Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Skagit and Sauk to Close Early

Photo by Chris DeLeone

In light of poor run forecasts in the area WDFW has announced that the Skagit and Sauk Rivers will be closing February 16th. The Skagit system had been the last holdout of rivers open for the traditional March and April catch and release fishery in the Puget Sound, however last years return was only 2500 fish, a record low and almost 5000 fish below the preseason run estimate. WDFW's preseason forecasting is notoriously inaccurate in large part due to a lack of quality data on population size, freshwater productivity and environmental drivers of smolt survival in the ocean.

Runs in the Puget Sound area have been in steady decline for more than a century however as recently as the 1980s the Skagit system was getting more than 10,000 wild fish annually. Among the factors responsible for declines of wild steelhead in the Sound are loss of freshwater habitat, decades of over harvest which truncated run timing, diversity and reduced abundance, massive hatchery supplementation and poor marine survival. Factors contributing to poor marine survival are poorly understood however degradation of the Puget Sound ecosystem and ecological effects of large numbers of hatchery smolts are likely contributing to the situation. Each year more more than 4 million hatchery fish (Chinook, Steelhead, Coho) are released from the Skagit alone. WDFW committed to the establishment of Wild Salmonid Management Zones in the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan but has yet to implement any beyond those that already existed.

If we hope to recover steelhead in Puget Sound it is crucial that we set the conservation and recovery bar high and demand that critical watersheds such as the Skagit be protected as Wild Salmon Refugia. The Skagit is one of Washington's most storied steelhead rivers and it is a testament to the magnitude of loss in our wild anadromous salmonids when the system is deemed incapable of supporting a catch and release, selective regulations fishery.

Official WDFW news Release:

The Green will also close a month early.

Check Out Osprey Issue 60 with articles on the importance of WSMZs and a Skagit River Commentary:

Also keep an eye out for the upcoming Osprey and an article by Pete Soverel on catch and release fisheries as a means for minimizing impacts on depressed wild fisheries.

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