FISHING: Anglers have chance to catch ‘recycled’ steelhead on Cowlitz

Through a partnership between the state and Tacoma Power, anglers will get a second chance to catch up to 1,600 hatchery-reared summer steelhead moving through the Cowlitz River.

Starting this week, Tacoma Power will begin a “recycling” program for steelhead returning to the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery, operated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The power company and agency are sharing the cost of the program.

Tacoma Power will transport and release 1,600 fish downstream at the Interstate 5 boat launch, giving anglers another shot at catching summer steelhead.

Before beginning the program, the state agency had contracted with the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a two-year study to determine, in part, how often recycled hatchery steelhead released in the lower Cowlitz stray into small tributary streams, where they could compete with wild steelhead. The study showed hatchery steelhead rarely moved into these smaller streams in the lower Cowlitz, according to a news release from the department.

“We’re excited to provide additional opportunities for steelhead fishing while remaining true to our commitment to protect and conserve wild steelhead,” Cindy LeFleur, regional fish manager, said in the release.

The recycling study was funded through fees paid into the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement program. Anglers who fish for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and its tributaries pay an annual fee in addition to their fishing licenses.

During July and August, up to 1,600 hatchery summer steelhead will be captured at the hatchery, marked to show they are being recycled, and released back into the lower Cowlitz, where they can migrate up the stretch of river for a second time.

“Tacoma Power funds the majority of the monitoring and evaluation work in the lower Cowlitz,” Keith Underwood, Tacoma Power natural resources manager, said in the release. “This work will be used to measure any biological risks associated with this program.”