In an emergency move, the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced a closure of all coastal steelhead fishing this week. The closure will go into effect March 1 and apply to all to all sport fishing throughout the Washington Coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

This closure comes after years of tightening regulations and declining returns. Using the current preliminary data, WDFW biologists are estimating this year’s run to be only 30% of the initially forecasted run size. The WDFW press release wrote that these return projections could result in perhaps the lowest return ever recorded in some rivers

“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. “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.”

The closures these past few years, undoubtedly hurt businesses that depend on steelhead fishing, whether it be guides, fly shops, or local diners. However, focussing on the long term is paramount, and today the long-term trends are flat out bad. So much work needs to be done to bring these fish back, including extensive habitat restoration, but continuing to hammer a dwindling resource will only further complicate and prevent legitimate progress. The Wild Steelhead Coalition developed a series of recommendations, following last year’s closures, including updated escapement goals, use of sonar technology, and additional user-fees to improve habitat restoration and law enforcement efforts.

“This is a bitter pill, no doubt,” said renowned steelhead biologist, John McMillan. “I love to fish and these have been my home waters for a quarter of a century. Nonetheless, we realized a sharp and sudden drop off in steelhead abundance was possible this year because of the dramatic declines that occurred this past summer in the Skeena and Columbia, among other watersheds. Consequently, the only choice WDFW has is to close the rivers to fishing. It is not ideal for us anglers, but as a scientist and someone who wants to be fishing 10 years from now, I’m ok with the choice. In fact, I think WDFW did the right thing and I support them, because this isn’t easy.”

We’ll continue covering this issue as WDFW gains more information and run-size data.

WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Releases Pending Coastal Steelhead Rules for ’21-’22 Season

The Wild Steelhead Coalition Has a New Message: “Now or Never”

#OneAndDone – A Winter Steelhead Pledge

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