Historically, Indian fisheries included the harvest of chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and steelhead, as well as Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon. These fisheries were extensive and diverse, and fish were harvested throughout the year with a wide array of gear. These fish not only served as the tribes’ primary food source, but also were an integral and essential part of their cultural and spiritual existence. Further, these fish were a primary commodity in an extensive economic system with a vast trade network.

Non-Indian fisheries for anadromous fish in the Columbia River Basin began operating in 1866 and expanded rapidly. As the technology used in the fisheries became more elaborate, and because regulation was sparse, salmon stocks were already showing a rapid decline in abundance by the late nineteenth century. In addition, sources of mortality other than fishing began to have an impact on fish populations.

Fisheries on Columbia Basin stocks range from Alaska to California in the ocean and throughout the Columbia River and its tributaries. Although in-river harvest has been regulated for decades, historical ocean fishery management did not attempt to achieve any particular chinook conservation objective. Direct management of chinook harvest in ocean commercial and recreational fisheries has occurred only recently. Beginning in the early 1980s, management of chinook stocks has attempted to address conservation of upper Columbia River spring, summer, and fall chinook runs (the aggregate of upriver stocks), and court-ordered treaty harvest allocation requirements.

In response to competing jurisdictional interests, a complex system of regulatory processes evolved to address this need (see Institutional Context section). Present management involves a number of regulatory agencies established to manage commercial fisheries on the west coast of North America.

  1. The Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils were established pursuant to the Fishery Management and Conservation Act to manage ocean fisheries in US waters from Alaska to Mexico.
  2. The Pacific Salmon Commission was established pursuant to the United States-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty and regulates fisheries in waters off southeast Alaska, northcentral British Columbia, and western Vancouver Island to the US-Canada boundary according to catch ceilings intended to stabilize harvest impacts on stocks of concern.
  3. The Columbia River Fish Management Plan, formulated by the parties to US v. Oregon and adopted in 1988, sets run-by-run criteria to meet allocation, conservation, and rebuilding goals.

No catch guidelines are available for Pacific lamprey. They are now used by tribal elders for subsistence. The general management goal is to increase populations so that they can be used for subsistence by tribal people.

Columbia River Basin white sturgeon have been exploited commercially for their flesh and eggs (Bajkov 1949; Smith 1990). They are especially vulnerable because of their longevity, slow growth, and relatively old age at which they become mature. The goal is to maintain healthy, stable populations and increase commercial catches over the long term.

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