Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is still accepting comments on “Wild Steelhead Gene Bank” selection in three Puget Sound regions: 1) North Cascades, 2) Central/South Puget Sound, and 3) Hood Canal and Strait of Juan de Fuca. Remarks must be received no later than 5 p.m. Pacific time on August 13, 2015.
What are Wild Steelhead Gene Banks (WSGBs) and why are they important?
As part of the plan to save threatened wild steelhead populations in Puget Sound, WDFW will designate rivers or river system/watersheds where hatchery operations will be shuttered. These unshackled systems, in turn, will become wild steelhead sanctuaries. As members of the greater steelhead community, you’ve been given an opportunity to be part of the process and to help WDFW select Puget Sound rivers that have the highest potential for species recovery.
“This process is truly an unprecedented opportunity to remove one of the barriers to steelhead recovery in Puget Sound rivers,” says Jonathan Stumpf of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “and give these embattled and legendary steelhead populations a chance. By no means is it a silver bullet, instead it’s a critical piece in the puzzle to a comprehensive recovery strategy.”
Designation as a WSGB doesn’t necessarily prohibit fishing through recovery. The Sol Duc River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a WSGB and it maintains a thriving and iconic wild steelhead fishery. The same could be true for the Skagit River and, if the health and recovery of wild steelhead runs allow, other Puget Sound watersheds designated as WSGBs.
This effort isn’t about ending all hatcheries or shutting down steelhead fishing opportunity in Washington, Stumpf adds. “It’s about removing one barrier to recovery on a few rivers with the greatest potential for a wild steelhead comeback. This is a pragmatic and sensible step for wild steelhead. And hopefully it allows those WSGBs to be a model for wild fish recovery throughout the Pacific Northwest.”
Groups like the Wild Steelhead Coalition, Native Fish Society, Trout Unlimited, and Wild Fish Conservancy have identified three marquee watersheds, out of a list of several up for consideration. The Skagit system, the Elwha, and Puyallup all possess habitat conditions and current wild steelhead numbers that make recovery possible. Thus, they are the prime candidates for a hatchery-free future.
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.