Feds pay Tulalips and others for poor salmon returns on Fraser River

The Tulalips and eight other local American Indian tribes will share $2 million with nontribal fishermen to compensate for the lack of sockeye salmon from the Fraser River.

Letters were set to be mailed Friday to tribal governments, detailing each tribe’s cut of the award. Tulalip tribal fishermen are expected to share about $130,000 of the $2 million, said Terry Williams, an environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes.

“It’s not enough to make up for the loss of fishing income, that’s for sure,” said Kit Rawson, a wildlife biologist for the Tulalip Tribes.

The Lummi Tribe, based in the Bellingham area, is expected to take about $640,000 — more than any other tribe. Lummi fishermen have relied more than others on the Fraser River sockeye run, Rawson said. Tribal leaders say the money is only a small percentage of revenue lost because of the troubled run.

The money was approved in November, after U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared poor sockeye returns on the Fraser River to be a “disaster.” The money is meant to be funneled through state and tribal governments to fishermen who have suffered from the flagging fish run. The distributions will be based on how much commercial fishermen, whether tribal or nontribal, have caught in recent years.

Local tribal governments will receive about 67 percent* of the $2 million to funnel to their fishermen, and the state will receive the rest, said Barry Thom, deputy regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That percentage is based on the Pacific Salmon Treaty. It’s not yet clear how the state will distribute its share of the money to nontribal commercial fishermen.

Sockeye from Canada’s Fraser River have until recent years accounted for a large portion of the catch for tribal fishermen, Rawson said. But in 2007 and 2008, the catch was “effectively zero,” he said. The catch also was zero in 1999, but those are the only three years in the past 30 years that the run has failed, he said.

Fish runs throughout the Pacific Northwest have suffered in recent years, but the Fraser River sockeye run is different, Rawson said. A change in water temperature in the Fraser River has resulted in parasites that kill many fish before they reach their spawning grounds, he said.

Changes to other fish runs, such as Chinook salmon, have occurred because of climate conditions over longer periods of time, Rawson said. Tribal and state biologists are engaged in massive restoration efforts to build up those runs. The Fraser River sockeye run is likely to return if the same short-term climate conditions that have warmed the water now cool it, he said.

“We will probably have a reasonably good forecast for this year, so we will be expecting the fish,” he said.

The other tribes receiving money from the disaster declaration are the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Nooksack, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Suquamish and Swinomish.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

*Correction, Jan. 14, 2009: This article originally cited the wrong percentage of the $2 million fund that will go to local tribes.

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