Fishermen enjoy short Skagit River steelhead season

Steve Fransen fly fishes in April 2018 in the Skagit River near Concrete during the first steelhead catch-and-release season on the river since 2009.

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The catch-and-release steelhead fishery held on the Skagit River the past two years will not be held in 2020 due to a forecast indicating a low number of fish may return to spawn.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife announced this week the decision not to hold the fishery.

Wild steelhead in the Puget Sound region are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. After being listed as threatened in 2007, Fish & Wildlife closed fishing for steelhead from 2010 to 2017.

Fish & Wildlife then determined enough fish were returning each year that it could open a short catch-and-release fishery between February and April, starting in 2018. Fishing was allowed on the Skagit River and the Sauk River, a tributary to the Skagit, for 12 days that April.

At that time, the number of fish returning to the Skagit River had grown from a low of about 2,500 in 2009 to an average of 7,600 per year, according to Fish & Wildlife data.

But with 3,963 fish forecast to return this year, Fish & Wildlife can’t re-authorize the season.

“When returns are this low, our management plan and the ESA permit require us to be extremely conservative with how these fish might be impacted by fishing activity,” regional fish program manager Edward Eleazer said in a news release. “We have to minimize those impacts to ensure we meet conservation objectives.”

Fish & Wildlife believes the low forecast, for fish 4 or 5 years old, is likely connected to conditions in 2015 that included low river levels and warm marine waters, according to the release.

The catch-and-release fishery is also at risk of being discontinued in 2021 if Fish & Wildlife doesn’t secure funding from the state Legislature to continue the monitoring required for fisheries involving protected species.

The agency has included funding for monitoring of the fishery in a $26 million request it has made for the 2021-2022 biennium.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199,, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH,

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