Friday, March 25, 2011

Salmon People

I read an article on the famous Boldt decision of 1970 which gave seven western native American tribes the right to harvest 50% of the Columbia river salmon.
After years of being basically kicked to the curb by the white man this ruling, which was subsequently upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court, the tribes were getting some portion of what was theirs for centuries before the white man came west.
Some may argue that this is not right and that what was done by our trespassing forefathers of a hundred years ago is not our fault. I would simply say how can a huge injustice ever be adequately repaid. The native Americans of centuries ago relied on the returning salmon for every aspect of life. The salmon were their ancient heritage and in every way as important to them as the bison was to the plains tribes.
Their whole social structure revolved around the salmon along with their spiritual beliefs. To say that they were not entitled to what Federal Judge George Boldt ruled is either selfish, greedy or just ignorant. In my opinion the injustices that were inflicted upon the native American tribes throughout North America can never really be fully repaid or understood by the white man as to the magnitude of the wrong done.
Of course the Boldt decision is not without it's flaws. A very large one is the allocation process, as far as who gets what, has to rely on fishery biologists estimating what the future runs will be. This process has proved to be a failure in these recent lean years as the estimations of run sizes has fallen flat on it's face once again in 2011. However it is what it is and until something better comes along it's the best way.... I guess.
That being said we sports anglers are not owed fish to catch. The non-tribal commercial netters, whose greed in the past is one of the main reason we are where we are in the first place, are not just automatically entitled the salmon.
With hydro-electric dams, spawning habitat degradation and poor hatchery processes we all own some of the blame. Whether it be our generation or the generations of our fathers we basically ripped off the tribes and got greedy. The notion that the fish will always return in the huge numbers they once did is just plain stupid and to fight like dogs for the scraps of what is left is a very disturbing commentary on where we are as a civilized people.
Yes the tribes deserve what they got with the Boldt decision and a whole lot more as far as I am concerned.
I like going to Sherars Falls on the Deschutes to watch the people of the Warm Springs tribe net returning salmon and steelhead. With impossibly long handled nets these graceful fishermen try to intercept the salmon that are held up in the violent water beneath the falls.
They put up with the white tourists that stop along the road and snap their pictures and who cannot begin to understand the symbolism of what is taking place.
I deeply admire these people in that they have stubbornly held onto the ancient traditions of their ancestors despite losing nearly everything due to the encroachment of our ancestors.
I understand their mistrust of the society who took their land and their salmon. They did not invite us here and that makes us invaders.
Along with the theft of their land we also introduced disease and alcohol to them.
So if you ever get the chance to observe this fishing ritual at Sherars Falls take a moment to realize all these proud and noble people lost and how, even in this day and age, tenaciously they cling to what is left of their ancient heritage.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Put Your Faith in ODFW

Well I'm kidding of course because once again the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has dropped the ball on estimating returns on Columbia River Spring Chinook.
Even Bill Monroe of the Oregonian and ODFW's de-facto cheerleaders has touted the big returns years after year.
Well guess what folks. Someone forgot to tell the fish! Once again ODFW has fumbled and once again gullible spring salmon have been gypped as the Columbia is set to close on April 4th.
ODFW bases it's run predictions on previous year jack returns so I am wondering if what they are counting?
Shad maybe?
Once again commercial fishing has duped ODFW because they are smarter and more united but even this year they are cut short.
Do I feel sorry for the cheated sports guys? Not a bit! Too many times these anglers in organizations like CCA and Northwest Steelheaders have put their own selfishness above what for is best the fish. They deserve the "screwing" that ODFW hands to them every year.
What really irks me is they try to make the native American tribes that harvest salmonids above Bonneville dam the scapegoats. Sorry fellas but that just doesn't fly with me. The tribes deserve every fish they get and more. Look at the long and sad history of the treaties that have been broken over the decades and you will see why I feel this way.
It's not only the Columbia river where ODFW has dropped the ball either. ODFW predicted that the Tillamook bay rivers were going to have a return of 114% of normal this last fall and so accordingly did not do anything to change bag limits etc. Well you can probably guess what happened there. As one who spends a lot of time on the north coast I can verify that the 114% did not show.
Wonder what kind of excuse we will hear when the whole emergency closure meetings this fall are held.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Do the Math - Why Steelhead Broodstock Programs Hurt Wild Fish

