State and tribal officials have reached an agreement on the 2016-2017 Puget Sound Salmon Fishing Plan. This ends a stalemate that could have affected sport and tribal anglers as well as commercial fishermen in Washington.
While federal officials have yet to approve the agreement, anglers and fishermen would most likely be allowed to fish for salmon and other fish species soon.
The chinook and coho salmon are being protected by the Endangered Species Act. Given such low populations, fishermen expect leaner salmon seasons this year to help in the conservation efforts.
The recent talks have been the most long drawn out in the past 30 years, with negotiations covering far into spring. It started with the Boldt decision in 1974 from the federal court that declared the tribal fishermen's right to 50 percent of the salmon harvests.
The 1974 move set the talks for joint management. But past failures ended in shutting down salmon fishing in the Puget Sound waters to sport anglers last May 1, following the expiration of a previous authorization from the federal government. The closure brought back previous tensions and problems on how to arrive at a joint management.
"I am still disappointed we couldn't get this done in a more timely manner, and I believe that comes from just not having enough conversation," said Ron Warren, the salmon-policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
During the recent negotiations, tribal leaders expressed the need to relocate the efforts on Puget Sound's salmon run restoration across the region.
Tribal-fishing rights champion Willie Frank highlighted the habitat deficiency and the dwindling salmon population.
Frank, who is also the Puyallup Tribe's assistant manager for natural resources, added that the situation shouldn't be about "fighting over the very last salmon."
During the 2014 and 2015 seasons, about 200,000 fishermen hold licenses for salmon fishing. In the last few years, Puget Sound's salmon runs have suffered due to the state developments, increasing population and pollution. The ocean's poor condition also contributed to the reduction of salmon population and its survival.
Puget Sound is considered as a central point of Washington's sports fisheries.
Ed Dunens | Flickr