2021 Annual Report from the
Treaty Indian Tribes
in Western Washington
2 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Member Tribes of the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
2021 Annual Report
From The Chair.........4
Harvest Management..... 9
Wildlife Management .......11
Regional Collaboration.... ...
Ocean Resources.. ...12
Puget Sound Recovery .......14
Water Resources .......14
Table of Contents
6730 Martin Way East
Olympia, WA 98516
Left: Quinault Indian Nation tribal member
and fisheries technician Angel Ellis measures
a razor clam before returning it to the sand.
Photo: Debbie Preston
Map, opposite page: Ron McFarlane
Cover: Clockwise, top left: Swinomish
Shellfish Co. crew boss Willie Hunt opens a
Pacific oyster to serve at the tribe’s annual
clam bake; Nisqually tribal member Willie
Frank III harvests a chinook salmon from
the Nisqually River; Coho salmon; Elk in
the Duckabush River Valley. Photos: Debbie
Preston, Kari Neumeyer, Tiffany Royal
4 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
It was another challenging year for tribal natural resources
co-management in western Washington during 2020. The year
was marked by poor salmon returns, the ongoing loss of salm-
on habitat, impacts from COVID-19, increasing seal and sea
lion predation, and a growing invasion of European green crab.
Few bright spots appeared on the horizon, but the treaty Indian
tribes in western Washington remain committed to sustainably
co-managing the region’s natural resources and protecting tribal
Until we take bold action to protect and restore salmon habitat,
we are looking toward a future with more tightly restricted fish-
eries for everyone.
That was the take-home message again as treaty tribal and
state fisheries co-managers agreed on a package of salmon
fishing seasons for 2020-21 that provided greatly reduced harvest
opportunities compared to recent years while still contributing to
ongoing salmon recovery efforts.
The main reason for the decline of salmon throughout western
Washington is that their habitat is being lost faster than it can be
restored and protected, and the trend shows no signs of improve-
Fisheries are based on impacts to individual salmon stocks de-
pending on their overall abundance and how many are needed to
escape harvest and spawn. Treaty tribal and nontribal sport and
commercial fisheries are structured to limit impacts on stocks of
concern that are not expected to reach spawning goals.
Anticipated weak returns of chinook to the Stillaguamish
River and mid-Hood Canal in 2020 required extensive closures
to protect dwindling populations. Coho returning to the Queets
and Snohomish rivers also were stocks of concern.
The reductions we had to make this year were painful for both
tribal and nontribal fishermen and fishing communities. We al-
ready have reduced fisheries by 80-90 percent for nearly 40 years
in response to declining salmon runs.
There was no tribal fishing this year on river systems in the
Strait of Juan de Fuca, such as the Hoko, Elwha and Dungeness.
State fisheries managers had to sharply cut a popular winter
chinook sport fishery to protect imperiled Stillaguamish River
chinook, while the Stillaguamish Tribe harvested just 21 chinook
for its First Salmon Ceremony and other traditions.
We won’t be able to manage our way around the ongoing loss
of salmon habitat much longer, but hope may be on the horizon.
Riparian Habitat Initiative
A possibly game-changing move came in November 2019
at the annual state/tribal Centennial Accord meetings. Creat-
ed in 1989 to mark the state’s 100th anniversary of statehood,
the gathering brings together the tribes and state in a govern-
As part of the 2019 Centennial Accord commitments, Gov. Jay
Inslee recognized the importance of healthy riparian, or stream-
side, areas as critical to both our region’s salmon recovery efforts
and climate change resilience. In a bold move, he directed his
state natural resources agencies to develop a consistent approach
for uniform, science-based riparian management and guidance
to protect salmon and their habitat. Riparian habitat is among the
most important for salmon. Shade from trees and other vegeta-
tion helps keep water temperatures low to aid salmon survival at
all life stages.
That led treaty tribal and state salmon co-managers – for the
first time – to include habitat recovery as part of fisheries man-
Tribes are encouraged that Gov. Inslee’s plan to work with
tribes to address riparian habitat across the landscape of western
Washington will improve the habitat that is essential to salmon
survival and recovery.
You can learn more at riparianhabitat.org.
Seal, Sea Lion Predation
Increasing populations of harbor seals and California sea lions
in western Washington are hurting salmon, orcas and other ma-
rine species more than we realize.
It’s estimated that seals and sea lions eat about 1.4 million
pounds annually of threatened Puget Sound chinook and take six
times more salmon than tribal and nontribal fisheries combined
while damaging fishing communities and economies.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife partnered
with treaty tribes to survey harbor seal populations in northwest
Washington inland waters. The survey was funded by the Swin-
omish, Suquamish, Tulalip, Squaxin Island and Puyallup tribes.
From results of the study released in 2020, we learned that
harbor seal populations in the study area had remained stable at
about 19,000 since the agency’s last survey in 1999. But another
recent study involving a larger survey area showed that harbor
seal numbers in the Salish Sea have grown tenfold from about
8,500 to more than 80,000 since 1972 when the Marine Mammal
Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted. Meanwhile, California sea
lion populations have exploded to historic levels of more than
The MMPA was created to protect fur seals, dolphins and
whales, and has been successful in stemming the decline of
those species. California sea lions and harbor seals have never
been in danger of extinction, and their populations in some plac-
es exceed the ecosystem’s ability to support them.
Historically, tribal fishermen never used to see harbor seals
and California sea lions traveling up western Washington rivers.
Today, we need to manage in-river predation by harbor seals of
out-migrating juvenile salmon and returning adults – especially
the threatened chinook that are their favorite target.
That can’t be done effectively without a lot more information
about their movements, dietary needs and other factors. We also
want to make certain that plans to increase salmon hatchery pro-
duction to support fisheries and southern resident orca recovery
don’t end up feeding seal and sea lion population growth.
