Council, Resources start work on fish agreement

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are a party in the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, approved in 2008.
The accords are a detailed fish management and habitat improvement plan for the basin and tributaries. The ten-year accords are set to expire at the end of 2018, and the tribes are now starting talks toward a new agreement.

Natural Resources general manager, and tribal legal counsel John Ogan met with Tribal Council this week for an update on the accords process. Important issues will come up as the parties begin the negotiations. As an example, Councilman Carlos Smith mentioned this issue:

During the start of a fishing seasons, state and tribal scientists make an estimate of the number of fish that can be expected to return in the particular run.

The state then opens the commercial fishing season in the lower part of the Columbia River. Some time later, as the fish move up the river, the tribes open the zone 6 fishery.

It can happen that the initial run estimate turns out to have been too high. At which point the allowable catch is reduced.

However, by this time the fishermen in the lower part of the river have already harvested based on higher estimate. And the reduction happens higher up in the river, such as at the usual and accustomed tribal fishing areas of zone 6.

The 2008 Fish Accords are an agreement among four treaty tribes of the Columbia, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The accords included specific habitat restoration projects that have been carried out in the basin. The management of water at the Columbia dams, and hatchery management, are other aspects.

For the tribes and federal agencies, the accords were a solution to ongoing disagreement over fisheries management in the basin. Before, the federal agency would issue a “biological opinion” regarding a certain operation, and the tribes would successfully challenge the opinion in court.

With direction from a federal judge, the tribes and agencies worked out the accords, which were nevertheless challenged in court by environmental groups. The challenge to the accords is still pending, which could complicate the negotiation process.