In discussions with steelhead anglers, conservationists and concerned citizens we have fielded a number of thoughtful questions about a TU-led, range-wide wild steelhead conservation effort. This document is intended to present and answer those questions to make the case for such an effort and TU’s leadership role.
Question: What is the Wild Steelhead Initiative?
The Wild Steelhead Initiative is an intensive effort to restore wild steelhead throughout their historic range and to save the legacy of fishing for them. Today, nearly three quarters of all distinct populations of wild steelhead are so diminished that they are listed under the Endangered Species Act. As wild steelhead runs have declined and disappeared, so have opportunities to fish for them. For too long steelhead anglers have waited for government or Providence to reverse the decline of wild steelhead. If we want to be able to fish for wild steelhead into the future, we must act now, in unison, before it’s too late.
Question: Why is TU focusing its attention and resources on wild steelhead now?
There are several reasons:
- Wild steelhead are revered — and deservedly so — as the premier sport fish on the West Coast, and many anglers (including TU members) care deeply about their conservation and the opportunity to fish for them.
- Major progress is being made to protect and improve steelhead habitat throughout their native range. TU wants to continue to expand and protect that habitat work, including the millions of dollars we have invested across the West. We also see a need to align all of the “Hs” — habitat (including hydro), hatcheries and harvest in order to take full advantage of the productive capacity of steelhead habitat.
- Our scientific understanding of what wild steelhead need to thrive has increased significantly in recent years. TU wants to make sure the latest and best science is being used to make informed decisions about steelhead management.
- While we have made progress in recent years in the science and conservation of wild steelhead, due to a variety of factors, including drought, climate change, fisheries management policy and water supply management, we must expand and intensify our efforts if we are to realize this vision.
Question: By focusing on wild steelhead, could the Initiative reduce angling opportunity?
We believe that steelhead angling opportunity — defined both in terms of time on the water and the quality of the experience — will be much greater if rivers with potential to support substantial wild (i.e., naturally spawning, locally adapted) steelhead populations are protected, reconnected and restored, and fish management (hatcheries and fishing regulation) prioritizes the health of wild steelhead. This belief is based on the clear and growing scientific evidence that locally adapted, diverse wild steelhead with sufficient habitat are much more productive than hatchery fish, and that hatchery fish reduce the productivity of wild fish through genetic and ecological pathways. While there may be a need to reduce fishing opportunity in the short-term on some rivers to give wild populations an opportunity to rebuild, we believe that short-term sacrifice will be more than justified by the long-term increase in fishing opportunity.
Question: Is TU opposed to steelhead hatcheries?
No. TU supports the use of responsibly managed hatcheries in specific circumstances. For example, steelhead hatcheries may be appropriate to provide fishing and harvest opportunity on rivers where severe habitat degradation or decades of hatchery dependence make restoring fishable, wild populations impractical. TU is also open to innovative, experimental uses of hatcheries to facilitate recovery of wild populations, such as where a wild steelhead population has been lost or has been reduced to such low numbers that it cannot rebuild on its own. In all cases, TU believes that hatchery operations should be based on the best available science, and should not be operated to the detriment of wild steelhead in river systems that have a high likelihood of supporting abundant, fishable wild steelhead populations.
Question: Will the initiative include the U.S. Great Lakes?
The native range of steelhead in the western U.S. is large — spanning 5 states — and it will require all of TU’s current capacity to successfully implement the Initiative there. That said, wild (but non-native) steelhead are well established in a number of Great Lakes river systems, and many anglers care deeply about them and want to see them managed well. Our intent is to expand our efforts to the Great Lakes as funding and resources allow.
Question: How will the Wild Steelhead Initiative be funded?
By steelhead anglers who care. It is as simple as that. By financially supporting the Wild Steelhead Initiative, you will be leveraging more than $7 million in funds TU is already putting on the ground to protect, reconnect and restore steelhead habitat in their native range. Those funds come from various sources, but what those sources do not — and will not pay for — are the critical science, organizing and communication elements of the Initiative, including the “care and feeding” of Wild Steelheaders United. Thus, sustaining the Initiative will require anglers who see its value to invest in it. Please consider becoming a financial supporter.