Like communities across Washington, tribes continue to cope
with the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted every part of
their daily lives, economies and traditions.
High rates of certain illnesses, combined with limited access
to medical care, put tribal members at increased health risks due
to COVID-19 and led some tribes to close reservation boundar-
That came with a huge financial cost as tribes closed casinos,
resorts and other businesses that are the economic engines of
our own and nearby communities. Tribes are among the top 10
From The Chair
2021 Annual Report
employers in the state and most employees are nontribal.
Economic problems were compounded with the collapse of the
seafood market due to both COVID-19 and Chinese retaliatory
Tribes quickly shut down most of their fisheries and delayed
or canceled others. As restaurants closed, markets dried up for
salmon, crab, shrimp and other species. Fish buyers were scarce
and our fishermen were paid about half of normal prices when
there was an opportunity for an opening.
In times like these, tribes rely on ceremonial and subsistence
harvests of fish and shellfish to feed our families and cultures.
The fisheries provide important nutrition when many tribal
members have limited options for groceries or are furloughed
or unemployed. Many tribes have distributed fish, elk and other
foods to members, but even limited fisheries have been difficult
to conduct due to social distancing requirements.
State of Our Watersheds Report
In 2020, we updated the State of Our Watersheds Report,
which has documented the decline of salmon habitat throughout
western Washington since 2004.
The 2020 State of Our Watersheds Report revealed that we
continue to tread water on a few indicators of the overall health
of our region’s environment, while losing ground on most others.
The report provides a watershed-by-watershed look at actual
conditions resulting from our land and water use choices. Each
chapter focuses on impacts that habitat loss and degradation have
on salmon populations in relation to our tribal communities,
economies and treaty-reserved rights. A wide range of science
and data are used to document salmon and shellfish habitat
trends and our efforts to resolve the most pressing problems cre-
ated by population growth, polluted stormwater runoff, climate
change and other factors.
Among the findings:
• Shoreline armoring continues to threaten salmon and forage
fish spawning and rearing habitat throughout Puget Sound.
Of the total 2,460 miles of shoreline within Puget Sound, 715
miles – about one-third – is armored with bulkheads and other
structures. Between 2015 and 2018, there was a net reduction of
about 1 mile of armoring.
• We remain concerned that the state of Washington is not
providing adequate funding for removal of fish-blocking culverts
under state roads as required by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court
ruling. The court upheld tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights in a
ruling requiring the state to correct 450 of its 800 most signifi-
cant salmon-blocking culverts by 2030. Current budget projec-
tions make it unlikely the state will meet the court’s mandate.
• Despite the knowledge that surface water and groundwater
are connected, more than 67,000 wells have been drilled in our
region since 1980. The increase in wells threatens groundwater
supplies affecting instream flows and overall ecosystem health
across the region.
• The amount of impervious surfaces – like parking lots and
roads – has increased along with polluted stormwater runoff.
Meanwhile, forest cover has continued to disappear, which in-
creases water temperatures that can kill salmon.
The updated report is available at nwifc.org/sow.
50th Anniversary of the Fish Wars
Fall 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of an event that
sparked the landmark ruling by federal Judge George Boldt in
U.S. v. Washington that upheld our treaty-reserved rights to hunt,
fish and gather.
It occurred on Sept. 9, 1970, at the height of the Fish Wars that
had rocked western Washington since the early 1960s. The state
of Washington refused to recognize tribal treaty-reserved rights,
and when tribal members tried to exercise those rights, they were
arrested – often beaten – and thrown in jail. Boats, motors, nets
and other gear were confiscated along with any fish caught.
Treaty rights are civil rights, the same as the right to vote, and
protected under the U.S. Constitution as the “supreme law of the
To defend their rights, tribes mounted a nonviolent resistance
effort patterned after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy in his
civil rights campaign: Protest, get arrested, get out of jail and
Tribes and their supporters had set up a fish camp under the
Puyallup River Bridge on that September day when the state of
Washington and local law enforcement agencies began tear-gas-
sing and arresting the protesters.
A U.S. Attorney for western Washington was part of the crowd
that came to watch the arrest of more than 60 men, women and
teenagers. Troubled by what he saw, he took the first steps to file
U.S. v. Washington on behalf of the tribes, which led to Judge
Boldt’s 1974 ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Boldt
decision in 1979.
Today the bridge spanning the site has been named the Fishing
Wars Memorial Bridge, or yabuk’wali, which means “place of a
The Boldt decision established the tribes as natural resources
co-managers with the state and upheld the tribal right to half of
the harvestable salmon returning annually to western Washing-
However, 50 percent of nothing is still nothing, which is the
direction salmon stocks are going because salmon habitat contin-
ues to be lost.
It could take another 50 years or more to achieve salmon
recovery, but tribes remain confident we will get there. Indian
people have always lived in western Washington and we always
will. We will never stop fighting for the health of our cultures,
communities and natural resources – and we will never stop
defending our treaty rights.
NWIFC Chair Lorraine Loomis
6 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Lummi tribal fishermen harvested
salmon from Whatcom Creek in Au-
gust 2020, for the first time in at least
The chinook salmon were released
as juveniles in 2017 from the Belling-
ham Technical College’s Fisheries and
Aquaculture Science program’s hatch-
ery, which works in partnership with
tribal and state fisheries managers.
When the chinook returned as adults,
they congregated below the waterfalls
in the creek beside the hatchery.
Whatcom Creek travels from Lake
Whatcom through the city of Bell-
ingham to Bellingham Bay, where a
pulp and paper mill operated on the
waterfront from 1926 to 2007.
