Although treaties guarantee the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes the right to harvest salmon, contentious negotiations over just how many fish will come out of the river often end up in front of a judge (HCN, 12/20/99: Tribes cast for tradition, catch controversy). That's about to change. In February, tribes and states agreed to a new system under which the annual tribal take is based on a sliding scale that adjusts to predicted wild salmon returns.
The tribes say they welcome the chance to base their harvest on hard numbers rather than pay for expensive litigation. "We're being responsive to the needs of the fish," says Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Commission. "This abundance-based approach was long overdue in the Columbia Basin."
This year, the tribal take will draw from the largest run of spring chinook since the Bonneville Dam was built in 1938. This concerns Tom Karier of the Northwest Power Planning Council, who says the agreement doesn't go far enough to encourage the harvest of hatchery fish over wild populations. "You've got to increase survival where you can," he says.
But Nicole Cordan of Save Our Wild Salmon says, "You can't solve the salmon crisis by cutting out harvest." According to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service, salmon harvest accounts for less than 10 percent of salmon mortality. Many environmentalists say the number of deaths that occur as salmon navigate the dams of the Columbia River hydrosystem is more significant.
This new harvest system will remain in place until 2003, when the tribes and states release a fisheries plan to replace the Columbia River Fish Management Plan, which expired in 1999.