Upcoming fishing restrictions on northcentral Washington streams will be explained by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fish managers in a Jan. 27 public meeting in Wenatchee.
The restrictions on some streams in the region are prompted by recent federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection listings for some fish species.
"Although steelhead fishing in the Upper Columbia River drainage is going to be closed for the next year or two, it doesn't mean the end of all stream fishing," says Joe Foster, WDFW's northcentral regional fish program manager in Ephrata. "Only portions of some streams will be completely closed, and we may experiment with catch-and-release fishing on part of the Methow River system."
The meeting will run from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Wenatchee Valley College Lyseum (downstairs from the library), 1300 5th St. in Wenatchee. (Public parking is available on Nelson Street, off 9th Street, as well as along 5th Street.)
Changes to Washington's sportfishing regulations, which were reviewed at public meetings across the state last year, will be adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its Feb. 4 and 5 meeting in Anacortes. Those rules will go into effect May 1.
Among them are new restrictions in the Upper Columbia River drainage, where steelhead trout and spring chinook salmon recently were placed on the federal endangered species list and bull trout were listed as threatened. WDFW has been in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which oversees ESA fish listings, to develop sport fishing regulations that protect those species.
"It's not as simple as shifting everything to catch-and-release," Foster says. "Some fish that are caught and released do die, and if it's an endangered species, it's an ESA violation."
NMFS allows fishing for other species if the endangered species makes up less than 50 percent of the fish population during the time of the fishing season, Foster explained. The "50-50 rule" may allow for a test catch-and-release fishery in the Methow River system, combined with a study to determine what proportion of the trout are resident rainbow and what proportion are steelhead. If WDFW can determine that the majority of trout caught are resident, non-migratory rainbows and/or cutthroat trout, rather than endangered steelhead, NMFS might allow such a fishery to continue, and possibly expand to other streams.
At the Jan. 27 meeting Foster and other WDFW officials also will explain the de-listing process for the hatchery portion of the Upper Columbia River adult steelhead runs.