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Washington Trout: Preserve, Protect, Restore
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Olympic National Park Announces
Fishing Rules Change on Lake Crescent

Park Responds to Request From WT to Conserve Beardslee Trout

Responding to a proposal from Washington Trout, Olympic National Park has announced an emergency change to fishing regulations on Lake Crescent. On May 24, Park Superintendent David Morris announced that Lake Crescent and all its tributaries will be open for catch and release angling only. The rule change prohibits the use of down riggers, and requires that anglers use only artificial lures with single barbless hooks and no more than two ounces of weight. The emergency rule took effect June 1, the day the lake opened for fishing.

A Beardslee rainbow trout observed during a WT night snorkel survey conducted last winter. WT survey crews found evidence that the Beardslee population in Lake Crescent has declined to dangerously low levels

The new rules are designed to protect Lake Crescent’s population of Beardslee rainbow trout, which has declined to a critically low level. Beardslee trout are a unique form of rainbow trout, native to Lake Crescent, and found nowhere else on earth. They spawn in late winter and early spring in only one small area of the Lyre River, near the outlet of the lake. Washington Trout conducted independent spawning surveys on the Lyre this past spring and found alarming evidence of very low numbers of spawning fish, indicating that the population has experienced a severe decline. This evidence was supported by counts made by Park Service crews that officially counted only 35 spawning redds (slightly higher than WT’s count), the lowest number since official redd counts were begun in 1989.

The Crescent Lake watershed lies entirely within Olympic National Park. Beardslee trout have been protected from the types of habitat degradation suffered by other wild fish populations.

Another cause for concern was the small average size of the fish seen by WT crews during the series of night snorkel surveys. Beardslee rainbows are very long lived and slow maturing trout. The minimum age for first-time spawners is three years, and spawning runs include a high percentage of repeat-spawning four-, five- and six-year-old fish. That type of life history suggests a population with high and/or variable juvenile mortality. The presence of large, repeat-spawning adults in the population is likely a necessary hedge against that high mortality among younger fish. Historically, the minimum size of spawning Beardslee trout was three pounds, and Beardslee are well known for reaching sizes well into the teens. Of fish witnessed preparing to spawn this spring, most were in the 12 to 16 inch range, and few were over eight pounds. The apparent absence of older, repeat-spawners is a troubling sign.

WT Executive Director Kurt Beardslee, taking part in a night snorkel survey on the Lyre River. Beardslee trout spawn only in one small portion of the Lyre, near the lake outlet.

"The small number of spawners and the smaller than typical size of the fish suggests that something very significant is going on, that this population is in serious trouble," said Kurt Beardslee, WT Executive Director.

After analyzing our own and previously collected data, WT urged the Park to close the lake to all fishing and appoint a scientific recovery team to study and monitor the Beardslee trout population. While WT is satisfied - for now - with the Park’s emergency regulations, it is likely that more will be needed to protect this important part of our wild fish heritage.

"We appreciate the Park’s decision to move toward conserving this unique native fish," said Beardslee. "The new regulations appear to be aimed at relieving angling pressure. However, more may still be needed. It’s clear that angling harvest has had a significant impact on this population. To put it bluntly, the Park’s management up until now has not sufficiently protected this resource."

Washington Trout is urging Olympic National Park to form a recovery team immediately, and include scientists and experts from inside and outside the Park Service. In addition to analyzing and monitoring the status of the Beardslee population, the team must attempt to identify the causes of its decline and monitor the effects of the new fishing regulations, in order to develop effective management and recovery goals. A complete angling closure may still be necessary. Given what can be gathered from the available data, the status of the Beardslee population and the Park’s own policies appear to mandate a closure. The population may be too low to tolerate even the low kill-rates that will result from a catch and release fishery.

Crescent Lake and its watershed lie entirely within the boundaries of Olympic National Park, which has largely protected the Beardslee trout from the types of habitat degradation suffered by other wild fish populations. The lake and its surroundings are some of the most pristine habitats in the country. Olympic National Park has lived up to its mandate to preserve the landscape and habitats within its boundaries for all Americans and their descendants.

Lake Crescent and its surroundings are some of the most pristine habitats in the country. Olympic National Park’s poor angling management is the most likely factor in the decline of Lake Crescent's Beardslee population. Beardslee rainbows are particularly vulnerable to harvest pressure.

Unfortunately, the Park has not lived up to its responsibility to preserve a native trout found nowhere else on earth, isolated in Lake Crescent for thousands of years. The most significant factor in the decline of the Beardslee trout has likely been the Park’s own poor management. The population has been allowed to dip dangerously low, and the "trophy" fishery promoted at Lake Crescent has targeted the very fish that may be most important to the long-term health of the stock. Beardslee trout are famous and prized among anglers for their size, distinct appearance, and uniqueness. Unfortunately, that very rarity, and the Beardslee rainbow’s unique life history, makes it particularly vulnerable to harvest pressure. Washington Trout will continue working to protect this national treasure.