No matter how you slice it, things are not looking good for wild steelhead in the Columbia River. This year’s return is projected to be the lowest since 1980! B-Run wild steelhead returning to the Snake and upper Columbia, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act, are in particularly scary shape with a run of about 1,000 wild fish.
Projections for 2017 looked atrocious, but the early returns of fish have been even worse than originally expected. Last year’s pathetic return was dubbed a “complete year-class collapse” by some biologists, and so far 2017 returns are falling short of even the 2016 numbers. There’s still time for the A-run to rebound but if things don’t get better soon, we may be looking at the worst A-run in recorded history. Sadly, forecasts for B-run fish, larger, later returning steelhead headed to watersheds including the Salmon and Clearwater rivers and prized by anglers, are even worse than predictions were for the A-run.
In an effort to protect these threatened fish stocks, the departments of fish and wildlife in Washington and Oregon joined together to implement restrictions for the summer steelhead fishery on the Columbia. These restrictions include reducing daily catch limits, prohibiting night fishing, and closing sport fishing for steelhead in some waters during months when those fish are passing through.
Given these historically low runs, we applaud WDFW and ODFW for stepping in and implementing restrictions to protect threatened wild steelhead. The Wild Steelhead Coalition will continue to monitor this situation all summer and will work to ensure that summer fisheries on the Columbia is managed in a way that protects both wild steelhead and angling opportunity.