OLYMPIA - Fishing of all kinds will close March 5 on the Methow, Chewuch and Wenatchee rivers to protect upper Columbia River steelhead listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.
The closure includes the winter whitefish-fishing season, which typically runs from December 1 through March 31 in those three rivers.
Bob Leland, WDFW steelhead manager, said WDFW angler checks have found that some people are targeting steelhead during the whitefish season using fishing gear specifically designed to minimize impacts on endangered steelhead.
"While whitefish gear is not used to target steelhead, some anglers have figured out how to catch the large fish on the small gear," Leland said. "It's unfortunate that we have to close the entire fishery because of actions by a few anglers, but our first responsibility is to protect those endangered steelhead."
WDFW took a similar action in 2002, when some anglers were catching and retaining steelhead during the whitefish season, Leland said.
Historically, anglers caught few steelhead during whitefish seasons, Leland said. That has changed in recent years, when a growing number of whitefish anglers have encountered larger returns of steelhead returning to the upper Columbia River, he said.
Since steelhead are protected under the ESA, seasons for whitefish and other species are regulated by strict "take limits" on steelhead. Due to deliberate efforts by some anglers to target steelhead during the whitefish season, those limits have now been exceeded on the Methow, Chewuch and Wenatchee rivers, Leland said.