working,” said Joe
Hatch, Fisheries Manager with the Tulalip Tribes. “Great sacrifices
have been made by our fishing communities, but those sacrifices are
starting to pay off.”
Harvest Management As Part of a Broader
The results can be seen in record and near-record salmon “escapement” --
the number of fish allowed to spawn in order to sustain a run at
a desired level -- over the last few years. The tribal and state
co-managers establish escapement goals to ensure healthy fish populations
in the future. In 2001, they achieved the highest Chinook escapement
in the Snohomish basin in nearly 40 years.
In 2002, about 7,200 Chinook in the Snohomish river system -- including
the Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers - escaped to spawn.
This exceeded the former goal of 5,250, and marked the fourth time
in the past five years that the co-managers were able to exceed this
level. Plus, more than 155,000 Snohomish chum moved upstream, shattering
the minimum escapement number of 28,000 and representing the highest
observed Snohomish chum numbers in over 20 years.
“The higher escapements we’ve achieved in recent years
show that we’ve really decreased harvest pressure. We’ve
set the bar very high in that regard,” said Rawson. “More
than ever, I’m convinced that setting the bar high is the way
The co-managers know that just limiting harvest isn’t enough,
though. That’s why the Snohomish watershed recovery plan, now
being developed under Shared Strategy for Puget Sound as a template
for future efforts, combines sound harvest management with habitat
and hatchery reform goals.
Testing the Habitat
The Tulalip Tribes are working together with county and local governments
on a comprehensive and ambitious set of agendas. This slate of policies
includes harvest restrictions that are carefully targeted and scientifically
The needs of wild salmon are very simple and straightforward: cool,
clean water to swim in; gravel to build nests and lay eggs; undisturbed
shorelines; a river system with minimal pollution. Providing these
things, though, is the most difficult environmental, economic, political
and social challenge the region faces. Lost and degraded habitat
conditions put a ceiling on the amount of fish any river system will
produce, no matter how many salmon escape to spawn.
Tulalip’s harvest restrictions are designed to test the habitat
in the region, to see how much natural production it can support.
By putting more fish into Snohomish basin spawning grounds, the plan
is to maximize the number of salmon in the river system.
“A fallacy that many people fall into assumes that the more
we cut back fishing, the more stocks will recover. But harvest is
just a piece of a larger picture,” said Rawson. “To go
to zero fishing wouldn’t get us any further toward recovery.”
That’s because allowing more fish to spawn into degraded habitat
doesn’t necessarily mean salmon runs will grow. Increased salmon
production requires habitat recovery and restoration.
But while that crucial work is taking place, how are the tribes
balancing the need for harvest with the need for plentiful wild fish
in the river? That’s where hatcheries come in.
The Tulalip Tribes’ Bernie Kai Kai Gobin Salmon Hatchery uses
the latest science to produce fish for harvest, easing the pressure
on wild runs. Time and place restrictions make Tulalip Bay one of
the few places tribal and non-tribal fishermen can catch a chinook
salmon – without worrying about harming the threatened wild
“It’s important for everyone, Indian and non-Indian,
to continue to have harvest opportunities while we rebuild salmon
stocks,” said Rawson. “Rebuilding is going to take a
long time, so we have to ensure that people don’t lose their
traditional fishing knowledge.”
Just as knowledge is power for fishermen, information is essential
for fisheries managers.
Factors essential to fisheries management constantly change. Ocean
conditions, flooding, drought, and other natural forces make salmon
runs fluctuate. The realities of harvest and habitat require an open
mind and a keen ear for the latest science. Particularly in Snohomish
County, where the watershed recovery plan being developed now will
lay the groundwork for future efforts, gathering as much knowledge
as possible will be pivotal.
That, says Rawson, is the vision that animates Tulalip fisheries
staff – and where the Shared Strategy comes in.
“Any time, any place, we’re willing to sit down and
talk about our harvest management strategy,” said Rawson. “The
Shared Strategy framework is a source of hope. When everybody talks
and shares information, everybody learns. If we’re serious
about achieving salmon recovery, this is the way to do it.”
Contact: Kit Rawson at firstname.lastname@example.org