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Tribe OKs Gill Net for Steelhead

by Associated Press
Spokesman Review, January 19, 2007

Permit issued for use on Clearwater

LEWISTON - The Nez Perce Tribe has issued a permit for one of its members to use a 100-foot long gill net to catch steelhead in the Clearwater River, a famed waterway among sport steelhead anglers.

"We have one permit we will be authorizing," Joe Oatman, a member of the tribe's Fish and Wildlife Commission, told the Lewiston Tribune. "They will be fishing around the lower reaches of the Clearwater River."

The permit allows use of the net from Thursday through 6 p.m. Saturday.

The tribe announced last week that it intends to increase the number of steelhead it takes by using gill nets to catch the oceangoing fish that return to spawn in the region's rivers.

The tribe has a treaty right to 50 percent of the harvestable fish within the reservation and from off-reservation fishing areas.

Hatchery and wild steelhead swim up the Columbia and Snake rivers in the fall and then spend the winter in the Clearwater and Snake rivers before moving again in the spring, with hatchery fish going to hatcheries and wild fish to spawning areas.

The Clearwater and Snake have a surplus of hatchery steelhead for fishing. But wild Snake River steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and sport anglers must release them unharmed.

Gill nets kill both wild and hatchery fish after the fish's gills become entangled in the mesh.

Oatman said the tribe estimates it can net 1,360 wild steelhead without endangering the run. He said that if that many wild fish are caught, the tribe would remove the gill nets and restrict fishing to dip nets and hooks.

"We don't expect to have an impact on wild runs," Oatman said. "We want to keep it within levels we have defined in our tribal management plan."

The gill net use has not been approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for protecting listed runs of salmon and steelhead. However, tribal fishing rights predate Endangered Species Act rules.

"Even as we recognize the treaty (fishing) rights of the Nez Perce Tribe, we think the best thing is to make sure those rights are exercised in a way that doesn't impair the recovery of the steelhead," said Bob Lohn, regional director for the service. "So we intend to work with them on Endangered Species Act consultation."

Historically, tribal members have fished for steelhead in the Clearwater with dip nets and harpoons, a less efficient method than gill nets.

"The tribe has been fishing for steelhead for a long time, but not with gill nets," Ed Schriever, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Clearwater

Region fisheries manager, told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Now gill netting is going to potentially occur side by side with sport fishing, and a lot of folks are concerned."

Schriever said that gill nets had not been placed in the river early Thursday.

"We well understand there is going to be a lot of people who are upset at the mere fact that the tribe is going to be using gill nets," Oatman said.

"That is something we are looking into and without actually having any direct complaints to the tribe we will take them as they come and consider such complaints as we execute future seasons."

Associated Press
Tribe OKs Gill Net for Steelhead
Spokesman Review, January 19, 2007

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