LEWISTON — The Nez Perce Tribe has opened a commercial gill-net fishing season on the Snake and Clearwater Rivers.
Joe Oatman with the tribe’s Department of Fisheries Resources says the tribe worked with fisheries managers from neighboring states and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in developing the season. It’s designed to increase the tribal share of the steelhead harvest.
“In time, the tribe hopes to gradually build its capacity to catch its share of the steelhead fishery harvest,” Oatman told the Lewiston Tribune. “The other fishery agencies have, and continue to, support this type of approach.”
The number of hatchery salmon and steelhead not needed for spawning at hatcheries is split evenly between tribal fisherman and sport anglers in northwestern states. But for decades, the tribe wasn’t able to come close to catching its share of steelhead using traditional fishing methods like dip nets, gaffing and hook and line.
Four years ago, the tribe began authorizing its commercial fisherman to use gill nets.
The first two years, the gill-net seasons were only open during the winter and only a handful of steelhead were caught. Last year, the season opened in October, and tribal fisherman harvested more steelhead, as well as some coho salmon.
So far, only a few dozen steelhead and fall Chinook salmon have been caught with gill nets, Oatman said.
The gill-net season is only open to tribal members who have a commercial fishing permit from the tribe. The gill-netters must also report the number and species of fish they catch on a weekly basis.