On April 2, 1983, leaders of the Tulalip Tribes celebrate the opening of a modern, $7.2 million fish hatchery on the Tulalip Reservation west of Marysville in Snohomish County. The hatchery, located where two forks of Tulalip Creek join, is designed to release more than 14 million salmon eggs each year to help increase salmon runs returning to reservation waters. The federal government provided the funds for the new hatchery to the tribe, which planned and directed the project, making the Tulalips the first tribe in the area to own and run a fish hatchery. In 2000, the facility will be renamed the Bernie Kai-Kai Gobin Fish Hatchery to honor the leader who launched the Tulalips' salmon-rearing efforts in the 1970s.
Salmon, which until after the arrival of non-Indian settlers in the 1800s returned annually in huge numbers to the creeks and rivers that drain into Puget Sound, were central to the economy, culture, and religion of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Stillaguamish and other Salish groups who make up the Tulalip Tribes (as they were to all the Coast Salish of the region). By the 1960s, a century of dams and development that destroyed or blocked access to critical habitat had drastically reduced historic salmon runs. Even as the Tulalips and other Western Washington tribes fought on the water and in the courts to regain fishing rights guaranteed in treaties signed a century earlier (they ultimately prevailed in the 1974 Boldt decision that gave Indians the right to 50 percent of the salmon and other fish harvest), they realized that they also needed to work to ensure there would still be salmon to harvest.
On the Tulalip Reservation, Bernard William "Kai Kai" Gobin (1930-2009), a longtime tribal leader and a commercial salmon fisherman, was among the first to work toward restoring and enhancing salmon runs. In the early 1970s, at a time when few other Puget Sound tribes were involved in fish rearing, Gobin helped reach an agreement with the state Department of Fisheries to supply chinook fingerlings from state hatcheries to rearing ponds that he built with gravel and water from Tulalip Creek. The young fish were cared for in the reservation ponds until they were large enough for release, with the location of the ponds near Tulalip Bay allowing them to be released directly into salt water.
When Gobin became the first Tulalip Fisheries Director, after the Tulalips, like other tribes, created fisheries management programs in the wake of the Boldt decision, he got the Tulalips into the business of hatching salmon eggs. Gobin organized a small "backyard hatchery" based on a successful operation that the Quinault tribe ran on their Olympic Peninsula reservation (The Seattle Times, February 14, 2000). The hatchery began with a few buckets of eggs and some old cedar boxes from the Fisheries Department to hatch them in. Over the years Gobin and his staff helped expand the operation, which was funded by the tribe, installing three large swimming pools to rear the hatched fish in and establishing a system of piping to supply them with water.
Even while improving the "backyard" operation, the Tulalips were negotiating with the federal government for funding for a full-scale salmon hatchery on the reservation. In December 1979, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed $7.2 million to construct a state of the art hatchery that could release 1.5 million chinook, 1.2 million coho, and 12 million chum salmon. The funds were turned over to the tribe, which planned and directed the project, making the Tulalips the first tribe in the area to own and run a major hatchery.
The hatchery took three years to plan and build. Gobin had stepped down as Fisheries Director and Peter Mills and Ray Fryberg, among others, helped bring the project in under budget. The new hatchery was dedicated on April 2, 1983. Tribal chairman Stan Jones (1926-2019) opened the ceremony with a Lushootseed prayer and blessing that was traditionally used to celebrate the arrival of the year's first salmon and ask that the salmon return again.
At the dedication Jones, Gobin, and other speakers highlighted the project's economic benefits for the tribe and its members. With the opening of the hatchery, the tribe was able to start collecting a tax on fishermen that funded hatchery operations and helped expand other programs. The hatchery created five full-time jobs and additional part-time work and the higher fish runs increased the catch for both tribal and non-tribal fishers.
While recognizing the positive economic impacts, Gobin, who was then vice chairman of the tribal Board of Directors, pointed out that the hatchery had an even more important benefit -- helping to preserve the tribe's culture by providing jobs for younger members in the salmon fishery that had sustained their ancestors for generations:
"Most of our people want to be fishermen ... . That was handed down to us along with our ceremonies ... . This has always been our way" (May).
A statement that Gobin repeated many times in his career explained both the hatchery's significance and why he dedicated his life to preserving salmon and the Tulalips' fishing rights:
"We are the Salmon People ... . That is what our tribe is known as. That's our title. It's who we are" (Hauptli).
Bernie Kai-Kai Gobin Fish Hatchery
In 2000, the Tulalip Tribes renamed the hatchery to honor Bernie Gobin for his years of work for fishing rights (including serving as one of the first members of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission) and his major role in building the tribe's salmon-rearing program. At a ceremony on February 12, 2000, the hatchery officially became the Bernie Kai-Kai Gobin Fish Hatchery, incorporating Gobin's Indian name, which means means "blue jay" or "wise one."
Gobin's wisdom in initiating salmon enhancement in the 1970s was acknowledged at the renaming ceremony. Noting that wild Puget Sound chinook had been added to the federal endangered species list, tribal chairman Herman Williams Jr. said:
"Now with the chinook [listing], our hatcheries are more important than ever. Bernie was behind getting our hatchery built, and Tulalip is grateful" (The Seattle Times, February 14, 2000).
Williams also described the hatchery's achievements since its opening in 1982:
"The Tulalip hatchery has been called a role model by experts and biologists up and down the coast ... . We've raised and released close to 200 million salmon" (The Seattle Times, February 14, 2000).