By Ted Williams
A number of organizations and concerned fishery scientists called for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and its supervising authority, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, to close or investigate hatchery steelhead programs on the Olympic Peninsula that have experienced an outbreak of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHNV). This virus, for which there is no cure, can be deadly to hatchery and wild salmon alike and is spread from fish to fish. The virus does not affect humans. Adult winter steelhead returning to the WDFW’s Bogachiel Hatchery were found to be infected with IHNV, necessitating the destruction of the fish and 250,000 eggs that the fish produced.
“We cannot have these coastal hatcheries continuing to serve as incubators for fish pathogens,” said Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy, one of the signing groups. In a February 12 letter addressed to WDFW Executive Director Phil Anderson and the Commission, the signatories call for establishment of a scientific panel that would include at least some of the signatory groups as members. “WDFW needs to investigate this outbreak in an open and transparent manner,” Beardslee added.
The letter also calls for the termination of the Snider Creek wild broodstock program run by the Olympic Peninsula Guide Association. “Enough evidence exists to show that the OPGA program has not helped the wild steelhead population it intended to augment,” said Richard Burge, vice-president for conservation of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, another signatory. “By almost any measure, it’s been a failure.” IHNV has also been detected in the wild fish collected for this program.
“There’s no need for any augmentation on the Sol Duc. Instead, WDFW should designate it as a ‘wild gene stock bank’ as described in their Steelhead Management Plan,” said Pete Soverel, executive director of Wild Salmon Rivers. “It’s been two years since the Commission approved the plan, yet no rivers have been designated to protect the genetic material of wild steelhead,” he added.
Other signers include Bill Abrahamse, President of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited, Bill Bakke, Executive Director of the Native Fish Society, Nathan Mantua, Co-Director of the JISAO/CSES Climate Impacts Group and School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Dave Steinbaugh, Waters West, Port Angeles, Washington, and numerous fishery scientists.