In the world of steelhead conservation, victories can be as elusive as the fish we pursue. Like our success on the water, these conservation wins are hard earned and the result of dedication, perseverance, and countless hours of work. So on days like today when our resolve is rewarded, the victory is as sweet as catching a fresh 20-lb chrome-bright wild winter steelhead.
For the last three years, the Wild Steelhead Coalition (WSC) has been proactively pushing for a suite of prudent, forward thinking changes to Washington’s sportfishing regulations that would protect struggling steelhead populations on the Olympic Peninsula (OP). Thanks to the hard work of concerned anglers and the wisdom of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, today these proposals became a reality.
Modeled in-part after successful wild steelhead conservation regulations from Oregon, British Columbia and other areas, these simple, commonsense changes will help conserve wild steelhead while preserving angling opportunities. These changes will do the following:
- Prohibit the harvest of all wild steelhead and rainbow trout on select OP rivers such as the Hoh, Bogachiel, and Sol Duc. WSC has championed a zero sportfishing harvest policy for more than ten years, and this adopted proposal is the final piece of a decade-long fight. Harvest by recreational anglers may be limited compared to that of other stakeholders on the OP, but this rule will reduce our impact and set a powerful precedent for others to follow.
- Implement selective gear rules such as barbless hooks and no bait during winter months on select OP rivers in order to protect juvenile steelhead, salmon, and trout.
- Implement “boats for transportation only” rule on a select stretch of the upper Hoh River outside Olympic National Park to protect holding and spawning adult steelhead and salmon. Similar rules have proven to be successful at reducing catch and release angler induced mortality while also preserving quality fishing opportunity on popular rivers such as Oregon’s Deschutes.
These shifts were carefully crafted and received the support of the North Coast Steelhead Advisory Group (NCSAG), a diverse ad hoc committee comprised of stakeholders from Forks to Seattle that included several WSC board and committee members. NCSAG used a collaborative, consensus-based approach to advance sportfishing rule proposals that chart the best path forward for both wild steelhead and steelheaders.
The Commission’s decision to implement these rule changes comes at a critical time as wild steelhead populations on Washington’s famed Olympic Peninsula slip toward collapse. The status quo has been failing our wild steelhead for years. However, today’s decision marks a stark change of course and signals a shared desire to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
The cause of steelhead decline on the OP is multifaceted, with tribal over-harvest, hatchery supplementation, and habitat loss, particularly on unprotected spawning tributaries, all playing significant roles. But the fact remains that as anglers, we are a part of the problem and therefore we need to be part of the solution.
The hundreds of comments WDFW received from anglers overwhelmingly supporting these rule proposals sent a loud and clear message that anglers are committed to minimizing our collective negative impact on struggling steelhead stocks. Moreover, it was proof positive of anglers’ desire for the state to take the necessary action to protect wild steelhead on the OP and ensure a future that includes angling opportunities in this legendary corner of the Pacific Northwest.
THANK YOU to everyone who submitted comments, attended meetings, and helped spread the word. This victory is a credit to your efforts and your passion for wild steelhead conservation. And a big thank you to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for adopting these critical rule changes.
Interested in joining the cause? We’d love to have you.