Groups petition to list Olympic Peninsula rainbow trout under ESA

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Time is running out for the federal government to decide whether an Endangered Species Act listing may be warranted for rainbow trout from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

The Wild Fish Conservancy and The Conservation Angler asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to list prized fish as threatened or endangered in an Aug. 1 petition, kicking off a process that could lead to further reviews and possibly a list on the road if one is found. be justified or not.

A BIG WILD STEELHEAD FROM THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA JUST BEFORE RELEASE. (DAREL SMITH)

“We have 90 days to make an initial conclusion as to whether this warrants a full review, and that’s where we are right now,” said Michael Milstein, an NMFS spokesperson for the West Coast region. , in the early afternoon.

This not only has implications for rainbow trout, but also for state and tribal fisheries and remote communities that are otherwise quiet in the winter.

The rivers targeted by the petition include some of Evergreen State’s “crown jewel” fisheries, including the Quillayute and its tribes, the Dickey, Sol Duc, Calawah and Bogachiel, as well as the Hoh, Queets and the Quinault, as well as all the other rivers. between the Copalis and Lyre rivers.

WFC and TCA say the peninsula’s summer runs are “almost extinct” and its winter stock is “declining and losing life history diversity”.

“The fate of the species now rests on a depressed and contracted mid to late spring component of wild fish whose productivity is limited or declining depending on the population. Remnants of these runs, which historically numbered in the tens of thousands, face declining marine and freshwater habitat conditions, increasing pressure from recreational fishing and continued harvesting. commercial. Due to these and other demographic and ecological threats, Olympic Peninsula rainbow trout are likely to be threatened for the foreseeable future,” they state.

The Duvall and Edmonds-based organizations are also calling for critical habitat to be named for the fish stock in their 166-page brief.

They notified WDFW of the pending petition with a letter in early July to Director Kelly Susewind, as shown in their petition.

“We plan to review the petition and will be happy to provide information to NMFS about rainbow trout on the Olympic Peninsula if needed,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s director of external affairs, said in late post. -midday. “We are committed to conserving rainbow trout and maximizing opportunities for anglers. We are working hard with our partners and the public on a framework that would inform the development of long-term rainbow trout management plans for the Olympic Peninsula. An ESA list is not one of the management tools we would use at this point.

The dark cloud of potential entry demand has loomed on the horizon in recent years as wild races have sagged all over the coast. Only 25,723 winter fish were counted on the gravel during the 2020-21 run, a new low and about half of what it was in 2015, the year of the Blob. A bi-weekly WDFW report from late spring or early summer that year noted small rainbow trout streams drying up and raccoons digging up spawning grounds. Since then, ocean conditions have also been poor for coastal Washington rainbow trout.

A WDFW CHART INDICATES INDIVIDUAL AND CUMULATIVE COASTAL STEELHEAD RETURNS FROM 1995 THROUGH SPRING 2021. (WDFW)

In response to the weak forecast, WDFW has implemented unprecedented drastic restrictions on steel heads over the past two winter seasons. In 2020-21, general rules for the waterways of the Olympic Peninsula, Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay prohibited fishing from a boat, as well as bait and scent, and anglers could not fish with only one barbless hook.

And last winter was even more restricted, with the closure of fishing on the Quinaults, Queets, Chehalis and Humptulips due to lower escapement forecasts. Some anglers had called for a complete closure, but rivers that remained open for hatchery harvesting and wild catch-and-release fishing were closed a month earlier in early March due to WDFW fears that returns arrive “far below”. forecast – not just a little, but significantly.

At the time, anglers and guides disputed this, reporting that they saw more fish around during low and clear flows. This can be confirmed by a WDFW presentation on coastal rainbow trout for Friday’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting. It shows an increase in spawning escapements over the 2020-2021 period in the Quillayute and Hoh systems, which were open to fishing until March 1, including from a boat on the former.

(On the other hand, even without recreational fishing, returns in the Chehalis, Humptulips, Upper Quinault, and Queets-Clearwater fell below escapement targets, as expected. WFC/TCA did not pursue them first. )

Last winter’s restrictions also came at the cost of an untapped return of rainbow trout from the Skookumchuck hatchery that overstocked 2,282 fish in local lakes and food banks.

As the 90-day mark for the NMFS’s review of the WFC/TCA petition lands around Halloween, the agency’s Milstein said there’s a little wiggle room. Pointing to an “as far as possible” clause, he noted that the federal government has nearly 10 registration petitions on its collective desk, for everything from kelp to starfish, salmon to rainbow trout. heaven, “so we are quite well reserved”.

The federal government could reject the petition with a “90-day negative conclusion” and post it on the Federal Register, or they could find that it presents enough information to warrant listing. If it is the latter, then the Olympic Peninsula rainbow trout would be considered a “candidate” stock for ESA protections and the NMFS would call for public comment and conduct a review of the status and peer review. After that point, the federal government would issue another decision, a “12-month finding” that a listing is either “unwarranted” or “warranted.”

A substantiated recommendation would lead to a rule proposal and another round of public comment, and then a final decision whether to withdraw the proposal or publish it on the Federal Register.

NMFS PETITION FLOWCHART.

As it stands, the ESA lists of Washington rainbow trout include fish from Puget Sound and the Columbia-Snake system above Cowlitz.

In Puget Sound, even as WDFW had changed hatchery practices to, among other things, remove off-station discards (wild C&R fishing ended long before ESA protection was granted), the 2007 listing opened the state to litigation with the Wild Fish Conservancy over hatchery genetic management plans pending federal approval or review. A 2014 WFC lawsuit limited smolt discards to 521,000 and just four watersheds, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Nooksack and Dungeness. It took nearly a decade to re-open the Skagit for catch-and-release fishing in late winter and spring due to paperwork and race size requirements.

As it stands, tomorrow afternoon the Fish and Wildlife Commission should be briefed on last winter’s race, the outlook for this season, and the rulemaking process. In late 2015, the commission ended the retention of wild rainbow trout on the Olympic Peninsula, a rule change that came into effect with the 2016-17 season and effectively ended the retention. sport harvesting of naturally occurring steelheads in state waters.

More details on WDFW’s rainbow trout planning can be found on the agency’s website.

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