by Scott Sadil
‘Tis the season.
Any number of ways, no doubt, to assess the passing year, all but a few days confined already to the rearview mirror, while many of us scramble to concoct plans of one sort or another so that we don’t feel left out, in some vital way, come this time next year.
Looking back, of course, can help us locate where we are. And if you happen to be someone who enjoys fishing for coldwater anadromous fish, or someone, perhaps, who simply recognizes the existence of wild salmon and steelhead as canary-in-the-coal-mine indicator species foretelling the health of our planet and the quality of our future lives upon it, you may want to reflect on the numbers and the stories they tell.
Let’s see. This year the return of Columbia River basin steelhead, which have played such a big part in my angling career for the past twenty-plus years, was less than 75 per cent of the current ten-year average, which just happens to be the lowest ten-year average on record, going back some 80-odd years. More troubling still, wild steelhead made up only 30 per cent of the total number of returning 2022 steelhead, barely 50% of the current ten-year average for steelhead born outside the hatchery system—that furtive promise meant to mitigate the effects of dams.
Or this, from the Atlantic Salmon Trust in the UK: We have lost nearly 70 per cent of the wild Atlantic salmon population in 25 years.
Okay, I’m sorry, enough bad news. The important question is: What can anyone do to change the tide?
It’s dangerous, I admit, to propose answers. Some might question whether that’s even my role here. Still, maybe it’s the time of year, the giving season, that emboldens me to suggest offering your support to someone or some organization that you believe is trying to make a difference.
Such as? Glad you asked.
Among many organizations in the Pacific Northwest working to protect and restore wild steelhead populations in their native watersheds, The Conservation Angler (TCA) continues to place itself in the middle of the sorts of fights that matter most. This year, for example, they were instrumental in securing a vote from the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission to end the hatchery summer steelhead program on the iconic North Umpqua.
Other local accomplishments included filing “an extensive and scientifically robust” petition to list Olympic Peninsula steelhead under the federal Endangered Species Act, a move that will increase our chances of protecting and restoring these fabled wild steelhead populations.
And TCA remains at the center of steelhead management efforts throughout the Columbia River basin, where cold-water refuges have become increasingly important as mainstem water temperatures reach dangerous levels for longer and longer periods each summer.
Perhaps, on the other hand, you’d like to cast your support in the direction of the folks at the Atlantic Salmon Trust, whose Moray Firth Tracking Program has already begun to offer fresh insights into fundamental problems at the core of diminishing salmon populations both in Scotland and, perhaps, worldwide—problems, I would suggest, we also see with steelhead here in the Pacific northwest.
If you’re interested, take a few moments to see what this work is about and how important it may prove in the protection and restoration of wild anadromous fish wherever they’re found.
These two suggestions, anyway, are examples of just a couple of ways you might want to share this year in the holiday spirit.
Maybe it’s time you pitched in and joined the fight, as well.
As a youngster, Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil hated nothing more than going door-to-door trying to sell candy to raise money for his current Little League team. He usually ended up buying the minimum quota himself, freeing him to run off and play ball with friends.