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