February 24, 2022
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Wednesday that a full closure to all sport fishing throughout the Washington coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca will take effect on March 1. A full list of the affected fisheries is posted here.
The closure comes amid paltry returns–early data shows that coastal steelhead returns were as low as 30 percent of the original forecast, and could end up being the lowest returns ever recorded.
“Throughout our conversations with anglers and the broader coastal community, we’ve been upfront about our commitment to designing fisheries that meet our conservation objectives,” said Kelly Cunningham, WDFW fish program director, in a press release. “With this preliminary data in hand that now suggests coastal steelhead returns are significantly lower than we expected, we need to take bold, swift actions for the future of these runs.”
Steelhead returns have been meager throughout their native Pacific Northwest range recently, with record-low numbers counted at various inland dams. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had previously closed the John Day, Umatilla, and Walla Walla rivers to steelhead fishing in August.
The closure was not unexpected, after an announcement by Cunningham at the initial meeting of WDFW’s new Coastal Steelhead Advisory Group last week. The group aims to create a long-term management strategy for Washington’s coastal steelhead and is made up of a broad consortium of stake holders, including scientists, fishing guides, sport fishers, local business owners, environmentalists and more.
Washington’s 2021 coastal steelhead season also closed early due to what were record-low numbers then. The future of wild steelhead remains in peril unless swift action is taken to conserve these beautiful and important fish.