Seattle Magazine Article Incites Steelhead Advocates, Restaurant Pulls Fish from Menu

An article published in Seattle "lifestyle magazine", SeattleMet, has caused one of the city's heralded eateries to pull wild steelhead from its menu. In fact, Hitchcock chef Brian McGill has decided to stop serving the fish altogether, much to the appreciation of many of the wild steelhead advocates that spoke out in defense of Washington's troubled steelhead population.

Hoh River Washington
Near the mouth of the Hoh River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

The SeattleMet author, Allicia Vermillion, took a provocative swipe at anglers and conservationists, writing that "... putting steelhead on the menu can incite letters, or even protests, from people who fish as a hobby. To sport anglers, the pursuit of the steelhead is the fly-fishing equivalent of pitching a perfect baseball game while simultaneously having a religious experience. In other words, subjecting this rare and beautiful creature to commonplace harvesting and cooking is like carving up a 20-point buck to make venison burgers."

The article goes on to paint a misleading picture of strict management, healthy populations and sustainable harvests. It illustrates this process by tracing one fish from its eventual place on someone's dinner plate at Bainbridge Island's Hitchcock on through the selective, inaccessible and colorful surfer turned fish buyer, Peter Onkst and back to the steely fisherman, Michael Sampson, who pulls the fish of interest from the icy waters of the Hoh River, as one of 6 steelhead hauled in that day.

Once word spread, it wasn't long before wild steelhead advocates voiced their mind both on SeattleMet's web site and others around the web. The message? Harvesting Washington wild steelhead is unacceptable and unsustainable. Well known Seattle fisherman and guide, Dave McCoy, noted "the numbers of wild/native steelhead returning to this state are somewhere between 2%-5% (being generous here on the high end) of historical returns. To write up a story in a fashion that makes 4,000 fish seem like a lot, that that number is sustainable and that it is OK to look for these fish on your favorite restaurants menu is socially irresponsible. Clearly some of the people you may have spoken with are not of the position that believe these fish are in as dire a situation as they really are."

And their voices didn't go unheard. SeattleMet has amended the article with the following note:

As you can see from the comments below, this story attracted a lot of attention among fly fishermen and the many passionate people who love steelhead and feel strongly about their preservation. Thank you to all of those who contributed to the discussion in a respectful and purposeful way. This story set about tracing a fish from water to plate and discussing along the way some of the confusion that surrounds how seafood in general is sourced. As for the specifics of steelhead, our reporting and fact-checking produced a variety of conflicting opinions and details and we thank the folks at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for spending so much time reviewing the facts with us. Obviously harvesting steelhead is a contentious issue that evokes passion and differing beliefs. ¶ Some chefs don’t serve steelhead, including Kevin Davis of Blueacre Seafood, who asked to clarify that he feels passionately about this subject and never has, nor ever will serve wild steelhead in his restaurants. ¶ After seeing the response to this story, Brendan McGill of Hitchcock opened the restaurant’s Facebook page up for a lively discussion and ultimately decided to stop serving the fish as well. While this wasn’t exactly the way we intended to contribute to the conversation, any discussion of our seafood, our resources, and how we handle them, is a purposeful one. Thank you for reading.

Read the original article for the full text, as well a view of the comments left in response.

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