For decades, the hallowed waters of the Skagit Watershed were a global steelhead mecca. However, the disappearance of its steelhead led to closures of this famed steelhead fishery and created a painful cautionary tale of what we lose when we mismanage wild steelhead fisheries. Fortunately, the measures put in place to recover the Skagit’s wild steelhead have helped bolster their numbers, which has created the opportunity to reopen this fishery.
Earlier this week the Wild Steelhead Coalition submitted official comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service (copied below) about their proposed plan for reopening this fishery. Our comments express cautious support for reopening the Skagit and emphasize the need to strike a balance between fishing opportunity and the continued recovery of wild steelhead in this critical watershed.
The Wild Steelhead Coalition was founded in response to fisheries closures and declining wild steelhead runs in watersheds such as the Skagit. These closures and disappearing steelhead stocks have taught us how quickly things can go wrong when the proper safeguards are not in place. So while we are supportive of the goals of the plan to reopen the Skagit, we have some serious concerns that the plan does not go far enough to ensure continued recovery. Without implementing the protections outlined in our comments, we will jeopardize the years of progress we have made and increase the likelihood of future closures on the Skagit.
The future of the Skagit is currently being determined, and you have the opportunity to speak up and shape this iconic river’s future. In the coming days, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will be hosting two public workshops on the proposed Skagit Basin steelhead fishery. The public meetings are scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. and include the following dates and locations:
- Mill Creek: Jan. 12, WDFW Regional Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek
- Sedro-Woolley: Jan. 16, Sedro-Woolley Community Center, 702 Pacific St., Sedro-Woolley
These meetings are a prime opportunity to express your support for reopening the Skagit with the requisite protections in place. For anyone attending one of these meetings, we encourage you to use our comments as talking points during these discussions.
The opportunity exists to dramatically increase fishing opportunities while continuing to increase the number of wild steelhead returning to the Skagit Watershed. However, unless we demand that WDFW adopt more dynamic management strategies and implement tighter restrictions, we risk once again ruining a fishery that we have all worked so hard to save.
Please take this opportunity to speak up for the Skagit, its wild steelhead, and the thousands of anglers that want the Skagit to reclaim its mantle as a crown jewel of the steelheading world.