SOUNDOFF: Tribal salmon efforts help all

A recent article about Omer Lupien’s proposed ballot initiative to limit tribal fishing rights contains numerous inaccuracies.

Lupien claims that tribes have “special rights” to fish and implies that those rights have resulted in decline of salmon. But those rights have existed since time immemorial; are codified in a firm legal relationship with the United States government; and have resulted in better, more responsible fisheries harvest planning.

Tribes have always lived and fished on every major watershed in what is now Washington state. In treaties signed during the 1850s, tribes gave land to settlers in exchange for a promise that they would be able to fish, hunt and gather as they always had. The Constitution of the United States says in Article six, Section two that these treaties with Indian tribes are “the supreme law of the land,” on a par with the constitution itself. This means that tribal fishing rights are a sacred trust that the federal government must honor. Tribal fishing rights have been reaffirmed by a repeated series of federal court decisions.

Lupien is equally incorrect about fisheries issues. Contrary to the statements in the article, tribes don’t wantonly “self-regulate” their fisheries: in conjunction with the state of Washington’s fisheries planners as well as federal agencies, the tribal co-managers work to find mutually agreeable fishing plans that preserve the future of all our natural resources.

The Stillaguamish basin provides many examples. No wild chinook have been targeted for harvest since approximately 1986. Though the Stillaguamish hatchery continues to produce fish for the watershed, in order to achieve recovery, the tribe has drastically cut its harvest of coho and other salmon in the watershed in order to promote responsible resource management.

Tribes lead countless projects to restore the habitat where fish live and promote solid, cutting-edge science pointing the way to salmon recovery. Moreover, in order to preserve fish runs, tribes have voluntarily decreased their salmon harvests — in some cases as much as 90 percent — at a great economic, cultural and spiritual cost. Tribes are actually harvesting less fish now than they did at the time of the Boldt decision.

Not only are tribal rights to fish rooted in the U.S. Constitution itself, but tribes work continuously to make sure that true recovery is achieved. No group desires this goal more — and no group works harder to achieve it — than Washington’s treaty Indian tribes.

If any member of the public is curious about what the Stillaguamish tribe is doing to help achieve salmon recovery, I encourage them to contact our tribe. Contact our natural resources office at (360) 435-2755, or contact me, Shawn Yanity, at (360) 652-7362, ext. 282.

Everyone — not just the tribe — profits from tribal efforts to restore salmon to our watersheds.

Shawn Yanity is vice chairman and fisheries manager for the Stillaguamish Tribe.

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