Lost and degraded habitat is the
main cause of declining salmon runs.
To supplement populations until
habitat can be restored, the Lummi
Nation and state co-managers oper-
ate hatchery enhancement programs
on the North and South Forks of the
Nooksack River, Lummi Bay and the
Samish River, as well as the new pro-
gram at the Whatcom Creek Hatchery.
In 2017, some of the chinook
spawned at the Lummi Nation
hatchery on Skookum Creek were
not suitable for release in the South
Fork Nooksack River. Those fish were
brought to the college’s hatchery on
Whatcom Creek where they were
“There wasn’t any intention of
having these fish spawn in the wild,”
said Ben Starkhouse, Lummi harvest
manager. “It was intended that these
would be caught.”
A group of about 20 tribal members
gathered by the creek in August, hold-
ing a small ceremony to pray for the
safety of all fishermen, before setting
a net in the creek.
“You may see a thriving community
in this place you call Bellingham,”
said Steven Solomon, chairman of the
Lummi Natural Resources Commis-
sion. “For us, it’s Whatcom. Home
of the Noisy Water. It wasn’t just
noisy over that fall, that water coming
down. This creek was full of fish. Our
great-grandfathers said there used to
be upwards of 300,000 fish in this
After the Lummi fishermen harvest-
ed about 100 fish, an emergency rule
change by the Washington Department
of Fish and Wildlife provided a rec-
reational fishing harvest opportunity
until September 13.
“People forget Whatcom is a
Lummi word,” said tribal fisherman
Troy Olsen. “We need to remind them
we’re still here.”
Harvest Management: Salmon
Treaty Indian tribes and the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife co-man-
age salmon fisheries in Puget Sound, the
Strait of Juan de Fuca and nearshore coastal
• For decades, state and tribal salmon
co-managers have reduced harvest in
response to declining salmon runs.
Tribes have cut harvest by 80 to 90 per-
cent since 1985.
• Under U.S. v. Washington (the Boldt
decision), harvest occurs only after
sufficient fish are available to sustain the
• The tribes monitor their harvest using
the Treaty Indian Catch Monitoring
Program to provide accurate, same-day
catch statistics for treaty tribal fisheries.
The program enables close monitoring
of tribal harvest levels and allows for
• Tribal and state managers work coop-
eratively through the Pacific Fishery
Management Council and the North
of Falcon process to develop fishing
seasons. The co-managers also cooper-
ate with Canadian and Alaskan fisheries
managers through the U.S./Canada
Pacific Salmon Treaty.
Tribe Returns to Ancestral Fishing Grounds
Lummi fishermen harvest hatchery chinook from Whatcom Creek in August. Photo: Shirley Williams, Lummi Nation
2021 Annual Report
Harvest Management: Shellfish
Treaty tribes harvest native littleneck, manila, razor and
geoduck clams, Pacific oysters, Dungeness crab, shrimp
and other shellfish throughout the coast and Puget
• Tribal shellfish programs manage harvests with other
tribes and the state through resource-sharing agree-
ments. The tribes are exploring ways to improve man-
agement of other species, including sea cucumbers,
Olympia oysters and sea urchins.
• Tribal shellfish enhancement results in larger and
more consistent harvests that benefit both tribal and
• Shellfish harvested in ceremonial and subsistence
fisheries are a necessary part of tribal culture and
• Shellfish harvested in commercial fisheries are sold to
licensed buyers. For the protection of public health,
shellfish are harvested and processed according to
strict state and national standards.
• Tribes continue to work with property owners to man-
age harvest on nontribal tidelands.
• In 2019 (the most recent year for which data is
available), treaty tribes in western Washington com-
mercially harvested more than 1.3 million pounds of
manila and littleneck clams, more than 2.1 million
pounds of geoduck clams, more than 3 million oys-
ters, 4.2 million pounds of crab, 242,000 pounds of
sea cucumbers, 674,000 pounds of green and red sea
urchins, and 414,000 pounds of shrimp.
When the coronavirus hit western Washington in winter 2020,
shutting down just about everything, tribal shellfish managers
adapted to the changing market.
In February, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe fishermen noticed
markets disappearing as the virus spread, said Matt Ives, a Port
Gamble S’Klallam Tribe fisherman and tribal council member.
When the outbreak began, crab prices plummeted.
“We never got the price we wanted and it makes a difference
on the guys who do winter fisheries since they’re not big fisheries
to begin with,” he said.
The price for crab from winter harvests plummeted to $3-$4 a
pound, instead of the normal $6 a pound, he said.
Prawn fisheries didn’t receive the typical prices at first either,
starting at $3 a pound; shrimp usually sell for $7 a pound, Ives
said. But by early June, markets were back at their normal price.
Shrimp harvests also started a month late. Point Elliott Treaty
tribes agreed to fish in groups of 50 for spot prawns, to avoid
flooding the market.
“This was a way to get all our fishermen from the Point Elliott
Treaty on the water and get them making money,” said Jonathon
Lane, Lummi Fisheries and Natural Resources commissioner.
Harvests for manila clams were minimal while restaurants were
shut down, but interest in clams and oysters picked up in mid-
May as the state started to reopen, Ives said.
Shellfish harvesters from the Skokomish Tribe also felt the
effect of the pandemic on their harvest efforts, said Skokomish
fisherman Kevin Cagey. “Even the oyster harvests weren’t what
they used to be. In April, the markets were 10 percent of regular
Buyers were only taking oysters that were about 4 inches or
bigger for grocery retail, he said. The restaurants that prefer
smaller to medium sizes were shut down.
