Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The New Normal

The rivers of Puget Sound are closing again this year because of low returns of wild steelhead...yes I said again. This is the second year in a row that this has happened and I would have to applaud the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for taking this action in order to preserve the few wild steelhead remaining.
Do the names Skagit, Skykomish and Sauk sound familiar? These are the rivers of steelhead legend. The Stilliguamish once had 80,000 winter steelhead returning to it but now have fewer than 1000! How in the hell did this happen? I'm sure there is plenty of finger pointing going on but the fact remains that this is could be the "new normal"
Here is the link to the sad and alarming WDFW news release.
Puget Sound River Closures

Friday, January 21, 2011

“No Winter Lasts Forever; No Spring Skips Its Turn.”

I dredged this up from 2008 and thought that everything I wrote about winter 3 years ago holds true today. This winter has been extra tough as I am helping a relative that refuses to be helped. Anyway enjoy these musings from a few years back....I think it's one of the best I've written.

Websters defines cabin fever as "extreme irritability and restlessness from living in isolation or a confined indoor area for a prolonged time"
The clinical definition is Seasonal Affective Disorder or some call it the shack nasties and yes I have it. Since my retirement I have the onset of the "winter blues". I've touched on this before in other entries but this season seem to be the worst I've dealt with. Constantly cold,drizzly and days that are too short. My favorite winter steelhead stream has a mudslide in the upper river that has kept the lower twenty miles of the main stem (most of the river) the color of a cappuccino and thus unfishable. The other nearby rivers have ran high for almost all of the winter and since I am not a gear fisherman it makes the swinging of flies tough and I don't need any more handicaps in hooking winter steelhead on a fly than I already have.
With ice and snow on nearly all of the coastal range passes and gasoline topping out over $3 well you get the picture. If it sounds like I'm whining or making excuses then I confess but you can only tie so many flies,watch so many fishing DVDs and have so many heated political or conservation debates with the unlearned so called sportsmen on the internet before it gets to you.
So my edginess may be more evident in my postings this time but bear with me for a few more months.
How I long for those exciting first few trout excursions of the spring over to the Deschutes and what I wouldn't give to feel a two inch long salmon fly crawling down my neck because it's late spring along the Deschutes. Those lazy late summer days of the coast streams where the new trout water I discovered awaits me and my four weight.
I can just feel it now! The warm breeze of the desert canyon with the juniper and sage doing natures aroma therapy on my soul.
When I'm hiking up above the locked gate on the Deschutes this year I'll remember the cold of winter and rejoice in the little things that are all a part of my angling life.
So fellow winter sufferers take heart in what British poet Anne Bradstreet wrote about winter.
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NFS River Steward Op-Ed in the Oregonian

By Spencer Miles

Over the past decade countless organizations -- including Portland General Electric, the city of Portland, Western Rivers Conservancy and The Freshwater Trust -- have spent more than $75 million on Sandy River habitat restoration with a long-term goal of recovering wild fish. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, on the other hand, continues to show more interest in protecting its harmful hatchery programs than in protecting our native fish. The results have been catastrophic. 
Wild salmon and steelhead in the Sandy River desperately need our help. Native winter steelhead that once numbered 20,000 fish are now hanging on by a thread with a population of only 800 fish. Spring chinook are in even worse shape, having gone from a historic abundance of 29,000 fish to 750 today. Sandy River spring chinook, fall chinook, winter steelhead and coho are all listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and chum salmon are extinct.
For the past 40 years fisheries biologists have known that hatchery fish are extremely harmful to wild fish. A river can only support a finite number of fish, and over time, hatchery fish simply drive wild fish toward extinction. The ODFW fish commission continues to operate with little regard for science or the well-being of our endangered wild fish. This spring, about 1,250,000 hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead will be released into the Sandy.
In 1997 ODFW's abundance goal for the upper Sandy was 4,900 wild winter steelhead. By 2010 this number has been administratively reduced to a goal of 1,515 wild winter steelhead for the entire Sandy basin. Despite greatly improved habitat, these endangered fish are being managed out of existence.
At a recent ODFW meeting in Salem, Assistant Fish Division Administrator Bruce McIntosh stated that annual releases of 240,000 hatchery steelhead is a reasonable number for supporting a recovery of wild fish. The ODFW has been annually planting the Sandy with 240,000 hatchery steelhead for decades, and wild steelhead runs have declined precipitously as a result.
Albert Einstein once quipped that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In a recent interview with the Portland Tribune, ODFW District Biologist Todd Alsbury stated that reducing hatchery programs on the Sandy is a "last resort." Are four endangered species and one extinct species not grounds for this "last resort"? Must we wait for more extinctions before ODFW breaks from the status quo and starts protecting Oregon's salmon and steelhead?
It is time for the ODFW to stop ignoring the science and its responsibility under the law and truly commit to a restoration of Sandy River salmonids. Dozens of organizations have recognized the importance of these fish by giving more than $75 million to improve their habitat. If future generations are to ever witness a spawning salmon, the ODFW must take accountability for its deleterious hatchery program and designate the Sandy as a wild salmon sanctuary. Oregon will be a better place for it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

