RIGGINS, Idaho – As the number of adult salmon returning to the Rapid River hatchery in central Idaho dips to levels that threaten the future of the run, members of the Nez Perce Tribe gathered to commemorate a pivotal standoff with the state over fishing rights here 25 years ago.
When state authorities banned salmon fishing at Rapid River at this point in the season 25 years ago and set off a tense battle over treaty fishing rights, only about 600 adult fish had returned to the hatchery on Rapid River.
As of Tuesday morning, Rapid River had received 489 adult fish, approximately half of which are females whose eggs are harvested to propagate the run.
“Our target for replacement of the run is 2,400 adult fish,” said Rapid River Hatchery Manager Ralph Steiner of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “There were four fish in the trap this morning, and historically, we’re usually looking at 300 to 400 fish there.”
More than 200 members of the Nez Perce Tribe gathered at the river Monday to honor the tribal fisherman who defied state authorities in June 1980 and caught salmon, despite the closure of the fishing season due to low returns.
“We knew we weren’t the reason the fish were being wiped out,” said tribal Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Virgil Holt, one of the tribal members who exercised his Rapid River fishing rights that were guaranteed under an 1855 treaty with the U.S. “It was the dams and the management that were hurting the fish runs.”
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