Steelhead – Past, Present, and (Future?)

Dear Editor,

In the early 80’s winter steelhead return to the Quileute River System averaged nearly 29,000. I have been unable to confirm any statistics for prior years. Based on the 1974 Boldt Decision this highly valued, prized resource was allocated 50% (plus an unspecified percentage for Tribal and Ceremonial purposes) to the Tribe. Washington State licensed sports fisherman were entitled to retain 30 steelhead per year, although actual retention per fisherman averaged less than 4. Obviously, an allocation formula doomed for failure – and predicted so from the start.

*In 2004 the sports fisherman allocation was reduced to only 1 Wild steelhead per season.

*In 2010 this allocation was further restricted to 1 wild steelhead harvested after February 16.

*In 2016 this allocation was eliminated. No wild steelhead retention.

*2021 – Sports fishermen can no longer fish from a floating device.

……..anyone see a pattern here?

** 2021 – Tribal allocations remain unchanged.

There are certainly other factors, factors impossible to overlook, that have major impact on the ability for steelhead to have any chance of recovery. Unfortunately, WDFW has completely ignored these factors in favor of implementing a Rule (no fishing from a floating device), a Rule that has no chance of accomplishing anything except imposing additional economic hardship on communities already economically crippled by Covid. One must wonder, what is the actual objective of WDFW. Considering the progressive restrictions implemented since 2004 it certainly seems we are being primed for a complete prohibition of recreational sports fishing for steelhead…….! WOW! Think about what that means to Forks, and other small coastal communities.

So, what action really needs to be taken for returns to once again prosper – and sports fishing for steelhead to have a future:

1. Commercial harvest of this valuable resource must cease immediately (with proper accommodation, of course, for harvest sufficient for Tribal and Ceremonial purposes). Note: Catch and Release sports fishing – “0” mortality. Nets – 100% Mortality

2. Commercial net restrictions within two miles of the mouth of major river systems.

3. Reduction in Sea Lion numbers. Way too many! I personally have witnessed eight or ten of these creatures completely destroy runs of steelhead entering the mouth of the Quileute.

4. Imposer bounties on Avian Predators i.e. Caspian Terns, Double-crested Cormorants, California Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, and Mergansers. A 2019 study performed by the American Fisheries Society confirmed that these predators are responsible for between 42% and 70% mortality of migrating salmon and steelhead smolt. The study concluded that more steelhead smolt were consumed by avian predators than died from all other mortality sources.

Yes, your Representatives have been presented this information a number of times. Unfortunately, they have turned their backs on you – the very people they were elected to support and protect. Is this to be a repeat of the Spotted Owl? Forced business shutdowns due to Covid? Just how much “Government imposed” economic hardship are you willing to endure? I believe it is time for residents of Forks and other coastal communities to step up to the plate and tell your elected representatives “enough is enough”! Who are they:

Senator Kevin Van De Wege [email protected]

Representative Mike Chapman [email protected]

Representative Steve Tharinger [email protected]

No, you can’t see them in person due to Covid. No, don’t call them because they will not answer the phone. You can email them at the addresses above.

While you are at it, it sure would not hurt to let your Mayor and City Council Members know how you feel also.

Remember: Bad things tend to happen when good people stand by and do nothing……! The time to fight for your economic future, and the future of steelhead, is NOW! As predicted, there has been a continued decline in steelhead returns since 1974. WDFW has failed miserably to protect this valued resource, and your elected representatives have failed to act. I hope you will agree the time has come to hold these folks accountable!

Jerry Effenberger

Concerned Citizen