As a current stakeholder of the Rogue/South Coast Conservation Plan, I’d like to let anglers know that we will soon have a new set of angling regulations regarding winter steelhead.
I’d like to clear up some of the common misconceptions about our local winter steelhead. I’ll explain why it is unfair to compare them to other populations, or species in other areas, and why it makes sense for anglers to maintain the privilege for catch and release and/or harvest as a personal choice.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s data supports the opinions that wild winter steelhead in these streams are at a low or very low viability risk. NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service concur with these findings. This data has been taken post season and is based on one fish per day/ five per year catch limits.
The portion of South Coast streams that are under review for the Rogue Stratum/South Coast Plan are the Lower Rogue, Elk, Pistol, Chetco and Winchuck Rivers, and Euchre and Hunter Creeks. Due to the unique complexities of the Rogue River as a whole, this discussion will focus on the other south coast streams.
The remaining South Coast streams are lightly fished. Due to the rugged topography and roadless wilderness with little accessibility, less than 15 percent of this habitat is even accessible or open to anglers. In addition, anglers are only able to fish about 20 percent of the time due to daylight constraints and high-water events. This equates to a huge amount of escapement when you consider that 85 percent of the overall river basins are Essential Fish Habitat, or wild winter steelhead sanctuaries.
A couple of points that are commonly overlooked are that we have about 80 miles of coastline here that include many Non-Defined Ocean Tributaries (NDOTs). Many of these streams support winter steelhead, salmon and/or cut-throat trout, and they are all closed to angling. Plus, we DO have several catch and release streams that when compared to streams that allow harvest, have very little angler effort.
Anti-fishing organizations that are profit driven have campaigned relentlessly to eliminate harvest of fish in the South Coast Region. It is unfair to compare these fish populations with others in different areas. It is unfair for these organizations to attempt to mislead the public with misinformation. The differences between here and other areas include:
1. We do not have much angler opportunity due to lack of access.
2. We do not have commercial ocean or commercial in-river fisheries for these fish.
3. We do not have dams.
4. We do not have any major habitat issues.
5. We do not have Tribal Fisheries.
6. We harvest our Chinook salmon at a rate of up to 50 percent.
Wild winter steelhead are harvested at less than 10 percent.
The South Coast is a winter steelhead mecca. The area is unique in that we have been able to provide a sustainable harvest of wild winter steelhead for anglers. Because of this, the South Coast is also unique in that we have not had to fill our basins with hatchery programs due to the abundance of wild winter steelhead. If we were asked to give up the privilege of wild winter steelhead harvest, then the public has asked that harvest be replaced with hatchery fish.
The public wants and deserves to maintain harvest, and it’s vital for our local economy. A number of local businesses are experiencing a steep decline. It would be wrong to enact unwarranted hardships through regulation changes on the remainder of businesses based on the percieved crisis and panic that is generated by a vocal minority.
If we are entering into a paradigm shift, going from a culture of consumptive fisheries harvest to a culture of non-consumptive users, then we need to put that topic on the table and have the discussion. License holders, business owners, and even ODFW staff and STEP volunteers need to know if that is where we intend on going.
Angler participation is low on our catch and release streams. Look what has happened to California’s Smith River fishery and its local businesses. They will testify that removing harvest did nothing to boost fish numbers. There are no examples where the elimination of wild winter steelhead harvest has resulted in higher steelhead densities. Indeed, California anglers have been attempting to get back the angler opportunity that they lost by illustrating Oregon’s management policies as an example. Not many people care nor pay attention to the Oregon streams that do not allow angling. “When people stop fishing, people stop caring about fish.”
Unlike salmon, winter steelhead spawn during times of high water and use every nook and cranny of available habitat. Winter steelhead have access to a greater amount of habitat. They spawn more quickly, not languishing in the river like salmon. ODFW studies (and others) show that winter steelhead spawn about six months per year, while salmon spawn during three months per year. Studies show that less than 10 percent of winter steelhead are repeat spawners. We have seen anti-fishing organizations speaking at the ODFW Commission meetings campaigning to stop the “crisis” regarding wild winter steelhead. They have been busy behind the scenes, writing and speaking with people of influence to get their way. Please do not fall victim to the anti-fishing organizations’ rhetoric and disinformation campaigns.
The ODFW draft plan and harvest recommendation to our Commission is scheduled to go out for review any day now. It will likely be a topic at the Jan. 15 commission meeting. It is time for us to stand up and give the Commission a different perspective. It is time to give them a chance to hear the truth. This is the final curtain call. I urge you to act to preserve and protect angler opportunity by passing this on to your fishing partners and friends and urge them to write and/ or testify at the upcoming ODFW Commission meeting on Jan. 15.
• Let them know that you do not support crafting regulations due to a perceived crisis by anti-fishing organizations.
• Let them know that the public supports a sustainable harvest of wild winter steelhead.
• Let them know that the elimination of wild winter steelhead harvest means the elimination of over 90 percent of harvest on these streams.
• Let them know that local businesses and much our economy depend on us maintaining harvest.
• Let them know that if we choose to reduce or eliminate harvest, that the expectation by the public is to replace it with hatchery programs to offset the loss of harvest.
You can share your opinion or comments with the Fish and Wildlife Commission on this issue by sending an email to: odfw.commission@ state.or.us
Thank you for supporting angler privilege in Oregon.
Leonard Krug is president of the Oregon Anglers Alliance, www.OregonAnglersAlliance.org