Picture: Tom Hart/Flickr

The Washington Division of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) introduced that as of February 3, a leisure fishery would open on the Skagit, and its foremost tributary, the Sauk.

Per a press launch, “Leisure steelhead fishing will open Feb. 3 via April 17 5 days per week Saturdays via Wednesdays solely, closed Thursdays and Fridays, on parts of the Skagit and its main tributary the Sauk below catch and launch rules.”

One might assume this implies excellent news. Opening a river to leisure angling implies that sufficient grownup fish are current within the river that catch-and-release fishing shouldn’t impression them an excessive amount of, proper?

Properly, WDFW and tribal fisheries managers undertaking that solely 5,215 wild steelhead will return to the Skagit River and its tributaries this yr.

That’s not many fish, particularly if you have a look at the historic information. Per the Wild Steelhead Coalition (WSC), “Traditionally, the Skagit Basin noticed returns of round 150,000 wild steelhead yearly. We noticed runs of roughly 13,000 as lately because the late 80’s and runs of 9000 fish (in 2015).”

The WSC additionally notes that below present Endangered Species Act (ESA) tips established for the Skagit watershed, a “low-impact” fishing season is allowed provided that projected runs are between 4,000 and 6,000 wild returning fish. Remember that’s projected, not an precise variety of spawning fish. Additionally of be aware is the definition of “low impression” by the ESA – a “fishery that doesn’t exceed an appropriate mortality fee of ten % of the returning fish. These mortality impacts are shared between leisure anglers and tribal fisheries.”

I perceive steelheaders need to chase these fish, but it surely appears silly to permit for as much as 10% mortality in a inhabitants of endangered fish which might be prone to disappear in our lifetime until one thing drastic adjustments. I’ve to marvel if it’s higher to depart these fish alone than attempt to catch them.

This identical state of affairs performed out in 2021, when leisure fishing opened with solely 4,297 fish estimated to return to the watershed. On the time, WSC made this assertion:

“For our half, the Wild Steelhead Coalition is deeply involved in regards to the Skagit system’s depressed steelhead run counts and the potential impression of this season. As passionate steelheaders, we need to fish these iconic rivers as a lot as anybody, however we additionally acknowledge that steelhead numbers within the Skagit and Sauk are at the moment on a razor’s edge.”

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