Due to safety concerns and disputes between recreational and tribal fishermen, a section of the Puyallup River will be closed to recreational anglers two days a week through the end of September.
The Puyallup Tribal Council worked in conjunction with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to close recreational salmon fishing from noon Sundays to noon Tuesdays, Sept. 13-15, Sept. 20-22, and Sept. 27-29 on the lower section of the Puyallup River that runs through the Puyallup Reservation.
The section closed to sport fisherman during this time spans from Murray Morgan Bridge to the City of Puyallup Outfall Structure across the river from the junction of Freeman Road and North Levee Road.
“The closure of the river is a historic event and represents Tribal Council’s obligation to continue the fight on the river to preserve those fishing rights,” Tribal Councilmember James Miles said. “I would like to commend Councilmember Nancy Shippentower-Games in regard to the protection of tribal fishing on the river. Her efforts alone made the closure possible. It is one of the Tribal Council’s top priorities to protect and preserve the fish harvest on the Puyallup River.”
Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Nancy Shippentower-Games was on the river Sept. 13 when the closure was announced and observed the sport fishermen leave by noon without any commotion or disruption.
Afterward she observed the tribal fishermen net fishing on their boats undisturbed.
“It was so nice to see our fishermen fishing without harassment, racial slurs, without the hindrance of catching someone in their nets,” she said. “To just see boats and nets – wow, what a beautiful day.”
Recreational fishing will remain open seven days a week upstream of the closed section. The lower section will reopen seven days a week beginning at noon Sept. 29.
With a strong return of pink salmon this year, hundreds of recreational anglers are fishing the river, which is also open to tribal fishing two days a week, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW.
This year’s run “is unprecedented,” according to Pat Pattillo, leading to more people hitting the river for fishing than normal.
He said the agency has heard reports about gear conflicts and other incidents between tribal and recreational fishermen.
One involved an incident on Sept. 6. A recreational fisherman claimed a tribal fisherman dropped a driftnet a few feet away from him and several other recreational fishermen. According to Pat Pattillo, two recreational fishermen were briefly engaged by the net. There were no injuries. A complaint was filed with Puyallup Police Department and the investigation was turned over to Puyallup Tribal Police Department. Pat Pattillo said the state is also investigating it.
There were reports of angry words being exchanged between tribal and recreational fishermen elsewhere on the river on Sept. 6 and 7. As a result, representatives of the Tribe and WDFW made the decision on Sept. 11 to close sections of the river to recreational fishermen. Those caught violating the directive face fines of $109.
Nancy Shippentower-Games noted the public might fail to realize that the fish in the river come from the Tribe’s hatchery. “These fish in the Puyallup River are raised by the Puyallup Tribe. We have a hatchery that is producing… and the Tribe puts all it’s energy in protecting, preserving and enhancing the salmon runs.”
Earlier this season, the river was closed for one day on Aug. 23.
“We felt that was successful,” Pat Pattillo said.
Some tribal fishermen have reported recreational fishermen casting their lines toward the tribal boats. Pat Pattillo said verbal exchanges have occurred on several occasions. He stressed that it is a small percentage of fishermen who have engaged in such behavior. “It does not take too many people to create a bad situation,” he remarked. “We take these kind of interactions, whether physical or verbal, very seriously.”
The Tribe and WDFW both have representatives enforcing the closures for recreational fishing.
“As a Tribal Council member it is an honor to continue the battle for our treaty rights that our elders both past and present fought so hard for,” James Miles said.