Contrasting Videos Highlight Plight Of Westside Steelhead, Fisheries

Steelhead videos out in recent days both bemoan the same thing — a lack of fish returning to Western Washington — but come from disparate perspectives.

A slick series produced by the Wild Steelhead Coalition contrasts sharply with a 13-minute preview piece cobbled together by Restore the Cowlitz, but they both recall a great past, focus on the poor present, and call for a better future, but through, literally, different lenses.

I appreciate them both, as they show a fire in the belly that is lacking when it comes to most of Washington’s other stocks, a deep concern for the resource and the real impacts policy decisions have on fish populations and people’s livelihoods.

The former, dubbed “Steelhead Country,” leads off with the downfall of Puget Sound steelheading, listing a number of rivers no longer open for all or part of the seasons due to plummeting native returns, and focuses on the experiences of the iconic Bill Herzog.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM “STEELHEAD COUNTRY, PART I,” SHOWS BILL HERZOG ON THE BANKS OF THE MCMILLAN DRIFT, ON THE PUYALLUP RIVER, AT ONE TIME ONE OF THE BEST SPOTS IN ALL OF PUGETROPOLIS TO CATCH WINTERS, BUT NOW CLOSED. (WILD STEELHEAD COALITION)

He loads some of the downfall on his own back: “We killed too many fish. Again, horrible management, they allowed us to take two fish, wild fish, till the end of April, ad naseum … My little squad, we killed 200 out of the Nisqually alone, just us, just us, 10 guys, killed 200. Easy. Let’s see, if we did that, wouldn’t take much, would it?”

The third video in the six-part series (the back half hasn’t been released at this writing) looks at “The Hatchery Fix,” which highlights the striking success WDFW’s predecessor’s increased stocking had, producing a “ten-fold” leap in the catch between 1947 and 1963, but also how that likely clubbed the heck out of the early part of the wild run, “which historically was the peak of the run.”

DEANNA WILSON HOISTS HER FIRST STEELHEAD, A SKYKOMISH HATCHERY WINTER-RUN. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Fixing the hatchery runs is what “Project Cowlitz” aims for, pointing out the deep economic impacts the end of releases of early-timed winter steelhead into the Cowlitz has caused.

According to another Washington fishing icon, guide Clancy Holt, where in the past he normally would have run four guides and pulled in $300,000 from mid-November to mid-February, yielding some $24,000 in state sales tax, this past winter, his operation ran two trips for $2,000 and collected just $150 in sales tax.

IN THIS SCREENGRAB FROM RESTORE THE COWLITZ’S NEW VIDEO “PROJECT COWLITZ,” LOCAL GUIDE CLANCY HOLT TALKS ABOUT ECONOMIC IMPACTS FROM THE LOSS OF THE EARLY-RETURNING STEELHEAD TO THE RIVER. (RESTORE THE COWLITZ)

He’s echoed by guides Dave Mallahan, Mark Youngblood and others, while Derek Breitenbach of Ethel Market & Sports details the dropoff in winter business at his Lewis County shop.

“This isn’t working,” Holt says, adding, “There has got to be a way to generate another run of fish in the winter from November to the middle of February — steelhead in the Cowlitz River.”

It would take time — a whole lot of time and even some fishery restrictions (not to mention a few more fish) — but I wonder if it isn’t possible to begin creating an early-returning strain out of the basin’s endemic late stock, recovering that temporal span that winters once covered.

I’m not a biologist, so I can’t say how possible that even is, but as a steelheader and someone who’s been writing about the decline for some time now, there’s a lot of good stuff in these videos, and I appreciate the passion both filmmakers put into them.

Is one righter than the other?

I just know that I need fish for all of us to fish for, and while I do see positive signs here and there on the wild front, I also know that today’s rivers have carrying capacities that will never get us back to late 1800s abundances. I do look forward to seeing what sort of solutions “Steelhead Country” proposes in its upcoming releases, but as pared back as hatchery releases have become, they’re essential bridges as habitat work continues and we work to figure out other problems affecting the survival of all of our favorite fish.

Hat tip to all, you rock for Doing Something.

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2 thoughts on “Contrasting Videos Highlight Plight Of Westside Steelhead, Fisheries”

  1. Its interesting that folks in the Cowlitz are asking about developing an early run steelhead, as the Mitchell Act BiOp came out and the states/feds are doing just that in the Kalama River, just upstream a little way, using endemic Kalama stock….

    If the feds OK’d it in the Kalama, they should ok the same approach using endemic Cowlitz stock…AW you might ask how that Kalama program got started and what it took to do so….would make for a good read to see if it might be doable in other spots.

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