In the early 20th century up to a million wild steelhead returned to Washington’s Puget Sound each year. Before these iconic fish were listed under the Endangered Species Act, angling for them was more than just a past time; it was a passion for thousands, a driver of local economies, and a sign of the rich natural heritage of the Pacific Northwest. But after decades of decline and heavy harvest, all that changed in 2007 when 49 rivers in Western Washington were closed to fishing for wild winter steelhead.
Human-caused habitat loss is often the first culprit blamed for the steelhead’s fall, and it certainly played a part. But on watersheds including the Nisqually River, plummeting returns well outpaced the loss of habitat. After decades of harvest that exceeded spawning escapement goals, some fishermen believe the true culprit is clear: lax fisheries regulations that allowed the killing of far more wild fish than was sustainable, and the anglers like themselves who took advantage of them. Now a decade after the closures, Puget Sound’s wild steelhead are beginning to bounce back.
Steelhead Country is a collaborative creation of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, Patagonia, and award-winning filmmaker Shane Anderson. This campaign features a six-episode film series that explores the rise and fall of angling for wild steelhead in Washington State – from the heyday of steelheading on the Puyallup River to the litany of legendary rivers that are now closed throughout Puget Sound, including the mighty Skagit. Follow along as Steelhead Country explores the past, present, and hopeful future for this iconic species.
Learn more and take action at steelheadcountry.org