Help Prevent the Collapse of Olympic Peninsula Steelhead
The Olympic Peninsula is home to the last great native populations of winter steelhead in Washington State. The fish are unique because of their large size, with some individuals exceeding the rarified 30lb mark. Although the populations were considered "healthy" by the State of Washington when they were last reviewed, they have experienced a long-term decline in abundance. Declines have occurred despite these populations occupying watersheds containing the most intact habitat on the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. The populations may be resilient, but their declines necessitate proactive and precautionary changes to management to avoid further declines and listing under the Endangered Species Act.
The Olympic Peninsula is one of three regions left not listed under the Endangered Species Act but with the current downward trends, it could be listed soon.
We ask that the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan that was adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2008 be enacted this year. Some specific examples might include:
•MSH escapement goals were developed in the 1980’s and included several assumptions that we now know are false—a reevaluation of escapement goals and Olympic Peninsula steelhead population dynamics is needed.
•MSH escapement targets should incorporate uncertainty in run sizes and harvest rates to ensure a high probability of goals being met despite poor monitoring data
•Efforts should be made to test assumptions in measuring escapements and harvest rates to ensure fisheries management reflects actual population biology and is not systematically inaccurate.
•Although MSH is the court-ordered co-management objective, the state is free to do what it wishes with its portion of the catch—Washington should be managing its portion of the catch with conservation as its first objective as is mandated by the mission statement of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
•Mandatory catch and release of wild steelhead in sport fisheries would preserve fishing opportunity while ensuring better conservation of declining wild stocks.
•More widespread use of Selective Gear Rules for both commercial and sport particularly in times and places where few hatchery fish are present, or in where large numbers of resident rainbows and juveniles steelhead are handled, would better protect wild steelhead by increasing the survival of released fish.
•Increased monitoring and enforcement for sport and commercial (tribal) fisheries would ensure compliance with existing regulations and accurate data for fisheries management
•In-season management would allow fisheries to be proactively shut down or effort reduced if in-season creel data from sport of tribal commercial fisheries suggested escapement goals were unlikely to be met
•Wild steelhead gene banks need to be established in multiple watersheds—preferably in the largest and healthiest watersheds which have the highest probability of supporting self-sustaining, abundant, and productive steelhead populations into the future.
*Forming public work groups with a diverse group of stakeholders to identify Wild Steelhead Management Zones
*Accountability for gill net by-catch drop out and mortality of kelts and ripe fish. Must be part of commercial catch quota .
•Establish limited entry or a quota of "fishing from a boat rod days" in certain sections of river for guides and non-guided anglers. ( tag systems in sensitive holding areas)
*Require a special endorsement for guides to limit the extent of guiding on the Olympic Peninsula rivers.
If we make some changes and sacrifices we can prevent the collapse of the Olympic Peninsula steelhead. If we don't we can expect further listings under the Endangered Species Act and further loss of fishing opportunity and hard economic hit to rural communities.
It is essential that the State, the ONP, and the Tribal co-managers work together to come up with a recovery plan that puts the health of these fish populations first. If we all take care of wild fish, wild fish will take care of us.