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Donations Support Coastal Steelhead Regulations Enforcement

Low returns necessitate protection by all available means.

Donations Support Coastal Steelhead Regulations Enforcement

Despite observing several vessels, WDFW wardens observed no violating vessels during recent flights. The drone can switch between infrared or color video panning and zooming in and out. (Photo courtesy of WDFW)

Having hundreds of square miles of rivers to patrol, poaching and other fishing violations can be a problem for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) game wardens.

In an effort to combat this issue, the Wild Steelhead Coalition (WSC), in 2019, donated a collection of gear such as trail cameras, spotting scopes, and a new raft and oars to the WDFW Law Enforcement Detachment responsible for safeguarding the Olympic Peninsula and Hood Canal.

“As State and Tribal co-managers take a conservation-minded approach to coastal steelhead seasons, enforcement efforts will be a key component,” Captain Dan Chadwick of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Police said. “It is necessary for Fish and Wildlife Police to increase enforcement presence, and utilize state-of-the-art equipment to ensure resource protection.”

Encouraged by the success of the initial donation, the WSC partnered with the Wild Salmon Center, Wild Steelheaders United of Trout Unlimited, Simms Fishing Products, Outcast Boats, and Sawyer Paddles & Oars to present an additional gift of gear in 2021, to the tune of about $20,000. The second donation included a drone, waders and boots, more rafts and oars, and nearly 40 additional trail and security camera. These items were also dispersed to a broader group of wardens that include coverage of the Skagit-Sauk and Chehalis River watersheds.

Donations Support Coastal Steelhead Regulations Enforcement
On a day last summer when a number of citations for violations were written, Officer Patrick Murray holds up a wild chinook an angler had kept after cutting off the adipose fin in an attempt to make the fish appear hatchery bred. Murray used a one-man raft donated by Outcast. (Photo courtesy of WDFW)

The gear could prove especially helpful in combatting a new regulation introduced in 2021 that prohibits anglers from fishing from boats on many Olympic Peninsula rivers, to provide sanctuary water and protect steelhead stocks which have dropped precipitously in recent years. It’s the same rule that has existed on the Deschutes River in Oregon (and elsewhere) for many years.

WDFW is using drones and infrared cameras from the donation to patrol high-use rivers like the Sol Duc, Hoh, Dickey, and Calawah rivers from the air to concentrate on locations where violators in the past had been seen and reported. The drones allow the officers to quickly identify suspected poachers and fishing vessels to ensure that they are compliant. The infrared capability of the camera allows officers to make observations and collect still and video evidence in dark, cloudy conditions and in areas obscured by trees and brush.

The equipment–especially the drone–gives WDFW Law Enforcement the ability to survey a much wider geographical area and many more miles of river than might otherwise be possible. The gear helps enforce hunting regulations and illegal timber harvest, as well.

“Partnerships with local and statewide community organizations like Wild Steelhead Coalition, Trout Unlimited, and Wild Salmon Center are essential in maintaining safe and properly managed recreation opportunities for the residents and visitors to Washington State,” Chadwick said.

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