“As restaurants reopen, the market will likely pick up again,”
he said. “But at least it gives the shellfish a chance to spawn and
Reduced markets meant tribal geoduck harvests also were
down, as well as the price. But as of June, markets were opening
again and demand and price were increasing. Tribes could roll
over some of their unharvested 2020 geoduck harvest to 2021 if
needed, said Sandy Zeiner, NWIFC shellfish and enforcement
Shellfish Harvest Adapts to Market Changes During Pandemic
Skokomish shellfish biologist Andrew Pavones samples oysters. The tribe
continued to do field work during the pandemic. Photo: Tiffany Royal
8 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Harvest Management: Marine Fish
The treaty tribes are co-managers of the marine fish
resource and work closely with state and federal
agencies and international forums to develop and
implement species conservation plans for all marine
fish stocks in Puget Sound and along the Pacific
• The treaty tribes have been active through the
Pacific Fishery Management Council on issues
that relate to the management of all groundfish
stocks including sablefish, Pacific cod, lingcod,
petrale sole and yelloweye rockfish. NWIFC
staff are members of the Coastal Pelagic Species
Management Team, Endangered Species Working
Group, Ecosystem Workgroup and Groundfish
• Under the council’s management, all groundfish
and coastal pelagic stocks are healthy with the
exception of yelloweye rockfish and sardines.
The sardine stock rebuilding plan was initiated
in September 2020 and yelloweye rockfish is
scheduled to be rebuilt in 2027.
• The tribes have been increasingly involved with
the International Halibut Commission process.
The tribes, with the states of Washington, Oregon
and California, reached an agreement in 2019
for a 1.65 million pound quota, of which the
tribes are allocated 35 percent through 2022. The
tribes hope to extend that as a minimum harvest
level for the foreseeable future.
• The tribes actively manage marine fisheries
including purse-seining for sardines and
anchovy, midwater fisheries, bottom trawl
fisheries and fixed gear fisheries. Important
species to the tribes include Pacific halibut,
sablefish, petrale sole, Pacific hake and lingcod.
• The ripple effect of COVID-19 on groundfish
fisheries made management of both treaty and
nontreaty fisheries problematic during the 2020
fishing season. The treaty tribes tried to mitigate
the impact of COVID-19 on fisheries by moving
fisheries to later in the year in hopes that the
pandemic would pass. Effort has remained lower
than normal as individuals and tribes consider
the public health. Aside from directed fisheries,
the National Marine Fisheries Service also
canceled multiple stock assessment surveys and
2020 will not have the same fishery independent
data for groundfish as previous years.
What was thought to be a
dwindling herring population
made a surprising appearance
in 2020 in Puget Sound and the
Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Schools of the silver forage
fish were found along shorelines,
filling eelgrass beds with trans-
lucent golden eggs in March and
April, creating a mighty buffet
for marine life.
The feeding frenzy caught
the attention of Jon Oleyar, the
Suquamish Tribe’s fish biologist,
who soon began receiving reports
of herring swimming by the dock
in downtown Suquamish. Tribal
fishermen then started reporting
catches of herring, ranging from
500 to 2,000 pounds, he said.
“During my 20-plus years
working here, I have never had a
tribal fisherman fish for herring
on or around the reservation until
this year,” he said. “Many elders
I spoke to don’t recall seeing
anything like this during the last
50 years or so.”
The herring spike is import-
ant, as it was recently believed
that the population might be
heading for extinction due to lack
of herring in areas that were once
abundant, Oleyar said.
Herring lay their eggs on
eelgrass and other underwater
vegetation. Coincidentally, the
tribe and the state have been im-
proving eelgrass beds and habitat
on private and state beaches for
the past decade.
“We hope some of this is start-
ing to pay off and benefit some of
the locally important wildlife,”
The resurgence of herring
has cultural importance too, as
younger tribal members have
only heard stories of how their
grandparents used to harvest
herring and herring roe from the
waters and beaches surrounding
the Port Madison Reservation.
Now there could be possibilities
for them to harvest in the future
Herring populations are
considered one of the Puget
Sound vital signs, an indicator
of the sound’s health, and are an
important part of the food web
as a source for salmon and other
Boost in Herring Population
Herring eggs cling to eelgrass in Puget Sound. Photo: Jon Oleyar, Suquamish Tribe
2021 Annual Report
The Skokomish Tribe and Tacoma
Public Utilities staff were jubilant to
see the first sockeye salmon return to
the Saltwater Park Sockeye Hatchery on
Hood Canal in July 2020.
It was the first time sockeye had
returned to the facility since the start of
a 2016 program to bring back sockeye
to the North Fork Skokomish River and
The program is a result of a 2009
hydroelectric relicensing agreement be-
tween the tribe and the utility. Tacoma
operates the Cushman Hydro Project,
which includes two hatcheries, adult
and juvenile collection facilities, and
enhanced fish and habitat monitoring
and evaluation programs.
“It’s been exciting to see the effort
of the partnership pay off, especially
(last) summer with the first returning
sockeye,” said Dave Herrera, the tribe’s
fisheries policy representative. “Our
efforts to restore sustainable runs in the
North Fork Skokomish again is becom-
ing a reality.”
More than 130 sockeye returned to
the hatchery last summer and hatch-
ery staff collected about 110,000 eggs
for spawning and incubation. The fish
are not fin-clipped like most hatchery
salmon so they will not be harvested,
allowing more sockeye to return to the
river. Any sockeye that show up at the
hatchery are brought into the spawning
These eggs were the first to go
through the new hatchery system, from
incubation to being released in Lake
Cushman for a year, then transferred
around the dams and released into
the river, before swimming out to the
ocean, said Andrew Ollenburg, the
Cushman fish facilities manager.
