WDFW ‘Nervous’ About Coastal Steelhead Returns

Updated 10:08 a.m., Friday, February 18, 2022 with comments from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind

Washington coast steelhead managers shared “not good news” about this winter’s wild run with Fish and Wildlife Commissioners and members of a new advisory group this afternoon, warning that inseason rule changes might occur as early as next week, which would further restrict this season’s already-limited fishery.


WDFW Fish Program manager Kelly Cunningham said that based on early indications from state creel checkers and tribal fishery managers, runs look like they’re coming in “well below forecast – not just a little bit, but significantly.”

On Friday morning, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind briefed the full commission on the situation, stating, “It looks like our horrible forecast [26,336] was optimistic.”

Cunningham said that tribal catches have been “well below projected catches.”

Rivers have been flowing at low levels since winter’s spigot abruptly turned off last month, making for tougher sportfishing conditions in the clearer waters, but in an email Cunningham said the indications have been seen “across the return,” and added that gillnets are actually more effective at lower stream levels.

He described WDFW as “nervous” and said the agency will be talking with tribal managers Friday during a weekly call.

“The result of those conversations tomorrow could lead to in-season actions. Those in-season actions could occur as early as next week,” Cunningham warned some three-dozen folks at the tail end of this afternoon’s Zoom meeting of the Ad-Hoc Coastal Steelhead Advisory Group.

Earlier in the day Cunningham briefed the commission’s Fish Committee.

This winter’s steelhead fishery has been restricted to Forks-area rivers and those draining into Willapa Bay, while the Chehalis and state-managed sections of the Queets and Quinault were closed due to expected underescapement returns, adding to chronic issues of not meeting spawning goals on them.

Other rivers in the Northwest have seen generally good runs this season, especially hatchery returns to the Oregon Coast and Puget Sound’s Snoqualmie, and confoundingly the Olympic Peninsula’s Bogachiel is seeing its best run of clipped winter-runs since the 2014-15 run.

But before this season’s wild fish came back, WDFW had been warning about the potential for another tough year on top of last year’s “lowest on record” return of 25,723 to coastal rivers, given poor ocean conditions for steelhead.