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Makah officials defend 20,000-chinook catch

2/3/2005, 2:22 p.m. PT

The Associated Press


NEAH BAY, Wash. (AP) Makah officials are defending the tribe's larger-than-expected winter catch of 20,000 chinook salmon, saying it will not put a dent in future fishing on the North Olympic Peninsula.

"This will have no effect on other people's fisheries," said Dave Sones, the tribe's vice chairman. "The chinook salmon we've caught this season represents a tiny percentage that exist in our fisheries.

The comments came after state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials expressed concerns that the tribe's overfishing of wild chinook a threatened species might hurt nearby commercial, sport and tribal fisheries in the 2005-06 season.

Under state guidelines, the tribe was supposed to take about 1,600 chinook during the winter, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Doug Williams told the Peninsula Daily News, correcting a previous report from one of the agency's salmon policy coordinators that the limit was 500.

In recent years, Sones said the tribe has typically taken fewer chinook than it had estimated at the start of each season. He suggested that the recent catch may turn out to be a sign of progress.

"Our biologists think this signals the increasing abundance of chinook salmon in the area," Sones said. "It seems that our stocks are recovering, which, if it turns out to be the case, will lead to more liberal fishing in the future."

The Fish and Wildlife Department is set to unveil salmon forecasts for Puget Sound, coastal Washington and the Columbia River on March 1 in Olympia. The final salmon fishing season for 2005-06 will be announced April 4-8 in Tacoma.

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