The Quinault River Committee on Friday announced a closure of the 2019 commercial fishing season for Quinault River blueback — or sockeye — salmon for conservation purposes.
“The closure is in response to a recent forecast by the Quinault Dept. of Fisheries for a second straight year of historically low return of wild adult salmon to spawn in the Quinault River,” a news release said. The 2019 forecast follows a year in which the third smallest return on record occurred: total return of spawning fish in 2018 of just 6,619 blueback salmon. Blueback runs are almost entirely made up of wild fish.
The Quinault River Committee is a board made up of Quinault fishermen appointed every year by the Quinault Business Committee.
“The Quinault Nation has a long history of conservation to preserve salmon for future generations. Our responsibility as stewards of this irreplaceable resource demands the utmost caution,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation. “We applaud the Quinault River Committee for following our longstanding tradition of preserving our history and the Quinault blueback salmon by declaring this closure two months before the fishing season starts.”
Warm ocean temperatures seen in recent years, linked to climate change driven by burning fossil fuels, creates “lean times for salmon as the productivity of their prey, like plankton and krill, falls,” the news release said. According to the forecast report, “Marine conditions for blueback returning in 2019 have been, on average, among the poorest in the past two decades.” Poaching of blueback salmon is also contributing to their decline, the tribe said.
“It’s time to hold oil companies accountable for their past record of denying climate change and their current obstruction of policies to reduce climate pollution,” Sharp said. “The devastation of our iconic blueback salmon has struck at the core of what it means to be Quinault. This incalculable loss jeopardizes the cultural identity of our people and our ability to support and nourish our families. We will be stepping up efforts to hold big oil accountable for their environmental exploits, stop illegal poaching and looking at every other option to help displaced fishermen, including declaring a fishing disaster.”
The closure will financially affect more than 40 Quinault families who depend on blueback for supplemental income and will harm Quinault Nation business enterprises for the second year in a row, the news release noted.
“Seasonal employment layoffs are almost certain. The Quinault River will be closed to fishing for the entire season which can last up to three months from April through June. Blueback salmon play a special role as a sockeye stock unique to the Quinault River and for returning to the Quinault homeland in late winter and early spring when food was historically scarce. Blueback salmon literally sustained generations of Quinault people.”
Sharp added: “The intertwined history of the Quinault people and blueback salmon predates European contact and like many of our neighboring tribes we only took what we needed and wasted nothing. None of us ever imagined the last salmon era may now be upon us.”
Annual runs averaged nearly a quarter million fish until the 1950s when deterioration of freshwater habitats and the marine environment began affecting productivity and survival, the news release said: “The trend of declining blueback returns also follows the ongoing deterioration of their spawning and rearing habitats in the Quinault River due to development pressures, ill-advised turn of the century logging practices, and warmer river temperatures as the Anderson Glacier has receded and disappeared.”
In addition to the closure, QIN’s Quinault River Committee is planning a meeting at the Quinault Community Center in Taholah at 5 p.m. on March 6. Quinault senior scientist Larry Gilbertson will present the forecast report.