COOK, Wash. — Tribal fishermen have built about a dozen platforms off the Columbia River along Drano Lake, a move likely to spark conflict with long-standing non-Indian salmon and steelhead fisheries.
“I’ve never seen Indian platforms here before,’’ said Don Morby of nearby Mill A, a Drano Lake angler for almost five decades. “Will they let me fish off them? I’d love to fish off them.’’
Drano Lake is a large backwater at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River in eastern Skamania County that’s crowded with anglers during peak fish runs.
Chinook return to power a popular sport fishery at Drano, especially in April and May, then again in September.
Summer steelhead dipping into the cool water for a respite from the warmer Columbia fuel a 24-hour-a-day fishery in July, August and early September.
Speros Doulos, manager of the four federal salmon hatcheries in the Columbia Gorge, said the first two platforms were built on Memorial Day weekend. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns the land along Drano Lake as part of Little White Salmon hatchery.
The Fish, Wildlife and Law Enforcement Committee of the Yakama Tribal Council on May 31 authorized platform and hook-and-line gear in Drano Lake.
Drano Lake is one of several tributaries fished by the Yakama tribe.
While fishing in the Columbia River is managed by the tribes and non-Indians through the Columbia River Compact process, tribal authorities solely manage Indian fisheries in the tributaries.
The platforms and hook-and-line gear will be closed Tuesday nights and Sundays, according to the tribal committee’s action notice.
Yakama Indian Nation fishery officials have not returned repeated calls from reporters for comment about the platforms.
Stuart Ellis, a fishery scientist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the Yakama catch of spring chinook in Drano has been accomplished via gillnet fishing on Tuesday nights by tribal members issued permits.
A decision has been made to harvest some of the tribal allocation via the platforms instead of gillnets, he said.
While the time and manner of harvest is changing, the overall tribal share is not, Ellis said.
Tribal and non-Indian fishing in the tributaries long has been a collaborative process between the tribes and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The harvest is split 50-50, although Wind River, Drano Lake, the White Salmon River, Klickitat River and Icicle Creek are managed in the aggregate, not individually, he said.
“It’s been year-to-year and area-by-area subject to change to help everybody’s fishery to work smoothly,’’ Ellis said.
The Yakama tribe opened reservation land along the Yakima River this year to sport fishing, an example of how cooperation works, he added.
Nevertheless, construction of the platforms on Drano Lake caught the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife by surprise.
Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator, said she started hearing from sport fishermen in substantial numbers in June. This week, she said she still hasn’t learned more from the Yakamas about the platforms.
“We’re concerned if they are taking over the bank fishing,’’ LeFleur said. “We don’t have that much up there.’’
Asked if non-Indians can fish off the platforms, she said: “They were built by Yakama members, I wouldn’t recommend it.’’
Doulos, hatchery complex manager, has asked for a Department of Interior solicitor’s office opinion on the platform issue.
“I’m going to assume the tribe has a right to construct a platform in the ceded area of the Yakamas,’’ Doulos said. “Until I get a solicitor’s office legal read, I’m taking a hands-off approach.’’
The road along the west side of Drano Lake is closed from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. to prevent camping. Anglers can park along state Highway 14 and walk in to fish at night.
Doulos said he is concerned about tribal fishermen camping, making fires and the litter associated with camping. He’s also concerned if tribal members are allowed in at night and non-Indians are excluded.
Some platforms are next to an orange buoy line that marks the closed-waters boundary. Tribal fishermen on Tuesday nights have been using the buoys as an anchor point for their nets.
“It’s knocked the buoys out of line,’’ Doulos said. “It looks like a zigzag.’’
Hatchery staff then have to go out and straighten the boundary, he said.
Doulos said many of anglers who fish along the shore of Drano Lake have been doing so for decades and will be very upset if they lose their spots. Angler Dan Mack of Lyle agreed.
“Most of the places to fish from the bank have got a platform now,’’ he said.