Hundreds of anglers, industry representatives and community businesses all signed on to a letter urging the National Oceananic and Atmospheric Adminstration to expedite a review that would re-open the Skagit River for the 2018 winter/spring steelhead season.
The following letter was recently submitted:
West Coast Administrator
Anadromous Harvest Management
National Marine Fisheries Service
7600 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
Dear Barry and Peter,
Trout Unlimited, Wild Steelheaders United, and the undersigned communities, anglers and businesses write to request that NOAA Fisheries promptly review the proposed Skagit River Steelhead Fishery Resource Management Plan submitted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Skagit Basin tribes in November 2016 and render a decision in time for the 2018 winter/spring steelhead season should the plan be approved.
Puget Sound steelhead were listed as threatened in 2007 and hit a low of only 2500 fish in 2009. Since that time the wild steelhead population has surged to a recent four year average of over 8500 wild fish. The Skagit now has one of the largest wild winter steelhead populations anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, and they can certainly handle angling pressure as long as it is responsibly managed.
Reopening the wild steelhead fishery on the Skagit is critically important to anglers, local communities and wild steelhead conservation. First, the opportunity to fish for wild winter steelhead is a cherished tradition in western Washington. It is one of the reasons many of us choose to live here and it is important to our quality of life. The loss of the winter steelhead season on the Skagit has hurt anglers not only because of the inability to fish the Skagit and Sauk rivers, it also has substantially increased fishing pressure on the Olympic Peninsula to the detriment of both the OP’s wild steelhead populations and the fishing experience.
Second, angler support for wild steelhead conservation will be substantially greater if anglers have an opportunity to fish where fishing can be done in a responsible manner. We understand that a steelhead fishery on the Skagit must not look like fisheries of the past if wild steelhead are to continue to recover, and supports a fresh approach to fishery management that aligns fishing opportunity with wild steelhead recovery. This is consistent with the desires of most steelhead anglers, whose primary concern is the ability to spend time on the water and who are willing to accept regulations that enable such opportunity.
If such opportunity is not provided, anglers — a potentially powerful conservation force — will remain disengaged or, worse, openly hostile to the Endangered Species Act. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, fishing opportunity has been steadily declining despite billions of dollars spent on salmon recovery. This has helped create the unfortunate situation where anglers often view conservation as always being in conflict with fishing opportunity. Wild fish success stories are rare, and the Skagit represents a unique occasion to reinstate a high quality and popular fishery and demonstrate that wild steelhead conservation and responsible fishing can go hand-in-hand.
Third, a wild steelhead fishery on the Skagit would bring much needed economic activity to the Skagit Basin. Anglers participating in the Skagit steelhead fishery would visit local businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores, during their fishing trips. For an example of the economic benefit wild steelhead can bring to a community one only has to look to the town of Forks, Washington, whose winter and spring tourism economy is largely driven by anglers pursuing wild steelhead. Reopening the Skagit fishery would undoubtedly be a significant improvement over the current situation, where the fishery is closed and the local communities suffer.
If we are to have a 2018 steelhead season on the Skagit, it is imperative that NOAA Fisheries move forward expeditiously with the required assessments under the ESA and NEPA. We stand ready and willing to assist NOAA Fisheries and the co-managers in those assessments. Further delay will put a 2018 season out of reach and will reinforce the perception of many anglers that NOAA Fisheries is unresponsive to their interests and the well-being of rural communities. We respectfully request your leadership to avoid such an undesirable outcome.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and your prompt attention to this matter.
Washington Council of Trout Unlimited