Quinault Nation closes tribal fishing early, calls on state to do the same

Chehalis Basin likely to be off limits for fall silvers if WDFW follows suit


The Quinault Indian Nation’s Department of Fisheries closed fall coho salmon fishing early this year in Grays Harbor and on the Queets River, “despite hardship for tribal fishermen,” said a news release from the nation.

In a letter sent Wednesday, the Quinault Nation calls on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to do the same “in response to alarmingly low returns of wild adult coho salmon,” the release stated.

If WDFW follows suit, the decision would likely apply at least to the Queets and main stem Chehalis rivers and others that empty into Grays Harbor, including the Humptulips River, if not to the whole Chehalis River Basin.

The letter states Quinault members are “disappointed at WDFW’s ‘wait and see’ attitude and reluctance to take precautionary actions to protect the resources entrusted to our stewardship in the face of uncertainty.”

“We understand this closure has brought hardship to our tribal fishermen and their families, but as stewards of our salmon for today and future generations, it’s the right thing to do,” said Quinault Indian Nation President Guy Capoeman in the release.  

During the Centennial Accord in early November at the Lucky Eagle Casino, state and tribal government leaders held a similar discussion.

Lummi Nation Councilor Lisa Wilson, like to Wednesday’s letter from the Quinaults, criticized WDFW was apt to drag its feet on co-management policies more than 40 years after the landmark Boldt decision. 

According to the agency’s website, the WDFW commission ordered department staff “to begin development of a joint policy agreement on salmon and steelhead hatchery programs with tribal co-managers” in April 2021. The Boldt decision affirmed treaty tribes as co-managers in 1974.

“There’s a big concern about a few commissioners that don’t respect treaty rights,” Wilson said in, later adding, “It’s actually offensive that some of the WDFW’s commissioners call us ‘industry stakeholders.’ (Like) we’re not willing, we don’t want conservation? We’re the leaders in conservation. We’re the ones that have been the conservationists since time immemorial. … They can’t even quantify what conservation is. Because it’s not just about the harvest.”

The Quinault Indian Nation is a treaty tribe. 

In its news release Wednesday, the nation stated it has a “protected right to harvestable fish produced by the Queets River and the Chehalis Basin and the responsibility to regulate its fisheries.” 

Wednesday’s letter is the second time the nation has called on WDFW to close fall silver fishing after one originally dated Oct. 30.

In a Nov. 3 response, the department wrote, “We agree that the limited information so far this year, suggests that the coho return is likely below pre-season expectation, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty.”

Quinault Fisheries Policy Spokesperson Cleve Jackson echoed the “uncertainty” in the news release, but added, “the risk of leaving fisheries open too long and getting it wrong is too great.”

The Grays Harbor and Queets fisheries were opened for tribal members on Sept. 1.