After two years without a chance to fish the Skokomish for state-reared Chinook and coho, salmon anglers might soon be back on the southern Hood Canal river.
WDFW will propose a fishery there during the upcoming North of Falcon negotiations with Western Washington tribes.
“We cannot — and pretty strong words — go another year without fishing in the Skokomish River,” agency Fish Program manager Ron Warren told the Kitsap Poggie Club on Wednesday evening, according to a Kitsap Sun article.
Access to the river has been in question since 2016 when a federal solicitor’s opinion sided with the Skokomish Tribe that the entire width of the stream was included in their reservation boundaries.
That effectively blocked recreational anglers from fishing for the plentiful salmon returning to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s George Adams Hatchery.
Last year, the tribe harvested 55,000 fall Chinook, according to sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, while another 35,129 hatchery adults and 8,353 jacks returned to the state facility, 37,812 of which were surplus to spawning needs.
Urabeck suggested that had the river been open, anglers might have caught around 15,000 of those kings, but instead could only fish for them in the canal, where they’re notoriously difficult to catch, and perhaps took home fewer than 500.
“What a waste, what unfairness. Time to bring this to a head,” he said.
He’s been instrumental in bringing pressure to bear on the situation, including a rally at the hatchery, and questioning the transfer of eyed sockeye eggs from the Baker River to the Skokomish, as a means to get the state to reopen the salmon fishery, and it appears WDFW in concert with the state Attorney General’s Office will now make a hard push on that front.
The Sun‘s report states that Mike Grossman, a deputy attorney general, says that state officials feel that the solicitor “erred” in that decision, that — and here I’m using reporter Tad Sooter’s paraphrasing — “they don’t believe Congress intended to bar the state from taking ownership of the river as a navigable waterway when creating the reservation — one legal test established by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
With sovereign immunity laws protecting the Skokomish Tribe and federal government from a state lawsuit in this case, putting anglers on the river essentially forces the other party or parties to sue the state.
“And why would they do that if we’re not fishing? … I think we need to get back in the river and fish,” Grossman said, according to the paper.
He advised the Poggies — this would extend to fishermen in the general public as well — “not to get furious at the Skokomish,” likening the situation to when two neighbors have a property disagreement. Those are better settled in a court of law than how Rand Paul and Rene Boucher like to sort things out.
Urabeck credited Norm Reinhardt, the Poggie’s president, for organizing this week’s meeting, though he was disappointed that the chairman of the Skokomish Tribe, Guy Miller, or tribal representatives weren’t in attendance.
He says he’s repeatedly reached out to them “to help the state resolve issues that motivates the tribe to deny us a very popular and important fishery,” but to no avail.
According to the Kitsap Sun, Miller was not surprised by the state’s push, and he continued to claim the entire river was the Skokomish’s.
He also implied that without anglers on the river, “conditions have improved since the tribe reasserted control,” Sooter wrote. Fisherman poo was blamed for a 2009 tribal shellfish harvest closure in nearby Annas Bay.
Urabeck says those problems had been resolved by the state as of the last fishery, in 2015, but he extended an offer to “do more.”
“As the representative for five sport fishing/conservation groups that are working together to regain our salmon fisheries, I was very proud to see the respectful and civil discussion by representatives of Puget Sound Anglers, Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, Bremerton Sportsmen’s Club, Coastal Conservation Association, as well as a room full of Poggie Club members,” he says. “Walked away a bit more hopeful and very proud to have been a participant in the discussions.”
The next steps are for the state and Western Washington tribes to put out their 2018 salmon forecasts, craft proposed fisheries such as one for a Skokomish River Chinook and coho season, negotiate a deal and send the package to federal fishery overseers for approval.