We still have a chance to reverse the long decline of iconic wild steelhead on Washington’s legendary Olympia Peninsula. But if changes aren’t made soon for these fish and fisheries, we may lose what little chance we have left .
Submit a comment to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today supporting regulation changes that will help conserve wild steelhead runs on the OP and preserve our angling heritage for future generations.
Proposed by WDFW’s North Coast Steelhead Advisory Group (NCSAG), a diverse citizen-input committee made up of gear and fly anglers, guides, recreational anglers, and other stakeholders from across the OP and Western Washington, these are commonsense, collaborative steps in the right direction to preserve wild steelhead populations and fishing opportunity for them in one of their last remaining strongholds, the Olympic Peninsula.
Summary of NCSAG proposals:
- Require barbless hooks at all times and in all waters of the North Coast Rivers, and allow only one hook with up to 3 points.
- Limit the use of bait to those times and river segments where an angler can expect to encounter returning hatchery steelhead (generally Oct. 1 through February 15, see proposed dates in table below).
- Require the release of all wild (unclipped) steelhead and rainbow trout.
- Prohibit fishing from floating devices (boats for transportation only) on the Hoh River above Morgan’s Crossing.
- Prohibit the use of internal combustion motors on all North Coast Rivers.
While these proposals do add some new angling regulations, they should not in anyway reduce quality angling opportunity or the economic contribution from fishing for local OP economies.
Similar such proposals, including no fishing from a boat (boats can be used for transportation only, you have to get out to fish) have been in place for years on Oregon’s Deschutes River and several tributaries of the Skeena River in British Columbia. These are some of the healthiest and most economically viable steelhead fisheries on the planet.
People of all ages come from around the world to fish the Deschutes and Skeena system rivers and contribute many thousands of dollars to the local economies. “No fishing from a floating device” regulations provide additional refuges for spawning fish and reduce angling-induced mortality on sensitive populations, while still allowing for excellent fishing.
The public lands and waters of the OP provide exceptional access on over a half-dozen steelhead rivers and many more tributaries. Countless braided channels, gravel bars, rocky beaches and shallow tailouts and boulder gardens offer opportunities for anglers of all ages and abilities to get out of the boat and fish from the beach, whether they’re swinging spoons, tossing floats and jigs or spey casting a fly.
I fly fish for steelhead, I gear fish for steelhead, I fish from a boat sometimes and I fish from the beach other times. Many days I do both. I have friends who are steelhead guides or who work in the fishing industry. I don’t consider myself any sort of a “wild fish extremist” or “fly fishing elitist”. Someday, I’d really like to be able to harvest and eat some of the wild steelhead I catch, but right now I understand populations in Washington, including on the OP, aren’t healthy enough to do so.
I also believe that many other factors are at play in the decline of wild steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula. Most impactful among them is gill-net harvest from the co-manager tribes. I strongly believe that our Native American neighbors have a cultural and legal right to fish for and harvest some of these fish, just like sport or “recreational” anglers do. But with that right comes the responsibility to steward this shared resource for future generations. Serious changes are needed to the current harvest-oriented management scheme if we are going achieve a long term, meaningful rebound of our OP wild steelhead runs.
But pointing fingers at the nets alone won’t solve our problems or reverse the current decline. We as anglers must recognize that we have impacts on these fish as well. Impacts that are only growing greater with increased fishing pressure and improved prowess at catching winter steelhead. It’s time we take additional steps reduce that impact.
They’re not a cure-all, but commonsense, collaborative regulation proposals like those recommended by the North Coast Steelhead Advisory Group are a strong step in the right direction. I hope WDFW and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will enact them as soon as possible.