This should not arrive as any surprise. Washington State blew up its ability to manage wild steelhead when the 1974 Boldt Decision went into place. Wild steelhead populations declined immediately. Hatchery steelhead production shot through the roof. Tribes destroyed what they had access to. And things have never gotten better. They’ve only become worse. This decision to close steelheading on the coast should protect some late season spawners, but in no way secures the future of steelhead on the Washington coast. So, really, this post is only a reminder to schedule your steelhead adventure somewhere else this spring. The Skeena will be open, although returns are super low there, too. Southeast Alaska is a great option, but space at lodges and on motherships is extremely limited. You could fly to Ketchikan, stay in town, rent a vehicle and drive to some good streams. Ditto for Juneau. Those might be your best options. But the OP won’t be in the equation. Thought you should know. —GT
OLYMPIA – In an effort to meet management objectives and provide necessary protection for dwindling wild steelhead populations, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today announced a 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.
The closure follows the review of preliminary data that suggests the forecasted returns are likely coming back as low as 30 percent of what fishery managers expected, foreshadowing perhaps the lowest return ever recorded in some rivers. Based on historic return timing, most hatchery steelhead runs have ended and the wild steelhead returns are more than one-third of the way complete.
“Throughout our conversations with anglers and the broader coastal community, we’ve been upfront about our commitment to designing fisheries that meet our conservation objectives,” said Kelly Cunningham, WDFW fish program director. “With this preliminary data in hand that now suggests coastal steelhead returns are significantly lower than we expected, we need to take bold, swift actions for the future of these runs.”
Last week, WDFW fishery managers also kicked off a long-term planning process for coastal steelhead management with the first meeting of the Ad-hoc Coastal Steelhead Advisory Group. The group will be helping to inform 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 2021-23 budget.
WDFW will submit the ensuing plan to the Legislature by the end of 2022. For more information about the group, including meeting summary information and details of upcoming meetings, visit WDFW’s Ad-Hoc Coastal Steelhead Advisory Group web page.
WDFW continues to operate under its Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, which requires the Department to prioritize the sustainability of wild coastal steelhead runs by focusing on healthy levels of abundance, productivity, diversity, and distribution.
Tribal governments along the coast are closely monitoring their coastal steelhead fisheries and considering in-season management steps to continue to support conservation.
To help support future, more robust in-season freshwater monitoring for coastal steelhead and other fisheries, WDFW is requesting $2.6 million in new state funding this legislative session. To learn more about the budget request, visit WDFW’s budget information web page.
For more information about coastal steelhead management, visit wdfw.wa.gov/coastal-steelhead.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.