Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Declining but Not Listed...Yet

If you sent an email to Ray's boathouse yesterday regarding their decision to serve steelhead on their menu, chances are you got a form letter from Peter Birk explaining that Ray's is committed to providing sustainable locally harvested sea food to its customers and that steelhead are not ESA listed on the Peninsula and are therefore the fishery is sustainable. While the point is valid we have to ask ourselves, do we really want to be harvesting the last non-listed stocks of wild steelhead in Washington State.

Hello Peter,
Thank you for your detailed response and your efforts to ensure that Ray's only serves sustainably caught fish species. While the Olympic Peninsula Distinct Population Segment of steelhead are not currently listed under the ESA (per your link below). The runs in several Olympic Peninsula rivers have rapidly declined in abundance over the last decade. I have analyzed and graphed data from the Quileute River for you because you said your fish come from there, but I can assure you that the trends are similar if not worse in most of the other rivers. I obtained this data from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/snider_creek/snider_creek_data_11-29-10.xls The Quileute River run has declined in abundance by 60% over the last decade, at an annual rate of 5% per year. This resulted in the whole river failing to meet its WDFW-Tribes agreed upon escapement goal of 5,900 fish in 2009. In 2009, only 4,733 wild steelhead escaped to spawn in the Quileute. The tribe harvested 1,623 wild steelhead that year (not including their harvest of hatchery fish). Had the tribe not harvested these fish, or harvested less, the river would have met its WDFW-Tribe agreed upon escapement goal. This was true for the Queets and Hoh Rivers in 2009 as well. This is not responsible fisheries management. Furthermore, given the recent declines of Olympic Peninsula steelhead and the greater context of range-wide steelhead declines that I alluded to in my prior email, the sustainability of commercial wild steelhead harvest is questionable. Do you really want to serve wild steelhead from the last few populations that remained healthy longer than others until even they are collapsed and listed under the ESA? I hope not. Attached is a graph showing the Quileute steelhead escapement over the last 10 years. The data show a steep decline which is equivalent to 700 fish per year or 5% of the initial abundance per year. The graph shows that the abundance dipped below the escapement goal for the first time in 2009, and given its trajectory, is likely to in the future. The Tribe has harvested an average of 2720 wild steelhead per year over the last 10 years, and still harvested enough wild steelhead to cause the run to not meet escapement in 2009. Finally, your comments about some of the fish being of hatchery origin is irrelevant because tribal fisheries, which employ gillnets, are not selective, and are thus equally lethal to hatchery and wild fish.

See the graph above.

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