Steelhead trout
A steelhead trout swims in Eagle Creek. The fish are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the Columbia River. (Photo by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife/Flickr)

Record low numbers of summer steelhead returning to the Columbia River and its tributaries this summer mean there will continue to be limited fishing for the threatened trout. Steelhead on the Columbia River are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. 

On Wednesday, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said they would maintain pauses on fishing summer steelhead in the Columbia River east of The Dalles Dam and parts of its tributaries like the John Day, Umatilla, Walla Walla and Deschutes rivers into 2022. The next fishing season starts in January; the Deschutes River is a popular place for steelhead fishing. 

They are born in Columbia River tributaries, swim to the Pacific Ocean for several years and then return to their rivers of origin to spawn. The number making the return this summer was the lowest the Fish & Wildlife Department has on record.

Just 70% of the summer steelhead forecast to make the run up the Columbia River past Bonneville Dam did, according to the department.

The decline is due to a combination of factors like hydroelectric damming on the Columbia and its tributaries, overfishing and climate change. Record heat this summer severely impacted water temperatures for steelhead and salmon, contributing to their decline.

Fishing for summer steelhead and salmon between The Dalles Dam to the Washington border has been closed since the beginning of September. 

The closure followed a request by conservation groups worried about dwindling fish numbers.

Department officials said they are hopeful the numbers will improve in coming years due to a La Niña weather cycle that began in September and will continue into next spring. La Niña is characterized by a low-air pressure system that moves over the western Pacific Ocean. It could bring cooler ocean temperatures and more rain and snow that could alleviate drought and improve conditions for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and its tributaries.

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