New restrictions have been put in place for steelhead fishing on outer coast rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

New restrictions have been put in place for steelhead fishing on outer coast rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

OUTDOORS: Steelhead restrictions in place on outer coast

PORT ANGELES — State, tribal and Olympic National Park wildlife officials are taking steps to restrict fisheries along the Washington coast to protect steelhead this winter and spring.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal co-managers with the Hoh and Quileute tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation announced the restrictions on coast rivers this week amid expectations of low returns of steelhead.

From this Wednesday through April 30, 2022, state-managed steelhead sport fisheries will close in the Quinault and Queets rivers and their tributaries. Steelhead fishing in Willapa Bay rivers and the Quillayute and Hoh rivers will still allow the catch and release of unmarked steelhead and the harvest of two hatchery steelhead. Fishing from a boat will not be permitted except on the main stem of the Quillayute River, and below the U.S. Highway 101 bridges on the Calawah and Bogachiel rivers.

A little farther out of the Olympic Peninsula area, there will also be full closures of tribal and sport steelhead fisheries on Chehalis and Humptulips rivers from Wednesday to April 30.

These measures are aimed to protect wild steelhead populations, provide sport fishing opportunity where possible and support tribal treaty rights.

“Grounded in a commitment to cooperative management, this joint approach unfolds under the stark reality of these dwindling coastal runs,” said Kelly Cunningham, WDFW fish program director. “We continue to share the same concern for recovering these wild fish as well as preserving a deep-rooted angling heritage that we’ve heard echoed in public feedback throughout this preseason planning process. We applaud tribal co-managers in their work to champion these recovery efforts.”

“Fish and fishing are central to our culture and way of life, providing food, income and recreation,” said Ed Johnstone, fisheries policy spokesperson for the Quinault Indian Nation. “It’s hard to restrict fisheries, but it has to be done. We have a shared responsibility to make tough decisions as stewards for the resource and to work together as co-managers to find the will and the means necessary to protect fish for future generations.”

Final fishing regulations for sport fisheries follows an extensive public engagement process, which included a four-part virtual town hall series during the summer and fall and several WDFW staff updates to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. More than 1,000 people joined WDFW fishery managers during these virtual meetings, with more than 600 people providing feedback on the department’s coastal steelhead management webpage.

This year’s season follows similar actions taken last season to help achieve conservation objectives, ultimately ending in an early closure to help increase the number of wild steelhead that returned to the spawning grounds.

ONP closure

Olympic National Park is also taking measures in rivers within its boundaries to protect declining wild steelhead populations.

ONP is implementing in-season fishing regulations changes within park waters for the Queets, Salmon and Quinault river systems. Of particular concern is a forecasted low return of Queets River wild steelhead.

The 2021-22 forecast for Queets wild steelhead is expected to be well below the minimum escapement goal of 4,200 wild fish, as Queets wild steelhead have failed to meet that escapement goal in each of the last five years. The Salmon River will be open from Wednesday through Dec. 31, and two hatchery steelhead may be retained.

The 2021-22 forecast for wild steelhead in the Quinault River system is expected to be 1,756 wild steelhead, which would be among the lowest return on record. These regulation changes are being implemented in cooperation with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Changes include:

Queets River — Closed to recreational fishing beginning Wednesday.

Salmon River — Closed to recreational fishing beginning Jan. 1.

Quinault River (upper bridge downstream to park boundary) — Closed to recreational fishing beginning Wednesday.

For current fishing regulations and information, people can visit the park website at www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/fishing.htm.

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