Last Saturday was proof of our collective power. It was proof that commonsense conservation can prevail. It was proof that when anglers unite, the slow tide of change can be hastened to bend toward conservation. It was proof that the years of hard work painstakingly performed by our grassroots community of advocates is paying off. And it was proof that our efforts are empowering decision-makers to fight for wild steelhead.
That’s not lofty speculation on our part. Commissioner Miranda Wecker told us just that after last Saturday’s WDFW Commission meeting, where over 25 steelhead advocates testified and effectively articulated why WDFW should adopt a series of simple sportfishing regulations that protect wild steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula. Her words were, “This is one of the best public input sessions I’ve experienced in my ten years on the Commission. You’ve given us the motivation to go fight for the fish and lead by example. I’m proud of you.”
It hasn’t been an easy or a short road. Convincing steelheaders to alter angling practices to conserve and rebuild wild steelhead populations has been a tough sell – we can be a steadfast bunch. Even in hallowed waters like Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (OP), where one of the last strongholds of wild winter steelhead stocks are on the precipice of collapsing, steelheaders have been reluctant to change. However, that reluctance is becoming a thing of the past.
Our community of anglers is recognizing the harsh reality that the status quo in Washington state is failing all steelheaders and the magnificent fish we pursue. After witnessing five distinct steelhead populations get listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, we know more and are eager not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Last Saturday was proof of that. Steelhead advocates from across the state flooded the meeting room and shared their impassioned pleas for a smarter, conservation-minded approach to sportfishing regulations. Their testimonies mirrored the overwhelming response of written comments WDFW had received, which demonstrated strong support for all three regulation changes. Especially astounding was that 90 percent of comments supported closing wild steelhead harvest on the OP as well as adopting selective gear rules during a portion of the winter fishery.
The meeting last week and the thousands of comments WDFW has received supporting these sportfishing regulations are great successes. But we must not mistake them for victories. More work needs to be done to ensure these commonsense regulations that are vital to protecting the wild steelhead of the Olympic Peninsula are implemented.