CRITFC Celebrates 35 Years of Dedication

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One of the first CRITFC meetings. Commissioners at the table are (from left) Wilferd Yallup, Rod Cowapoo, Eugene Greene, Claude Smith.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) and its member tribes, the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce, and Warm Springs, celebrated 35 years of service to their members’ treaty-reserved rights to salmon. Established on April 27, 1977 by the four tribes, CRITFC was tasked with protecting the tribal fishery, restoring fish runs and establishing an intertribal enforcement program. CRITFC serves as a technical and coordinating agency for the member tribes when addressing salmon policy and treaty fishing rights throughout the Columbia Basin.

Working under their mission of “ensuring a unified voice in the overall management of the fisheries resources,” CRITFC foresaw the need for a holistic, life-cycle approach to salmon management. CRITFC introduced the innovative gravel-to-gravel management strategies for salmon through Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit (the tribal salmon restoration plan), which has helped to reverse the decline of salmon populations in the Columbia Basin. Last year, CRITFC has developed a similar comprehensive plan for the recovery of Pacific Lamprey. Working together through CRITFC, the tribes obtained fisheries harvest agreements under the US v. Oregon Management Agreement and the Pacific Salmon Treaty and secured funding for habitat improvement through sources, such as the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and the Bonneville Power Administration Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Program.

“This is an exciting time for fisheries throughout the Columbia River Basin,” said Gerald Lewis, CRITFC’s chairman. “The tribes have accomplished a lot for the region’s fish populations over the past 35 years, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Our water is contaminated, fish are still listed under ESA, and the region’s lamprey populations are in serious trouble. These issues must be addressed as we look forward to the next 35 years.”

CRITFC was formed during an era of conflict in Columbia Basin fisheries. Created after the federal courts ruled that the tribes’ treaty fishing right entitled tribal fishermen to a “fair share” or 50% of the harvestable fish destined for their usual and accustomed fishing areas. Committed to workforce development in the tribal communities, tribal fisheries programs began with a handful of employees 35 years ago. Today, tribal fisheries programs are among the largest fisheries employers in the Columbia Basin. Due in large part to tribal actions, some areas of the Basin are currently experiencing the largest salmon runs that have occurred in recent decades. Both tribal and non-tribal harvest opportunities have increased accordingly.

“CRITFC embodies unity through action,” said Paul Lumley, CRITFC’s executive director.  “We have demonstrated that there is strength in numbers. The past 35 years are a true testament to what we can accomplish for a common goal.”

“We need to look towards the future and what we want to accomplish in the next 35 years,” said Mr. Lewis. “The commission is setting priorities and they are numerous. We need to reduce toxic contamination in our water. We will continue to educate the Basin that mass marking and mark selective fisheries will not increase natural spawners. We will work with our partners to redirect hatchery policies so they rebuild salmon runs throughout the Columbia Basin. We need to find a solution to managing the sea lion predation that takes 15-20% of the ESA listed salmon. We are supporting a U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty resolution that respects salmon and other tribal trust resources. And we will combat the continuous efforts to decrease federal funding levels that impact our efforts to rebuild salmon runs to their full productivity.”


About CRITFC: The Portland-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of the Columbia River Basin’s four treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.