Tribes consider litigation vs. sport fishing

OREGON CITY -- The Columbia River treaty tribes warned Washington and Oregon to keep spring chinook sport fishing from ballooning to a point it jeopardizes catch-balancing requirements.

Bruce Jim of the Warm Springs tribe told the Columbia River Compact on Thursday that catch imbalances of upper Columbia-origin spring chinook in favor of non-Indians have happened in four of the past five years, with the total "widely divergent" in 2008.

The four tribes -- Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Nez Perce -- may need to take the states back to federal court, he said.

The state-federal-tribal agreement for 2008-17 commits Washington and Oregon, in general, to killing no more spring chinook in the main Columbia by non-Indians than the tribes catch in main Columbia upstream of Bonneville Dam.

Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said in 2008 that sport and commercial fishermen caught 28,417 spring chinook while the tribes caught 21,391.

The sport catch alone was 22,065, he said. Both the tribes and non-Indians exceeded the federal Endangered Species Act limitations on spring chinook harvest in 2008.

Jim said decisions by the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions to change allocations to favor the sport fishery increase the likelihood of another significant catch imbalance in 2009.

"These new allocations differ from those modeled in the U.S. v. Oregon management agreement -- and those modeled assumptions were assumed necessary to implement catch balancing," Jim said.

Sport fishing needs to be limited to three or four days per week below Bonneville Dam from March 15 through April 30, he said.

Non-Indians have until June 15 to catch spring chinook and fish all the way upstream to Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River.

"There is no reason to be in a rush to catch all the fish before the end of April," Jim said.

Pacing the sport catch minimizes the risk of exceeding Endangered Species Act limits, plus allows more spring chinook to pass Bonneville Dam and be available for tribal ceremonial and subsistence catch, he said.