Tribes to receive compensation for sockeye runs

By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News

Three North Olympic Peninsula tribes are receiving federal disaster relief funds allocated for tribal and nontribal commercial fishermen to compensate for poor sockeye salmon runs in British Columbia's Fraser River.

Letters to the Jamestown S'Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam and Makah tribes detailing their share of the funds are due to be delivered today.

The Makah will receive $166,000, and the Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S'Klallam will each receive $15,000.

The $2 million package funneled through the National Marine Fisheries Service is a first for commercial fishermen, tribal and nontribal alike, who work in the waters of Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The relief comes after U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez declared the Fraser River sockeye runs a disaster last November.

The United States has access to 16 percent of the Fraser River sockeye through the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada, said Ron Allen, Jamestown S'Klallam tribal chairman and a member of the joint U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Commission.

Nine tribes are receiving about $1.35 million of the relief money, with about half of that going to the Lummi tribe near Bellingham.

There haven't been any limits placed on what the funding can be used for, and it hasn't been determined how the nontribal commercial fishermen will receive compensation, said Barry Thom, deputy regional administrator for the National Oceanic an Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the fisheries service.

Each tribe's allocation was dependent upon their harvest levels of the Fraser River sockeye stock in recent years, he said.

Thom said he didn't have the figures for how much the Fraser River sockeye runs have declined, but added there has been a drastic decline since 2000.

The disaster declaration came in response to the low sockeye runs in 2007 and 2008, he said.


No offset

Although the funding doesn't offset the entire economic impact for the decline of Fraser River sockeye, it is certainly needed, said Russell Svec, Makah fisheries manager.

"If you look at it as a whole . . . it [fishing] averages out to about 50 percent of our economy," he said.

Svec said on Wednesday that he couldn't say how the Makah would use the money.

"We're not quite there yet," he said. "I couldn't really answer that."

Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S'Klallam leaders said that the funding will provide assistance to fishermen or stream restoration.

"It might be used to help fishermen out of fishery work get back into it," said Scott Chitwood, Jamestown S'Klallam natural resources director.

Chitwood said the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, which has anywhere from six to 12 commercial fishermen throughout the year, hasn't been after the sockeye for quite a few years.

"There's not enough fish to justify going out in the water," said Allen said.

Sonya Tetnowski, Lower Elwha Klallam executive director, said the tribe has a "reasonable fishing fleet."

"We're economically dependent upon the salmon in the strait," she said, adding that the tribe does minimal fishing in the strait due to the limited stocks.

Although the fund amounts that the tribes will receive has been determined, Thom said they still will have to go through the grant application process to receive them.

He said that could take at least 90 days.

Thom said the disaster relief funds come from a $75 million appropriation from Congress to the U.S. Department of Commerce last year.

He said Congress approved those funds in response to a drastic decline in Pacific Ocean salmon stocks from Washington to California last summer.

Thom said that the Pacific Ocean disaster was mostly due to the collapse of salmon runs in the Sacramento River in California.

Commercial fishermen, both tribal and nontribal, were eligible for those funds, he said, but no money was specifically given to tribes.

Thom said a parasite is being blamed for the decline in Fraser River sockeye stocks since 2000.

"It's definitely a parasite problem," he said.

Allen said the next two years' Fraser River sockeye runs should be better.

"There are four cycles," he said, "two big ones and two small ones. Last year was one small cycle, which was worse than normal.

"Next year is a larger run. We're expecting a pretty good return."


Little improvement

Thom said that if there isn't much improvement in the Fraser River sockeye stock, further disaster funds could be allocated.

He added that rivers that drain into the strait and Puget Sound don't produce sockeye to the same levels of the Fraser River.

Thom said he didn't know if the Canadian government was providing similar compensation.

He said the United States does provide some funds for Fraser River restoration through the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Svec said the Fraser River sockeye made up a large part of the Makah fishing until the early 1990s.

"That's when those fishing stocks were healthy," he said.

In response to the declining sockeye stocks, Svec said the Makah diversified its fisheries.

Svec said the Makah have since began targeting halibut, black cod, mid-water and bottom-trawling fish.

"We have come along ways, but we are still struggling economically," he said. "Even those fisheries at this point aren't supporting our economic needs in our community."

Allen said the Jamestown S'Klallam has focused more on shellfish harvesting in the last three or four years.

Svec said a major factor in the decline of salmon stocks is degradation of habitat.

Habitat restoration is a focus for each of the tribes.

But the biggest restoration project on the Peninsula is the upcoming removal of the two dams on the Elwha River, a $315 million project.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe is a partner with the National Park Service in the project.

With the dams in place, the river supports between 5,000 and 10,000 salmon annually, said Robert Elofson, Lower Elwha Klallam natural resources director.

After removal of the dams, which is scheduled for 2014, the river is expected to support about 400,000 salmon a year, he said.

He said it will take between 10 and 30 years for the habitat to be fully restored.

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Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at tom.callis@ peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 16. 2009 4:45AM
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