Friday, November 19, 2010

Wild Harvest Continues on the Olympic Peninsula

Following last years rule change proposals WDFW is reminding anglers that wild retention on Olympic Peninsula rivers does not open until February 16th. In years past, wild steelhead could be harvested beginning December 1st. The rule change is designed to help the depressed early component of the wild run recover. Unfortunately though, tribal netting continues to be extremely intense during the first half of the season, and while the state and tribes will argue that they're targeting hatchery fish, gill nets are non-selective. Also, this year the Pysht and Hoko are closed to retention because, "runs have recently been in decline". No surprise there. The WDFW policy appears to be, harvest wild steelhead until populations decline, even below the absurdly low escapement goals the state sets for steelhead populations.

It is time to change the paradigm of harvest or nothing. If we hope to have any fishing opportunity for wild steelhead in a few decades it is critical that the state understand the necessity of statewide catch and release. Not until sport harvest of wild steelhead ends can WDFW have any reasonable negotiating leverage with tribal fishers who continue to harvest more than 30% of wild runs on many Olympic peninsula rivers. The state of Alaska long ago realized the value of wild steelhead as a sport fish, managed for catch and release opportunity. Despite the fact that steelhead populations are healthy throughout much of the state, steelhead are managed for statewide catch and release in Alaska. Meanwhile, many populations on the Olympic Peninsula are in decline, largely due to overharvest. The Hoh River has missed its escapement goal 5 of the last 10 years. The Olympic Peninsula is fortunate to have some of the finest habitat remaining habitat in the Lower 48, sadly with continued overharvest of wild steelhead it's only a matter of time before populations decline further.

Press Release From WDFW:


chaveecha said...

I cherish wild steelhead, and I will always work on their behalf. But I am not convinced that catch and release should be set in stone as the only management paradigm for wild steelhead. If a population is abundant and can be expected to surpass its escapement goal while also providing a limited quota for harvest, it seems to me that wild steelhead could benefit. The alternatives seem worse: 1) hatchery programs that supress wild runs to provide harvest opportunity, all the while teaching generations of anglers to love hatchery fish and resent wild ones; or 2) no harvest opportunity at all, pushing our sport squarely into the category of wildlife harrassment. These fish are not museum pieces, and fishing is not just a sport. Steelheading is hunting, and sometimes fish die. Shouldn't bleeders be fair game for the table? Shouldn't we teach our children that a wild fish is a preferable food item when compared to a pen-reared fish? One fine steelhead can feed a community, and such a gift has great power.

I hope that sustainable management of wild fisheries can, in some cases, include sustainable harvest of wild fish. When and where it is prudent. Always with the understanding that there will be low points in the cycle when all harvest must be suspended. There may be times when even catch and release should be suspended for the benefit of wild fish.

Looking to the Olympic Peninsula, it is predictable that C&R purists will make the claim that WDFW contributed to the decline of wild steelhead by allowing harvest. While sport harvest has been a relatively minor factor, the critical point seems to be well taken when you consider that this harvest continues, even while populations fail to meet escapement goals. Bob Leland, Washington's steelhead manager, seems to be missing a key part of the sustainable-harvest cycle. It would be very interesting to hear how he rationalizes the 2011 wild steelhead harvest under these circumstances. And maybe if we all keep an open mind we can learn something relevant and make another step forward.

Osprey said...

Rob, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I think the important thing is to consider on going harvest in the context of the historical abundance of wild steelhead in the state of Washington. The precious few estimates of historical steelhead abundance around our region give strong indications that current populations are currently existing at approximately 1-10% of historic levels. Some harvest of wild steelhead could probably be supported by truly healthy populations, unfortunately we continue to harvest populations even when they are routinely failing to reach our dismally low escapement goals.