Washington proposed rule changes need your input

In Live Action Alerts, Washington by Jenny Weis


We are approaching the end of an important comment period that will impact our fisheries in Washington for many years to come.


The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) is accepting public input on proposed rule changes for Washington State through THIS Thursday Nov. 30th and need to hear that overly-simplifying fishing regulations could harm fish and put future fisheries in jeopardy.


The premise of these rule changes is noble enough – to simplify the current freshwater regulations and establish statewide rules that apply to a greater number of water bodies. However, the challenge is that fisheries in Washington State are inherently complex because WDFW must manage and regulate many species, including both resident and anadromous life histories across a multitude of waterways and diverse landscapes. Applying a one size fits all approach to the state’s myriad waterways and fish populations may make it easier for fisherman to understand or anticipate regulations, but they will not address the unique issues that each population faces and if there is one thing we know, it is that every watershed requires its own solution if we want to successfully manage the fish and the fisheries. For example, Washington is home to numerous populations of fish species listed as Threatened and Endangered, which require special rules and protection. This includes 5 of Washington’s 7 Distinct Population Segments (DPS) of wild steelhead. Managing those fish and fisheries in the same way that we manage every other population does not make sense.


Please take a moment today to comment to WDFW and tell them to preserve regulations which protect our wild salmonids.


Washington is home to thousands of anglers with a diverse interests and opinions regarding quality fishing opportunity. This includes anglers who desire opportunities to both harvest fish and participate in quality catch and release for wild fish. Standardized regulations cannot provide the necessary opportunities to satisfy the state’s diverse anglers. It is reasonable for the state to require that anglers be familiar with local regulations and review the rules pamphlet when traveling to new areas, which is what happens in every other state.


Of particular concern are the potential impacts to wild steelhead from these proposed changes. 


Washington State’s wild steelhead populations are currently a fraction of their former abundance. One of the likely contributors to the decline, and general lack of rebound, is reduced life history diversity. In many cases we have lost, or nearly lost, segments of wild steelhead populations such as early timed run components. This diversity is key to their abundance and resilience by enabling them to buffer poor and changing environmental conditions.



While not included in Endangered Species Act listings, rainbow trout are an important life history component of a healthy steelhead population. In fact, recent studies have found that rainbow trout can contribute significantly to returning adult steelhead numbers and genetics. The proposed rule changes do not give these wild rainbow trout adequate protection and would open many streams and liberalize both harvest of wild rainbow trout and the use of bait. This is problematic because rainbow trout can produce steelhead and often mate with wild steelhead, so removing rainbow trout is essentially removing potential mates for steelhead.


Below is a list of our primary concerns you may use to create your comments. We encourage you to review the proposed changes for your local region and fisheries to provide specific feedback to WDFW.  Please submit your comments by  Thursday Nov. 30th.


  • General Rules Freshwater – As written, this proposal would change the statewide standard of ‘closed unless listed under special rules’ to ‘open unless listed as closed.’ Changing this method would burden local biologists with the task of listing every closed waterway and will result in opening many overlooked small tributary streams used for spawning and rearing by trout, steelhead and salmon. While this may be appropriate in some areas it should not be used in streams with anadromous fish. Comment on this proposal here


  • Game Fish Possession Limits and Size Limits – Statewide rules would allow for harvest of 2 wild trout over 8” per day unless otherwise specified in special rules. The proposed changes would also separate trout and steelhead daily limits. When combined with the above proposal, this would liberalize harvest of wild trout in many steelhead and trout spawning tributaries unless specifically noted in special rules. Separating trout and steelhead limits would allow anglers to harvest two wild trout in addition to two hatchery steelhead, increasing the potential for retention of wild trout in watersheds where they contribute to steelhead abundance. Comment on this proposal here


  • Statewide Bait Rules – This proposal would eliminate the rule stating that all trout caught with bait contribute to the daily limit, and statewide rules currently allow fishing with bait unless noted under special rules. While this is a difficult rule to enforce, bait has a high mortality on small resident trout and steelhead and salmon parr/smolts. When coupled with opening tributaries for fishing and liberalizing harvest regulations, this will result in additional impacts to sensitive salmonid populations. Comment on this proposal here


  • Freshwater exceptions to statewide rules – Coast – Remember how hard we fought to eliminate bait, harvest of steelhead and wild trout, and for the use of barbless hooks during the bulk of the wild steelhead season for the North Coast? Well it is supposedly a “mistake” but the rule proposals as-written would reverse important changes to our last remaining high quality and popular wild steelhead fishery. These are the proposals:
    • Eliminate mandatory release of wild trout on the North and South Forks of the Calawah River.
    • Eliminate mandatory release of wild rainbow trout and bait restriction on the South Fork Hoh River.
    • Eliminate mandatory release of wild rainbow trout, barbless hook rule and bait restrictions for the Quinault River.
    • Eliminate mandatory release of wild rainbow trout, barbless hook rule and bait restriction for the Sol Duc River.

Comment on this proposal here.


Please take the time to submit your comments on these and other proposals to help protect our wild trout, steelhead and salmon fisheries.