Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries Department

Nez Perce Tribe

By Honoring Nations

Honoring Nations 2015 Awardee and 2023 All-Star

Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries DepartmentHonoring Nations

Declining Fish Populations

Historically, the Nimiipuu have always resided on lands that include the current Nez Perce Reservation in North Central Idaho along the Clearwater River in the Columbia River watershed. In 1855, the Tribe signed a treaty with the US government that retained their right to fish.

Fish always have been central to the Nimiipuu culture and traditional diet. One estimate suggests that in the 19th century, the tribe’s annual fish harvest ranged from 300 to 564 pounds per person. However, as non-Nimiipuu have moved into the region to exploit its abundant resources, the natural environment changed drastically, disrupting the life cycle of fish in the Columbia River basin. By the mid-1980s, not a single coho salmon could be found in the entire Clearwater River basin. Without healthy fish stocks, the tribe’s treaty rights were meaningless.

Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries DepartmentHonoring Nations

A Tribal Fisheries Department

In the early 1980s, the Nez Perce Tribe established its Fisheries Department, entrusting it with the mission to protect and restore aquatic resources according to Nez Perce beliefs.

The Nez Perce Tribe manages a state-of-the-art tribal fish hatchery, a federal hatchery, and co-manages a second federal fish hatchery that is among the largest in the country. The department also runs nine acclimation sites to encourage natural fish spawning. Taken together, these Nez Perce operations release approximately 10 million salmon and steelhead annually. The department also works to counter habitat degradation and recreate conditions that are beneficial to fish, removing passage barriers, restoring riparian areas and stream channels.

Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries DepartmentHonoring Nations

Restoration of Fish Populations

Because of the tribe’s unwavering commitment to the fish and its development of partnerships with neighboring jurisdictions and the US Forest Service, the recovery of aquatic resources in the Nez Perce treaty area has been a stunning success. 

The harvest of Snake River Fall Chinook resumed in 2009 after being closed for 35 years, with fish returns rising from 300 to 80,000 fish. The Clearwater River Coho Salmon run also has bounced back, rising from no fish counted in the river in 2009 to over 18,000 in 2014. For the first time in living memory, tribal citizens can harvest a variety of fish species throughout the region.

Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries DepartmentHonoring Nations

A Leader in Resource Management

The Nez Perce Tribe is recognized as a leader in the region because of its reputation for scientific and management excellence. The department has built up its well-qualified workforce over time, developing a wide range of competencies in different areas. 

State fish and game staff respect the Nez Perce Tribe’s biological research, statistical sampling, harvest management decisions, and on-the-river fisheries policing. The Tribe’s capabilities help it affirm its sovereignty over resources in its traditional territory since it can determine its own objectives and enforce harvest limits on its own citizens without interference from non-tribal agencies.

Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries DepartmentHonoring Nations

Bring the Lessons Home

Working with its federal, state, and tribal counterparts, the Fisheries Department is protecting Nez Perce treaty rights by reclaiming a leadership role in managing natural resources throughout the Columbia River basin. 

Awardee Update

The Nez Perce Fisheries was awarded a Conservation Achievement award in 2022 by the American Fisheries Society recognizing their work managing both coho and chinook salmon. They were nominated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Credits: Story

Honoring Nations: 2015 Awardee and 2023 All-Star
Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries Department
Nez Perce Tribe

This exhibit was curated by the Project on Indigenous Governance and Development, Honoring Nations national awards program. All images were obtained with the permission of the host nation, and gathered during the site visit of the awarding year.

Honoring Nations 2015 Awards Report:

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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