Sorry for the delay in my response to your post. Was fishing yesterday, and we even had the pleasure to C&R one of these non-existant December wild fish
Yes, C&R in the northern sound watersheds has been utilized for a while; however, only through a portion of the season for most of that time. In many instances, harvest was allowed through a magic cut-off date and then followed by a C&R season. Only when populations were on the bubble was there a total ban on intentional harvest. Too little, too late.
State management has ALWAYS been on a kill 'em all until they're gone basis, and not just for steelhead. For over a decade, many anglers have discussed decreased king salmon limits with regional bios on the coastal streams, yet the limit remains two daily and no annual limit on streams that have seen pretty severe declines in king salmon production. Where is the middle ground?
15 years ago, if you floated the lower end of the Bogachiel for hatchery fish in early December, there would be an explosion of water in many of the lower end riffles as kings moved away from passing boats in a number of areas. Now, you rarely ever see a redd in these areas ... yet, the limits remain the same despite the decline of fish and the increase of pressure that appeared on the heels of closures to some of the busiest fall salmon fisheries in the state such as the Humptulips that forced anglers elsewhere.
Sure there was an outcry following the sound steelhead closures. There's going to be outcires when an anglers local stream gets closed. And I'm sure it won't be the last time either. But far and away the biggest cry was "How did this happen?"
Frankly, for one reason or another, WDFW has failed in their mission statement of "Maximum fishing, hunting and non-consumptive recreational opportunities compatible with healthy, diverse fish and wildlife populations."
For years and years, we hear that things are okay, things are okay. Then, presto, no fish!
The models don't work, period. Bios can give all the data they want when it comes to the public call for more conservative harvest regulations. The bottom line is this: steelhead stocks are failing and we always wait until it is too late to help matters much. One by one, another stream falls victim to poor returns.
Naysayers will point to the fact that many populations don't show significant increases when fishing is closed. Is there any possibility that these stocks will not show a immediate rebound becasue they've been pushed past the brink of repair that would be visiable in a few short years? Sure, harvesting only big fish, taking repeat spawners out at a higher rate than others, messing with natural run timing due to "seasons". By all accounts, steelhead stocks are pretty fragile populations, and in many cases I think we've messed them up pretty well.
Why is it that the repeat spawner rates for short Washington streams (where one would expect to see higher repeat counts) are lower than similar streams in other parts of their distribution?
What is it that makes WDFW right and management officals in so many other areas wrong in their decision to decrease our impact on their stocks? We sure don't have the track record of maintaining healthy populations to back anything up!
Even with the state's numbers in relation to the established goals set by Gibbons in 1985. We're still allowing harvest on streams that obviously are having trouble:
The state's goal for the Hoh was set at 2800 fish. This number was lowered to 2400 after a squabble with the tribe.
Going back to to 1978 through 1998-99, the Hoh did not meet Gibbon's goal in the following years: 79-80, 80-81, 89-90, 90-91, 91-92, 92-93, 93-94, 94-95, and 95-96.
The goals were just barely exceed in 86-87, and 87-88. 1988-89 saw the goal met by just 8 fish.
Only in the last few few years have we seen any sort of significant escapement over the goal in the last 15 years.
Escapement was met in the late 90's by a few hundred fish in most cases. It's interesting to note that thse years where escapement was finally met again followed a change in regulations that made over 2/3 of the fishable water C&R only with selective fishery rules. Fortunately, that remaining third is the dirtiest part of the system and often unfishable. It's also important to note that on average, the tribal harvest there decreased substantially in the last ten years. Had they maintained their harvest rates, the river would likely not had made escapement at all! Hmmmm???????
What makes this situation even more grave, is the faith that some people give the established goal. Again, the track record of management under the WDFW goal's is terrible.
And what about the Queets? Oh my, the poor Queets. It didn't make escapement once after 1994 through 1999 and yet, there is still a kill fishery in place currently
Salmonbelly, while it's certainly true that in some instances, many other factors have hurt the returns, note that the two streams listed above have perhaps some of the most pristine watershed habitat in the state ... especially in the case of the Queets. And if you feel that the Quillayute system is the healthiest in the world, I'd suggest spending some time traveling around to see what a 'truly' healthy fishery looks like.
Smalma, you argue that: "If 5% mortality from CnR is OK why wouldn't 5% mortality in a kill fishery be OK" I understand your logic, the problem is, the harvest rate doesn't fall into the 5% range.
From 1991-92 through 98-99, the estimated total return of steelhead to the Quillayute system was 121,860 fish. The tribal harvest was reported as 25,303 fish in that period (if you believe that the reported harvest from either group is fairly accurate, I'm sure I can find a bridge to sell you). That leaves 96,557 fish that were available to anglers.
The reported sport harvest in the same timeframe (see note above) was 17,233 fish.
That means under the catch and kill fishery, 17.8% of the potentional spawners were harvested. Far higher than a 5% mortality rate from a C&R only fishery.
But we far exceeded escapement! Yes, we did. IF you feel that the numbers & data are accurate. And we come right back to the big question of whether or not that is the case and the track record of MSY in steelhead fisheries across Washington state.
A year-round bait ban? Sure there are going to be howls. But if that is what it takes, so be it. I do roughly 2/3 of my steelhead fishing in selective waters and don't mind it a bit.
That's kind of my whole point ... doing what is best for the long-term health of the fish, the continued viability of sport OPPORTUNITES down the road, even if it isn't the most popular thing to do and we grumble some
I guess my faith is WDFW is not the best
Smalma implies that one of the best things for the health of some stocks would be a year-round bait ban but suggests that it won't happen because of public opinion. Then, we see a reversal of this in light of the public opinion (2/3) favoring statewide C&R, but the refusal to implement it because the state says it isn't necessary.
Doesn't seem to make much sense ...