A wild steelhead climbs a waterfall in southern Oregon. PHOTO: Loren Irving

​Show Up January 17 for Wild Winter Steelhead

We took a big step forward, but we’re not there yet. It’s time to turn out even more support on January 17, 2020 at 11am to ensure wild winter steelhead in southwest Oregon are healthy, not overharvested, and remain abundant for all.

A huge thanks to all of the supporters who came to testify at December's ODFW Commission meeting, especially those who made the long trek from southern Oregon. Your voices matter and helped make this issue a full agenda item for the upcoming Commission meeting on January 17, 2020. There will be another opportunity for public comment and we need to fill the room again to encourage the Commission to take action.

If you would like to speak at the January 17, 2020 Commission meeting in Salem, Oregon email NFS Conservation Director Jennifer Fairbrother at jennifer@nativefishsociety.org.

The Complete Update ----------

On December 6, advocates for wild steelhead release in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Southwest Zone packed ODFW headquarters in Salem, Oregon to speak on behalf of southern Oregon’s wild steelhead. Anglers and guides told stories from other successful catch-and-release fisheries. Citizen scientists outlined the relevant literature and highlighted the need to prevent overharvest. And locals and visitors alike talked about the cultural and economic value of a wild steelhead caught and released.

While many views were expressed, common themes emerged: a shared interest in avoiding a crisis and fishery closures, the uncertainty and lack of data on wild steelhead population trends and harvest numbers, and that the same number of fish cannot sustain the growing angling pressure from increasingly effective and informed anglers. In total wild steelhead release was discussed for one hour and twenty minutes, 24 people testified in support, and they were joined by 38 supporters in the audience! Only three attendees supported the current regulations, which allow anglers to kill one fish per day and three per year. In total, there was overwhelming support for wild steelhead release in southwest Oregon.

If you’d like to hear the testimonies for yourself, check out ODFW’s YouTube Channel. The discussion of wild steelhead release begins at 1:36:00.

Though the Commission has the authority to direct ODFW to enact an immediate regulation change, the Commissioners chose to delay action until January 17—the date of the next Commission meeting in Salem. For those of us who have analyzed the harvest data, the delay is deeply concerning. According to ODFW’s data, harvest of wild winter steelhead is on the rise in most southwest Oregon river basins. But the fishery will open on January 1 without a basic monitoring program, or regulatory mechanisms, like a harvest cap, to prevent overharvest.

Specifically, our concerns include:

  • Lack of adult spawner surveys Winter steelhead spawner surveys—which are conducted in all other coastal zones—have not been conducted in the Rogue River Basin since 2009, or in south coast streams since 2015. As a result, we don’t have a good sense of the number of spawners, population trends, or region-wide abundance for wild winter steelhead.
  • Lack of good data on harvest. Creel surveys have not been conducted since 2013. Harvest tags are returned voluntarily, so the data is not very accurate. But over the past decade, harvest has increased significantly in rivers like the Sixes, Rogue, Elk, and Chetco.
  • Lack of a Conservation and Management Plan. This is the central factor missing. Without a plan developed and adopted by the Commission, we lack a current population status assessment for wild winter steelhead, the harvest limits necessary to prevent overharvest, and a plan to monitor and enforce regulations. A draft of this plan was supposed to be presented to the public in the fall of 2019—it didn’t happen.
  • No cap on total harvest. Unlimited entry 1 fish per day and 3 per year. There is no cap on total harvest for 8 of the 10 wild steelhead harvest fisheries in ODFW’s Southwest Zone, so bag limits do not account for the growing number of anglers. Independent of wild fish status, the department is responsible for ensuring overharvest does not occur. Nevertheless, the current fishery does not have regulatory mechanisms in place that would prevent overharvest.
  • A failure to enforce existing harvest goals to prevent overharvest. Even where a Conservation Plan and harvest limits do exist, like for the Sixes River, harvest of wild winter steelhead has increased dramatically. The department has failed to enforce its own harvest restrictions, limiting harvest to no more than 10% of the wild steelhead population. It is estimated that in the Sixes River in 2018, 380 wild winter steelhead—38% of the total Sixes River run—were harvested in the recreational fishery. This is a bare minimum estimate that does not include additional mortality for catch and release and illegal and unreported harvest. According to ODFW’s data, harvest has exceeded the 10% limit in twelve of the past fifteen years. Sixes wild winter steelhead are being overharvested. With fishing pressure on the rise across the southwestern coast, we’re concerned this is also true for many, if not all, of these wild runs.

We Need Your Help!

Speak up for wild steelhead Friday, January 17 in Salem, Oregon. Because of our strong showing at the last commission meeting, we expect more people to ask the Commission to keep the harvest fishery. Please join us. Bring a friend. Our goal is to have no fewer than fifty people present to support catch and release. If you’d like to speak on behalf of wild steelhead release, please email NFS Conservation Director Jennifer Fairbrother at jennifer@nativefishsociety.org.

Sign and share the Change.org petition. Nearly 23,000 people have signed the petition so far, and 15,000 people signed in just three weeks. Our goal is to have at least 30,000 signatures on the change.org petition by January 17.

Write to decision-makers. Share your stories, share the science, and encourage the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to act by emailing the Commissioners at odfw.commission@state.or.us.

Sign up your business or organization as a supporter. Representing the economic value of abundant and healthy wild fish is an important contribution to this effort. If you have a business or an organization that believes in, or is sustained by catch-and-release fisheries for wild winter steelhead, please email NFS Conservation Director Jennifer Fairbrother at jennifer@nativefishsociety.org.

Please help us take action to make positive change happen for wild winter steelhead in southwest Oregon. Thank you for your support!

Posted in:

Community Harvest

Join the Movement.

Help us protect our precious watersheds with your support.

Become a Member