Every spring and summer, many tribes throughout the region celebrate the return of the salmon and the beginning of salmon fishing season.
My tribe, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, holds a First Salmon Ceremony and Blessing of the Fleet in May each year. We welcome the salmon home with drums, songs and prayers. Because salmon binds us all together as communities, we invite our neighbors to share this food that has sustained us for so many years. We honor the First Salmon by returning its remains to the water and we pray for the protection of our fishermen and their boats.
Salmon is food for our bodies and our spirits. For us, salmon is not optional. It is essential.
Salmon remind us that we are all part of nature and share the responsibility to ensure there will be salmon for future generations. That is why cooperative efforts such as Puget Sound Day on the Hill are so important. The two-day event is held each spring in Washington D.C., It brings together tribal, federal, state and local governments, NGOs, businesses, conservation groups and others to educate key decision makers about the importance of a healthy Puget Sound to the salmon, the Southern Resident Killer Whale, the Pacific Northwest and the entire nation.
We are fortunate that this year’s salmon returns are starting to rebound in a number of watersheds after several years of extremely low runs caused by drought, warm ocean temperatures and poor food supplies.
At the same time we are seeing sharply increasing pressure on the salmon resource from out-of-control seal and sea lion populations, and the food needs of Southern Resident Killer Whales.
The days are over when we could make up for declining salmon runs by reducing or eliminating harvest. Even if we stopped all salmon fishing everywhere in western Washington, most stocks would never recover. There just isn’t enough good quality habitat to support them.
Salmon are tough. Despite dams, pollution, predators, climate change and many more challenges, they never stop trying to return home. We have to be just as tough when it comes to their recovery.
Reducing salmon harvest has never been the key to their recovery, yet that is what we have had to do because of steadily decreasing returns. Instead we need to do the hard work of protecting and restoring salmon habitat if we want salmon in our future.
Harvest reductions are only effective if there are equally strong efforts to protect and restore salmon habitat.
Lorraine Loomis is chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, www.nwifc.org.