On Friday, September 14th, Oregon Fish and Wildlife commissioners will hear testimony from petitioners who have asked to put an end to the harvest of wild steelhead on the Southern Oregon Coast. The petition was filed earlier this summer by a group comprised of some of the most well-known fishing guides in Southern Oregon.
Current ODFW fishing regulations allow anglers to harvest one wild steelhead per day, up to five per year on coastal systems including East Fork Coquille River, Illinois, Chetco, Elk, Pistol, Rogue, Sixes and Winchuck rivers and Hunter and Euchre creeks. These watersheds are some of the last remaining places in the lower 48 where wild steelhead can be retained by anglers.
ODFW staff is opposed to the rule change, and instead favors the development of a South Coast Multi-Species Management plan, much like the Coastal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan that was adopted by the Commission on June 6, 2014. That plan covers the area from the Necanicum River in the north to Elk River in the south.
Staff and a counter petitioner argue that South Coast steelhead are healthy enough to sustain a wild harvest fishery, that the economy of the South Coast would be negatively impacted by the proposed rule change, and that “the decision to reduce or eliminate harvest of wild winter steelhead may lead to powerful environmental groups petitioning the agency for further protections such as reduction or elimination of hatchery programs, reduction or elimination of open seasons on specific streams, and/or restriction on angling methods and gear”
In many ways, this petition to end wild steelhead harvest brings back memories of a similar regulation change that occurred on the North Umpqua River back in 2008. OFFB founder Matt Stansberry did an excellent interview with our own Jay Nicholas at that time that covers much of the intricacies of the rule change and the fisheries management concepts behind it.
Looking to the North Umpqua for historical guidance, would any readers suggest that the economy that the North Umpqua supports has been negatively impacted by eliminating wild steelhead harvest? On the contrary, fishing on the North has flourished and it remains one of the most popular winter steelhead fisheries in Oregon for both guides and recreational anglers alike.
On the North, Winchester Dam provides ODFW staff the opportunity to monitor wild steelhead populations in real time, by counting each individual fish that swims up the fish ladder at the dam. In contrast, monitoring of steelhead populations on the South Coast is extremely underfunded (as it is everywhere else in Oregon) and ODFW staff is forced to rely on infrequent creel survey data, redd counts, and juvenile surveys to get an idea of how populations are faring. If we’re going to allow wild steelhead harvest, it should only occur with rigorous monitoring and evaluation of the health of populations on a watershed scale.
Finally, how about those “powerful environmental groups” that could use this rule change as leverage to attack hatchery programs on the South Coast? This petition was filed by and is being supported by fishing guides across the state, and garnered over 700 supporting signatures over the past few months. They’re requesting this rule change because they saw how much the fishing (and as a result, the flow of clients) has become on the North Umpqua since wild steelhead harvest was terminated. To suggest that this is a ploy by environmental groups to end every hatchery in Oregon is a red herring to stir up fear amongst the small group of anglers out there who want to kill a wild fish. Ending wild steelhead harvest is what’s best for the fish, the fisherman, and the coastal communities who benefit from the dollars anglers spend on gas, hotels, restaurants, and tackle. Oregon is the last best place for steelhead fishing in the lower 48, and if we want to keep it that way, we need forward-looking, science-based management, and a new level of reverence for just how special and rare the wild steelhead runs we have in this state are.
Development of a South Coast Multi-Species Management Plan would be a huge step forward for these fish, but in the interim, we need proactive management that will protect wild steelhead and ensure they remain for our enjoyment and the enjoyment of future generations.
What you can do
Show up to the ODFW Commission meeting on Friday, September 14th in Bandon (8:00 AM at the Bandon Community Center, 1200 11th St SW, Bandon, OR 97411). There will be opportunity for public comment if you sign up to testify at the start of the meeting.
If you can’t make it to Bandon, write to the ODFW commission
(firstname.lastname@example.org) with your support for the petition to end wild steelhead harvest on the South Coast. Your email doesn’t need to be formal, but it helps to offer a personal tie to the steelhead you’re writing in defense of (i.e.- you fish there, your uncle owns a grocery store there, you hope to take your grandkids fishing there in the future if we don’t mess it up first!).