May 07, 2007
Contact: Heather Bartlett, (360) 902-2662
Director's statement on Puget Sound steelhead
listing under the federal Endangered Species Act
The following statement from Jeff Koenings, Ph.D.,director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), concerns the listing by NOAA Fisheries of Puget Sound steelhead as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“The decision by the NOAA Fisheries to list Puget Sound steelhead as a `threatened’ species is yet another indication that the region’s aquatic environment is not healthy. Like Puget Sound chinook salmon, which were listed for federal protection in 1999, naturally spawning steelhead are highly dependent on the quality of marine waters as well as rivers and streams for their survival. In proposing this listing a year ago, the NOAA Fisheries cited freshwater habitat degradation as the ‘principal factor limiting the viability of Puget Sound steelhead in the foreseeable future.’
“Fortunately, our state is taking steps to address this problem. Steelhead, as well as salmon, will benefit from the Governor’s Puget Sound Initiative and the collaborative recovery plan developed by the Shared Strategy coalition, both of which prescribe concrete actions to improve the aquatic environment. The state’s landmark Forest and Fish law of 1999 has also helped to reduce the impact of timber harvest activities on fish habitat.
“In addition, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is in the final stages of developing a statewide steelhead management plan, specifically designed to guide our efforts to protect and perpetuate wild steelhead populations throughout the state.
“It should be noted that the NOAA Fisheries does not identify current fisheries as a risk to the viability of wild steelhead populations in Puget Sound. The catch of wild steelhead has dropped to less than 1 percent of the total run since the mid-1990s, when selective fishing rules were adopted requiring the release of wild fish. In addition, WDFW and tribal co-managers have intensively reviewed hatchery practices to ensure they will be consistent with the goal of recovering wild steelhead populations in Puget Sound and around the state.
“While there is cause for concern about the status of wild steelhead, as reflected in this ESA listing, returns of wild steelhead have increased to a number of rivers in the Puget Sound area in recent years. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will work with NOAA Fisheries, local governments, tribes and citizens to ensure this trend continues in the years ahead as we continue to build wild steelhead populations.”