OLYMPIA – Anticipated poor returns of wild steelhead to the Skagit, Snohomish and Stillaguamish river systems has prompted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to require release of all wild steelhead caught beginning Dec. 1.
Only hatchery steelhead, which are identified by a missing adipose fin or ventral fin and a healed scar in the missing fin's location, may be kept from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, 2002.
"The low run size estimates of the wild steelhead stocks on these three northern Puget Sound systems are of serious concern," said Bob Leland, WDFW's steelhead program manager.
The pre-season forecast for returning Skagit River wild winter steelhead is slightly more than 5,000 fish, which is just over 80 percent of the wild spawning requirement of 6,000 fish for the system. Leland said any estimated steelhead return below that number means no wild steelhead can be retained.
It is anticipated the catch and release seasons on the Skagit River system will occur as outlined in the "Fishing in Washington Rules Pamphlet." Fisheries targeting hatchery steelhead after Feb. 28 may be closed. Leland said a decision on continuing the fishery into March won't be made until January.
The pre-season forecasts for wild steelhead for the Snohomish and Stillaguamish river systems are well below each system's spawning objective of 6,500 fish and 950 fish, respectively. The Snohomish and Stillaguamish systems will close to all fishing beginning March 1, 2002, except for the sport sturgeon fishery in the Snohomish River downstream from the Highway 2 bridge.
The wild steelhead release regulations allow fishing to occur on returning hatchery fish while minimizing impacts to wild fish, Leland said.