Leaders in Selective Fishing and Salmon Restoration

Photos by Mike Rayton

by Joe Peone, Mike Rayton, and Keith Kutchins

The Colville Tribes are testing a variety of fishing gears to allow selective harvest of hatchery salmon and steelhead for ceremonial and subsistence (C&S) use. The gears, used in combination, allow harvest of marked hatchery-origin salmon while releasing unmarked wild salmon to spawn. Such a unique fishery will allow Native Americans to pursue reserved fishing rights while improving species conservation. So far the Tribes have tested tangle nets, beach seines and a purse seine. Testing hoop nets, a weir and pound nets are next.

The selective fishing gear is part of a comprehensive program by the Colville Tribes to restore their legal fishing rights while also recovering salmon and steelhead populations listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Using a combination of individual and group fishing gears, the Tribes will target marked hatchery salmon to achieve (C&S) harvest while releasing the wild salmon to propagate in historical habitats. This select removal of hatchery-origin salmon while increasing escapement of wild fish will increase the viability and productivity of upper Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead populations (see www.hatcheryreform.us).

The Colville Tribes are seeking solutions for their own situation while providing leadership and an example of how other tribal and non-tribal fisheries can be conducted in a manner that both increases harvest of abundant hatchery fish and promotes conservation and recovery of all Basin salmon and steelhead, including 13 species ESA-listed as threatened or endangered.

The Tribes have undertaken a multi-year program of developing, evaluating, and then deploying the selective gears. Additional funds are being sought to test additional gears for application by the Colville Tribes and other fishing groups. The gears are also being evaluated as a means to collect local, wild fish for hatchery broodstocks to improve propagation programs and make them more compatible with species conservation (again, for more information please refer to www.hatcheryreform.us).

Testing the purse seine gear in 2008 and 2009, and Tribes caught 2,708 summer Chinook of which 1,310 were wild fish, and all but four were released unharmed; a 99.7% survival rate. In 2008, using a beach seine, the Tribes caught 184 summer Chinook of which 85 were wild fish; all were released with only one mortality; a 98.8% survival rate. In 2008, the Tribes tested a tangle net and were able to successfully release 80% of captured wild Chinook. In 2009, purse seining allowed the Tribes to harvest 14,422 sockeye salmon while simultaneously releasing the co-mingled wild Chinook. These survival rates compare very favorably with other gears in use in downriver fisheries that have 15% - 60% release mortalities.

As the Colville Tribes continue to test and deploy the most effective selective fishing gears, they are demonstrating to others that salmon hatchery and harvest management can be accomplished compatibly with species recovery and while promoting long-term salmon sustainability.

Joe Peone is Program Director for Colville Confederated Tribes Fish and Wildlife. Mike Rayton is Selective Harvest Biologist and Keith Kutchins was the initial Project Biologist. www.colvilletribes.com.