Our state’s wild steelhead are on the brink.
Our rivers are closing.
Learn more and take action now to bring back Steelhead Country.

What’s at Stake

For generations Washingtonians have been raised with a fishing rod in their hands and a love for steelhead in their hearts. This passion has proven infectious and inspired anglers from all corners of the globe to make the pilgrimage to the state’s famed waters in search of wild grey ghosts. But while the allure of Washington’s official state fish – the wild steelhead – continues to grow, regrettably stocks have suffered the opposite fate, as their numbers have plummeted to a fraction of their once great abundance.

Washington’s continued status as “Steelhead Country” is anything but certain. In the early 20th century up to a million wild steelhead returned to Washington’s Puget Sound each year. Scarcely 100 years later, and that number has been reduced to a gut wrenching 14,000 wild fish – a 97-99% decline! There are a number of factors behind the steep decline in steelhead abundance. One of the most damaging has been lax fisheries regulations that allowed the killing of far more wild fish than was sustainable.

It’s well past time for Steelhead Country to move towards a more sustainable, conservation-oriented management model for wild steelhead, one that preserves our angling heritage while also helping restore and sustain wild runs for future generations.



A History of Mismanagement

State, federal, and tribal fisheries agencies share responsibility for managing steelhead in Washington state. But for decades, harvest has been prioritized above conservation, and both the fish and the fishermen have paid the price.

As anglers began flocking to Steelhead Country beginning in the 1950s, the Washington Department of Fisheries and other agencies saw industrial-scale fish farming through hatcheries as the answer to rapidly increasing harvest.

At the same time, while steelhead may be labeled a “game fish” in Washington, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has managed wild steelhead much the same way it manages abundant food fish like salmon or tuna using a mathematical model known as Maximum Sustainable Yield” (MSY).

While the data is becoming ever more clear that these models can’t predict the complexity, or the fragility, of wild ecosystems, in some parts of Steelhead Country those tasked with conserving wild steelhead are still managing down to the last dead fish.

A History of Mismanagement

State, federal, and tribal fisheries agencies share responsibility for managing steelhead in Washington state. But for decades, harvest has been prioritized above conservation, and both the fish and the fishermen have paid the price.

As anglers began flocking to Steelhead Country beginning in the 1950s, the Washington Department of Fisheries and other agencies saw industrial-scale fish farming through hatcheries as the answer to rapidly increasing harvest.

At the same time, while steelhead may be labeled a “game fish” in Washington, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has managed wild steelhead much the same way it manages abundant food fish like salmon or tuna using a mathematical model known as Maximum Sustainable Yield” (MSY).

While the data is becoming ever more clear that these models can’t predict the complexity, or the fragility, of wild ecosystems, in some parts of Steelhead Country those tasked with conserving wild steelhead are still managing down to the last dead fish.

Hope for the Future

It’s a land of giants; towering evergreen trees, luminary anglers, and legendary wild steelhead, some as large as those anywhere else on Earth. Throughout history Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has been called “The Last Wilderness”. Today, it’s Steelhead Country’s last best place.

The Skagit River is another place that evokes as much heritage, history, and reverence as anywhere else in Steelhead Country. Puget Sound’s mightiest watershed is also a beacon of hope for a new future. Closed to angling for wild winter steelhead since 2007 and benefiting from high-quality habitat and reduced, then halted hatchery plants, the Skagit’s wild steelhead are staging a comeback. This is a chance for a paradigm shift. Decades of mismanagement have caused the precipitous decline of steelhead across Washington state. But the Skagit proves it’s not too late to bring them back.

We should have management policies that do not throw yet another obstacle in their journey to recovery. We have the knowledge to implement better, smarter policies that will help restore these runs, and we need to put that knowledge to work anywhere and everywhere possible.


Steelhead need your help now

Take action to bring back Steelhead Country

With rivers across Washington closed and runs on the brink of collapse, now is the time for the angling community to join together and demand a different management approach – an approach that can rebuild wild fish stocks, create sustainable angling opportunity, and allow all anglers to celebrate our shared passion for wild steelhead on waters across Washington.

Take action to bring back Steelhead Country, then share this page using hashtags #BringEmBack and #SteelheadCountry.

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Voices of Steelhead Country

Steelhead Country Partners

  • Faraway Fly Fishing

About Steelhead Country

The Wild Steelhead Coalition, Patagonia, and award-winning filmmaker Shane Anderson have teamed up to produce a new film series and campaign called Steelhead Country. The six-episode series 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. Then, take action to bring back Steelhead Country by signing our petition and spreading the word.

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