A few years back I was shocked when a major player in the Northwest fishing world told me that wild steelhead should be open for harvest.
In a region where nates are venerated, where reverence for intact adipose fins is strong, and where some returns are troubled, it felt like sacrilege.
But the angler was also speaking to waters where wild runs are strong enough to sustain limited take.
That appears to be the case on 10 Southern Oregon streams, where ODFW allows fishermen to keep one winter-run a day and three to five a season, but some anglers are petitioning the Fish and Wildlife Commission to end that practice.
“… Taking a precautionary approach to ensure wild steelhead thrive into the future, well before populations collapse, is needed,” write Harvey Young, Jim Dunlevy, Dustin Russell, Mark Gasich and Josh Terry.
They say releasing wild fish for others to catch increases opportunities and participation, that large steelhead anglers are more likely to keep are important contributors to the gene pool, the fishery is important to maintaining the local economy and the move would simplify the regulations.
Pointing to what they consider decreased monitoring as well as large-scale environmental disruptions in recent years — the blob, Chetco Bar Fire — they write, ” … It is in the best interest of the agency, anglers, local businesses, and Oregonians to limit the impacts to sensitive fish populations in the case of uncertainty and help ensure that the Southwest Zone wild steelhead populations sustain robust recreational fisheries now and in the future.”
A number of anglers, many from California, also support it.
Not everyone agrees, however.
A board member of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association says it’s a”self-serving draconian push by a handful of people seemingly dead set on running the average Joe off our river.”
That’s what Grants Pass native and tackle seller Dave Strahan wrote and NSIA shared on Facebook earlier today.
In addition to a number of counties, cities, a tourist board and 500 individuals signing onto a counter proposal to continue wild harvest, Wild Rivers Fishing owner-operator Andy Martin (who, full disclosure, occasionally advertises in this magazine) opposes the petition.
“I admire and respect petitioner Harvey Young and his desire to protect winter steelhead on the Chetco and other Oregon rivers, but feel a change to the fishing regulations is unwarranted and has no scientific basis,” Martin wrote to the commission. “ODFW staff has not made any finding that wild winter steelhead in Southwestern Oregon are in need of increased harvest restrictions to maintain sustainable populations.”
For their part, state biologists say, “All indications show that there is not a conservation concern.”
In recommending the petition be denied, they say that spawning ground and juvenile fish numbers suggest a stable steelhead population, and that numbers are only limited by habitat issues.
Concerns about wild steelhead can be addressed in an upcoming conservation plan for several fish species, ODFW says.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission will make the final call when it meets later this week in Bandon.