In response to a previous editorial from Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, Mary Ann Schweitzer has published a letter to the Editor of the Aberdeen Daily World.  Mary Ann, wife of Advocacy Member Ron Schweitzer, points out what she believes Sharp failed to mention.  Specifically, she and her children have a right to catch a fish with a pole in the Chehalis River same as a member of the tribe has with a net.  Sharp’s editorial is available for viewing here.   Mary Ann’s response is shown below.

The editorial published in the Daily World written by Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) contains many factual points about habitat and declining salmon runs. It’s not what she says that is troubling, but rather what she omits.

The culvert case is the latest ruling of the long running suit wherein the federal government sued the state of Washington. The first major ruling in U.S. v- WA was the “Boldt Decision” which established the QIN had the right to “fish in common” with non-tribal citizens which Boldt translated to 50/50 sharing of the salmon. At that point, both tribal and non-tribal citizens were granted a right to fish together and the state and QIN would “co-manage” the resource.

Ms. Sharp wrote “Don’t fall into the trap of blaming tribal harvest for the demise of this precious resource. It’s just not true. ……..the process used to determine if the harvests are safe are exhausting, highly scrutinized and based on escapement levels tailored to available habitat.” I strongly challenge this commentary.

First, the escapement goal for salmon is established under a concept called “Maximum Sustainable Yield” (MSY). MSY is theoretically, the largest yield (or catch) that can be taken from a species’ stock over an indefinite period (Wikipedia). Then, in Grays Harbor, the seasons set often exceed MSY and the over harvesting of salmon reduces the run size too less than the escapement goal. The solution offered by the QIN for failing to reach escapement goals for Chehalis River Chinook was not to cut back on its harvest. Rather, the QIN chose to successfully petition federal and state regulators to lower the escapement goal so the rate of harvest could be continued. As a result, fewer Chinook are expected to reach the spawning ground today than in the past.

Seldom do the co-managers allow adequate numbers of salmon to clear the lower stretches of the rivers to use the currently available habitat. Requiring non-tribal taxpayers to invest nearly $2 billion on culvert replacement will do very little, if any, in recovering salmon runs unless the harvest that is co-managed by the QIN is set at a level that allows adequate numbers of salmon to actually reach the reopened portions of the streams.

As for the 50/50 ruling in Boldt, the state Fish & Wildlife Commission passed a policy for Grays Harbor that prioritized conservation over harvest. At that time, Ms. Sharp was critical of the action on the grounds no conservation issues existed in our area. As a result of the policy, Fish & Wildlife lead the way and curtailed state non-tribal seasons last fall. No retention of natural spawning Chinook (unclipped) was allowed in the Chehalis River in an attempt to get more salmon up to the spawning grounds. The Quinaults then moved to take advantage by setting a net season that captured 8,697 Chinook. Far in excess of its 50 percent share, many of those salmon that expired in a tribal net in the Chehalis from the Port of Grays Harbor to S. Montesano were from the non-treaty half that was “foregone” in an attempt to insure enough Chinook reached the spawning grounds. This was extremely frustrating to the non-tribal fishers like myself who were asked to hang up our poles only to see our fish end up on ice at the tribal dock on the Wishkah.

I agree with Ms. Sharp on the notion conservation is a standard that needs to be fostered by all the state’s citizens, tribal and non-tribal alike. Same with the harvest. As Judge Boldt stated the “fishing in common” language of the treaty means 50/50. My great grandchildren have the same right to catch a fish with a pole as a Quinault child does with a net. Boldt did not say that the non-tribal citizens (taxpayers) get 100% of the bill and tribal citizens get all the fish.

I agree with Ms. Sharp that we are at a crossroad of historical importance. Not just for our children who would fish, but those who don’t as well. Most my age who’ve lived in Grays Harbor remember the loss of jobs and extremely negative economic impacts of the “spotted owl” when it hit the endangered species list under the Endangered Species Act. Numerous salmon and steelhead runs in Puget Sound and the Columbia River that are co-managed with tribes have already reached that designation. The first step in that process is a notice of “over-harvest”. Last year, the feds so flagged the Chehalis Chinook. The coastal economy simply can’t risk seeing those salmon runs to decline due to the rate of harvest to the point where we have another spotted owl disaster.

Ms. Sharp proudly presented the importance tribal citizens place on preserving fishing and restoring habitat. Many in the Quinault Indian Nation deserve that recognition. However, the fall salmon season is approaching and once again the state is asking the non-tribal side to step aside and allow the necessary numbers of salmon reach the spawning grounds. Hopefully, the Quinault Indian Nation will “practice what it preaches” and not take advantage once again by exceeding its right to catch half the fish available for harvest.

Mary Ann Schweitzer