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Tribe to Fish Downstream of Bonneville Dam

by Allen Thomas
The Columbian, March 13, 2008

NORTH BONNEVILLE - Construction of a tribal fishing platform is under way downstream of Bonneville Dam as members of the Yakama Indian Nation prepare to expand the area where they catch Columbia River spring chinook salmon.

For four decades, the four Columbia River treaty tribes have fished just in the reservoirs behind Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams, although the Yakamas always have contended the 1855 treaty permits them to fish downstream of Bonneville.

Three years ago, some tribal members began fishing downstream of Bonneville due to the late timing of the spring chinook run.

Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said only a small number of Yakama fishermen are expected to fish downstream of Bonneville Dam.

"Our best assumption is a handful, a few tribal members, not dozens," he said.

It is unknown how many platforms might be built, Hudson added.

A return of 269,300 chinook salmon is forecast to enter the Columbia River this spring headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam. That would be the third best since 1977.

Under allocation agreements with the state and federal governments, the treaty tribes expect to catch about 27,000 spring chinook this year. The non-Indian catch is anticipated to be about 26,000.

In June of 2007, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Yakama Nation completed an agreement detailing a tribal subsistence fishery between Bonneville Dam and Beacon Rock for 2008.

The agreement only applies to the Washington shore, not Oregon, and tribal fishing cannot take place by boat.

Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the agreement is focused on spring chinook and all tribal catch will count as part of the treaty share under the U.S. v. Oregon federal lawsuit governing Columbia River fisheries.

Other details include:

The agreement is only with the Yakamas. The three other treaty tribes are the Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Umatillas.

Tribal fishermen may use dip nets, hoop nets, setbag nets and rods and reels. Up to six rods and reels may be used until June 15. No more than three nets are allowed on a platform at one time. Hoops cannot exceed 26 feet in circumference. Fishermen may not use more than two fishing gear types at one time unless specifically authorized.

Fishing with baits or lures designed to catch sturgeon is prohibited between May and July, the same closed period as the sport fishery.

The upstream boundary is 600 feet below the fish ladder, same as for sport fishermen.

"Fishing downstream of Bonneville Dam has been a long-standing desire by some tribal members," said Pat Frazier, regional fish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "This issue comes, then goes away, then pops back up again and we revisit it."

Hudson said under tribal protocols younger fishermen who do not have a "usual and accustomed" fishing spot cannot just move in to another's area, but need to find a new spot, thus the need to expand their territory.

"The tribal fishing community is very saavy on fishing rights," he said. "They have a deep sentiment for use it or lose it."

There's also frustration with the lateness of spring chinook runs and sea lion predation downstream of Bonneville, he added.

The area just downstream of Bonneville Dam is one of only a few locations were bank anglers in Washington have access to good spring chinook fishing. Frazier said the location of the under-construction tribal platform is not in one of the better sport-fishing locales.

He urged sportsmen and tribal members to cooperate.

"The agreement was reached cooperatively with the Yakama Nation, and clarifies fishing areas and enforcement responsibilities," Frazier said.

Hudson added that the tribes are more interested in agreements with the state than in conflict where courts decide matters.

Norman agreed.

"This is a better outcome for both Indian and non-Indian fishers than litigating the differences between the Yakama and state regulations."

Jim Harmon, president of Southwest Washington Anglers, said he was aware there would be tribal subsistence fishing, but not the construction of a scaffold.

Tribal members will be allowed to keep wild and hatchery fish.

"We're opposed to any fishing that's non-selective (keeps wild fish)," Harmon said.

He also said it is important the tribal catch below Bonneville get counted in the total Indian share."

"We'll be watching what's going on," Harmon said. "We don't want any creeping on the impacts."

The agreement should have been better publicized, Hudson said.

"We need to do a better job educating the public to these agreements so they aren't alarmed," he said.

Allen Thomas
Tribe to Fish Downstream of Bonneville Dam
The Columbian, March 13, 2008

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