Sound Steelhead River Closures Begin

By the end of the day — if not by the end of the week — Puget Sound steelheaders will see news that most of their open waters will be closing early.

It is not unexpected, though.

No thanks to poor forecasted returns of wild steelhead, a host of streams will be shut down early — some as soon as the end of this week — to protect the threatened stocks.

However, several terminal fisheries will remain open into mid-February to hoover up as many hatchery fish as possible.

Already this afternoon, WDFW has emailed out e-reg notices for the Puyallup system and Green, and more for the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish systems are on the way.

“Everything east of the Elwha that isn’t already closed will be,” says fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull in La Conner. “Every river is predicted to be below escapement goals in Puget Sound.”

This winter managers have a new allowable “impact rate” on wild steelhead – how many fish can be incidentally killed by hook-and-release mortality, net drop-out, etc.

“It’s 4 percent averaged over the ‘Big Five’ rivers – Skagit, Snohomish, Green, Puyallup and Nisqually,” Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife spokesman Craig Bartlett told us late in 2010.

He said it would “tighten” seasons when natives show up. They typically arrive in numbers in late January and early February.

Previously, steelheading on most Puget Sound rivers ended at the end of February, but the Fish & Wildlife Commission passed new rules last year that shut down the season at midmonth.

Most of the northern stream closures go into effect Feb. 1, but the North Fork Nooksack from its mouth up to Maple Creek, the Skagit from Rockport up to the Cascade, the Cascade from its mouth up to the Rockport-Cascade Bridge and North Fork Stillaguamish from French Creek up to Swede Heaven will remain open through Feb. 15, according to Barkdull.

The Green up to the South 277th Bridge is closed as of Jan. 16 while the stretch from the bridge up to the Tacoma Headworks Dam closes Feb. 1.

The Puyallup system — including the open areas of the White, Carbon and “upper” Puyallup — will be shut down as of Jan. 16.

The Samish, which hasn’t received hatchery steelhead smolts since spring 2008, was closed at the end of December to protect its wild fish.

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