“These sockeye have made the whole
loop and the first lot of eggs from those
fish are at the eyed-egg stage and look
really good,” Ollenburg said. “There
is a better than 97 percent survival of
The 2009 hydroelectric dam reli-
censing agreement between the tribe
and utility has led to river restoration,
increased water flow, fish passage
improvements, fish and wildlife habitat
restoration, and salmon hatchery pro-
grams on the North Fork.
First Sockeye Return to Hood Canal Hatchery
In July 2020, Skokomish
tribal member and Saltwa-
ter Park Sockeye Hatchery
employee Charlie Henry
shows off the first return-
ing adult sockeye to the
hatchery, which is operated
by Tacoma Power. Photo:
Hatcheries must remain a central
part of salmon management in
western Washington as long
as lost and degraded habitat
prevent watersheds from naturally
producing abundant, self-sustaining
salmon runs of sufficient size to
meet tribal treaty fishing rights.
• Treaty Indian tribes released
more than 35 million salmon
and steelhead in 2019 (the
most recent year for which data
is available), including 14.1
million chinook, 13.1 million
chum and 7.1 million coho,
as well as more than 150,000
sockeye and more than 880,000
• Most tribal hatcheries produce
salmon for harvest by both tribal
and nontribal fishermen. Several
serve as wild salmon nurseries
that improve the survival of
juvenile fish and increase
returns of depressed salmon
stocks that spawn naturally in
• Tribes conduct an extensive
mass marking and coded-wire
tag program. Young fish are
marked by having their adipose
fin clipped before release. Tiny
coded-wire tags are inserted into
the noses of juvenile salmon.
The tags from marked fish are
recovered in fisheries, providing
important information about
marine survival, migration,
harvest rates and hatchery
10 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Habitat protection and restoration are essential
for recovering wild salmon in western Washing-
ton. Tribes are taking action to recover salmon
in each watershed, and have restored thousands
of miles of habitat.
• At the November 2019 state/tribal Cen-
tennial Accord meeting, Gov. Jay Inslee
made a commitment for state agencies to
develop a consistent approach for uniform,
science-based riparian management and
guidance. That led treaty tribal and state
salmon co-managers – for the first time – to
include habitat recovery as part of fisheries
management planning. Healthy riparian,
or streamside, areas are critical to both our
region’s salmon recovery efforts and climate
• The NWIFC Salmon and Steelhead Habitat
Inventory and Assessment Program (SSHIAP)
provides data management and analysis as-
sistance to member tribes. In 2020, SSHIAP
updated the State of Our Watersheds Report,
which assesses habitat conditions and gaug-
es progress toward salmon and ecosystem
recovery. This report is available at nwifc.
• SSHIAP also completed the Fish Manage-
ment Data Exchange which will assist in
co-managing fisheries with the state.
• Tribes continue to collaborate with the
state of Washington to fix the fish-blocking
culverts that were the subject of a 2018 U.S.
Supreme Court case. The Supreme Court
affirmed a ruling that state blockages of
salmon habitat violate tribal treaty rights. The
state was ordered to remove barriers to fish
• Tribes conduct extensive water quality mon-
itoring for pollution and to ensure factors
such as dissolved oxygen and temperature
levels are adequate for salmon and other
fish. To make limited federal funding work to
its fullest, tribes partner with state agencies,
industries and property owners through col-
laborative habitat protection, restoration and
• In western Washington, the National Ocean-
ic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific
Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund has support-
ed projects that have restored and protected
fish access to more than 1 million acres of
spawning and rearing habitat, and removed
hundreds of fish-passage barriers.
The last of 127 engineered
logjams were placed in the Farm-
house reach of the North Fork
Nooksack River in 2020, complet-
ing an extensive multi-year salmon
habitat restoration project.
The Nooksack Tribe has
installed large woody structures
in the North and South forks of
the Nooksack River nearly every
year since 2008. Last summer, the
final 56 logjams were placed in
the 3-mile-long reach of the North
Fork near Maple Falls, complet-
ing restoration that began there in
Restoring river habitat is essen-
tial to recovering threatened salm-
on populations in the Nooksack
watershed. Habitat in the North
Fork Nooksack was degraded and
made unstable by years of in-
stream wood removal, clearing of
riparian forests and more frequent
Engineered logjams stabilize
side channels for salmon to spawn
and rear in, and form pools for
them to rest in. They also slow
currents and create areas where
gravel accumulates to form
Ambitious projects like these are
only possible with the hard work
and support of staff from many
agencies and partners, including
the expertise from several Nook-
sack Natural Resources tribal
staff, engineering consultants, log
supply and construction contrac-
tors, and funding and permitting
agencies, said project manager
North and Middle Fork Nook-
sack early chinook are a genet-
ically unique, native population
with low numbers of returning
natural-origin fish. The Nooksack
Tribe hasn’t had a directed com-
mercial fishery on early chinook
in the Nooksack River since about
The Farmhouse reach is up-
stream from the state’s Kendall
Creek Hatchery, which runs a chi-
nook supplementation program to
help recover the population. Over
time, as habitat recovers, more
chinook are expected to return and
spawn in the reach. The project
also benefits steelhead, bull trout,
cutthroat trout, and coho, chum
and pink salmon.
Major Habitat Restoration
Completed in Nooksack River
An engineered logjam is installed in the Farmhouse reach of the North Fork Nook-
sack River. Photo: Kari Neumeyer
2021 Annual Report
The treaty Indian tribes are
co-managers of wildlife resources
in western Washington, including
deer, elk, bear and mountain goats.
• Tribal wildlife departments
work with state agencies and
citizen groups on wildlife for-
age and habitat enhancement
projects, regularly conducting
wildlife population studies us-
ing GPS collars to track migra-
• Tribes implement occasion-
al hunting moratoriums in
response to declining popula-
tions because of degraded and
disconnected habitat, invasive
species and disease.
