Trout Unlimited creating new steelhead conservation group

Trout Unlimited, one of the nation’s largest fishing conservation organizations, will turn its focus to wild steelhead. The organization will launch Thursday the Wild Steelhead Initiative, a project to protect and restore wild steelhead and the fishing opportunities they provide throughout their native range in Washington, Alaska, California, Idaho and Oregon.

At the forefront of this effort will be the creation of a new conservation organization, Wild Steelheaders United. The goal of this new group will be to bring together steelhead anglers, regardless of their preferred fishing method, to work on protecting and recovering wild steelhead populations.

According to information on the initiative already released, it will focus on rivers with high potential to support robust, fishable wild steelhead populations. It also includes the use of properly managed steelhead hatcheries to provide fishing and harvest opportunity in rivers that can no longer support wild steelhead.

The initiative also will address habitat protection and restoration, as well as steelhead policy and management.

Trout Unlimited has been involved in steelhead conservation for years and has invested millions of dollars in on-the-ground projects to improve conditions to restore wild steelhead populations, said Rosendo Guerrero, president of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited.

“Now we’re taking that one step further. Habitat work alone will not fix the problem, nor will policy or science on their own,” he said. “It’s time to bring them all together and start finding ways to solve the problems in front of us.

“We’re calling on all steelhead anglers — fly anglers, gear anglers, it doesn’t matter — to unite and work together in finding solutions to reverse this downward trend and restore wild steelhead to their native habitats.”

For Wild Steelheaders United to succeed, Guerrero said, anglers will have to set aside differences, understand the problems and the science, and then make educated decisions on how to improve the current situation.

“Those answers won’t be the same in every place. What works for Washington may not work for Idaho and vice versa,” he said. “But the common thread that binds them all is anglers. Anglers, in my mind, will lead the way on this issue.”

Bob Ball is watching with interest how this new group will work toward its goals.

Said Ball, the owner of Piscatorial Pursuits guide service and fishing website in Forks, “It sounds like it might be more of a middle ground group, and that is where I’m at.”

He was pleased to hear the group was not opposed to using hatchery fish to create fishing opportunities.

“There is a place for the hatcheries, especially in streams that for one reason or another are too far gone,” Ball said. “Having other angling opportunities not only increases the chance to catch fish, but also relieves the pressure on those rivers with wild steelhead stocks.

“There is so much anti-hatchery sentiment running around right now. I understand some of their concerns, but we can’t just have five streams in the state with any fish left in them. That’s not good for the fishing or the fish.”

Mike Koslosky is a member of Puget Sound Fly Fishers, a Tacoma fly-fishing club, but does not belong to Trout Unlimited.

He said a new group could prove beneficial, but said the connection with Trout Unlimited might put off some people.

“I’ve talked to people about TU and they have differing opinions,” Koslosky said. “Some people thinking they are effective, and some think they are too insular.”

Still, he likes what he has heard so far.

“I think what they’re trying to do is bring in a lot of players to try to work together to improve the health of wild steelhead, while recognizing some rivers are unsalvageable and may require hatchery assistance,” Koslosky said.

Koslosky said the need for cooperation will be key. Relatively new to living in Washington, he said all the comments on the state of steelhead fishing in the state have left his head spinning at times.

“Everyone has an opinion and nobody wants to compromise,” he said.