March 31, 2004
This year marks the 30th anniversary of a court decision
that forever changed natural resource management in the
State of Washington – for the better.
Most Washingtonians know Federal Judge George Boldt
re-affirmed tribal treaty-reserved rights to half the salmon
in his famous 1974 decision, and that his ruling established
the tribes and state as co-managers of the salmon resource.
The Boldt Decision has been used to define Indian hunting
and fishing rights cases across the country, as well as to
determine aboriginal rights as far away as Australia.
But what most folks don’t know at all is that the Boldt Decision brought responsible salmon management to the State of Washington.
Before Boldt, the state didn’t really know what salmon management was. After Boldt, for the first time, harvest quotas had to be clearly defined. Salmon began to be managed on a river-by-river basis. The by-guess-and-by-golly approach to salmon management was gone.
As tribes began to implement their fisheries management programs they contributed quickly to the overall knowledge of the salmon resource. There were more biologists and other technical staff working in the field, developing computer models and finding better ways to understand and manage salmon. We began to slow the decline of this great Pacific Northwest icon.
But we needed to learn to work together. The State of Washington didn’t trust us. To be frank, we didn’t trust them much, either. They challenged our data, questioned our fisheries managers and simply dragged their feet in fully implementing the Boldt Decision. We spent many months and a lot of money arguing before a federal mediator – time and money that could have been better spent on the resource.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the tribes and state began acting like comanagers. Together, we developed the first Puget Sound Salmon Management Plan. We stopped fighting each other and started working together. I wish it would have happened sooner. We could have accomplished so much more.
Today, while we have a good handle on the day-to-day management of the salmon resource, we are still dealing with echoes of the past. Yes, we have slowed the salmon’s decline. We have cut harvests – by as much as 80-90 percent in some cases. We are reforming the operation of our hatcheries to aid wild salmon recovery and support sustainable fisheries. But we continue to struggle on the habitat front. The habitat destruction over the past 100 years has slowed, but not stopped, and the ever-increasing population of people here threatens to counteract the things we have achieved. We can no longer make up for the lost salmon productivity in our watersheds by continuing to cut back our fishery harvests. Judge Boldt introduced the tribes’ vision to salmon management in Washington, a new set of values that might be the best hope for saving the salmon from
It took over 100 years to nearly destroy the salmon resource. It could take more than 100 years to bring it back. But, whatever it takes, we have to do it – all of us.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180