• Western Washington treaty
tribal hunters account for a
small portion of the total com-
bined deer and elk harvest in
the state. In the 2019 season,
treaty tribal hunters harvested a
reported 441 elk and 619 deer,
while nontribal hunters har-
vested a reported 5,429 elk and
• Tribal hunters hunt for suste-
nance and most do not hunt
only for themselves. Tribal
culture in western Washington
is based on extended family
relationships, with hunters shar-
ing game with several families.
Some tribes have designated
hunters who harvest wildlife for
tribal elders and others unable
to hunt for themselves, as well
as for ceremonial purposes.
• As a sovereign government,
each treaty tribe develops its
own hunting regulations and
ordinances for tribal members.
Tribal hunters are licensed by
their tribes and must obtain
tags for animals they wish to
• Many tribes conduct hunter
education programs aimed at
teaching tribal youth safe hunt-
Tulalip wildlife staff and volunteers
from Beavers Northwest released six bea-
vers into a Skykomish mountain stream in
The beavers – a breeding pair, three
kits and a subadult – took a moment to get
their bearings, then scurried off in all di-
rections, including one that took a wrong
turn onto the streambank.
The beavers were the latest participants
in Tulalip’s program to relocate beavers
from places where they interfere with
human activity to watersheds where their
industriousness can be appreciated.
In the well-populated lowlands, beaver
dams cause expensive flooding on private
property. In the mountains, on the other
hand, beaver activity has the potential to
increase the habitat’s resilience to climate
change, according to a 2019 doctoral
dissertation by Ben Dittbrenner at the
University of Washington.
Dittbrenner, the co-founder of Beavers
Northwest, partnered with the Tulalip
Tribes in 2014 to develop the relocation
program. His research found that beaver
activity can lower water temperatures and
increase summer water availability by
up to 20 percent in some Pacific North-
west watersheds where salmon survival
is threatened by the effects of climate
Despite the water storage possibilities,
wildlife biologists make every effort to
allow the animals to remain in familiar
“We don’t want to relocate beavers
just because they can benefit habitat,
even when they’re considered nuisance
animals,” said Tulalip wildlife biologist
Molly Alves. “It’s our last resort. The first
thing we do is an assessment to make sure
it’s really the beavers that are causing the
The next step is to try to find a solution,
such as installing devices that prevent
beaver activity from flooding property.
Tulalip’s wildlife department has
relocated more than 200 beavers since
the program began. In September, Tulalip
Chairwoman Teri Gobin signed an agree-
ment with the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie
National Forest to expand the tribes’ pro-
gram to the Stillaguamish watershed.
“Tulalip has been working collabora-
tively with the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie
National Forest to steward our ancestral
lands for quite a few years,” Gobin said.
“The beaver reintroduction effort is our
first project under the Tribal Forest Pro-
In addition to expanding their range to
include the Snoqualmie and Stillaguamish
watersheds, Tulalip has worked with the
Cowlitz Tribe and South Sound Beaver
Recovery, which is coordinating with the
Puyallup Tribe, to set up beaver relocation
programs in other regions.
A beaver finds its way after being relocated in the Skykomish watershed. Photo: Kari Neumeyer.
Tribal Beaver Program Expands
12 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
The state of Washington, the Hoh, Makah and Quileute
tribes, and the Quinault Indian Nation work with the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and
other partners to integrate common research goals to
understand changing ocean conditions and create the
building blocks for better managing these resources.
• In recognition of the challenges facing the Olympic
coast ecosystem, the tribes and state of Washington
established the Intergovernmental Policy Coun-
cil (IPC) to guide management of Olympic Coast
National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS). Many of the
research and planning goals established by tribes
and the state support U.S. Ocean Policy. In 2019, the
tribes worked with their partners to reauthorize the
IPC through 2022.
• The tribes also are active members of the OCNMS
Advisory Council, regional Marine Resource Com-
mittees, the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory
Council, the West Coast Ocean Alliance and the
Pacific Fishery Management Council.
• Climate change, ocean warming, ocean acidifica-
tion, hypoxia and harmful algal blooms are top pri-
orities. Because of their unique vulnerability, coastal
indigenous cultures are leaders in adaptation and
mitigation in response to events driven by climate
change. As ocean conditions change due to climate
change and disruptions such as the Pacific decadal
oscillation, El Niño, the marine heat waves and
seasonal upwelling, it will be important to under-
stand the changes that are occurring and how they
affect the ecosystem. Tribes are working with the
Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observ-
ing Systems (NANOOS) and other state and federal
partners to improve monitoring of marine conditions
and access to data products necessary for effective
• The tribes continue to work with the state of Wash-
ington and federal partners to respond to the findings
of and enact the recommendations of the state’s Blue
Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Several tribes
are members of the International Alliance to Combat
Ocean Acidification, including serving on its Exec-
utive Council. Tribes also are working with the state
Department of Natural Resources to monitor ocean
acidification conditions in nearshore waters as part
of the Acidification Nearshore Monitoring Network
(ANeMoNe) program. The IPC has expressed its sup-
port for the designation of the Olympic coast as an
Ocean Acidification Sentinel Site, and are working to
ensure it is a successful endeavor.
• The tribes and the federal government are working to
map marine resources on Washington’s outer coast
using the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classifica-
tion Standard (CMECS) as part of the Habitat Frame-
work project. CMECS uses habitat data to provide a
more comprehensive understanding of habitats and
their ecosystem function. The habitat maps produced
in this process will be used to improve management
by looking closer at the relationship between habitat
and species. Learn more at nwtt.co/oceanmaps.
