State and tribal authorities have finalized a deal to open a contentiously delayed salmon season. Negotiators met face-to-face to finish the process Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday, KING 5 reported the groups were "inches from the goal line." Officials were hesitant to announce any agreement until the deal was officially signed, given the complexity of this year's negotiations.
“Our first priority is to develop fisheries that are consistent with efforts to protect and rebuild wild salmon stocks,” said Jim Unsworth, director of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Reaching an agreement on how to do that proved very challenging this year. Ultimately, we agreed on a package of fisheries that places a priority on conservation while allowing for limited fishing opportunities in Puget Sound."
Salmon fishing could reopen in a couple weeks, but the agreement must first be approved by NOAA.
Changes to the season are available here.
“Habitat restoration and protection must be at the center of that effort,” said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “There is a direct connection between salmon habitat and fishing opportunities. We can’t expect salmon to thrive while their habitat continues to be lost and damaged.”
After a limited Chinook season last year, coho returns are predicted at historic lows. With so few fish, state and tribal authorities could not agree on how to split the available catch and with it the rules for a salmon fishing season. With no deal, there are no permits.
As the season stalls, the tension grew between the recreational fishing industry and the tribal fisherman. Certain tribes were able to secure an emergency permit to fish, while recreational anglers were forced to park their boats.
Tribal authorities have called for a focus on habitat restoration and protecting the fish for future generations instead of fixating on the short-term fishing season. Leaders often cite federal law which guarantees them a certain share of a resource that continues to wane in large part due to major habitat issues.
Commercial and recreational salmon fishing around Puget Sound typically profits about $100 million each year.
Following the announcement, Governor Jay Inslee released the following statement:
“I applaud our state and tribal fisheries leaders for reaching an agreement that protects salmon and gives everyone the chance to benefit from our tremendous salmon resources. These fisheries are important to all Washingtonians, and the salmon and our citizens are best served when tribal and non-tribal negotiators sustainably co-manage this valuable natural resource."