Continued Declines Lead to New Angling Restrictions for the Olympic Peninsula Winter Steelhead Season
Yesterday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released new angling restrictions for the Olympic Peninsula Winter Steelhead season. The goal of these changes is to increase the number of wild Steelhead that make it to spawning grounds and sustain future runs of fish and fisheries. Despite having some of the best steelhead habitat anywhere, long term declines have occurred on the Olympic Peninsula. We know the angling fleet is very effective at catching fish, that large hatchery programs have impacted wild fish and increased the complexity of management, that survival in the ocean is declining, and the science being utilized by managers could be greatly improved.
History tells us that Washington’s coastal rivers once returned abundant runs of wild fish, which sustained the ecosystem and the needs of Tribal Nations for millennia. It’s important to remember that thriving fisheries and wild abundance can coexist, especially in rivers like those found on the Olympic Peninsula.
In the near term, we need to come together to care for the Tribal Nations, industries, and individuals who are going to suffer mightily due to these new restrictions and who have been suffering from the ongoing decline in wild populations. Looking beyond this season, all of us who love and rely on these fish and these fisheries need to support a transition to more wild fish management and better science. The Quillayute watershed, the only one on the north coast with a Wild Steelhead Gene Bank - the Sol Duc - is forecasted to exceed its goal for spawners. Removing hatchery fish from a watershed isn’t a silver bullet to all declines, but it certainly isn’t hurting the chances for wild fish to recover.
As our friend Dylan Tomine says, we need to do more than “Rearrange the Deck Chairs on the Olympic Peninsula.” We need a fundamental shift in management - we need to try more of what’s working and what’s working is wild.