The practice of accessing and harvesting important Tribal resources, such as fish and wildlife, is an integral part of the identity for Pacific Northwest Tribes and their associated treaty rights.
For salmon, the 1974 Boldt decision reaffirmed these fishing rights while, at the same time, placing responsibility for co-management of these resources with the state and tribes.
And that’s key: if we don’t help manage the resource — that is, the salmon and its habitat — we won’t be able to practice our treaty rights. You can’t fish for something that isn’t there.
That’s why the North of Falcon process — which you’ve likely never heard of — is so critical.
North of Falcon refers to Cape Falcon in Oregon, which marks the southernmost border of the area this co-management process oversees.
Beginning in February when salmon run forecasts are calculated, and continuing through April, state, federal and tribal fishery managers gather to plan the Northwest’s recreational and commercial salmon fisheries.
The point of this process is to come up with a List of Agreed Fisheries, or LOAF, which specifies areas where fisheries will take place and catch limits for each of those areas.
This document is the product of analyzing run forecasts for both wild and hatchery salmon. The focus is on keeping runs healthy year after year while working toward conservation goals to ensure optimum spawning.
During the first part of the North of Falcon process, tribes and the state — namely the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife — work together on their LOAF plan, which is then presented to the Pacific Fishery Management Council. This is the federal authority that sets salmon seasons off the Pacific Coast.
During the management council meetings, which are open to the public, the LOAF recommendations put forward by the tribes and Fish & Wildlife are approved.
Though time consuming, this is a pretty straightforward process, but it isn’t an easy one. There are often disagreements, particularly over areas that are closed to fishing for conservation purposes.
When a resolution can’t be reached, the issue is brought to the management council to work things out in the best interest of all parties and, most importantly, for the salmon and its habitat.
While all tribes that participate in the North of Falcon process would like to see as many fishing opportunities as possible, it’s not practical or prudent to open them up just because we want to.
We have to consider the impact these short-term actions will have on the long term: The availability of the resource and how that impacts our ability to practice our treaty rights.
The reality is that once the salmon are gone from a particular area or their habitat is destroyed, it’s very difficult — if not impossible — to turn the situation around.
There are treaty areas from around the Puget Sound that affected tribes have collectively decided to not fish in for this very reason and, sometimes, this decision can go on for years or decades.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t fish there to be caught — it’s much more complicated than that.
We have to ask ourselves: Will the amount of harvestable fish support all the tribes that have a treaty right to these salmon?
Can this be a sustainable fishery?
What are our impacts to stock returning to tribes that do not have fishing rights in these areas, but rely on those salmon to return and replenish their own waters?
Are there environmental or other factors in play that might hinder the salmon returning and spawning?
All of these factors and more have to be taken into consideration. It’s never as easy as determining that there are fish to be caught.
The North of Falcon process isn’t perfect, but it creates an opportunity for the tribes and the state to work together to protect the future of salmon in this area.
For tribes, like mine, that means something much bigger and much more important to our culture and future.
— Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Contact him at email@example.com.