Why You Won’t See Wild Steelhead On Many Dinner Plates This Season

Dec 26, 2013

It’s prime time for wild steelhead, but you likely won’t see it on a plate, not even at the Steelhead Diner in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

“I don’t kill wild steelhead. I don’t eat them and I don’t serve them at my restaurant, and I never have,” said Kevin Davis, the restaurant’s chef who likes the Washington state fish so much that he named his first restaurant after it.

Many share Davis’ passion for the steelhead, which is a type of rainbow trout. Some restaurants and most vendors in Pike Place Market have informally banned selling or serving wild steelhead.

If It's For Sale, Should We Eat It?

Steelhead were banned from commercial fishing in 1984 and listed as an endangered species here in 2007. But consumers may be unsure whether to eat the fish as some stores do sell hatchery steelheads, and some tribes have treaty rights to catch and sell them.

Fish advocates say consumers should eat what they like if it’s for sale, but they should consider asking producers and sellers about their origins, including where the fish was caught and by whom.

Robert Masonis with Trout Unlimited, a conservation group, says he’d avoid farmed fish, but hatchery fish tastes pretty good.

“It’s good. It’s a lot like a trout to me. I’d much prefer salmon, but, you know, it’s good fish,” he said.

What About The Effects Of Sport Fishing?

Wild steelhead fishing is a popular sport, but that doesn’t mean the anglers tend to eat their catch.

Steelheadcan spend several years out in the ocean getting as big as 40 pounds before returning to its native spawning ground. And unlike the salmon, it doesn’t die when it spawns, so it pulls hard if you catch it. That tug is a thrill for those skilled enough to get a grab, which can take years to learn.

But the experience is getting less and less common every day. And that’s why many people just catch and release it, even in places where it’s legal to take it.

There are requirements to keep and kill hatchery steelhead on many rivers. That’s because the hatchery fish are weaker than the wild ones, and the state needs to keep them out of the breeding pool.

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