Saturday, August 29, 2009

ODFW Wants to Kill Wild North Umpqua Winter Steelhead...Again.

For those of you that might think my rantings on this blog at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is unreasonable then read the article below and you will understand the frustration of dealing with these people.
This agency does not care about wild salmonids and it hasn't for many years! The lame excuse of "angler opportunities" is weak at best and just wrong. There are a lot of people smarter than me out there and I defer to them and the person who wrote the following article is one of those I defer to. The writer of the article below is Bill Bakke of Native Fish Society and he is someone who has been at the forefront of saving wild salmon and trout for decades.
Bill was advocating for wild salmonids way back before it was the en vogue thing to do and I know of no better friend of wild salmon and trout than Bill Bakke.

The ODFW staff and commission are dedicated to finding a way to kill wild winter steelhead on the North Fork Umpqua River. In 2007 the public poured into the ODFW commission room to support the release fishery for wild Umpqua winter steelhead.
Guides said that killing these fish jeopardized the future of their fishery. Anglers valued these large beautiful fish too important to be caught just once and that the long-term health of this fishery could be achieved only by releasing the fish. The proposal for a catch and release fishery by the public was in response to the slaughter of wild steelhead after ODFW adopted a kill fishery on the mainstem Umpqua in 2004-2005. The river became a magnet to those people, many of them from out of state that wanted to kill the first steelhead they catch. The anglers not only swarmed the river,they high-graded their catch to take home the largest steelhead. The ODFW rationalized the kill of wild winter steelhead on abundance, saying wild steelhead could withstand a kill fishery. They point to the Native Fish Conservation Policy advocating the policy promotes a kill fishery on wild salmonids when they are abundant enough to support it.
The problem is that the staff does not know what the impact on wild winter steelhead is from this fishery, but the public was outraged.
During the 2008 angling regulations process a year later, the staff introduced the kill fishery to replace the catch and release fishery that was adopted by the Commission the year before. But at the commission meeting in Forest Grove, Oregon, the majority of the public testified in favor of the no kill regulation and convinced the Commission to let the catch and release regulation run its
full 4-year course. They agency mounted a rationale to support a kill fishery, but the public did not buy it and a massive organization effort was conducted to oppose it. The catch and release fishery was once again approved by the Commission for the entire Umpqua system, but the chair of the Commission, Marla Rae, said in an off-hand remark that it was not over yet. Her prediction was correct.
In 2009 the district biologist for the Umpqua gave a presentation to a group of southern Oregon fish biologists promoting a kill fishery on wild winter steelhead in the North Umpqua River. I heard from staff that her advocacy for doing away with the catch and release fishery had been reeled in. The leadership in the ODFW staff directed the Conservation and Recovery Program staff to build a model that would provide the basis for a kill fishery. I learned that this abundance 2 based model does not address diversity attributes of the wild population.
So factors contributing to the health and diversity of the population would not be included in the proposal to kill steelhead. This exercise did point out that North Umpqua wild winter steelhead are on average the oldest maturing population of steelhead in Oregon and Washington coastal rivers. The smolts tend to spend three years rearing in the river and tributaries and the adults tend to stay in the ocean three years before maturing and returning to the river. On average these fish are 5-year olds and unique on the coast. It is also a factor in producing really large adult steelhead. An abundance-based model could justify killing these fish, but not how to maintain their productivity and abundance.
The Fish Cons, a group of fish conservation organizations, had arranged to have ODFW staff present this model to them at their July 2, 2009 meeting, but when it came time to do so, ODFW refused to participate. I have heard that there is strong disagreement within the staff about this kill fishery promoted by the district fishery biologist and the chair of the ODFW Commission. If the leadership staff had resolved their dispute, they would have presented the proposal to open a kill fishery on North Umpqua River wild steelhead at the July 2 Fish Cons meeting, but that did not happen. I heard that a staffer said, “We may have to give up on it.”
Public advocacy for the protection of wild winter steelhead on the Umpqua has been successful in removing the kill fishery and defending the catch and release fishery in 2007 and 2008, and are fighting to retain it against as staff generated assault on wild steelhead in 2009.
If one is optimistic about ODFW staff and Commission motives this issue would not be on the table. We could be confident that the agency is concerned about wild steelhead and salmon and their framework for management is precautionary, science based, and careful. However, their track record inspires no such confidence about their motives and the long list of extinct wild salmonid populations and those protected under the ESA are indicators that the agency has gotten it all wrong for a long time.


  1. We all need to make sure this does not happen!

  2. trout chaser4:51 PM

    We have an abundance of steelhead in this particular river, so lets start harvesting them? Good grief! what the hell are those folks smokin'? Given the plight of wild steelhead in general, that ought to be all the more reason to preserve this particular resource.
    Elk season has started here in Idaho, and I made the argument to a group of sportsmen (and I use the term loosely) that the Dept of fish and game should figure out whats best for the resource, and the hunters/fishermen will just have to deal with it. Lordy, I thought I was gonna get my ass kicked! The "harvest mentality" seems to be not only alive and well but gaining steam in certain quarters.