We are writing you today on behalf of ourselves and fellow fishing guides to share our immense concern for pending emergency rule changes being made (possibly as soon as December 7, 2020, and potentially extended for next 2-3 years) by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in regards to the current catch and release wild steelhead fishing season on the Washington Coast. We are including you in this message because we feel at this point you are our only hope.
Currently, the WDFW is informing us that the only option they feel will meet all of their management goals this year is to institute coastwide (Chehalis River System, Quillayute River System, Hoh, Queets, Clearwater and upper Quinault Rivers) blanket emergency rule changes to include no fishing from a floating device and complete closure March 31 (unless normally closed earlier) for all river systems.
All meetings with WDFW, including the first introduction of these changes at the town hall meeting that only happened 11 days ago, have asked the public for their feedback with hopes of coming up with other creative ideas. Yesterday, a group from the guide community met with the department and presented a river-by-river plan that would provide restrictions that they felt would move towards meeting the objective goals. It is now my understanding, that the department feels those proposed changes would not be enough.
We understand WDFW’s position is to try to make drastic changes to limit the potential for continued declines in wild steelhead populations by using guidelines from the Steelhead Management Plan. Unfortunately, without knowledge of the metrics WDFW is using, the guides and the public cannot come to the table with ideas that can be better for the fish while also being considerate to the economic and social impacts these rule changes will have on our rural communities.
We agree with the WDFW that measures need to be taken on the rivers that have expected returns that are below the escapement goal. But currently, the Quillayute River system expected return is 52% over the escapement goal and the Hoh River expected return is 20% over the escapement goal, returns that are similar to the last two years which did not prompt such last-minute drastic decisions being made for those rivers.
We have heard that the metrics the state is using for these decisions include assumptions of gear restriction impacts and pressure shift estimations if full closures are implemented on some rivers. If WDFW is comfortable with partial openings (no fishing from a floating device is their current stance) on all rivers, including those not meeting escapement goals, this would tremendously decrease the possible pressure shift concerns to rivers that could have less restrictive rules implemented based on meeting escapement goals. Additionally, WDFW stated in the town hall meeting, they can model 4 times as many anglers on the Quillayute and are still confident that the escapement goal would be met. This makes me very skeptical that there isn’t a scenario that can protect our fish while not creating such a huge limitation to user groups that mainly fish from a floating device (including those with disabilities, children, elderly).
Again, we can’t reiterate enough the impact these current changes will have on our rural communities, heightened further by the comment by WDFW that whatever changes are taken would likely continue for at least the next 2-3 years. We agree with the commission and the WDFW that conservation needs to be the primary concern, but complete disregard for rural economies especially when our local area rivers are expected to exceed the escapement goals by 20-50% is also not the answer. The department has a mission that includes providing sustainable fishing opportunities. To that end, we ask that river specific management decisions be made for this year, including allowing a sport fishery on the Quillayute River system that allows fishing from a floating device.
In addition, we need the severity of this situation to prompt transparent long-term solutions to the issues wild steelhead are facing and to that end, we recommend that a board or committee is formed to work in coordination with all user groups on developing realistic goals and methods to preserve wild steelhead runs for future generations. Through this, we hope that long term guidelines can be established that don’t require the Department to make emergency rule changes 7 days after the season has begun.
Again, we cannot thank you enough for your ongoing help and support for our rural communities and our businesses. If you are able, we would love to arrange a virtual meeting or phone call.
Aaron & Ravae O’Leary, Angler’s Obsession Guide Service, 360-485-3334, [email protected]; Bob Ball, Piscatorial Pursuits, [email protected]; Jeff Brazda, Brazda Fly Fishing, [email protected]; Parker Browning, Browning Guide Service, [email protected]; Ryan Bullock, [email protected]; Jack Iotte, [email protected]; Bob Kratzer, Angler’s Guide Service, [email protected]; Chris Maher, Maher’s Guide Service, [email protected];Matt McCulloch, Tyee Charters, [email protected]; Caylen Phegley, River Journey Guide Service, [email protected]; Jason Ray, JD Ray’s Guide Service, [email protected]; Chris Senyohl, Intrepid Anglers, [email protected]; Andy Simon, [email protected]; Greg Springer, Springer’s Sport Fishing, [email protected]; Justin Tenzler, Olympic Peninsula Outfitters, [email protected]; Dan Trickey, Trickey’s Guide Service, [email protected]; Mike Zavadlov, Mike Z’s Guide Service, [email protected]