By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
As their quest to establish historic hunting and fishing rights continues, the Smith River Rancheria faces an ever larger and more organized front opposed to its efforts.
"We are especially concerned regarding those sections of the ordinance that would permit the use of gill nets and drift nets," said John Beuttler, of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, in a letter to the rancheria council.
At the center of debate is a proposed ordinance by the tribal council to allow traditional modes of fishing, gathering and hunting within its 180 acres near the mouth of the Smith River.
Gill netting, drift netting and larger bag limits for ceremonial purposes are possibilities mentioned in the 26-page draft ordinance and non-native fishermen are up in arms about the effects such practices could have on the Smith River.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance is a group with several hundred members which aims to "restore and conserve California's fishery resources."
The CSPA's formal statement to the rancheria called for the not yet adopted ordinance to be amended or abandoned.
Beuttler and his supporters are also trying to corral top California Department of Fish and Game officials, Congressman Mike Thompson and Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn into their corner.
"We believe the tribe's objective of taking fish for subsistence could be easily accomplished with the same kind of fishing tackle used by recreational anglers," Beuttler said.
Another group called the Northern California Council of the Fly Fishing Federation (NCCFFF), an affiliation of about 40 fishing groups, recently issued a formal resolution against the ordinance and has vowed to fight it with legal action.
"The NCCFFF is a powerful group and has been successfully fighting these kinds of battles for years," said Ben Taylor, a resident of Kenwood, Calif. who has traveled here to fish the Smith for 25 years.
In its resolution, the group attempts to send a clear message to the council.
"Should the Smith River Rancheria decide to pursue its present proposal further, or another with similar potential adverse fish and wildlife impacts, the Northern California Council shall take such legal action ...to inform interested legislative bodies, regulatory agencies and courts of the threat ...posed by...the Rancheria's fishing and hunting rights ordinance," reads the last paragraph of the group's resolution.
Taylor said with the momentum of opposition developing, a movement to revoke the right of the Yurok Tribe to use nets on the Klamath River may also be in the plan.
The Smith River Rancheria has reportedly revised the draft ordinance, but the Daily Triplicate was told yesterday by a rancheria representative that the new version is not for "public consumption."
The rancheria's environmental programs director Laura Mayo, was unavailable for comment yesterday as was the tribal council's administrator.