From Keep Fish Wet
Announcing Steelhead In Our Hands, a new grassroots effort to empower recreational anglers to better protect wild steelhead. Keep Fish Wet and the Wild Steelhead Coalition have collaborated to highlight how people can safely play, handle, and release a wild steelhead to improve its chances of survival after it swims away.
Across their native range, wild steelhead are in dramatic decline. In the United States, 11 of 15 steelhead population segments are listed under the Endangered Species Act. In Canada, certain populations like those of the Chilcotin and Thompson rivers are at imminent risk of extinction. Many river systems, including the Skeena system and Columbia basin, have seen their worst returns on record in recent years.
Recovering wild steelhead populations will require large-scale efforts to address the many threats they face. One thing we as anglers can control immediately and directly is the unintentional mortality and impacts caused by catch-and-release practices. In many watersheds, the majority of steelhead returning each season will be caught and handled by anglers. Some of these fish will die, regardless of our best intentions, and many will endure sublethal short and/or long-term impacts, such as reduced spawning success. With anglers interacting with so many steelhead, even a small improvement in catch-and-release survival can have a big influence overall on a population’s ability to sustain, or even grow, their numbers.
“With numbers so low, and populations so precarious, it is crucial that every wild steelhead is able to reach their spawning gravel and spawn successfully”, says Brian Bennett of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “As anglers, we have the responsibility and opportunity to reduce our impact on these iconic fish, helping to ensure their survival now and into the future”.
“If we’re going to continue fishing, we must reduce our harm, go above and beyond regulations, and use science-based best practices to create better outcomes for each wild steelhead we catch-and-release”, says Sascha Clark Danylchuk, Executive Director of Keep Fish Wet.
As part of this campaign, Keep Fish Wet and Wild Steelhead Coalition collaborated with Maine-based artist and guide Bri Dostie of Confluence Collective to create a free-to-use graphic with custom illustrations that highlight the impacts of catch-and-release, as well as the science-based best practices that can reduce mortality.
“Scientists know a lot about how human interactions affect the fish we catch, but that information doesn’t help anyone if it stays in a journal article behind a paywall,” said Dostie. “We wanted to make sure every angler is empowered with the information they need to protect the fish they care about — and art is one way to share that information more broadly.”
The “Steelhead In Our Hands” infographic is available as an open resource for guides, fly shops, and the fishing community to use to help anglers steward the wild steelhead resource.