Seafood Watch Sends Wrong Message to Consumers about Olympic Peninsula Wild Steelhead

In Live Action Alerts, Washington by steelheaders




The 2017 winter steelhead fishing season is in full swing on the rainforest rivers of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (OP).  It is the first year under new sport fishing rules adopted by Washington State that prohibit harvest of wild steelhead, require use of barbless hooks and prohibit fishing with bait.   Wild Steelheaders United and Trout Unlimited led the effort to secure those rule changes in order to protect the OP’s wild steelhead and the opportunity to fish for them.


And efforts to boost OP wild steelhead extend beyond new sport fishing rules.  Over the past decade, millions of dollars have been spent to protect and restore steelhead and salmon habitat.  Millions more will be spent on planned habitat restoration projects.


So it came like a gut-punch when, in February, Seafood Watch, a program of Monterey Bay Aquarium that “helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that protect sea life and habitats, now and for future generations”  recommended commercially caught OP wild steelhead as a “good alternative” for consumers.  


Does the thought of conscientious consumers now purchasing OP wild steelhead at their local grocery store rub you the wrong way? Join the club.    

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The data clearly show most OP wild steelhead populations have been in long-term decline or chronically depressed since the early 1980s.  Annual run sizes on the Hoh and Queets rivers have declined by 33% and 48%, respectively, during that period.  And recent returns are not encouraging.  Last year, fewer than 800 wild steelhead returned to the Bogachiel River, the lowest run size ever recorded. These data are not in dispute.

Trout Unlimited and the Wild Salmon Center brought these data to the attention of Seafood Watch in the spring of 2016 when we learned that it was assessing OP wild steelhead.  We also pointed out that the assessment tool Seafood Watch used was not appropriate for in-river fisheries for steelhead because it was developed for ocean fisheries and marine species. This shortcoming is even more troubling in light of the fact that Seafood Watch has “Standards for Salmonid Fisheries” that it chose not to use in this case.

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Despite these plain facts, Seafood Watch has stamped OP wild steelhead with its “good alternative” recommendation.  TU and the Wild Salmon Center sent  a letter to the Monterey Bay Aquarium requesting that the recommendation be withdrawn and a proper assessment conducted that takes into account all relevant data.  Unfortunately, Seafood Watch has stated that it intends to maintain its current recommendation despite the evidence we have presented.  Our most recent letter expressing our deep disappointment in Seafood Watch’s decision can be found here (link).
It is time for everyone who cares about the OP’s wild steelhead to raise their voices and request that Seafood Watch withdraw its “good alternative” recommendation for Olympic Peninsula steelhead fisheries unless and until a proper assessment is conducted that supports such a recommendation.  Based on the undisputed data establishing serious long-term declines in OP wild steelhead populations, we believe such a recommendation cannot be substantiated.

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Read Wild Salmon Center and Trout Unlimited letters below.

2017Letter SeafoodWatch 220217 Final Attachments

2017 Letter_WholeFoods_28Feb 2017_Attachments