Steelhead – The End Is Near

March 1, 2022,

As I predicted last December, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) just announced an early, full closure to all sport fishing throughout the Washington Coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The full closure will take effect Tuesday, March 1. WDFW stated that this is “an effort to meet management objectives and provide necessary protection for dwindling wild steelhead populations.” Their announcement indicates that actual wild steelhead returns are approximately 30% of what they had originally predicted.

  • 1. Utilization of single-point, barbless hooks, prohibition of use of bait or scent, ensures no deep hooking. Catch and release survival rate is virtually 100%. WDFW suggests that the mortality rate is between 10 and 15% – but this is a manufactured, theoretical number. Most scientific studies conclude the impact of catch and release to be “nil”. Since there is no provable negative resource impact, closure of the “catch and release” sports fishery will produce no immediate or long-term benefit to resource enhancement.
  • 2. Based on WDFW’s historic data (specifically referenced in their news release) most hatchery runs have ended by now and wild steelhead returns are about one-third over. That leaves approximately two-thirds of the wild steelhead returns still on the way. I find it extremely interesting that WDFW would completely close a catch and release fishery that cannot be proven to cause any resource harm – without any commitment whatsoever from co-manager Tribal governments to shut down, or even curtail, a method of fishing that produces 100% mortality!

Even if one accepts the idea of 10 to 15% catch and release mortality, it is important to point out that this would not be sufficient to threaten the sustainability of the resource. It is undeniable that over 45 years of commercial and subsistence Tribal net harvest, in some cases likely exceeding 70% of actual returns, has placed the steelhead in a very precarious survival situation.

WDFW has failed the public miserably. Looking for cover, they recently established a 12-member Ad-Hoc Coastal Steelhead Advisory Group to provide public input in the development of a long-term management plan to protect native and hatchery-produced steelhead for each river system of Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and coastal Olympic Peninsula, as required by the Washington Legislature in the 2021-2023 budget.

Unfortunately, the agenda of items WDFW provided the AD-Hoc group for consideration does not include the infamous 1974 Boldt decision…. Its’ absence seemingly precludes the necessity for any “long-term” management plan. Failure of the State to resolve the primary reason for continued diminishing returns of steelhead renders all other proposed resource enhancements moot.

Again, I suggest that if you have any interest at all in protecting the resource, ensuring a continuation of recreational opportunities the resource provides to tens of thousands and restoring the economic benefit the resource once provided coastal communities, take a moment to contact your local representatives and let them know what you think. They are:

Senator Van De Wege Representative Chapman Representative Tharinger

You can leave a message for each on the Legislative Hotline: 1-800 562 6000

Jerry Effenberger, Concerned Citizen

Paid for by Jerry Effenberger