WDFW has requested the public’s help in an effort to simplify freshwater fishing regulations: a worthwhile goal that, if done properly, all Washington anglers will appreciate. However, I was appalled to see that one of the proposals is to eliminate mandatory hatchery steelhead retention.
In 2016, according to a NOAA Fisheries’ press release, five hatcheries in Washington received conditional hatchery plan approval that required “hatchery managers to limit the impacts of the hatchery steelhead on Puget Sound’s natural populations of steelhead and salmon. These impacts can result from interbreeding, competition, and predation. The conditions applied to the hatchery programs are based on best available scientific information and are tailored to hatchery practices, environmental conditions, and hatchery effects that are unique to each program. The approval also requires annual monitoring and reporting to verify that impacts of the hatchery programs do not exceed the low levels outlined in the conditions. There is no expiration date for these approvals. They are effective as long as the effects of the hatchery programs remain low, there are no changes to the hatchery operations that NOAA Fisheries analyzed and approved, and no changes to the status of the ESA listed species.”
Implicit in the above statements from NOAA are: (1) hatchery steelhead can and do have a negative impact on wild steelhead recovery; and (2) circumstances are different for different rivers at different times. All other issues aside, based upon this it makes no sense to include a rule change that would eliminate mandatory steelhead hatchery retention since it can be reversed on a river by river basis by NOAA at any time—therefore (re)creating a patchwork of hatchery retention rules.
Requiring uniform mandatory hatchery steelhead retention can only aid wild fish recovery and is, in itself, a simplification of rules. If WDFW believes this change will have little impact, as stated on the website regarding this proposed policy change, then why change it?
As Craig Burley, WDFW head of fisheries, said "We know our regulations are complex and can be difficult to follow…This is the first step toward making fishing rules easier to understand.” Now that the mandatory retention rule is in place, it should remain so. Changing this rule, yet again, will only create more confusion and is contrary to Mr. Burley’s stated goal.