For years, the story of the Skagit River steelhead fishery has been one of decline and loss. But that story is on its way to becoming one of renewal.
The submission of a Resource Management Plan by WDFW has breathed new life into the concept of an open catch and release season on the Skagit. While this is a huge step in the right direction it is only the beginning of the process to realize this fishery.
On Friday, Brad Smith, chair of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, urged citizens to continue the momentum begun by the members of Occupy Skagit . In addition he called on NOAA to prioritize this fishery and move forward with the process quickly. We could not agree more.
The majority of rivers flowing into Puget Sound closed to steelhead fishing recently, anglers must now drive several hours to find open water. For a region that used to be flush with high quality steelhead fisheries that is a tough pill to swallow. Reopening the Skagit would provide steelhead anglers once again with a high quality steelhead fishery in Puget Sound. This fishery is also very important to local communities as it represents a huge economic opportunity which has been absent for nearly a decade.
But for all of this to happen by next year the timeline is tight. While the Skagit boasts one of the largest runs of wild winter steelhead in the Northwest, its population is part of the ESA listed Puget Sound stock. This means a NEPA process will have to occur for the fishery to be permitted, and that can be time consuming. It is up to NOAA to finish their review of the RMP and complete the NEPA process in a timely manner to make this fishery happen.
Anglers have waited years for the fishery to re-open and being forced to wait another season would be painful with it so close. It is our hope this process can be completed in a timely manner allowing reinstatement of the once famed spring catch and release fishery on the Skagit River.