Oregon’s Deschutes River will have a fishing season for summer steelhead this year, announced the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW). The summer steelhead fishing season on the Deschutes will open on August 15th. Throughout the last few years, wild steelhead returns have been so low that fishery managers were forced to close many river systems in the Pacific Northwest. The Deschutes, one of the famed steelhead rivers in the PNW, closed its summer steelhead season last year, as runs were abysmally poor. Even as this year’s steelhead runs (and salmon, for that matter) are looking good–especially compared to last year’s historically low runs–managers and stakeholders mustn’t lose sight of what historic runs looked like. In the PNW, wild salmon and steelhead runs are fractions of what they looked like decades ago.
“We needed to surpass 9,900 unmarked steelhead over Bonneville Dam during the month of July to open the fishery on Aug. 15 and get above conservation concern levels,” said Jason Seals, ODFW Deschutes district fish biologist. “Thankfully, we have seen some recovery from last year’s low returns.” Last year’s returns prompted ODFW fishery managers to develop a new management framework for the Deschutes. This framework separately evaluates Deschutes river fishing decisions based on three intervals of run counts.
“We are still expecting modest returns based on our run projections to the Deschutes but within abundance levels that the fishery won’t have population impacts,” he continued.
Conservation groups working to restore and protect the wild salmon and steelhead runs in the PNW welcomed the improved runs but don’t want to lose sight of the long-term goals of restored waterways and abundant, self-sustaining fisheries. Jennifer Fairbrother, Conservation Director of the Native Fish Society said, “We are excited that anglers will have the opportunity to connect with the Deschutes and the river’s amazing steelhead this year. At the same time, we remain mindful that while this year is shaping up to be better for wild steelhead in the Columbia Basin than the last, these runs are still way below their long term and historical returns. We all need to continue to advocate for changes that are needed to stem the tide of decline and revive wild abundance.”
Celebrate this year’s improved runs, but do not lose sight of what it will take to fully restore wild salmon and steelhead to the PNW, such as removing the four lower Snake River dams.
cover picture by @PatPerry