With warming ocean tem-
peratures and more frequent
and intense harmful algal
blooms, the Makah Tribe
wants to better understand
how toxins travel through
the food chain to marine life
“We are looking at
several types of fish to see
if and at what levels domoic
acid and saxitoxin exist in
their systems and how those
levels change throughout
the season as algal blooms
take place,” said Adrianne
Akmajian, the tribe’s marine
ecologist. “We are also look-
ing for the toxins in gray
whales since they feed in the
nearshore and lower on the
The toxins are known to
cause shellfish poisoning
in humans when ingested.
Domoic acid causes amne-
siac shellfish poisoning, and
saxitoxin causes paralytic
Akmajian has studied both
toxins in sea lions.
“Domoic acid in particular
is well known in California
for causing sea lions to have
seizures and aggressive-
ness,” she said. “In other
parts of the world, saxitoxin
has caused respiratory pa-
ralysis in several species of
whales and seals.”
Now she wants to target
fish and study the potential
exposure to human health.
Since 2018, the tribe has
been sampling fish caught
by several of the tribe’s com-
mercial fishermen and ana-
lyzing toxins in fish stomach
contents and fillets.
Fish tested include
chinook salmon, yellowtail
rockfish, petrale sole, wall-
eye pollock, spiny dogfish,
arrowtooth flounder and
skate. The tribe samples
fish monthly from May to
November, with increasing
frequency when active algal
blooms are detected in rou-
tinely monitored shellfish.
Based on other studies,
Akmajian says she does not
expect the toxins to make
their way into the fish mus-
cle tissue, but if there is a big
bloom, they could see higher
levels of toxins in the fillet.
Tribe Studying HAB Toxins
Lora Halttunen, Makah Tribe marine ecology technician, prepares to
transfer diluted toxin samples into tubes to be spun in the centrifuge.
Photo: Adrianne Akmajian, Makah Tribe
2021 Annual Report
More than 1,200 Muckleshoot tribal
and community members gathered in
the rural foothills of Mount Rainier at
the tribe’s Tomanamus Forest property
for a community celebration at the end
The tribe celebrates Tomanamus
Community Day at Medicine Eagle Flats
within the forest.
Salmon, elk, deer and medicinal teas
are prepared and served. There are
outdoor activities, traditional games,
information about programs associated
with the forest property, and other tribal
programs promoting wellness, educa-
tion, outdoor activities and careers.
“The tribe restored this nearly 100,000
acres of traditional territory to tribal
members by purchasing it in 2013,” said
Cinnamon Bear, a key organizer of the
event. “It’s a good way to familiarize the
community with this property, how it’s
managed, how the youth are involved
in coming here to learn culture and job
opportunities, and how tribal members
can access it and use it.”
Attendees were welcomed by a carved
sign designed by Muckleshoot tribal art-
ist and carver Keith Stevenson. The sign
was erected by a Muckleshoot youth
forestry crew as part of the summer
work program, which included cutting
and stripping the cedar poles used to
mount the sign.
Hancock Forest Management (HFM),
which carries out the tribe’s manage-
ment plans on the land, had a booth
detailing job openings and forestry
practices on the property. Such prac-
tices include harvesting cedar bark for
baskets, hats, clothing and other uses
before a section is logged. HFM works
with Muckleshoot Wildlife and Fisheries
and other departments when planning
Also at the event were SSC Contrac-
tors, who are contracted by Muckleshoot
to teach forestry skills to adult and teen
“I’ve seen lives changed from folks
being outside, learning skills and feeling
good about themselves,” said Bob Sokol,
general manager for SSC Contractors.
The Muckleshoot Tribal School’s
Forestry Club booth gave out cards that
identify important cultural plants found
on the property.
Science instructor and forestry club
adviser Benjamin Price brings the stu-
dents to the property as often as possi-
ble, where they engage in projects such
as calculating how much the forest aids
in combating climate change by remov-
ing carbon from the atmosphere.
“It’s applied science and math, and
the more they come out here, the more
engaged they become,” Price said.
Muckleshoot Tribe’s Tomanamus Day:
Connecting with the Land and Community
Two processes – the Timber/Fish/
Wildlife (TFW) Agreement and the
Forests and Fish Report (FFR) –
provide the framework for adaptive
management by bringing together
tribes, state and federal agencies,
environmental groups, counties and
private forestland owners to protect
water quality and the habitat of
salmon, wildlife and other species,
and provide for the economic health
of the timber industry.
• Treaty tribes in western
Washington manage their
forestlands to benefit people,
fish, wildlife and water.
• Reforestation for future needs
is part of maintaining healthy
forests, which are key to
maintaining vibrant streams for
salmon and enabling wildlife to
• Forestlands are a source of
treaty-protected foods, medicine
and cultural items.
• A tribal representative serves on
the state’s Forest Practices Board,
which sets standards for activities
such as timber harvest, road
construction and forest chemical
applications. Tribes also are
active participants in the FFR
Muckleshoot Tribal School students Cameron Williams, 14, center, and Brandon Moran, 15, right,
hand out cards that identify indigenous plants on the tribe’s property in the Mount Rainier foothills.
Photo: Debbie Preston
14 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Puget Sound is the second largest estuary in the United
States. Its resources have been over-allocated to industrial
and recreational uses for decades, leading to a steady de-
cline in the health of the estuary.
• In 1988, Congress designated Puget Sound as an Estu-
ary of National Significance, further acknowledging the
critical contributions that Puget Sound provides to the
environmental and economic well-being of the nation.
Through the National Estuary Program, the U.S. Environ-
mental Protection Agency (EPA) works with tribal, state
and local partners to aid in the protection and restoration
of this iconic and ecologically important place.
