Tribes Continue To Obstruct Open Meetings | What Next?

After months of questions and petitions to WDFW advocating transparency within the all-important season-setting negotiations with the Treaty Tribes, this years meetings are set to proceed in secret again in 2017. A recent release from the department specifically discusses the unwillingness of the Tribes to allow transparency into this important season-setting process:

Unsworth noted that some people have asked the state to allow the public to attend state-tribal negotiations. Treaty tribes are not subject to state open meeting laws, so both parties would need to agree to open negotiations to the public.

“These government-to-government meetings must occur for fishing seasons to be set,” Unsworth said. “Refusing to meet with the tribes because they will not allow the public to attend these negotiations would be very unproductive for everyone involved.”

Unsworth said he understands the closed negotiations are a source of frustration for many in the salmon fishing community but hopes people will be respectful of the process.

After the significant negative economic and social impacts on states residents following the collapse of negotiations in 2016, we believe there’s significant urgency in improvements for 2017. Last year, Tribal fishermen enjoyed political cover from both NOAA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve their seasons outside of a negotiated co-management plan. We think it’s time to think harder about how to encourage behavior by all participants which will more predictably lead to equitable seasons being established. Which brings us back to transparency for the public to the negotiations themselves.

While we understand that the Tribes are sovereign and are within their legal rights to refuse an open meeting, we also note that Native American Tribes collectively benefit from 20 billion dollars in federally funded programs (FY2017 details). We’re ready to begin questioning our federal delegation about if any of these programs and subsidies might be at risk if the Tribes continue to block transparent access to North of Falcon. Similar questions need to be asked of our state representatives — where questions about preferential fuel-tax and gambling related policies seem fair as well.

If the Tribes are truly interested in working with all the fishers on the wide variety of related issues (habitat, etc.) it is hard to imagine a better first step towards building a spirit of cooperation than increased transparency in the co-management process. What is being asked is not controversial or complex — a clear and transparent record of these negotiations for all stakeholders to review. WDFW has asked, and been turned down. It’s time we all start asking harder questions.

9 Comments on "Tribes Continue To Obstruct Open Meetings | What Next?"

  1. We need to work together and have transparency so that all parties are working toward the common goal of more fish for all to share in equally. That means 50/50 split. I know it is hard to get the accountability from the tribal catch but we need it so we can all start on an even playing field. We turn in punch cards and so do non-tribal netters so we have a pretty accurate count of the catch. We need the same accountability from our tribal community so that we can work hard on improving the fisheries for all. Right now as I understand it the tribal fisheries are taking approximately 70% of the fish and even fishing on endangered stocks. I thought conservation was a core principal of the tribal community but that is not what it appears. Lets have a transparent process and get working together to put a lot more fish out for all to harvest. Many I talk to think that should be the goal along with transparency. Many of my friends and I put a lot into our fisheries and don’t want to get into controversial issues like opening up gambling outside of the reservations, the federal funding that they receive, or re-visiting the bolt decision that was done in the 1960’s when catch methods, equipment used and conservation were looked a lot differently. We are being forced to force hard choices on elected officials and the tribal community if we can’t even get transparency in working together on our fisheries at North of Falcon. Hopefully, folks will come to their senses and work together in an open and honest way so we can all see it is fair and feel good about it. Standing by at the moment to see the outcome. I’m hoping and praying that transparency is embraced by all parties.

  2. Perry Menchaca | March 14, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Reply

    The budget shortfall that WDFW has once again placed on the backs of the Sportsmen should be met with a resounding “Hell No!” Until Director Unsworth addresses the transparency issue and the permitting problems we should boycott license sales and ask the legislature to withhold any increase in saleries. Further, perhaps Mr. Unsworth isn’t the best man for the job after all. Or, maybe his loyalties lies elsewhere? We need a Director who will take an honest hard look at the department and take the corrective actions needed to fix this dysfunctional mess! We NEED a LEADER not a follower, a Director who dosen’t agree with the Tribes that Secret Meetings ARE THE WAY TO MANAGE OUR FISH!

    • Perry,

      First, thank you for your tireless work on the transparency issue!

