OUR STEELHEAD ARE in serious trouble.
For the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, this realization came in early December, with projections that, for the fourth straight year, steelhead on many rivers won’t meet winter escapement goals.
That means not enough adults are returning home to spawn and sustain future generations of this incredible fish.
For the Quileute Tribe, this realization came earlier.
Five years ago in 2016, we saw what was happening in rivers up and down the Washington coast and in the Quillayute River in particular, and took action, reducing our fishing schedule that season.
This year, we have again voluntarily committed to cut our fishing schedule by 18 days. That’s even as the Quillayute River remains one of the few coastal river systems in the state still projected to make winter escapement goals.
The reason we decided to act early and proactively is easy to understand.
For the Quileute people, we have lived with steelhead since time immemorial.
These fish are a part of who we are.
They are a part of our culture and the health of these runs is directly connected to the well-being of the tribe.
So we commend WDFW for joining us with conservation action by stepping up this winter with new, temporary restrictions on steelhead fishing up and down the Washington Coast.
These new rules include a ban on fishing from a floating device and bait fishing, single barbless hooks and mandatory catch-and-release for rainbow trout, steelhead’s freshwater sibling.
The rules recognize that if we are to save steelhead, we need to step up by stepping back, so steelhead can begin recovering their numbers.
By instituting coastwide regulations, rather than closing specific rivers, WDFW is affirming that we need broad, collective action to save steelhead at this point in their decline.
Hopscotching regulations from river to river will not work anymore. We’ve seen how selective closures can be counterproductive, concentrating recreational fishers on rivers that are still making escapement, if barely — rivers like the Quillayute.
Now, we must come together and protect the health of Washington’s coastal rivers as a cohesive unit.
The Quileute Tribe has always been committed to making the necessary sacrifice, so that we have fish for “the next seven generations.”
We believe we share this goal with steelheaders everywhere. And we’re asking all steelhead anglers to join us.
It will take all of us stepping up for steelhead to save these fisheries for our future.
Douglas Woodruff Jr., Quileute Tribal Council chairman, submitted this column on behalf of the tribe.