Commission denies petition to prohibit wild steelhead harvest in SW Oregon

In Oregon, Steelhead Files by Kyle Smith

By Kyle Smith, Oregon Field Coordinator

Over 50 wild steelhead advocates turned out last Friday for a meeting of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in support of a petition that would have enacted emergency rules to prohibit harvest of wild steelhead in the southwest corner of the state.

After almost five hours of public testimony, with the majority in favor of the emergency ban on harvest of wild steelhead, the commission voted 4-2 to deny the petition. Commissioners Labhart, Spellbrink, Zarnowitz, and Hatfield-Hyde voted to deny the petition and commissioners Wahl and Wolley voted against the motion to deny.

ODFW staff provided a presentation on their rationale for denying the petition and allowing wild steelhead harvest in the Southwest Zone prior to public testimony and deliberations by the commissioners. You can watch the entire meeting here.

TU, Wild Steelheaders United and other groups testified that the emergency rule is needed due to the long-term decline of virtually all wild steelhead runs up and down the West Coast and the lack of scientific data for Oregon’s Southwest Zone to support continued harvest of wild fish. See TU’s position on this issue and testimony here.

Southwest Oregon represents some of the last best remaining habitat and populations of wild steelhead, and dialogue over wild steelhead harvest on Oregon’s South Coast has only just begun. ODFW has spent the past few months developing a framework for the Rogue South Coast Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan, which will guide hatchery production and harvest in the region for years to come.

A public process that will allow stakeholders to review and comment on the new management plan is set to kick off next month, and Wild Steelheaders United and Trout Unlimited will participate.

Management of our few remaining wild steelhead fisheries must be guided by good science. The angling community cannot afford to be short-sighted or selfish on this issue, if we want our children to have viable wild steelhead runs to fish in their lifetimes. While we are disappointed in the Commission’s recent vote on the emergency ban on harvest, Trout Unlimited and Wild Steelheaders United will continue to advocate strongly for science-based management policy in Southwest Oregon — and we will need the same  dedication and passion from our supporters as demonstrated by the dozens of anglers who showed up to testify for the petition last Friday.

Stay tuned for our next opportunity to weigh in on this issue.