I don;t know much about salmon management or the particulars of steelhead management on the coast so I'll confine my comments to those areas that I have some knowledge.
I have to agree that many of the models used by fisheries managers are far from prefect. It is easy to poke holes in the various models but it is much more difficult to find better models or even develop stratgies to improve them without major expenditures of money and time. However the managers are forced to make decisions based on the best information at hand. Hopeful as the various models are used the results are closely monitored so that the models can be "tweaked" so they will preform better the next time.
You mentioned the repeat spawner rate with the implication that the Western Washington rate should be similar to that seen in remote areas; for Alaska (50 to 60%rate) and Russia (75% rate). It is my belief that the lower rate here in Washington (10 to 20%) is due to more moderate conditions that the fish experience. In the harsh out limits of the anadromus forms range high repeat spawning rates are needed for the populations survival. As you move south of one finds progressively lower repeat spawning rates. An interesting side note is that if that is true that those high rates are needed then one would have to wonder if the Russian fish can survive even a catch and release fishery. A spawning population with a repeat spawning rate of 75% means that every 4 spawning fish only one adult is being produced.
You have provided some interesting numbers for the Quillayute system. As I recall the escapement goal for the system is 5,900 adults. That would mean that cumulative escapement over the 8 years would have to be at least 47,200 (8x5,900). According to your figures the 8 year cumulative escapement was 79,324 fish or 32,000 over the minimum (4,000 a year). The average sport catch was only 2,154 fish. If the goal was truly to catch ever last harvestable fish it would appear that the State is doing a poor job.
You referred to the 2001 Steehead Angler Preference Survey (2/3 prefer CnR). In the same survey the last two question dealt with the issue of bag limits for wild steelhead. Question # 39 asked what the anglers preference was for the daily bag limit of wild steelhead. 21.1% preferred a bag limit of zero, 39.9% preferred one, 32.9% preferred 2, 3.2% preferred more than 2 and 2.9% gave unuseable answers.
Question #40 asked what they preferred for an annual limit on wild steelhead. 23.3% preferred an annual limit of zero, 8% a limit of 1 to 5, 33% a limit of 6 to 10, 9% a limit of 11 to 15, 2% 16 to 20, and 17% wanted a limit of 30 or more. 8% gave answers that were unuseable.
Bottom line less than 25% of the anglers thought the daily limit and annual bag limit should be zero. Doesn't sound like a majority to me. Are sure you what to use that survey to guide steelhead management?
You spoke of not seeing many steelhead in the river during the spring. Are you implyng that the escapement estimates may be too high?
Lets look at that for a moment. Generally it has been my experience that while fishing folks see primarily the spawning fish and not the holding fish. In clear water conditions the holding fish are often tucked up under the fast water, in log jams, etc. I have snorkeled streams were anglers report few fish but when we start look under bubble currents, log jams and other cover we often found a lot more fish. So how many spawning fish would you expect to see in a day?
Let's take your 20,000 adults. It is my understanding that spawning on the Quillayute begins in early to mid-February and continues through May; lets call it a 100 days just make the math easy for me. That would mean i would expect to see 200 fish a day spawning (from my observations it appears to take only a day or so for the female to spawn). Again I'm not familar with the Quillayute but let's assume that there are 200 miles of spawning habitat (might be more or less I don't know). However, at those figures we have about 1 spawning fish per mile per day. You float what in a day - 8 or 10 miles? At peak spawning seeing a few dozen fish in a day sounds about right to me! To see that many you need to be looking at near peak spawning under good conditions and be fairly observant.
I can understand you desire for wild steelhead release. I would like to be independently wealthy so I could fish whenever and where-ever I wished however that isn't the case.
Upon what information would you base the change in wild steelhead management to wild steelhead release? I'm sorry but someone's wishful think doesn't quite cut it when dealing with a very diverse user group that has conflicting desires. What is different about steelhead that demands such a change that would not apply to other species? Do you have compelling biological, social, or economic arguments upon which to base the change? Lacking that Im afraid the best the state can do is to spread fishing impacts between the conflicting users in a more or less equitable fashion. While doing so hopefully they will built into their models (there is that issue again Bob) a margin of error on the side of the fish.
Again I have rambled far too long.