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: Steelhead Article

04-13-2005, 12:01 AM
Wild steelhead need help to survive dwindling numbers

By Chad Gillespie, Fishing & Hunting
March 11, 2005

The rivers that reside on the west end of the Olympic Peninsula are known for supporting big, strong and overall healthy populations of steelhead. Each year anglers descend upon these streams in anticipation of landing a giant steelhead of 20 pounds or larger a true trophy by steelheading standards.

However, what people don't know is that the steelhead calling the Olympic Peninsula streams their home, are slowly declining. A few reasons steelhead have hit a downward spin is due largely to habitat degradation and excessive sport and tribal fishing.

Regulations have been put into effect for the peninsula streams to limit the take of these wild steelhead for each angler. Only one wild steelhead per year may now be retained on the majority of the peninsula streams.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Game, steelhead runs on the peninsula are in healthy condition, and sport fishing and tribal harvest continues at its current pace.

I have a tough time trusting WDFW statistics and management after you take a look at how they have managed the resource in the past.

According to the Wild Steelhead Coalition, a group formed to help preserve our last remaining wild steelhead runs, over 125 Washington rivers were producing catches of wild steelhead in the mid-1950s. The coaliton reported, "Recently there have been only 15 to 18 Washington rivers open to wild steelhead harvest due to ESA listings and low spawner escapements. In the mid-1950's, about 60,000 to 90,000 wild steelhead were annually harvested by Washington sportfishers. In 2003, Washington sport fishers harvested 3,554 wild steelhead."

The last remaining streams where one can actually take a wild steelhead are on the Olympic Peninsula streams, however catch and release is becoming very popular. These are the last remnant of a once magnificent state full of top-notch steelhead action. Anglers and fishing guides who used to fish the other streams around Puget Sound are now shifting their operations or focus towards the west-end rivers.

Wild steelhead are genetically stronger, more robust and larger on average. On the other hand, you have hatchery steelhead, which comprise 97.7 percent of the Washington sport steelhead harvest.

Have you ever wondered why some of the salmon or steelhead you catch are identical in shape and size? These are hatchery breed clones, which now comprise the majority of steelhead and salmon throughout the state. It seems some anglers don't care about the quality of the fish, just as long as there are fish to catch

The fact is, wild steelhead fishing in Washington has sunk. We can't blame this problem entirely on another user group or El Nino. Everyone one of us is responsible for the decline of our wild steelhead.

If you are looking to help, the Wild Steelhead Coalition is dedicated to reversing the downward spin of steelhead and help to restore the runs. Their website is