ODFW's Response

After getting over 300, at last count, responses to the wild steelhead situation on the Sandy river here is ODFW's response.
I will let you read it and draw your own conclusions before commenting at the end of this post.Please click on the link below to read the response from ODFW

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Memo - Sandy Basin Concerns 1-14-11

So what is Mr. McIntosh saying here? In my opinion not much. He fails to acknowledge that what ODFW is doing on the Sandy is a violation of Oregon's Native Fish Conservation Policy. This was pointed out to him and Ed Bowles, ODFW Fish Division Administrator, at the January 5th public meeting in Salem by Spence Miles.
In fact Bowles went so far as to say in another correspondence to a Native Fish Society River Steward that if conservation groups were to pursue a solution to this that  involved a lawsuit those group(s) bringing a suite would be "Marginalized"
Now isn't that interesting?  We have a state agency whose responsibility it is to protect and conserve those native steelhead acting like a spoiled child.
What Spencer has done is open a huge can of worms and brought Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to task for their huge failure in protecting an irreplaceable wild steelhead population. Those of us that call ourselves friends of wild fish can learn a hell of a lot from Spencer Miles about motivation to action when dealing with ODFW and concerning wild salmonids.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wild Steelhead on the Sandy Need Your Help

  Fellow Native Fish Society river steward Spencr Miles has done research on the wild winter steelhead of the Sandy River near Portland Oregon. He found that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is sacrificing a disproportionate amount of endangered wild winter steelhead for the sake of yet another broodstock program. The details below are from a letter that Spencer wrote and posted on his blog Whitefish Can't Jump  If after reading what Spencer has found out pisses you off...and it should, please take the time to write ODFW a letter stating your displeasure of this "mining" of wild milt and eggs for the sake of another hatchery program.
Here is a link to an automailer that you can use send a letter to ODFW Save Sandy River Wild Winter Steelhead 

The Sandy River historically supported an annual native winter steelhead run of upwards of 20,000 fish (Mattson 1955). This run has now been in decline for decades, culminating in an escapement of 537 fish at Marmot dam in 1995 (Marmot Fish Counts) and an ESA listing of winter steelhead in 1998.

In 2000, just two years after the ESA listing went into effect, ODFW instituted a broodstock hatchery program on the Sandy with a goal of supplying 25% of the hatchery smolts with native Sandy River steelhead (Cedar Creek HGMP). In that year, with only 893 wild winter steelhead passing the Marmot dam, 140 wild steelhead were harvested from the river to support the new broodstock program. Between 2001 and 2007 an average of 83 wild steelhead were harvested for the broodstock program when the wild run above Marmot averaged only 781 fish (Marmot Fish Counts).
The Hatchery Scientific Review Group has determined that the primary cause of poor productivity in the Sandy is a high proportion of hatchery-origin spawners (HSRG 2009). Moreover, in 1998 NMFS estimated that as many as 45% of the spawning fish are of hatchery origin (Federal Register 1998).
During the summer of 2007 the Marmot dam was removed, allowing countless numbers of hatchery steelhead to reach some of the best spawning grounds in the watershed. The Marmot fish ladder also made it trivial to track escapement, and without this data, determining the maximum sustainable harvest to support the broodstock program is onerous at best.
How is it that the ODFW, despite a record low Sandy River escapement in the late 1990s, decided to implement a hatchery program based on harvesting this already fragile run?
•How can the ODFW legally harvest native steelhead listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act?
•Does the ODFW have a scientific justification for harvesting ESA listed wild fish to sustain a sport fishery amidst record levels of low escapement?
•How does the ODFW measure annual escapement of wild winter steelhead on the Sandy, and how do the escapement estimates impact the number of wild fish harvested to support the broodstock program?
•At which point does wild escapement become too low to sustainably support a broodstock program?
•Does the ODFW feel that a harvest of up to 15% of an ESA listed fish is an acceptable method for supporting a sport fishery?
•In 1998 NMFS estimated a 45% hatchery stray rate on Sandy River spawning grounds, which has undoubtedly increased since the removal of Marmot dam. The ODFW has established a maximum limit of 10% hatchery spawners under the Native Fish Conservation Plan (OAR 635-007-0507), yet the Sandy River hatchery continues to operate with little regard to that administrative law. How does the Sandy River hatchery continue to legally stock 160,000 winter steelhead smolts and 80,000 summer steelhead (Sandy River HOP 2010) when it is clearly in violation of OAR 635-007-0507?
The Sandy River has the potential to be one of the finest urban winter steelhead fisheries in the country, yet the perpetuation of an unsustainable hatchery program has rendered it as anything but. It is my sincere hope that the Sandy River hatchery can be brought into compliance with state law, and that the Sandy River can once again provide amazing runs of native winter steelhead for future generations