Indians still heavily rely on Hood Canal

Steve Chambers skims over the Hood Canal in his Motion Marine cargo boat, jumping over the choppy waters last Wednesday morning.

Chambers, the marine enforcement officer for the Skokomish Tribal Nation, is tasked with making sure the fishermen are all playing by the rules. He’s been on the job for 12 years and, by now, he has it down to a science.

He knows the Skokomish fishermen the way a football coach knows his starting offensive line — the same fishermen occupy the same spots day in and day out, regardless of weather.

On this particular day, the air is a crisp 51 degrees and menacing, dark gray clouds are covering the sky as Lyle Gouley tries to untangle a chum from his net and, a short boat ride away, Ron Twitty sails aboard the Southpaw and keeps his eye on a pesky seal that is hanging out near his net, looking for an easy meal.

“These are the die-hards. I’ve seen them out here during small boat advisories,” Chambers said. “A man’s got to make a living.”

Chamber’s boat is a testament to the fishermen’s attitude. The boat can pull about two tons, which is enough to tow a fishermen’s craft to shore if they get into trouble on the water.

Dave Herrera, the director of the Skokomish Tribe fishery, estimates that about 150 of the some 760 tribal members depend on fishing. The tribal members are allowed to use gill nets, but must adhere to certain rules to do so, according to Steve Neuhauser, fish biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Some of those rules include not setting a gill net within 1,000 feet of a river mouth and having to pull the nets up at least once every 24 hours.

The members of the Skokomish Tribe are looking for the catch of the day: chum salmon.

On the average, the tribal members catch about 250,000 salmon a year. Chum salmon fishing season usually begins in late September and goes through November. The tribal members are after the prize catch, chum salmon, because there is a large commercial market for the eggs.

“For whatever reason, there is a market for fish eggs, but not the fish carcasses,” Herrera said.

Once the female fish are caught, the eggs are removed.

Because there is no commercial market for the fish, the fishermen are left with a dilemma: What should they do with the fish carcasses?

In the past, the fishermen have given some fish to food banks, sold some on roadside stands and given them to any other tribe members who request them for food, Herrera said.

“We certainly don’t discourage our fishermen from selling the fish to whomever they want to sell to,” Herrera said.

In years past, the remainder of the fish have been taken to the open waters of the Hood Canal and dumped in. The tribe members always have been careful to dump the fish where they will not wash ashore, Herrera said.

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