Anglers are a group that seem to need constant reminders of how influential they can be when organized and motivated. Recently announced changes by Seafood Watch, a service provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that guides thousands of consumers in their seafood buying decisions, should serve as just such a reminder. This March, many anglers united in demanding that Seafood Watch reverse its decision to recommend that consumers purchase wild Washington steelhead for their dinner tables, after the organization awarded the fish its "good alternative" label. This month, Seafood Watch gave those anglers a reason to celebrate a victory when it announced it was downgrading Washington wild steelhead to the more appropriate "avoid" label. Unfortunately for advocates of wild steelhead, the victory is only a partial one, as the downgrade only applies to wild steelhead from Washington's Hoh River.
The downgrade of Hoh River steelhead makes sense, given that the Hoh’s wild steelhead population has declined by 34 percent since 1980 and has only met its escapement goals 50 percent of the time since 2000. But the continued recommendation of steelhead from other Washington rivers, such as the Queets and Quillayute fly in the face of that logic, given that Quillayute wild steelhead populations have crashed since the 1990s and Queets' steelhead have faced an even sharper decline (wild steelhead populations are a mere 43 percent of what they were in 1980) than their brethren in the Hoh.
As Jonathan Stumpf, chair of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, wrote in Hatch Magazine in March, "Seafood Watch’s recommendations serve as a sustainable fish purchasing north star for well-intentioned stores, restaurants, and individuals across the United States. The potential impact of their designation is huge. Now restaurants and stores including Whole Foods Market can sell wild steelhead from iconic rivers such as the Quillayute and Bogachiel as a 'sustainable' fish choice. Moreover, consumers will pay a premium for these threatened fish believing they are doing the right thing while nothing could be further from the truth."
The downgrade of Hoh River steelhead to "avoid" should be lauded and serve as a clear indication that anglers have a loud and influential voice when we strive to make it heard—a voice that it is clear Seafood Watch is listening to. Anglers who hope to preserve dwindling stocks of wild, Pacific-Northwest steelhead should continue to send their message to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, demanding that Seafood Watch take all wild steelhead off its menu.