Guest Opinion: North of Falcon process underway earlier

The 2017 state and tribal salmon season-setting process got an earlier start this year.

Nobody wants a repeat of last year’s North of Falcon process that required a month of overtime negotiations and led to a delay in opening some sport fisheries. It was the first time in more than 30 years that the co-managers were unable to complete the process in the usual late February through April time frame.

Some said the delay showed that the process is broken. It’s not.

The fact that we reached an agreement is proof of that. What is true is that salmon management is becoming more difficult every year as the resource continues to disappear. Poor ocean food supplies, climate change and the ongoing loss and damage of salmon habitat have led to record low returns of chinook and coho for the past few years. This reality demands increasing caution by the salmon co-managers as we work to share and rebuild a steadily shrinking resource.

More of the same is expected again this year. In fact, we may be seeing a new normal when it comes to salmon returns in western Washington. We’ve been working with the state to take a close look at the North of Falcon process and how we can be more efficient. One thing we did was get the ball rolling earlier this year. We began our preliminary meetings in January so that tough issues can be addressed more quickly.

For example, we are addressing species like pink and coho salmon earlier in the process. That gives us extra time to deal with more at-risk species such as Puget Sound chinook, which have continued to decline since being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999.

I am optimistic that we will finish on time and agree on a package of fisheries that balances the needs of all fishermen and the sustainability of the salmon resource.

Still, no fisherman is going to get everything he wants this year. We all want more fish, but there just aren’t enough. So, let’s look at what we can do together.

We can do more to protect salmon habitat. The ongoing loss and damage of salmon habitat is the single biggest source of our problem. The collapse of our fisheries mirrors this destruction of habitat.

We can advocate for hatcheries. About half of the salmon harvested in western Washington are hatchery fish. We will all have to depend on hatcheries for as long as lost and damaged habitat restricts natural salmon production.

The importance of hatcheries should be reflected in their funding, but as the need for hatchery fish has increased, state funding for hatcheries has declined or remained flat. Federal funding for tribal hatcheries also has not kept pace with maintenance and operation costs.

We can continue to cooperate. It has taken more than 40 years for the tribes and state to build the working relationship needed to jointly manage the salmon resource. Like all relationships, ours has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day we all want the same thing: healthy, sustainable salmon populations that can support harvest.

Even with an early start it won’t be easy for the co-managers to reach agreement again this year. As salmon continue to decline, every management action we take requires increasingly careful consideration. One thing that’s certain is that fisheries management is better when we work together.

Lorraine Loomis is Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. See www.nwifc.org.

More in Opinion

Think About It: Lost in space

Even our cats are crabby — although I fail to see any… Continue reading

Guest opinion: Dems topping GOP in primary election

The Grand Old Party endured a good old-fashioned butt-whupping on primary night.… Continue reading

Water Matters: Drought by the numbers, 180 and 120 cfs

A cubic-foot-per-second (cfs) is a measure of stream flow equivalent to about… Continue reading

Guest opinion: Teacher compensation is on the rise

Teacher salaries are soaring … as the Washington Education Association predicted they… Continue reading

American giving surpassed $400 billion

Believe it or not, there is good news to report these days.… Continue reading

Think About It: Gifts of grief unbounded

Breaking news interrupts the newscast — as it often does — and… Continue reading

From the Back Nine: The Long Haul, Surviving As a caregiver (part two)

This is the continuation of my thoughts on surviving as a caregiver,… Continue reading

Dungeness River Management Team celebrates three decades of collaboration

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Dungeness River Management Team has… Continue reading

Guest opinion: Firearms and … warning labels?

Back in 1965, with mounting evidence of the ill effects of smoking,… Continue reading

Think About It: Build it and they will come

And they have. But first, husband Paul and I are celebrating the… Continue reading

Guest opinion: Cooperation key to salmon recovery

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson didn’t have to take the culvert case… Continue reading

Watter Matters: History matters

In my last column I indulged in banter about the passage of… Continue reading