Protect Puget Sound Juvenile Steelhead

Protect Puget Sound Juvenile Steelhead

1,154 have signed. Let’s get to 1,500!
Petition to
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind

Why this petition matters

Started by Larry Lowe

Photo of juvenile steelhead courtesy of Bill McMillan

Puget Sound Steelhead were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as Threatened on May 11, 2007. A threatened species is defined as "any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." Since 2007, populations have continued to decline. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently assessed twenty Puget Sound wild steelhead stocks and found that twelve have a "high" risk of extinction. The current population is estimated to be less than 4% of what it was prior to the turn of the 20th century.

Steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species. The difference is rainbow stay in freshwater their entire lives, while steelhead go to sea and return to fresh water as adults to spawn. Most juvenile steelhead go to sea at age 2 or 3. Until then they are vulnerable to fishing in our local rivers and streams. Steelhead and salmon that are headed to sea are referred to as smolts. Smolts become silvery in color and their physiology changes as they migrate from fresh water to salt water.

Steelhead face many challenges such as climate change and habitat destruction as they attempt to recover from their current depleted population status.  A challenge that is relatively simple to mitigate is the number of fish allowed to be caught by anglers in our local waters. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulations currently open fishing in the majority of Puget Sound rivers and streams on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend (late May), Regulations also state that in the majority of Puget Sound rivers and streams juvenile rainbow trout and steelhead must be a minimum of 12" to be kept, and fishing with bait is allowed.

There is overwhelming evidence in studies of hooking mortality that juvenile steelhead and rainbow trout caught using bait sustain a much higher percentage (30-50%) of mortalities when released than those caught on artificial tackle such as flies and lures (5-10%). Hook location is the primary reason for this. Hook location when using bait is typically in critical areas such as the gills or deep in the esophagus. Hook location using flies and lures is typically in non-critical areas such as the jaw or corner of the mouth. The vast majority of juvenile rainbow trout and steelhead are less than 12" and are therefore required to be released. The 30-50% mortality figure applies each time a fish is hooked and released. 

We propose that WDFW change their regulations to:

  1. Ban the use of bait in all streams and rivers in the Puget Sound Basin.
  2. Delay the opening of fishing to the middle of June or later in order to allow all out-migrating steelhead smolts to fully vacate freshwater habitats and hopefully make it safely to the sea.

The current WDFW regulations allow bait even though the vast majority of fish are required to be released because they are under the 12"minimum size limit. This makes no sense and what is even more troubling is that the fish that are impacted are ESA listed and at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. The regulations we propose will prevent countless thousands of juvenile steelhead and rainbow trout from being killed annually!

If you support our petition please let WDFW Director Kelly Susewind know by signing and forward our petition to others who may be interested.

Thank you.

Sam Wright and Larry Lowe

Retired Washington State Fisheries Biologists


1,154 have signed. Let’s get to 1,500!