Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wild Winter Steelhead at the Crossroads - An Opinion

We are 10 years into the wild winter steelhead broodstock programs on the north coast and what have we got to show for it?
Dwindling numbers of returning wild adults? Yes
Over sized and hungry broodstock smolt? You bet!
Gear and bait guides are the biggest benefactors in this program? Absolutely
The promised review and assessment of the program by ODFW? Nope!
So here we sit ten years later on the eve of yet another winter steelhead season with not much more knowledge of this program than when it first started.
Yes the broodstock program did supply a better strain of hatchery steelhead but you have to ask yourself if it was worth the price of the sacrifice of the wild eggs that were "borrowed". Experts do not think so.
Did it sell a lot more angling licenses and create the "angling opportunities" like ODFW had hoped? Doubtful since they pretty much eliminated the early winter season for thousands of November/December winter steelhead enthusiasts. Remember the old days of sneaking out for some winter steelhead fishing before Thanksgiving dinner?
Here is what we do know. Returning broodstock offsprings are less fit than the guides and ODFW would like you to know. The science and analysis of the broodstock programs  fishery experts is out there and it refutes what all the bullshit the Tillamook area bait guides are trying to sell you at the largest fishing forum in the Pacific northwest
Meanwhile the wild winter steelhead, the fish that really matter, are at a crossroads. Apparently a few at ODFW realize this but one has to wonder if it's too late and will they ever have a voice in making the correct policy decisions at that agency
I fear that another 10 years of playing dumb by ODFW will be the final straw for wild winter steelhead.


  1. What do we have to show for it? Addicted communities who are being taught by ODFW that the only good fish is a hatchery fish.

    While I completely disagree that our wild steelhead are at some kind of mystical "crossroads," there is no doubt that these programs feed long-standing social problems rather than solving them. At some point we've got to break the cycle of addiction that hatcheries create.

  2. I would have to ask what rivers on the north Oregon coast are you fishing Rob? They are completely and absolutely at a crossroads and why is that? Are you paying attention or are you just taking Chris Knutsen's word for it?
    Do you still support the broodstock programs?

  3. Anonymous10:31 AM

    I know personally 3 Nestucca gear guides that have aborted the broodstock program. That is a start. They have seen first hand what it is doing to the river's wild steelhead runs. I know that ODFW hates it when I bring up the fact that they are mining wild steelhead eggs from the river.

    Rich Youngers

  4. I think the rub is this, how do we define "crossroads"? The term implies grave and immediate consequences and clearly wild steelhead are in decline in many parts of their range. The difficulty is what biological metrics define a population at a crossroads? Is it more of a social/political crossroads we face? It would help if someone had a really good handle on runsizes in our coastal watersheds but alas it appears that managers prefer the old paradigm of, if you don't look, there isn't a problem.

  5. Shane, there was never a single day when I supported wild brood. From the onset, I understood wild-brood as a dangerous plan engineered to save hatchery programs that needed to die, as well as a plan to extirminate our remaining wild runs. I have preached this for many years now, and I will maintain my opposition until I die.

    I fish the Nehalem, Kilchis, Wilson, Trask, Nestucca, Alsea, Siletz, Siuslaw, and Umpqua rivers for winter steelhead. The majority of my time is spent on the Nehalem and Trask. These rivers have seen the same crash in numbers as the Nestucca. But it's not because of a wild broodstock program, and it's not because ODFW is plotting to kill off all wild steelhead. It's because the ocean took a shit. We knew this crash was coming while we partied down in 2001/2002. It was inevitable. It was also inevitable that concerned people would cry that the sky is falling as soon as the crash hit it's low point, which it seems to have done.

    With due respect to you and your strong efforts for wild steelhead, I do not believe that Nestucca winter steelhead are on the brink--not even close. Steelhead populations can thrive in the good times, even if they are depressed during the not-so-good times. Look at the data and you will see that some of the best returns come from some of the lowest brood years.

    I trust Chris Knutsen wholeheartedly, and I am confident that he has a clear vision of the landscape. Moreover, I am excited about the direction the department is taking in crafting conservation plans for the future under the Wild Salmonid Policy.

    It pains me to argue with someone who so clearly loves wild steelhead. I look up to you as one of our most important advocates. But I also hope you will consider stepping into a more progressive role rather than working yourself out of the debate. The ODFW staff in Tillamook County are on your side if you give them a chance. That doesn't mean you're going to like all their decisions.

  6. "The ODFW staff in Tillamook County are on your side if you give them a chance"

    You had me agreeing until the above statement. Robert Bradley and Rick Klumph are on the side of the harvest intoxicated population! They are not on the side of wild salmonids! Chris is a good guy but he works for ODFW remember? We've had this conversation before Rob.
    ODFW wants to sell licenses because in order to keep the wheels rolling on their over sized bureaucracy they need revenue from tag and license sales.
    The district fish bio's have been instructed to identify harvest opportunities and they have done just that. Just look at the cutthroat trout as an example and just watch what is in store for the North Umpqua.
    John Bracke and I have done spawning surveys on the Nestucca for the last several years and the redds are just not their. You are invited to come with us this winter and you can see for yourself.
    I don't know how important I am in my zeal for wild salmonids, I just have a big mouth.

  7. Anonymous8:17 AM

    I've definitely come around to being "anti-broodstock" programs except in the very limited circumstance of a conservation hatchery like on Redfish Lake in Idaho where that program likely saved those Sockeye from extirpation.

    I wish I could say I had the foresight to see broodstock programs for what they are from the start but hey, I was a newbie as they were getting going and I had substantially more trust in the agency than I do now.

    Which brings me to my last point: the more engaged I get in wild fish consevation, the more I need the primal scream therapy your blog provides. It is such a tough line to walk to strike the right balance between saying exactly what is on ones mind and calling bs vs. keeping in the agencies good graces so one can remain engaged in the process.

    Oh, and hey Rob. What's up buddy? We oughta fish sometime . . .

  8. I think OneMuleTeam speaks for a lot of us in his last point: Shane has the balls to tell it like it is, and I find myself cheering out loud regularly. Much needed and appreciated.

    You're right, Shane. The department has a thriving dark side, and it is teetering on a knifes edge in terms of which side is in control. ODFW could turn into a monster in the wrong hands. The governor's race is key...