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Salmon Fishing Season on the Nisqually River

It is the Fall season, and visitors to the Refuge are once again wondering about boats and other signs of fishing activity on the Nisqually River. At the Refuge visitor center, we receive many questions about this. The following are points of interest:

• The Boldt Decision (federal district court, Judge George Boldt, 1974) guarantees that tribes are entitled to the opportunity to catch half of the harvestable salmon and steelhead returning to the traditional fishing grounds as established by their treaties with the Federal government.
• Today salmon fishing is co-managed by the state of Washington and the tribes. Tribes are allowed to manage their share of the fishing on waters where they have usual and accustomed rights to fish. This includes the Nisqually Indian Tribe as signatory to the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty.
• With the advent of co-management of the salmon resource, each year the state and the tribes together, under the guidance of the Pacific Salmon Commission, craft sport and commercial salmon fishing seasons and quotas, with 50% of the harvestable fish allocated to tribes and 50% to sport and non-treaty commercial fisheries.
• Nets are often the tribal fishing method of choice as it often reflects traditional methods and is the most efficient way to make a living fishing. Sport fishers regulated by the state are not permitted to use nets. In order to ensure that a sustainable population of salmon is permitted to spawn, each year the co-managers determine how many fish may be caught on a specific river or area. This year during September tribal fishermen may use gill nets Sunday through Tuesdays. From October to mid-January they can fish 3 days a week (noon Sunday-noon Wed) using gill nets.
• The amount of fish caught by tribal fishers and sports fishers is monitored. Each day fish are counted where tribal members take their boats out of the water. If too many fish are being caught during a period of the season, fishing will be immediately limited for conservation purposes.
• The Tribe is conducting a pilot project of working with tangle nets that are able to limit bi-catch (fish and mammals caught accidentally) and facilitate the release of wild fish.
• The Tribe operates two hatcheries in the Nisqually River. The vast majority of fish caught by tribal fishermen are fish from these hatcheries. Sport fishers are required to keep only those fish that are from hatcheries; wild salmon must be released to swim upstream. Anglers can tell a hatchery fish by the removed adipose fin. This helps to limit the impact of fishing on wild salmon populations.
Last Updated: Oct 03, 2012
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