Saturday, February 13, 2010

Puget Sounds Rivers to Close Feb 18th

Photo by David Thurman

WDFW announced yesterday that steehead fishing in all Puget Sound Rivers not effected by previous closures will close February 18th. Last month the department announced early closures of the Skagit/Sauk Rivers, which will close February 16th. Steelhead in Puget Sound have been declining since the turn of the century, however in the last decade populations of wild steelhead have continued to decline prompting the federal government to list Puget Sound Steelhead under the endangered species act.

The latest closure represents yet another loss of catch and release angling opportunity in the Puget Sound region and under a proposed rule change, beginning next year all rivers in the area, with the exception of the Skagit and Sauk will close to steelhead angling February 16th. While a temporary reduction in catch and release mortality may be justified, it is not an effective tool for the recovery of depressed populations of wild steelhead and to date the department has done VERY little beyond changing sport fishing regulations. If recovery of Wild Steelhead is the goal in Puget Sound, the department should immediately begin designation of wild salmonid management areas, free from harvest and hatchery pressures on wild salmon and steelhead. The creation of these WSMZs is included in the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, however to date no rivers, or tributaries have been protected under these regulations.

Managers have identified poor marine survival as a factor limiting the abundance of wild steelehad in Puget Sound, however to date very little has been done to study or address the problem. Hatchery releases remain at record levels throughout Puget Sound, despite the fact that the productivity, and capacity for smolts is obviously reduced. Hatchery origin smolts, both steelhead and salmon currently outnumber their wild counterparts in many watersheds by more than 5:1 ratio. Furthermore, many hatcheries in Puget Sound get less than 1% of steelhead smolts back as adults, depressing wild productivity with very little return. Lets hope this latest closure will serve as a wake up call to managers that the status quo is failing and if Steelhead in Puget Sound are to recover measures which go beyond simply closing sport fisheries must be implemented.

WDFW News Release:
http://wdfw.wa.gov/do/newreal/release.php?id=feb1210a

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