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Change would allow non-Indians to fish on tribally chartered boats

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SEATTLE ? The Quileute tribe wants to hold a fishing derby in early October. These events are common enough in rural areas of the western United States, and generally attract little fanfare outside of the home communities.

However, if the Quileutes are allowed to hold the derby it would mark the first time since the landmark Boldt decision that non-tribal members would be allowed to fish under American Indian rules.

The incorporation of non-Indian fishermen seems to be in doubt because a proposed change in the Boldt decision could not be passed into law before the scheduled early October derby.

The Quileutes along with the Tulalip tribe are seeking to modify the landmark Boldt decision to allow non-tribal fishermen onto tribally owned boats. The tribes requested that any fish caught by the non-Indians would count against their own salmon harvests.

Washington state tribes have a unique fishing treaty with the state government. They are allowed to fish on most shorelines and waterways in Washington state. This was the result of the decision of 1974 in which Federal District Judge George Boldt ruled that tribes were entitled to half of all harvestable salmon and steelhead.

Quileute tribal member and tribal fisheries worker Karsten Boysen said the derby would allow non-tribal members, at $10 a head, to fish on American Indian boats with their catch counted against the allowable harvestable fish total for Washington state tribes.

Boysen says the Quileutes received mixed signals from Fish and Wildlife on the derby. He says the agency initially encouraged then did an about face and are now trying to discourage the event.

Fishing in Washington state has been a contentious issue for several decades. Neighboring white fishermen have long resented what they say are special rights given to tribes, while the tribes generally feel that they are only taking back what is rightfully theirs. Would this proposal represent a compromise?

Tulalip fisheries biologist Kit Rawson does not think so, though he said he feels some may view it in that light. He added that if anyone would oppose the law it would be non-tribal charter boat operators because they would face direct competition from tribal operations.

Rawson, who stressed that he is not speaking for the tribe said the proposed rule would be another avenue of economic opportunity for the tribes and allow tribes to establish sovereignty over the management of their own fisheries.

'It is in the spirit of how the tribes can manage their own share (of the fish harvest). It increases the flexibility of how it's done,' Rawson said.

Boysen also said he feels this is an economic opportunity for his tribe. He said the quota for salmon and steelhead is not usually filled until late October and this is an opportunity for the tribes to capitalize on their allowable fishing harvests.

The Washington Legislature decided more than a decade ago to not allow non-tribal members to fish on tribally chartered boats. In Washington, American Indians have a different and longer fishing season and enjoy other benefits of access and amounts of harvestable fish not granted to non-Indian fishermen.

Paul Anderson, who works with Fish and Wildlife, said his agency is generally in favor of the proposed rules which would go into effect in 2002.

'We think that the proposal has some merit, in that it provides additional angling opportunities. This is why we're developing a proposal.'

The proposal Anderson speaks of is a draft being prepared by the Department

of Fish and Wildlife. Anderson says the draft is under internal review at the moment and expects a completed version to go to the director's office in a few weeks.

If the draft is modified and approved by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, it would still have to be decided which legislative form the proposal would take. Most sources think that it would not see legislative form until later this year or early in 2002.

Additionally Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said some modification would have to be made to the Boldt decision itself.