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Feds Declare Salmon Fishery Disaster For Washington Tribes

A file photo of a member of Puget Sound's Swinomish tribe participating in a ceremonial salmon blessing. Northwest tribes hold vigils along the Columbia River to pray for the return of salmon.
KCTS9 Photo/Katie Campbell
A Native American takes part in a salmon ceremony. On Tuesday, the U.S. commerce secretary declared a fishery disaster for the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery in Washington. That could lead to aid to nine tribes and non-tribal fishers.

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce has declared the Fraser River sockeye salmon run a “fishery disaster” for nine tribes and non-tribal fishers in Washington state.

The Fraser River empties out near Vancouver, British Columbia. The sockeye salmon from that river are a key resource for the state and tribal fishing industries in Washington.

The Fraser River sockeye salmon runs are worth more than $4 million each year, and they’ve been in decline for 30 years. The fishery was closed altogether in 2013.

Fisheries managers blame the decline on poor ocean conditions, warm river temperatures and habitat decline, among other things.

Tuesday's disaster declaration empowers Congress to allocate money for fishermen and fishing communities that are affected by the crash.

"It makes that funding available to tribal members to help offset some of the impacts of this disaster," said Tony Meyer of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents those nine tribes.

The Department of Commerce also declared the fishery a disaster in 2002, 2007 and 2008 for the Fraser sockeye fishery. In the past, the money has been divvied up between tribes and commercial fishermen. Congress has not yet allocated any funds and it’s unclear how quickly they will move on that.

The Fraser River salmon are also a key food source for the endangered orcas of Puget Sound.

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Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 6:58 pm