      Second, the purpose of our post was to suggest an alternative strategy than dumping this onto the Director/Department. The department went as far as getting the AG’s office to look into the legal position with some care — to see if the department had standing to demand the Tribes comply with state OM laws. At the point the AG concludes that the Washington OM laws are not binding on the tribes, the deparment is down to pretty poor choices. The Department can ask the Tribes to open the meetings, which they did. The Tribes can refuse which they did. So now the Department can do only one more thing — which is to simply refuse to show up. As we saw last year, that didn’t deter Tribal fishermen from going fishing, it simply caused closures for non-tribal fishermen.

      Our position — which is why we wrote the article — is that the Department is NOT in a position to fix this issue in the short term. We must look elsewhere for that, and it’s why your petition should be provided to State and Federal legislators. Unlike the Department, the State and Federal government do have things the Tribes want/need–and whom we believe will be receptive to the idea that a public record of important public policy setting meetings ought to be just that — public.

  3. This whole matter re: the dismally dysfunctional Co-Management season-setting process begs for Fed Govt. oversight and intervention. Bargaining in good faith cannot succeed with the overwhelming advantages given the 20 individual Tribes vs. WDFW. That leverage alone gives any single Tribe the right to disagree with all other parties, or even walk out and further complicate or delay any potential agreement. Little wonder last year’s meetings extended well into what would be the start of a “normal” season. The NWIFC’s ease in procuring their fishing permit(s) from the Bureau of Indian Affairs as opposed to WDFW’s tangled and tedious path through the EPA only serves to accentuate the inequity plaguing the process. The protection of the rights and civil liberties of ALL Americans is just as important as protecting those of Native Americans, as we are, by the Constitution, equal under the law. It’s time to right this wrong, and WDFW should be the on the leading edge of that endeavor. Take heed, Director Unsworth!!

  4. While last year’s failure to reach an agreement didn’t deter the tribes from fishing, it did have significant impact on them both politically and economically. The fish they caught during that period were kryptonite on the market. That’s leverage – the one thing we’ve always lacked in the negotiations. And it may be the reason the co-managers have (at least on the surface) taken a much more conciliatory approach to NOF. There was significant fallout for the department as well, so the question is, do they have the will to do it again? Unfortunately I don’t think so. Especially since, from many anglers’ perspectives, the stunt backfired. Tribes forced WDFW into a very favorable (to them) LOAF and took as much as 90% of the catch. Even more than a normal year.

    I’m still torn on whether things have gotten so bad that it’s time to start throwing legal wrenches, or if we should accept the tribes extended hand and attempt to negotiate in good faith. Seems like the latter is how we go in every year…

  5. Phil Hamilton | March 18, 2017 at 11:54 pm | Reply

    Many fail to realize that the abundance of the resource should “dictate” the process. Not politics, not the pocket book.
    The tribes provided an opportunity for observers in the room for years until Norm Dicks office met us outside the door after a meeting. And asked point blank questions to issues discussed in that meeting.
    You fail to realize that you, the user groups were not deemed “co-manger” by the courts.
    The bottom line.

    • (Editors Note: Phil Hamilton is a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe Fishery Council)


      Welcome to the site, we appreciate your response.

      That said, we’re not sure how adding a recorder or stenographer to create a public record of these negotiations is related to abundance, politcs, pocket books, or Norm Dicks meeting you outside the door? Can you clarify how having a clear public record is “dictating” a process?

      As for who is a co-manager, we are keenly aware of who has standing on these issues, and it’s exactly why we wrote the piece we did.


  6. Concerned for our fish dude | April 3, 2017 at 7:49 pm | Reply

    Old stereo typin is more of a reason we don’t meet in public. Look at your responses to the rhetoric written. Must we and I mean us all kill all the fish. I go to the meetings I listen and I want to scream. Are we actually fighting the state and other tribes for 800 fish to make it past the Gauntlet of Nets and hooks and chemicals and everything else like put in the water. Take a look at this ladies and gentlemen we are the ones that created this environment for the fish. Even if we quit fishing today I would see the restoration of the runs in my lifetime. Shame on all you shame on me, we are the end of the salmon. It’s nobody else Sportsman’s the commercial fisherman it’s the tribes it’s everybody.

  7. Concerned for our fish dude | April 3, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Reply

    One fish two fish red fish blue fish. I see no fishing until the runs return!

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