In August 2023, for the second time in three years, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) closed fishing on the North Umpqua River.

This is because summer steelhead counts at Winchester Dam were fewer that 1,200. For past two years, the steelhead count is the lowest it’s been since 1946, when they began counting native fish at the Winchester Dam. This year, the steelhead count at the Winchester Dam was so low, Greg Huchko, ODFW’s Umpqua District Senior Biologist in Douglas County, won’t even reveal the fish count total. 

“Really low,” is all he’ll say.

In 2021, only 450 wild summer steelhead were counted at the Winchester Dam. But by the time ODFW closed the fishing season in August, those 450 fish had already be caught and eaten by intrepid anglers. Consequently, they never got the chance to spawn and so, the annual steelhead count at the Winchester Dam continue to plummet.

August is too late to close the fishing season.

Summer steelhead begin migrating up the North Umpqua River in April. If ODFW had closed fishing on the North Umpqua River in April, those 450 steelhead would have had time to spawn – and the native fish population would increase, instead of diminishing.

In this manner, ODFW is not protecting the steelhead. This approach to fisheries management is contributing to the dwindling fish count at the Winchester Dam.

So why does ODFW do this?

Follow the money. ODFW derives revenue from the sale of fishing licenses. ODFW charges Oregon residents $44 a year for a fishing license. Non-Oregon residents are charged $110.

Each year, in January, ODFW begins issuing press releases predicting that the fisheries are so healthy, fishing season will be open all year, and wild native fish will be plentiful on the North Umpqua River. 

Although ODFW is well aware that nothing could be further from the truth, these press releases convince skeptical fishermen and fisherwomen to buy their fishing licenses early in the year.

This is why ODFW consistently waits until August to close fishing on the North Umpqua River. Their decision is not based on science but rather on profit.

Curiously, when asked about their erroneous predictions last year and the year before, ODFW officials decline to comment. 

ODFW deliberately waits to close the fishing season in August after they’ve sold thousands of fishing licenses. When they close the fishing season each August, ODFW provides no refunds to anglers who purchased fishing licenses.

ODFW is a state agency whose stated mandate is to “protect and enhance Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitats for use and enjoyment by present and future generations.” Nevertheless, in reality, ODFW prioritizes maximizing profits from fishing licenses above fisheries best management practices, the needs of the community and the local economy.

The North Umpqua River is the number one steelhead stream in North America (and some say, in the world). 

This riparian habitat is the jewel of Douglas County, Oregon. Anglers from all over the planet buy fishing permits, airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms, restaurant food, and the services of local fishing guides. But year after year, ODFW pulls the rug out from under them less than 30 days into summer. 

ODFW’s approach to native fisheries management deprives Douglas County of the revenue derived from fishing tourism and local anglers. Instead, a tiny fraction of this revenue is collected by ODFW by their ongoing bait-and-switch fishing license racket.

Although we may not be able to force state agencies to comply with their stated mandates, there is a clear course of action.

The only thing standing between Douglas County, Oregon and economic prosperity is the Winchester Dam.

Bring down the dam.

Bring back the fish and the jobs.