Oregon's Chetco River in Winter PHOTO: Marcus Mattioli

Wild Steelhead Release

Developing a Sustainable Fisheries Plan for the Oregon South Coast

Since 2017, fishing guide Harvey Young, local River Stewards, and other grassroots advocates have advocated for the sustainable management of wild steelhead in Southern Oregon - the only place in lower 48 United States where harvest of wild Steelhead occurs in nearly every stream.

Starting in early 2020, stakeholders from the Rogue Valley and Oregon South Coast basins gathered together to lay the framework for an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) conservation and fisheries management plan to guide the direction of management for the next 12 years. Meetings transitioned to an online platform soon after COVID-19 in March. Native Fish Society’s long time River Steward and outstanding advocate, Charles Gehr, represented NFS in the Rogue Basin while Mark Sherwood, Executive Director, represented NFS on the South Coast advocating for his homewaters.

ODFW staff worked to gain consensus on topics managing the fish including: hatcheries, fisheries, enforcement, predation, public outreach, and education. Seven meetings with stakeholders including a habitat workgroup were hosted over the past nine months. Unfortunately, data presented on Winter Steelhead populations showed declining numbers of juvenile fish, low confidence intervals, and high uncertainty on specific population health. All meetings on hatchery and harvest actions lacked the rigorous integration of climate change science, a component NFS and other conservation advocates requested throughout.

This winter we anticipate seeing the first draft of the Rogue South Coast Plan, with additional comment opportunities for the public in 2021. We will need your support to advocate for the management strategies and actions that best promote our wild native fish. This includes no wild steelhead harvest without annual adult monitoring - if you don’t know, let them go! Lastly, ODFW must consider and take a precautionary approach in management to climate change effects on all species in this cherished ecosystem.

It’s been a year since we approached the ODFW Commission asking for the release of Wild Steelhead, and the fight is not over. We must stick together as a community to ensure that ODFW implements these critical monitoring and fisheries management actions in the Rogue and South Coast basins. We must act now to protect these wild fish, the free-flowing streams, and the communities that depend on them throughout southern Oregon.

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