Steelhead fishing will close on sections of three Olympic National Park rivers ahead of the arrival of the vast bulk of winter-runs, federal managers announced this week, citing forecasted returns.
Park sections of the Queets, Salmon and Quinault will close to all sport fishing from November 27 through May 31, 2024, a move that may presage similar steelhead season actions from WDFW in the coming weeks on state-managed stretches of those river systems between Aberdeen and Forks.
“The sport fishing closures are due to low forecasted returns, anticipated commercial harvest outside of the park, and declining trends in total run size with chronically low escapements of wild steelhead. The park and State escapement goals are 4,200 and 1,600 wild steelhead in the Queets System and Upper Quinault, respectively,” the ONP press release stated.
Late last month, WDFW announced forecasts of 4,150 and 1,870 wild fish to the two. The agency’s statewide steelhead management plan limits fisheries on runs that are predicted to be below escapement goals to no more than a 10 percent impact from all fisheries, and while some sport impacts are available on the Queets and Upper Quinault under that scenario, looking to recent history, last year’s predictions of 3,958 and 2,376 saw both WDFW and ONP ultimately shut the rivers down.
The long-term steelhead trends that ONP officials point to show Queets run sizes declining from as high as 13,000, 12,000 and 10,000 from the 1980s into the early 1990s to as low as 3,000 in recent years. Upper Quinault numbers show a similar drop. Park officials say Queets wild steelhead haven’t reached state and federal escapement goals in eight of the last 10 years and six of the last 10 on the Quinault.
“Given the low numbers, we are compelled to use the one remaining tool to minimize impacts on wild steelhead – pausing sport fishing inside the park. We understand that these closures affect sport anglers and fishing guides, and we appreciate their cooperation in helping to protect these precious wild resources,” park superintendent Sula Jacobs said in the release.
ONP’s release pointedly noted in its first paragraph that Olympic Peninsula steelhead have been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The National Marine Fisheries Service announced in February that one “may be warranted,” kickstarting a year-long fact-finding process on whether a listing is in fact needed.
WDFW is expected to announce the state’s coastal steelhead fisheries by early December at the latest.
The Quinault Indian Nation, the other comanager in all of this, manages tribal commercial and recreational steelhead fisheries on the Queets, Salmon and lower Quinault Rivers as well as Cook Creek where they flow across the Quinault Indian Reservation. They have used a much lower escapement figure for Queets winter steelhead than either the park or state, 2,600. Under last year’s forecast of 3,958 wild winter steelhead they’d planned 46 days of netting through mid-March. Ultimately, QIN reported harvesting 243 wild steelhead on the Queets and 213 on the Quinault, well below preseason expectations of 567 and 913, per data shared by WDFW.
On a separate fisheries front, QIN closed fishing on the lower Queets for another species, coho, through November 30 and has called on WDFW to do similar on that system and Grays Harbor rivers, exciting quite a bit of media coverage. WDFW maintained that various indicators didn’t show a need to close the state’s salmon fishery.