• In 2007, the state of Washington created the Puget Sound
Partnership (PSP), dedicated to working with tribal, state,
federal and local governments and stakeholders to clean
up and restore the environmental health of Puget Sound
by the year 2020. While this did not happen, the work
still continues to this day. This diverse group continues
to work toward a coordinated and cooperative recovery
effort through the Partnership’s Action Agenda, which is
focused on decreasing polluted stormwater runoff and
protecting and restoring fish and shellfish habitat, along
with many other environmental concerns.
• The Tribal Management Conference was created in 2016
through EPA’s model for the National Estuary Program for
Puget Sound. It increases the ability of tribes to provide
direct input into the program’s decisional framework
both at the federal and state level. The Tribal Manage-
ment Conference is working with the PSP to implement
a list of “bold actions” that can turn around salmon
recovery in Puget Sound. The bold actions fall under sev-
eral broad categories: Protect remaining salmon habitat;
create a transparent and open accountability system on
habitat; stop all water uses that limit salmon recovery;
reduce salmon predation; improve monitoring; and
increase funding for habitat restoration.
• Western Washington treaty tribes participate in Puget
Sound Day on the Hill, a two-day advocacy effort each
spring in Washington, D.C., where tribes discuss issues
with federal, state and local leaders.
The Coordinated Tribal Water Quality Program was created
by the Pacific Northwest tribes and the federal Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to address water quality issues threat-
ening tribal rights and resources.
• EPA’s General Assistance Program (GAP) was established
in 1992 to improve capacity for environmental protection
programs for all tribes in the country. The treaty tribes in
western Washington are now advancing the “Beyond GAP”
project to build on these investments and creating the
environmental implementation programs necessary to meet
national environmental protection objectives.
• Tribal programs are essential to combat threats to treaty
resources such as declining water quality and quantity. In
western Washington, climate change and urban develop-
ment negatively affect water resources and aquatic ecosys-
tems and will get worse with the state’s population expect-
ed to rise by nearly 1 million in the next 10 years.
• Tribal water resources program goals include establishing
instream flows to sustain harvestable populations of salm-
on, identifying limiting factors for salmon recovery, protect-
ing existing groundwater and surface water supplies, and
participating in multi-agency planning processes for water
quantity and quality management.
Puget Sound Recovery
The North Fork Skokomish River in July. Photo: Debbie Preston
2021 Annual Report
• Long-range planning, salmon recovery efforts and federal
Endangered Species Act implementation.
• Develop pre-season agreements, pre
-season and in-season
run size forecast monitoring, and post-season fishery analysis
• Participate in regionwide fisheries management processes
with entities such as the International Pacific Halibut
Commission and Pacific Fishery Management Council.
• Marine fish and shellfish management planning.
• Facilitate tribal participation in the U.S./Canada Pacific
Salmon Treaty including organizing intertribal and
interagency meetings, developing issue papers and
negotiation options for tribes, serving on technical
committees and coordinating tribal research associated with
implementing the treaty.
• Administer and coordinate the Treaty Indian Catch
• Provide statistical consulting services.
• Conduct data analysis of fisheries studies and develop study
• Update and evaluate fishery management statistical models
• Protect and restore the productive capacity of freshwater,
marine and land-based fish, wildlife and plant communities.
• Support tribal habitat protection and restoration priorities
• Provide policy and technical support, coordination and
analysis regarding fresh and marine water resources, forest
and agricultural practices, growth management and climate
• Engage science and technical support to maintain a
comprehensive inventory, assessment and analysis of
• Develop policies to strengthen and align federal, state and
local authorities to protect tribal treaty resources.
• Assist tribes with production and release of an average of 40
million salmon and steelhead each year.
• Coordinate coded-wire tagging of more than 4 million fish
at tribal hatcheries to provide information critical to fisheries
• Analyze coded-wire tag data.
• Provide genetic, ecological and statistical consulting for tribal
• Provide fish health services to tribal hatcheries for juvenile
fish health monitoring, disease diagnosis, adult health
inspection and vaccine production.
• Provide internal and external communication services to
member tribes and NWIFC.
• Develop and distribute communication products such as
news releases, newsletters, videos, photos, social media and
• Respond to public requests for information about the tribes,
their treaty rights, natural resources management activities
and environmental issues.
• Work with federal and state agencies, environmental
organizations and others in cooperative communication
• Respond to state and federal legislation.
• Manage and maintain the intertribal wildlife harvest database
and the collection of tribal hunting regulations.
• Provide assistance to tribes on wildlife issues.
• Respond to and facilitate tribal discussions on key
management, litigation and legislation issues.
• Provide technical assistance, including statistical review
and data analysis, and/or direct involvement in wildlife and
habitat management projects.
Fish, Shellfish and
Salmon and Watershed
Policy Development and
Fisherman and Vessel
Climate Response and
Ocean and Watershed
U. S. Constitution
Education Assistance Act
Clean Water Act
Our core programs, which protect treaty rights and resources, are
guided by state, federal and international treaties and laws.
The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC)
was created in 1974 by the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western
Washington that were parties to U.S. v. Washington. The litigation
affirmed their treaty-reserved salmon harvest rights and
established the tribes as natural resources co-managers with the
The NWIFC is an intertribal organiza
tion that assists member
tribes with their natural resources co-management respon
sibilities. Member tribes select commis
sioners who develop policy
and provide direction for the organization.
The NWIFC employs about 75 full-
time employees and is
headquartered in Olympia, Wash., with regional offices in Forks,
Poulsbo and Burlington.
It provides broad policy coordination as well as high-quality
technical and support services for member tribes in their efforts
to co-manage the natural resources in western Washington. The
NWIFC also acts as a forum for tribes to address issues of shared
concern, and enables the tribes to speak with a unified voice.
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