The anadromous – or migratory-fish of Washington – are a declining resource. Salmon runs, particularly of Chinooks and silvers, are virtually at an all-time low. Steelhead runs are being maintained only through a successful but expensive hatchery program. Five main factors contribute to the decline of migratory fish. One is the deforestation of watersheds through extensive logging operation, which harms the spawning beds. Another is the increase of pollution in the state’s rivers. Third is the harm resulting from construction of high dams, such as Grand Coulee, which block the runs of spawning fish. Fourth is catching too many fish on the high seas and offshore by commercial trollers and netters.
UNRESTRICTED FISHING by Indians is another contributor to declining runs. The Indians take fish at their source, close to the spawning areas. The modern Indian is inclined to fish by the standard he set back in 1855. At that time God and nature supplied the fish. That is no longer true. Along with the other factors contributing to the decline of fish runs, too large a take by Indians of the spawning stock could spell disaster. State fish and game agencies are attempting squarely to meet the problem of maintaining fish runs – through research, conservation regulations and state-financed hatcheries. Emergency closures have been imposed on both sports and commercial anglers. The United States government is the only political entity, outside of the tribes themselves, that has jurisdiction over the Indians on reservations. The federal government or Congress has done nothing to control Indian fishing on Washington reservations.
THERE ARE two ways by which Congress could control Indian fishing on reservations. One would be to abrogate the Indian treaties. That appears to be a very remote possibility. Second would be to draft appropriate conservation regulations for the Indians, then make sure that the regulations were enforced by the tribes.
Senate Bill 119, passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Rosellini March 9, is an attempt to stop the commercial sale of steelhead caught by anyone in Washington rivers. The bill makes it unlawful for any person to sell, or offer for sale, any game animal or game fish. It also prohibits common or contract carriers from receiving game fish or animals for shipment and from transporting them.
Proponents of the bill contend it will put the sale of steelhead under provisions of the Black Bass Act, enacted by Congress in 1926.
THAT ACT makes it unlawful to transport from one state to another black bass or other fish, if such transportation is contrary to the law of the state from which the fish are to be transported. If the Senate Bill 119 holds up in court, it will prohibit the sale of steelhead by Indians. It would not ban restricted fishing by Indians, on or off reservations. Perhaps the federal government can convince the Indian tribes that, whether they fish for food or for profit, they should abide by conservation regulations applicable to all other fishermen.