The End Of Puget Sound Steelheading?

It’s an almost incomprehensible proposal, but the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife appears to be seriously considering the “elimination of steelhead fishing in Puget Sound tributaries.”

That according to a news article by Allen Thomas of The Columbian and picked up by the Tri-Cities Herald earlier this week, as well as our talks with state staffers.

The fat now long gone, WDFW has been forced to take a hard look at cutting the basin’s steelhead program as it faces budget shortfalls in the $10 million to $20 million range over the next two years. That following cuts of $37 million to its General Fund over the past two years.

And then there’s the staggering drop in the fishery’s productivity over the past 50 years — from a high of 88,000 winter-runs harvested in the 1963-64 season to just 3,361 in 2008-09, the last year there is complete data available for.

In some rivers, fewer than 1 percent of hatchery smolts return as adults. Ocean conditions are blamed.

The agency is also facing increasing headwinds from the Feds since Puget Sound steelhead were listed as a threatened species in spring 2007.

And while harvest was said not to be a factor when the fish were listed, it is anglers who may suffer in the end.

It’s possible WDFW is just probing for what cut gets the fewest Washington sportsmen to pick up the pitchforks and torches — Thomas’s article also mentions director Phil Anderson says other cuts could include one-seventh of the state’s game wardens, closing a number of access sites and anywhere from seven to nearly a dozen hatcheries — but for Puget Sound anglers, steelheading — which is almost a birthright to us — is on the line.

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