A wild winter steelhead on the Oregon Coast. Photo: Conrad Gowell

Wild Steelhead Release: Building from Setbacks & Taking Next Steps

Thank you for following this thread on wild steelhead release in southwest Oregon.

To everyone who made the drive to Salem to testify in December and January - we all owe you our utmost gratitude. Thank you so much!

The testimony you provided was incredibly good and in total we had nearly 50 people speaking in support of catch and release between the two meetings - about 25 more people than those who support the current regulation. While the vote to deny the petition was deeply discouraging, know that it’s only through efforts like yours to show up and continue to show up and to speak for wild fish that makes efforts like this one successful.

I still firmly believe that there is broad public support for securing a sustainable wild steelhead fishery in SW Oregon and that under current fisheries management catch and release is the critical next step toward that goal. So let’s talk about where we go from here.

First, a recap of the January Commission Meeting:

After 2.5 hours of public testimony, staff reporting, and conversation between Commissioners and staff the Commission voted 4-2 to deny the petition for catch and release. The supportive votes came from Chair Wahl and Commissioner Wolley. Commissioner Labhart led the opposition to the petition for catch and release siding strongly with the department. While we do not agree with Commissioner Labhart's conclusions, we do appreciate his attention to all of the information submitted. He is clearly putting in the work to read and understand the concerns of the public.

In the closing minutes of the Commission's discussion of the issue, confusion arose regarding the format that the public request for temporary catch and release was submitted to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. As a result, the Commission was left confused about whether or not adopting the petition and/or taking additional actions could result in immediate changes to the 2020 winter steelhead season (January 1 - March 31 in most rivers). Unfortunately, the Commission appeared to cast their votes in as much a response to this confusion as their understanding for the concerns for overharvest in the wild winter steelhead fishery. In the future we will have additional legal review and expertise during all Commission related activities.

You can view the video of the December Meeting here and the January Meeting here.

Next Steps:

Rogue Coastal Conservation and Management Plan Stakeholder Meetings:

Part of the concern held by local anglers, guides, and members of the Native Fish Society community is that wild steelhead south of Cape Blanco are the only population in the state without a mandated Conservation and Management Plan in place. These plans are a core part of putting the Native Fish Conservation Policy into action. The plans are developed by the state and stakeholders and approved the ODFW Commission. In the plans, the best available science is used to define the status of the population (are they healthy), the population goals for health, the key issues impacting the health of the native fish, and the steps and monitoring that will be put in place to make progress toward both the conservation and fishery goals for the population.

During the September 2018 meeting, the Commission directed ODFW staff to begin developing this plan. With the initial information regarding south coast steelhead, coho, and cutthroat trout collected, ODFW will begin working with stakeholders this month to draft the Conservation and Management Plan's actions.

ODFW staff will convene two stakeholder groups - one on the coast in Gold Beach and the other in the Rogue Valley in Central Point. There will be a complete list of participants from ODFW next week. ODFW has invited guides, members of the public, local elected officials, non-governmental organizations, and representatives of local fishing clubs.

NFS has a seat on both groups. Executive Director, Mark Sherwood, will be representing NFS on the coast group while Rogue River Steward Charles Gehr will represent NFS in the Rogue group. River Steward Bryan Sohl will be our alternate and will attend most meetings. Additionally, these meetings are open to the public, so I’d encourage you to attend if you’re interested and available.

The first three stakeholder meetings are scheduled for February 26th Gold Beach & 27th Central Point // March 31 Gold Beach & April 1 Central Point // April 29 Gold Beach & April 30 Central Point. The meetings will run from 9am-3pm.

Public Engagement:

On the water and on social media let’s encourage one another to release wild steelhead in 2020 season. Since we don't have good information on adult runs and adult harvest we're saying - if you don't know, let them go! Make sure engagements with people who support harvest are respectful. On social media tag your release photos with #releasewild.

As the stakeholder meetings progress it would be great if folks could work on 250-word letters to the editor for the Medford Mail Tribune and Curry Coastal Pilot. If you're interested please get in contact with Mark Sherwood at mark@nativefishsociety.org.

Thank you again for all your support and work to create a responsible and sustainable wild steelhead fishery in southwestern Oregon. Your help, your voices, and your support is what makes progress happen.

Wild Matters,

Mark

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Conservation Harvest Steelhead Wild Fish

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