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Conservation is key to fisheries' future

For 40 years I have spent my career fishing the waters of southwest Oregon. From the Rogue River near my home in Central Point to the rivers of the Wild Rivers coast, river recreation and fishing are my way of life. My grandkids fuel my desire to conserve and protect these fish well into the future. What recently happened in Washington brings great concern to our fisheries in Southern Oregon.

On Dec. 8, 2020, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) adopted an emergency rule change on the waters of the Olympic Peninsula. These rule changes include no fishing from a floating device, implementing selective gear rules except that only one single-point, barbless hook is allowed, and requiring the release of all rainbow trout.

These emergency regulations come in the light of not achieving critical abundance of spawning wild steelhead for four consecutive years. That’s right, four years in a row, the Olympic Peninsula fell below its threshold to sustain healthy populations of wild steelhead.

As a guide and outfitter, the regulations WDFW enacted would be devastating. My style of fishing would dramatically change. Utilizing my boat to position anglers to catch fish is an extreme advantage. I have sympathy for the hard-working guides and outfitters of the Olympic Peninsula that must adhere to these regulations.

Sadly, these emergency regulations in Washington are necessary. WDFW must do something before it’s too late. Just a decade ago, the steelhead of the Olympic Peninsula were thriving; now these fish are barely surviving.

It makes me ask, what if this happened in Southern Oregon? How close are our rivers to reaching similarly critical levels of wild steelhead?

Currently, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is working to set critical abundance thresholds for fish returning to the Rogue River and the South Coast streams. Along with identifying critical abundance, ODFW will begin intensive monitoring of these fisheries to show an accurate number of fish that are returning to specific watersheds as adults.

If there’s one thing we all can do to help, it’s releasing wild fish this winter season. I encourage us all to look deep and decide: Do we want our fishing regulations to be restricted to reflect these measures? Do we want to find ourselves in the same predicament as Washington? It’s up to us socially and collectively to make that decision for the future of the fish and the generations of anglers that look to follow in our footsteps.

Harvey Young is the owner and operator of Fishhawk Guide Service. He has lived in Southern Oregon for 40 years, raising his family on the rivers he loves. He has four grandchildren who inspire his work in conservation, protecting the fish and rivers of Southern Oregon.