Many Washington anglers are concerned over plans by state officials to eliminate the stocking of hatchery summer steelhead in the North Fork Toutle/Green River watershed. State fishery managers and anglers met in a public meeting last week at Centralia College to discuss the issue, with many of the anglers voicing their opposition.
“There’s a tremendous summer steelhead fishery in the lower Cowlitz River,” said fishing guide Clancy Holt, who explained that fish from the Green River often spill over to the nearby Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers as well. “They’re fished. They’re caught. They’re enjoyed. You can’t take those fish away. You’re making the biggest blunder you’ve ever made.”
According to the Billings-Gazette, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) stocks the Green River with 25,000 steelhead smolts annually. Biologists with the department have been pushing for years to turn the waterway into a wild steelhead sanctuary, proposing the watershed join two other tributaries of the lower Columbia River as “gene banks” for wild steelhead. The sanctuary would protect wild steelhead from competition with their hatchery cousins.
“Research has shown that negative effects can range from interbreeding to competition for food and habitat,” Cindy Le Fleur, a regional fish manger for the WDFW, said in a statement. “Creating gene banks to protect wild steelhead in some areas is required under the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan.”
Some anglers support this plan, despite the impact it may have on sportfishing in the area. Others however, point to the nearby Coweeman River as being a better choice to eliminate stocking. Experts have also suggested the Coweeman as a potential gene bank, and the river has less public access.
“There is no public access on the lower Coweeman,” said angler Tim Deaver. “Go to the Green River parking lot at 3 a.m. You can’t get a parking spot.”
However, the WDFW previously proposed to end stocking in the Coweeman River but decided against the plan because of the high amounts of complaints from anglers. The department said no deadline has been set for a decision and it is considering all options. The final selection of a gene bank site will eventually be forwarded to the NOAA-fisheries, which is leading efforts to repopulate wild steelhead in the Columbia River.