State and tribal co-managers may be closer to compromise as the standoff over salmon fishing season continues.
According to Outdoor Line radio host Tom Nelson, a Monday conference call with state officials seemed promising. After weeks of disagreement, both sides appear to be bending on a deal necessary to protect a historically low run of Coho.
"The two sides right now are as close as they've been through the entire time to coming to an agreement," Nelson said. "And make no mistake, coming to an agreement is the quickest way through this morass right now."
Because of the state and tribal authorities' inability to agree, no fishing season has been set, and very popular areas around Puget Sound are currently closed.
"If people want to fish, they have to go somewhere else. So, now we're seeing bookings to Alaska and Canada by Washington anglers that would stay home," Nelson said. "I've never seen tribal/recreational relations this bad."
Sports fishermen recently protested outside NOAA, upset that certain tribes have secured emergency permits to fish while recreational and commercial fishermen have been forced to park their boats. They criticize the use of tribal gill nets as more harmful than hook and line fishing. The tribal fishermen have defended their nets and their right to resources protected by treaty.
"We've wasted so much time fighting over this issue when the sportsmen and tribes should be working together on habitat," Nelson said.
Nelson's radio show has been swamped with calls as of late as sports anglers vent their frustration. Many believe the tribal share is overwhelmingly generous and the state's minimal.
"We're not even asking for half. We just want an opportunity to fish," Nelson said.
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.