These days it is pretty rare to have the opportunity to increase fishing and harvesting opportunities while also advancing conservation. However, this unusual victory is on the verge of becoming a reality in Washington thanks to a proposed rule change by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to eliminate the bag limit for invasive species in waters that are also home to salmon smolts. But to make this rule change a reality, the Fish and Wildlife Commission will need to greenlight this important conservation measure.
Specifically, the rule “eliminates harvest restrictions for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all rivers, streams and beaver ponds, and in lakes, ponds and reservoirs where these three species may inhabit the same water as salmon smolts.” The purpose of this rule change is to reduce the impact these invasive species have on struggling salmon stocks by minimizing their predation on juvenile salmon, a major driver of steelhead and salmon decline as well as a large barrier to recovery.
It turns out that not only do dams harm steelhead and salmon populations by reducing habitat, but they also create warm water reservoirs that are prime habitat for invasive fish species such as bass, walleye, and catfish. For a long time, these sportfish were widely stocked to increase angler opportunity, but these fish have escaped these lakes and now reside in many of the same rivers in which salmon spawn. And ironically, the same voracious predatory nature that makes these species so much fun to fish for unfortunately also makes them a major source of juvenile salmonid mortality.
On October 18th, the Fish and Wildlife Commission met to discuss the merits of this rule change proposal. Prior to the meeting, the Wild Steelhead Coalition submitted the following comment:
Dear Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission,
We strongly support your proposed rulemaking to eliminate harvest restrictions for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all rivers, lakes, and streams that also support salmon smolts. These three species are invasive and non-native to Washington, and they are voracious salmon predators. Not only are many of the state’s salmon runs threatened or endangered, but salmon are also the main food of starving and endangered southern resident orcas. Because of this, the Governor’s Orca Task Force recommended removing harvest restrictions for these invasive salmon-predators, and the legislature authorized the Department to make this rule change by passing 2SHB 1579.
By removing harvest restrictions on these species, anglers can help the Department greatly reduce the number of invasive salmon-predators in Washington’s waters. This is expected to increase juvenile salmon survival, which will provide more fish for starving orcas and help rebuild struggling salmon runs. Salmon are also one of the most economically and culturally important species in the Pacific Northwest, and the state should prioritize the recovery of salmon over the management of invasive species that undermine salmon recovery efforts.
Please adopt the rule changes and remove harvest restrictions for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all of Washington’s waters that support salmon.
The Wild Steelhead Coaltion