Friday, March 15, 2013
Those of you that either live in Oregon, care about wild steelhead or both need to pay attention to what ODFW is doing here.
Why did I title this post "Guide Welfare" Please read on.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ODFW wild steelhead broodstock programs specifically on the Tillamook area streams let me briefly explain what they are.
The hatchery winter steelhead on rivers like the Nestucca, Siletz and Wilson were for many years entirely reliant on out of basin eggs from the Alsea hatchery down on the central Oregon coast. These fish provided harvest opportunities to anglers and guides during the months of late November through January. These hatchery plants were kept in the lower river and everyone was happy because the later arriving wild fish were mostly left alone because the hatchery steelhead were through the system by the time the wild fish showed up. Now don't get me wrong dear reader I in no way advocate any hatchery fish anywhere that also supports wild fish populations but these Alsea mutants served a purpose and had what seemed to be the least impact on native fish...as long as the were kept in the lower river where little wild fish spawning occurs and they provided the public with a harvestable fish for the dinner table.
All the while ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) and a few north coast guides were casting a greedy eye on the later returning but still endangered wild winter steelhead and wondering how to maybe get the harvest later into the year and oh if the guides made a buck or two during their "Wild Steelhead Rodeos" then so much the better. Viola! Enter the wild steelhead broodstock programs!!! These programs would live spawn captured wild steelhead and raise those fertilized eggs in a hatchery environment thus producing a supposedly superior strain of harvestable fish and hey whaddya know they could also provide north coast guides with a later season harvestable run to make some money on. Win/Win right? After all these first generation HATCHERY steelhead were of wild origin and would not hurt wild spawning steelhead. Everything would be just wonderful and everyone could gather in a big circle,hold hands and sing kumbaya because at last everyone's needs would be met! ODFW pledged to keep plants in the lower portions of the Wilson river where these fish would not interfere with wild fish....ah yes angling life would be perfect in Tillamook county at last.
If only life were so simple!
Fast forward to today. The broodstock smolt are not being planted in the lower river despite what ODFW said and ignoring the objections of conservationist landowners along those rivers. The returning broodstock fish are pretty much allowed to spawn wherever they like in whatever portion of the river they like. Some north coast guides on ifish.net even think it's a great way to supplement the river's wild steelhead because after all these fish are just one generation removed from wild parents. What these broodstock proponents fail to tell the unlearned is that while these broodstock smolt are indeed one generation removed from wild parents they are still reared in a hatchery environment being hand fed by hatchery staff in a total controlled setting and according to fish biologist are still inferior! So what doe s that mean? It means simply this. These are hatchery fish in every sense of the word and are imprinted with behavior traits just like every other hatchery raised fish. You can put a gold ring in a pigs nose but it's still a pig isn't it?
I haven't even touched on the impact these released hatchery smolt have on wild spawned steelhead smolt. ODFW releases these fish when they are six to eight inches in length and since they starve them for the last 48 hours before releasing them into the river. These hatchery smolt are released into the same areas used by wild smolt and they are voraciously hungry. The coastal streams are not nutrient rich such as rivers like the Deschutes so there is a definite competition going on for available nutrients in the river. Since these broodstock fish are bigger who do you think wins? Just cast a fly into these rivers during the coastal cutthroat season and you will understand where I'm coming from on this. We've asked ODFW for a scientific take permit on these hatchery smolt just to see what they are feeding on and have been refused thus far.
I'm not a scientist by any means but I know skunk when I smell it and folks this whole steelhead broodstock program stinks to high heaven. I will admit that years ago this whole scenario made sense me but I decided to dig a little deeper and question why everyone who stood to benefit monetarily from these was so excited about it. I wondered why almost every north coast steelhead guide was fervently in favor of these programs....well at $175 per client it does not take a genius to figure it out.
What is wrong with this scenario? Very simple! The state is taking wild fish that should be left to spawn naturally in the river and making their offsprings hatchery fish. Is this what we want? What has been done is to make wild steelhead a money source for north coast guides at the expense of wild steelhead. They claim to be borrowing the eggs! How in the name of all that is sacred can this wild steelhead egg rip-off be called borrowing? They are stealing the future of wild winter steelhead for the sake of making money!
The state of Oregon is facing a huge deficit in their general fund revenue. Hopefully this wasteful "pork barrel" program will end at the hands of those who understand and care.
Here is a link to a much more comprehensive look at Steelhead Broodstock programs by Bill Bakke of Native Fish Society
Broodstock Programs Are Not A Solution