Washington to open fishing in May despite steelhead drop

SULTAN, Wash. (AP) — Despite concerns from scientists and conservationists, the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife says fishing does not make a large enough impact on wild winter steelhead to delay the fishing season.

The season is scheduled to open May 23, The Everett Herald reports.

The wild winter steelhead population in the Snohomish watershed has dropped by thousands since the 1980s, earning the fish a threatened designation under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2007.

State biologists counted 28 steelhead in 2018 and 55 in 2019 on the Sultan River, a tributary of the Snohomish River.

Some biologists and anglers argue the state has not seized an opportunity for an easy fix to the population decrease by delaying the start of the fishing season.

Biologists with the Snohomish County Public Utilities District asked fish and wildlife officials in 2019 to push the summer season's opening day back from June 1 to June 15, when the majority of the fish are done spawning and are swimming toward the ocean.

Instead, opening day was moved up to May 25 to commence fishing season on the same date statewide.

Fishing impact on steelhead does not warrant changes, Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fish manager Edward Eleazer said.

The agency estimated fishing impacted 2.2% of wild winter steelhead in the entire Snohomish watershed. Federal regulatory agencies allow 4.2%, he said.

“All the data shows we’re not having a significant impact,” Eleazer said. “So there’s a disconnect between where (the public utilities district) is coming from and where we’re coming from.”

Changing the start of the steelhead fishing season alone may not save the species, but would be progress, Snohomish public utilities district Senior Environmental Coordinator Larry Lowe said.

“We just look at this as something within our control,” Lowe said.