Petitioners explain claims against tribal fishery at Ishi Pishi Falls
The section begins, “Overfishing is a well-understood mechanism for injury to anadromous fish populations. The starting point for preventing overfishing is monitoring catch.
“Unfortunately, the Department [of Fish and Game] has failed to provide meaningful oversight of the Karuk fishery at Ishi Pishi Falls.”
The petitioners reference a 2002 Los Angeles Times article, which claims that the Ishi Pishi Fishery is “a gray area of the law” and that “[n]o one officially keeps track of the 2,000 or so salmon that the tribe can take in a good year.”
The petitioners suggest that the article implies that a single dipnet fisherman can catch up to 100 salmon per day.
Karuk Tribe spokesman S. Craig Tucker said in an interview Wednesday, “If the Karuk catch 200 salmon in a season, it’s a good season.”
Neither number is supported by documentation, and the petitioners go on to say, “Petitioners have also made recent inquiry of (1): the Department’s representatives, who have confirmed that the Department does not review, and does not even possess records of Karuk Tribal harvest, (2) federal fish regulators, who also do not review or possess records of Karuk Tribal harvest; and (3) the Karuk Tribe itself, which professes to have no records.”
The petitioners go on to claim that the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is violating California Environmental Quality Act rules by allowing Karuk fishing at Ishi Pishi Falls without an environmental impact report being prepared.
“Even if the Commission and Department do have lawful authority to grant special rights under California law to Karuk tribal members, it is entirely irresponsible for those rights to be granted without a careful study and regulation of the environmental impacts,” the petition states.
The petition also reads, “While petitioners would prefer not to put a stop to Tribal fishing, in view of the Department’s strategy of regulating nearly all other productive ativity in the area out of existence on account of salmon declines, stopping Karuk fishing (other than in compliance with generally applicable fishing regulations) is the only responsible thing to do until a full CEQA or other legally–sufficient review is completed to determine the impacts.”
The petitioners also reference a November 2005 survey in which some Karuk families reported catching coho salmon. The petitioners also claim that they have “representatives” who have seen Karuk tribal members taking coho in years where the fish were listed as endangered species.
In the Karuk press release, Karuk Vice-Chair Leaf Hillman stated, “Our fishery is non-lethal. This allows us to selectively harvest fish.
“In other words, we release Endangered Species Act-listed Coho and smaller chinook back into the river unharmed and we eat the rest.”
In both cases, documentation backing the claims is not provided.
The petitioners mention that the importance of DFG allowing take of endangered species is that it can expose the governing agency to litigation for allowing the illegal activity to continue.
The petitioners also argue that the act of allowing the Karuk tribe special fishing rights is unlawful, based on the lack of federal fishing rights for the Karuk tribe.
The petition states, “Article 1, § 25 of the California Constitution vests the right to fish in ‘the people’ generally, and Article 1, § 7 specifically declares that ‘a citizen or class of citizens may not be granted privileges or immunities not granted on the same terms to all citizens’ and generally provides ‘equal protection of the laws.’”
In the conclusion to the petition, the petitioners say, “For the foregoing reasons, it is imperative to eliminate the Karuk Tribal fishery at Ishi Pishi Falls unless and until an Act of Congress provides federally–protected fishing rights for members of the Tribe.”
The petitioners then threaten the DFG and Fish and Game Commission with a lawsuit if their petition is denied.
“We urge rulemaking proceedings to remove the Karuk fishery exemption from its sportsfishing regulations,” the petition states.
The language of both the petition and the Karuk release points to a fight that may go beyond simply a matter of saving the fish.
Hillman says at the end of the Karuk release, “We just want to do what we [were] doing when the first wave of miners showed up in 1850 – fish and feed our families.
“Over the last 150 years miners have taken nearly everything from the Karuk people. We will not allow them to take our last fishery.”
The DFG is preparing responses to the litigation, petitions and questions from both sides of the issue.