Like most everyone else who's posted on this board, I'm angry and disappointment about the decision to close our March-April fishing next year. But given the lousy escapements of the past 2 years, I think it's the right thing to do, in spite of the lousy science that's behind many WDFW decisions and their history of "reactionary management". At least this closure errs on the side of the fish.
How might we avoid "emergency closures" in the future?
I'm pretty hopeful that this closure will be short-term, that our spring steelhead will rebound this year and next, due in part to much improved ocean conditions that kicked
in during the summer of 1998. But there's no guarantee that the fish numbers will rebound, or that good ocean conditions will last much longer. In the longer term, I don't think there's any question that our wild fish are in trouble from habitat loss and degradation. For instance, the Skykomish Valley is in the midst of a paving and strip-malling boom. This can't be good news for wild fish.
Like Juro, I'm also angry about the policies that have effectively separated hatchery and wild fish return timing. WDFW considers this a great success because they can now manage a kill fishery from November-February, and a native C&R fishery in March and April. Who told them the early part of the wild run was expendable? This strategy was driven by politics, and not guided by anything approaching "good science". I doubt we can afford any more genetic or behavioral narrowing of our wild stocks. These fish evolved to deal with life in an uncertain world, and their diversity has been their key to success. We have got to stop squeezing that diversity.
I think we need a 100% no-kill policy on unmarked steelhead and selective harvests in all our streams. Fish wheels and fish traps are old technology that were good enough to overharvest the Columbia River runs before 1900, and there is no question that they can be put in our rivers and be effective at catching hatchery fish and releasing the natives. If we could go to year-round selective harvest, there's an opportunity for some win-win deals. The tribes could harvest the hatchery stocks without taking wild fish, sports fishers that like killing wild fish couldn't point at the tribes and cry for "their fair share", and those early returning fish would get a chance to spawn and rebuild that part of the run. This state cranks out enormous numbers of hatchery steelhead, so it's pretty difficult to claim that we need more opportunities to kill steelhead. On the other hand, Washington is the last stronghold for killing wild steelhead. Killing wild steelhead is outlawed in Oregon and BC, and in most California streams.
Pie in the sky? Maybe, but I hope not. Our wild fish are in trouble, and this closure might mark our last chance for real reform in the way steelhead fisheries are managed in this state. I don't think we can afford to sit back and hope
the fish bounce back in the future.