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Fish and game commission denies petition to halt Karuk fishing at Ishi Pishi Falls

By David Smith, Siskiyou Daily News 4/17/09
Siskiyou County, Calif. - April 9 marked the end of another chapter in the Klamath River’s long history of battles, with the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) denying a petition to halt Karuk tribal fishing at Ishi Pishi Falls in the southwest corner of Siskiyou County.

The petition, filed by the mining group The New 49ers, the Greenhorn Grange, various other mining groups and land rights groups, asked the FGC to reverse the exemption allowing Karuk tribal members to fish at Ishi Pishi Falls.

The exemption is in Subsection (b) (91.1) of Section 7.50, Title 14, CCR. “No fishing is allowed from the Ishi Pishi Falls road bridge upstream to and including Ishi Pishi Falls from Aug. 15 through Nov. 1. Exception: members of the Karuk Indian Tribe listed on the current Karuk Tribal Roll may fish at Ishi Pishi Falls using hand-held dip nets.”

James Buchal, representing the New 49ers, began by stating, “This is a serious petition,” adding that he didn’t understand why the commission would discuss Subsection (b) (91.1) earlier in the meeting and not consider the petition.

Prior to the meeting the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) had sent Buchal a letter, which read “After careful review of the petition, the Department has determined that it does not have the authority to effectuate the relief sought by the petition. Therefore, the Department will not take action on this petition.”

“It’s not clear to me how the commission can lawfully segregate our objection to subsection 91.1 off into its own universe and not really address these issues now in a timely fashion,” Buchal said.

Buchal was referring to possible changes of take limits on salmon as well as the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s ban on commercial ocean fishing for the second straight year. Decisions on proposed changes are slated for the commission’s April 21 meeting.

Much of Buchal’s testimony reflected the argument in the petition, focusing on the granting of federal fishing rights being the sole responsibility of Congress.

Buchal said that the “Commission is not empowered to grant special rights to some people to go kill lots of fish. This special right to catch as many fish as you want as fast as you want has created all kinds of problems.”

It may be noted, however, that later Buchal stated that the United States and California governments and the Karuk tribe “have no idea how many fish are caught.”

Buchal also claimed that the tribe has caused a “severe commercialization of the resource,” stating that he believes that truckloads of fish are being sold to San Francisco restaurants and out of the homes of tribal members, although no evidence was presented during his testimony.

Buchal also claimed, as in the petition, that the Karuk tribe is harvesting endangered Coho.

“These are incredibly priceless fish,” Buchal said, adding that he believes that the people of California and the Department of Fish and Game have invested “millions and millions and millions and millions to help Coho, yet we have this unregulated, unmanaged commercialized fishery running and no one is doing anything about it.”

Also speaking to the commission was James Foley, representing the coalition of petitioners.

“The petition is about one simple thing, and that is the rule of law,” Foley said. His testimony also recapped much of the petition to the commission.

Another speaker, Daniel Effman of the Karuk tribe, stated that he does not support the removal of the exemption for fishing at Ishi Pishi Falls, but that he is opposed to tribal members selling fish.

Effman stated that other members have told him that they have sold fish and he stated that he has purchased fish from other tribal members. He also submitted to the Board pictures and statements from other tribal members.

Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator for the Karuk tribe, speaking of Karuk tribal history, claimed that “one of the vestiges of the culture is the ability to dip net at Ishi Pishi Falls.”

Tucker also claimed that the DFG had “concluded years ago that the dip net fishery had negligible impact on the overall runs of salmon on the Klamath River.”

Also speaking on the issue was Robert Goodwin, self-governance director for the Karuk tribe. “The Karuks have never ceded any of their fishing rights,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin also targeted Buchal’s earlier statement by saying “‘Catching as many as you want as fast as you want’ is an absurd, absurd statement.”

Goodwin encouraged the commission to engage in government-to-government consultation with the federally recognized Karuk tribe before moving forward.

After the public comment period was over, commission chairman Michael Sutton said that he had read the petition and related material and has worked extensively within the Klamath Basin and is familiar with the issues surrounding it.

“It strikes me that this issue is far more complex than the petitioners would have us believe,” Sutton said, “Whatever action we take, it seems, ought to be taken in the context of the restoration of this river basin as a whole – with that in mind I’m going to suggest we deny this petition or hold it over because I’m not convinced on the evidence that has been presented here that this petition is worth us adopting today.”

The commission agreed, unanimously voting to deny the petition.
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