Flyfishing for hatchery steelhead on Oregon's Umpqua River
The following article by Bill Bakke of Native Fish Society generates more questions than answers for me.
If hatchery steelhead are allowed into upper areas of a river with a wild steelhead population and can spawn then why would fish and wildlife department release hatchery smolt at the upper reaches of a river?(This happens in Oregon) They had to know that this could be disastrous for rivers with a population of main stem spawning wild steelhead.
This goes to show that we cannot take what our fish and wildlife officials say at face value.I would also exhort anyone fishing for hatchery steelhead to harvest the maximum the law allows...please. You may get a warm fuzzy feeling releasing a hatchery fish but in truth you are doing the wild steelhead population of that river no favors by doing so
I’m sure it’s a surprise to most of you reading this to find out hatchery fish do spawn naturally in rivers. At one time Oregon declared that they shouldn’t do that, but it has now been confirmed that they do anyway.
The Skykomish River is a tributary to Puget Sound. In a recent genetics study of Skykomish summer steelhead by Todd W. Kassler and others said, “Hatchery salmonids can naturally reproduce.”
Since 1962 from zero to over 200,000 hatchery steelhead smolts were released in the river per year. Because many of these were released above Sunset Falls, (an impassable barrier to steelhead on the NF Skykomish River), the fish are transported over the falls.
Since 1998, the authors note, “the number of non-ad clipped adult steelhead has been between 26-73% of the number of steelhead counted at the falls.” Since there was no wild production above the falls, these fish are naturally produced by hatchery fish above the falls. They also found there are three distinct groups of summer steelhead in the river, but Sunset Falls steelhead are more similar to hatchery fish than to NF Skykomish river steelhead.
This research came to the startling conclusion “that there has been mixing between hatchery-origin and wild-origin steelhead in the Skykomish River basin.”
Since the hatchery summer steelhead came from Skamania Hatchery on the Washougal River (a Columbia River tributary) the scientists have also proved that it is possible to transplant fish successfully from one ecosystem to another. It is a great success story that confirms the theory behind WDFW’s long-standing “one size fits all” steelhead management policy. All one has to do is set up a structure where steelhead are reared at a hatchery then transported around the state for release. Oregon has long followed this same policy. Borrowed from industry, it is an economically efficient model that is more concerned with supplying hatchery fish to the sport and commercial fisheries than protection of wild runs.
The Skykomish steelhead study has uncovered an additional benefit of this industrial hatchery approach: hatchery fish create their own naturalized run, adding to the benefits of stocking.
Over forty years ago, I asked Cliff Millenbach, Washington Game Department, about the wisdom of stocking non-native hatchery steelhead in Washington Rivers. With firm conviction he told me that all the steelhead raised in Washington hatcheries are native to Washington. That was not only the agency’s version of sound science but a summary of their genetic policy. We know better now, and probably knew better back then, but both WDFW and ODFW continue to release non-native steelhead and salmon into far-flung rivers, even those with ESA-listed fish.
Wild steelhead in Puget Sound rivers are now listed as a threatened species, so it was with relief that the researchers concluded that: “…hatchery steelhead have reproduced naturally for multiple generations, but does not provide any evidence that they would be sustaining if the hatchery program quit supplementing the run.”
The WDFW leadership may take that statement to mean the hatchery program must continue so the sportsmen can have a kill fishery.
It would be entirely progressive and welcome if they stopped the hatchery releases and invested their time and money in recovering the Skykomish River wild summer steelhead as required by the ESA.
Do you wear this badge RJ?