Amid forecasts for low steelhead returns, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal co-managers at the Hoh Tribe, Quileute Tribe, and Quinault Indian Nation, this week announced restrictions to sport and tribal fishing on Washington coastal rivers.
The measures are aimed to protect wild steelhead populations, provide sport fishing opportunity where possible, and support tribal treaty rights.
In effect from Dec. 1, 2021 through April 30, 2022, state-managed steelhead sport fisheries will close in the Quinault and Queets rivers and their tributaries. During this time, both tribal and state fisheries will close in the Chehalis River and its tributaries as well as the Humptulips River. Steelhead fishing in Willapa Bay rivers and the Quillayute and Hoh rivers will allow catch and release of unmarked steelhead and harvest of two hatchery steelhead. Fishing from a boat will not be permitted except on the mainstem of the Quillayute River below Highway 101 bridges on the Calawah and Bogachiel rivers.
“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 pre-season 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 follow an extensive public engagement process, which included a four-part virtual town hall series during summer and fall 2021 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 over 600 people providing feedback on the Department’s coastal steelhead management web page.
This year’s season follows similar actions taken last season to help achieve conservation objectives, including restricting the use of bait and fishing from a boat, ultimately ending in an early closure to help increase the number of wild steelhead that returned to the spawning grounds.
Tribal co-managers along the coast continue to enact measures to restrict their fisheries alongside the Department to address concerns for declining returns of steelhead. The co-managers expedited data exchange, shared concerns, and supported more advance public notice and engagement throughout the pre-season planning process.
WDFW continues to operate under its Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, which requires the Department to prioritize the sustainability of wild coastal steelhead runs by focusing on healthy levels of abundance, productivity, diversity, and distribution.
For more information about coastal steelhead management, the pre-season planning process, and recordings of prior public meetings, please visit www.wdfw.wa.gov/coastal-steelhead