Steelhead numbers keep falling, but there is optimism for a local fishery

Yakima Herald –

Opportunities to fish for steelhead in the Yakima Basin remain a distant dream as populations continue to decline.

Cooperation between groups working together to bring back the iconic oceangoing rainbow trout may be at an all-time high, allowing them to reach spawning areas inaccessible for decades. But poor ocean conditions and low survival rates of outgoing steelhead produced the Yakima Basin’s lowest run since 1999, when the National Marine Fisheries Service placed mid-Columbia steelhead on the federal Endangered Species List.

Despite the discouraging numbers and continued declines, some experts still see reasons for optimism. Still, whether the ongoing research and restoration efforts produce enough steelhead to open a local fishery won’t be known for several years, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s regional fish habitat manager, Perry Harvester.

“The more habitat you have, which equates to protection from predators and more food production, then the greater production you can provide as far as steelhead,” Harvester said. “It takes time. It’s something that you certainly don’t get instant gratification if you’re a habitat biologist watching for a response.”

A delisting won’t happen in next year’s five-year review, so the earliest possible time would be 2025. Even that seems unlikely, especially since the Yakama Nation’s Chris Frederiksen said the NMFS would need to see more than just consistently adequate populations.

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