Proposed Steelhead Listing for Puget Sound [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Proposed Steelhead Listing for Puget Sound

03-30-2006, 12:35 PM
From the _Seattle Post-Intelligencer_:


Feds propose listing local steelhead as 'threatened' species
Thursday, March 30, 2006

Federal officials Wednesday proposed to extend the protections of the
Endangered Species Act to the Puget Sound region's stocks of steelhead, one
of the most sought-after game fish in North America.

The law already can be used to restrict building and drinking-water
withdrawals to protect chinook salmon. In addition to extending those limits
farther up into Puget Sound-area watersheds, the plan could curtail or even
end fishing for the fabled steelhead around here.

One of the Puget Sound area's most battered runs of steelhead spawns in the
Cedar River, a source of Seattle's drinking water. Although some think the
additional protections proposed Wednesday could spell trouble for that
drinking-water supply, city officials say they could help the steelhead
without reducing Seattleites' water supplies.

The National Marine Fisheries Service's proposal to protect the embattled
fish came in response to a petition by Sam Wright, a retired state fishery

Steelhead stocks in this region "are all on downward trends, and in most of
the rivers, the numbers are getting so small you have to question whether
the population is even viable," Wright said. "In the Lake Washington system,
they're functionally extinct." Fifty or fewer adult steelhead have returned
to the Lake Washington/Cedar River ecosystem in the past four years.
The federal proposal would classify steelhead as "threatened," meaning they
aren't on the verge of extinction yet, but are headed that way. If they were
judged instead to be right at the precipice, they would be considered
"endangered," calling for tighter restrictions.

Anglers and fishing guides braced for potentially bad news when the agency
announces its decision next year.

"It will probably drastically affect the way we do business," said Rob
Endsley, a fishing guide who takes steelhead anglers mostly to the Skagit
River. "Honest to God, 90 percent of my business on the rivers is people who
just want to catch and release a steelhead -- a wild steelhead. ... Wild
fish fight twice as hard as hatchery fish. They're twice the size, twice as
powerful. There's a mystique around them. I get people from all over the
country who just come to catch one and let it go."

Currently, state rules seek to minimize the catching of wild steelhead and
require fishermen who do catch them in the Puget Sound region to throw them

Although it seemingly makes sense to raise a bunch of steelhead in
hatcheries and let fishermen catch those, that's part of the reason the fish
are in trouble today, biologists say. That's traceable to a complicated
series of circumstances that include hatchery fish competing with wild fish
for food and wild fish getting caught and killed when anglers target
hatchery-bred steelhead.

The fishery agency said it would try to see its way clear to not imposing
the Endangered Species Act restrictions, although it couldn't promise

"The reason for having a proposal and then waiting a year is to see if
something happens that would change your mind," said Brian Gorman, an agency
spokesman. "There may be some hatchery reforms that would cast a different
light on this."

That's exactly where the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which runs
many steelhead hatcheries, is headed, said Jeff Koenings, the department's
director. A departmental science study of the effect of hatcheries on wild
steelhead populations -- the ones that would be protected under the
Endangered Species Act -- is due out in May.

Then the state will work out plans to minimize the effect of hatcheries on
wild steelhead, Koenings said.

Seattle's water supply in the Cedar River should be safe, said Rand Little,
a biologist for Seattle Public Utilities, in part because the city already
takes steps to help steelhead there.

Seattle has obtained federal approval for a habitat conservation plan, which
required the city to open up 17 miles of the Cedar previously walled off by
a dam from spawning salmon and steelhead.

Behind the dam where a fish ladder was added were a bunch of rainbow trout,
he said, and here's an interesting twist to the steelhead story: They're
really rainbow trout that decide to head off to the ocean like a salmon.
The city also has built a storage reservoir that should allow technicians to
keep enough water in the Cedar to sustain fish even in dry summers, city
officials say.

The question is: Will federal authorities count rainbow trout -- which could
become steelhead under the right conditions -- toward recovery of steelhead?
The proposal released Wednesday indicates not, quoting a scientific report
that says the rainbows "by themselves should not be relied upon to maintain
long-term viability" of a steelhead run.

Those skeptical of the need for the Endangered Species Act protections for
steelhead pointed to evidence that the biggest factor in their population
slide has been a 15-year cycle of poor conditions in the Pacific Ocean and
perhaps Puget Sound. Restrictions on what happens inland won't help, they

But many scientists say that although people can't control ocean conditions,
they can control how many fish are caught and how many are produced in

One of the worried scientists is Nate Mantua of the University of
Washington, who left his native California to come here in part because he
loves fishing for steelhead.

"Steelhead have this mystique around them, and a lot of people, including
me, have an obsession about them," he said. When it comes to steelhead,
"Puget Sound was formerly the last, best place, and it's not today. It's a
fraction of what it was."

P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or
1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

03-30-2006, 03:15 PM
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

March 29, 2006
Contact: Margaret Ainscough, (360) 902-2408

New management plan aimed at addressing
Puget Sound steelhead concerns

OLYMPIA - New management plans for Washington steelhead, based on a scientific report developed over the last two years, will aim to address concerns that prompted the federal government to propose listing Puget Sound steelhead as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.

The scientific assessment, which will be released for public comment in May, was developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and has been reviewed by treaty tribes. Based on that document, steelhead management plans will be developed in the coming year for individual watersheds across the state.

"We believe these conservation-based management plans may well address the concerns that prompted the federal government's proposed listing of Puget Sound steelhead," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings, Ph.D.

The state's steelhead scientific report outlines the geographical distribution, status, population trends, life history, habitat requirements and harvest history of steelhead in Washington.

NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that manages protected ocean-migrating species including steelhead and salmon, today announced a proposal to list Puget Sound steelhead as a threatened species. A final listing decision would be made next year.

Management plans developed from the steelhead scientific report will address hatchery and harvest management issues. Statewide hatchery improvements being implemented for wild salmon recovery will be extended to steelhead, Koenings said. For example, efforts will likely be increased to segregate hatchery-origin steelhead from wild steelhead.

In addition, habitat improvements for salmon recovery, being implemented by the Shared Strategy for Puget Sound, will benefit steelhead as well, Koenings noted.

There are no directed fisheries on wild steelhead in Puget Sound and most of the state, although wild steelhead fishing is allowed on some coastal rivers under a one-fish annual limit.

Selective fisheries are allowed on hatchery steelhead that are marked as hatchery- origin fish through removal of their adipose fin.