Tribal Members Looking to Update Fishing Ordinance
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
People had plenty to say about changes to fishing regulations when community members, fishermen, fisherwomen, and three Tribal Councilmembers met with the River Rights Committee on Wednesday, March 6.
The discussion ranged on everything from the commercial fishing ban, to the fish snagging ban, to suggestions of starting a Fish Camp to pass on fishing skills and traditions to young people.
River Rights Committee member Allie Hostler said, “We need an annual Fish Camp to teach kids how to catch and prepare fish. Many of them haven’t had the opportunity to learn.”
Marcellene Norton, a former Tribal Councilmember, said, “I know a lot of the boys would want to learn how to fish. It’d be good for the community.”
Lois Risling said she thought young women and girls should also be invited to any Fish Camp.
“We have to recognize that women are in a different role,” Risling said.
“Sixty percent of our households in Hoopa are run by single mothers struggling to put food on the table,” Hostler nodded and said.
Several people expressed concern that traditions of sharing and looking out for other tribal members were being forgotten.
Vice Chairman Byron Nelson Jr. said, “A lot of people aren’t abiding by the old traditions and rules – like sharing fishing holes. It’s a problem.”
Wendy “Poppy” George, a local fisherwoman, said, “A lot of the problems weren’t here before commercial fishing. If you politely asked to share a fishing hole they’d do it, and that was tradition.”
Commercial fishing was, and remains a controversial subject in the valley.
The regulation adopted by the tribe in 1987, the Title 16 Fishing Ordinance, banned the sale of any fishery resource.
In 1989, voters voted 152 to 100 in favor of ending the ban on commercial fishing and authorizing a tribally-operated commercial fishery.
“The whole idea behind the referendum was the tribal government would set it up so the entire tribal community would share. The title of the referendum clearly stated, ‘tribally-operated commercial fishery’,”
Nelson told the Two Rivers Tribune at the height of the commercial fishing controversy in 2011.
“That would have prevented individuals from going out and profiting. That’s what the people thought they were voting for,” Nelson said.
Regardless of the intention, that’s not what happened.
Instead, Hoopa tribal members learned that only a handful of people were commercial fishing. Many became upset that the opportunity wasn’t community-wide.
High Country News published an article in January 2011 that reported, “According to records from the tribal police and a wholesale fish company, Mike Orcutt, the director of the tribal fisheries department, has made more money from the commercial fishery than anyone else on the reservation.”
“Daniel Jordan, the director of the tribe’s self-governance office, which advises the tribal council, has also sold fish off the reservation, as have at least three other Fisheries Department employees. And many Hupas charge that Orcutt, Jordan and other fisheries employees did their best to conceal the fact that there were opportunities to market the fish,” High Country News reported.
Former Tribal Chairman Lyle Marshall told the High Country News, “This was a clandestine commercial fishery. Nobody else knew about it.”
People reacted strongly to the news.
The Tribal Council reacted by creating a Fish Commission, staffed by tribal members, to develop rules and regulations for commercial fishing.
At the same time, a group of community members pushed for a ballot referendum to simply reinstate the ban.
Voters went to the polls in June 2011 and voted 700 to 162 in favor of reinstating a complete ban on commercial fishing on the Hoopa Valley Reservation.
So, when members of the River Rights Committee talked about updating the Title 16 Fishing Ordinance with parts of the Fish Commission’s draft regulations, people at the meeting reacted quickly.
Rodney Donahue said, “Didn’t we vote down commercial fishing? Are you trying to bring it back?”
George said, “It should go back to how it was traditionally, not commercial fishing.”
River Rights Committee member Dania Colegrove said, “It wouldn’t be for commercial fishing. It would be for tribal members only.”
Colegrove said that activities like selling smoked salmon or fish plates to tribal members during events or for things like class fundraisers should be allowed.
Norton nodded and said, “There’s a difference between a family having a fish dinner at $5 a plate or selling a few jars of salmon for $20, compared to a commercial fisherman making $30,000 to $50,000 a year.”
Local Sport Fisherman and River Guide Ed Duggan brought up the idea of bringing sport fishing back to the reservation.
It’s allowed in theory, but non-tribal visitors are currently prohibited from crossing tribal land to get to the river, making sport fishing by boat difficult on the reservation.
“I know we have a lot of people who come from the Coast and even Sacramento to fish on the Trinity, and a spot they really liked access to was Tish Tang,” Duggan said.
Duggan said that visiting sport fishermen spent money on the reservation and in Weitchpec when they were allowed to use the area.
Daniel Jordan said, “This is the Hoopa Reservation for the Hupa people, and if the Hupa people can’t make a living on the river, no one else should be able to.”
People spoke on both sides of the snagging ban. Snagging is a type of fishing where a hook attached to a pole is used to snag the side of a fish as they swim past.
Tribal Councilmember Hayley Hutt said, “I support snagging. That’s how our grandparents did it. They snagged fish.”
Nelson said, “Traditionally, there was a single hook on a pole, but now they’re using a three-pronged hook on a line.”
Several of the fishermen said that lines can break and three-pronged snagging hooks can be a menace.
The three-pronged hooks can rip nets open if they’re left embedded in the sides of fish, or they can cut someone’s foot.
Risling said, “I think that the Fisheries Department should be doing studies on the effects of snagging.”
Fish for Elders
River Rights Committee members also talked about expanding the Fish For Elders Program that started in the 2012 salmon season.
Volunteers brought in approximately 227 fish for 113 elders, out of a total 4,056 adult fall Chinook.
The fish were gutted and put on ice, and some were filleted.
Secretary of the River Rights Committee, Regina Chichizola said, “The hope this year is that we can smoke the fish, and set up a system to process them.”
Hostler said, “Our committee has two smokehouses we’re building right now.”
Chichizola said, “It’s a lot of work to smoke that many salmon. Maybe we can train the kids to clean and smoke fish.”
The group also hopes to set up a community fishing weir or traditional fish dam.
A fishing weir is made of poles that allow water to flow through freely, but forces fish towards a narrow opening where they can be speared or captured using dip nets.
Colegrove said, “The purpose of the fishing weir would be for all tribal members to get fish; even those without a fishing hole.”
Nelson said he felt any proposed changes to the fishing ordinance, especially changes that could allow commercial fishing, should be put on the ballot.
“It shouldn’t be up to the Council or the LPA,” Nelson said. “It’s really got to be decided by the people.”