Note: “Being Frank” is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman.
To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Lorraine Loomis, vice chairman of the NWIFC and fisheries manager for the Swinomish Tribe. Call 360-438-1180 or see www.nwifc.org.
So much has been written and said about the passing of Billy Frank Jr., our great leader and good friend. Many people are asking how to honor Billy’s memory. Who will take his place?
One way we can honor Billy’s legacy is to carry on his work:
• We must recover wild salmon to levels that can once again support harvest. That is the only true measure of salmon recovery. To do that, we must do more to protect and then to restore salmon habitat. Right now we are losing habitat faster than it can be fixed. That must change or we will continue to lose the battle for salmon recovery.
• We must maintain strong salmon hatchery programs. Most hatcheries were built to mitigate for lost natural wild salmon production caused by damaged and destroyed habitat. Tribal, state and federal hatcheries are operated safely, responsibly and using the best science to minimize impacts on wild salmon. Some hatcheries produce salmon for harvest. Others aid recovery of weak wild stocks. Every hatchery is essential to meeting the tribal treaty right by contributing salmon that are available for harvest. Without hatcheries there would be no fishing at all in most areas of western Washington. We must have hatcheries as long as wild salmon habitat continues to be degraded and disappear.
• We must achieve a more protective fish consumption rate and maintain the current cancer risk rate to improve water quality and protect the health of everyone who lives in Washington. The two rates are key factors that state government uses to determine how much pollution can be dumped in our waters. The state admits that the current fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day (an amount that would fit on a soda cracker) does not protect most of us who live here. It is among the lowest rates in the country, despite the fact that we have one of the largest populations of fish and shellfish consumers in the United States. Currently the cancer risk rate from toxins in seafood that the state uses to set water quality standards is one in a million, but Gov. Jay Inslee is considering a move to reduce that rate to one in 100,000, a tenfold decrease in protection. We believe Washington’s fish consumption rate should be 175 grams per day – the same as Oregon – and that the cancer risk rate should remain at one in a million.
• We must really, truly clean up Puget Sound. Every few years state government creates a new agency or cooperative effort to make that cleanup a reality. Year after year, decade after decade, we have all been working toward that goal, but we are not making sufficient progress. The main reason is lack of political will to develop and enforce regulations that could make cleanup a reality. Until that changes, the cleanup of Puget Sound will not happen.
• We must stop plans to expand the transport and export of coal and oil through our state’s land and waters. Increased oil train and tanker ship traffic and more export terminals offer nothing but problems. The likelihood of oil train explosions and derailments, along with the potential for devastating spills from tanker ships, threaten tribal treaty rights, the environment, our natural resources, our health and even our very lives. The few, mostly short-term jobs that they might provide are just not worth the cost.
• We must continue to work together on the problems we all share. We have shown that great things can be accomplished through cooperation, such as the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement and the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. If we work together we can achieve both a healthy environment and a healthy economy. If we continue the conflict we will achieve neither outcome. A healthy environment is necessary to support a healthy economy in this region and the people who live here demand it.
Billy worked his entire life to make western Washington a better place for all of us to live. Tribal treaty rights that protect natural resources help make that possible, and benefit everyone who lives here, not just Indian tribes.
As for the question of who will pick up where Billy left off, the answer is all of us. No single person will ever be able to replace him. That’s a job for everyone. There is only one direction we can go: Forward – together – on the path Billy showed us with the teachings he shared.