I've thought a lot about the steelhead broodstock programs over the years since it's inception and it, along with the harvest of wild cutthroat trout, are the main focus of my wrath against the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Being that I am not a fishery biologist I rely on the wisdom of others that are educated in fish biology, specifically anadromous salmonids like steelhead and I've asked both Bill Bakke and Spencer Miles to help me with this post.
Let's go with some simple mathematics. I'll use females as my examples since one wild male steelhead can "service" several females.
A typical wild steelhead female will produce about 3-5 thousand eggs so for this example I'll go with the bottom end number of 3,000. Out of these eggs let's conservatively estimate that out of these eggs 2 adults will mature to return as adults 2-3 years later. ODFW takes about 30-35 pair, each year, of wild steelhead. So if out of those 30-35 pairs of wild steelhead, that are used to make hatchery steelhead, were to produce, let's say 60 returning adults and then multiply that by the number of years these broodstock programs have been running and then multiply, if you can the lost progeny all the generations of wild eggs that were turned into hatchery steelhead I think you may be surprise at the cost to wild steelhead populations. The offspring of these wild steelhead are taken out of the equation and will not spawn naturally. Instead they are made into a hatchery product. The potential of each and every one of those wild into hatchery eggs is lost. How many wild steelhead would those "borrowed" eggs produced.
On the Nestucca and Wilson rivers this broodstock program has been going one for about 10 years. Do the math! I used conservative numbers and percentages to make my point but even at that the numbers really add up.
These two rivers have declining populations of wild winter steelhead. Redd counts from the last two years were alarmingly low yet ODFW still does their take of wild steelhead to populate their hatchery needs.
Who benefits most from this program?
Very simple! Professional bait guides do. They lobbied hard for this program and they all march lock step in advocating it. They claim the wild populations are healthy enough to sustain the removal of the wild spawning fish every year. I have my doubts about the numbers they come up with on their creel and spawning surveys.
Do I think they are deliberately inflating their creel counts of wild steelhead they've encountered? Well let me put it this way. They are the user group who benefits most by having this steelhead broodstock fishery.
They have guided trips with paying customers at a time of year that in the past they did not. Their customers are able to harvest the hatchery broodstock steelhead at a time of year when there should be only wild steelhead present and less angling pressure
There are other pitfalls of these programs besides just the numbers. I think all other arguments about the negative effect of steelhead broodstock programs aside the sheer numbers of wild fish removed, over a period of years, should be the most alarming.
One bait guide says these wild eggs are just being borrowed! Borrowed? How so? The potential or recruits of all those offsprings are multiplied and lost forever.
It's a dangerous game that ODFW is playing with the future of wild steelhead and the gamble is not worth it in the least.
This example I've used describes a stable situation where the steelhead parents are replacing themselves. It illustrates a conversion of a wild salmonid population into a production program to provide harvest benefits to a business. This conversion has a biological impact on the wild population through genetic and competition impacts that affect the reproductive success of the wild population at a cost to the public that supports the program through tax dollars, fees and investments in watershed protection. The cost to produce a fish that is harvested is hidden from the public by the state management agency. There have been some economic studies that have determined what those costs are. For example, a recent independent economic evaluation was completed under contract for NOAA Fisheries that pointed out that the Mitchell Act Hatchery program on the Columbia River (18 hatcheries) is a deficit spending program for all hatcheries. These hatcheries are supported with public tax dollars. In response NOAA Fisheries fired this economics team and looked for one that would give them the answer they wanted. For hatchery programs, regardless the type, there is no cost or biological impact accountability. These programs are sold by the management agencies (state, tribal and federal) as conservation actions, when in fact they are not only a drain on public funds, they are increasing the risk to wild fish populations. The recent study done by Chilcote (NOAA Fisheries), Goodson (ODFW) and Falcy (ODFW) point out that conventional hatchery production and native broodstock hatcheries for coho, chinook and steelhead all contribute to the decline of the wild populations that they affect, for the wild populations decline in proportion to the naturally spawning hatchery fish in those wild populations. The agencies have constructed a good business plan, for they get most of the benefit from the invested public funds, but it has eclipsed the conservation mission of the agencies and is placing the native fish that are their primary responsibility at greater risk of extinction. For example, the Sandy River wild steelhead have declined from an estimated 20,000 fish to 800 fish over time. Mitigation hatcheries funded by the public have not been successful in replacing the loss or stemming the decline. Even though the public has made a $100 million commitment to restore this river for wild salmon and steelhead, they are disturbed by the fact that wild run continues to decline, it is threatened with extinction, and the habitat is filled with hatchery fish. One biologist concluded that hatchery fish waste the productivity of the habitat and the investments to restore it.
ODFW is being very myopic, of course, as it's not so much the removal of 1-2% of the run that's screwing things up, as steelhead are remarkably resilient and will replenish themselves (we harvested probably 50% of the run, or more, for decades before things got noticeably bad). I think the broodstock program is horrible for a whole different set of reasons:
1) ODFW sold the public on a program that they claimed would have more conservation benefits and be less harmful to wild fish. As Chilcote has shown, this is 100% false.
2) We now have hatchery fish spawning on top of our Feb-May wild fish. No studies have even been conducted on this, which really pisses me off (though Chilcote told me that this is going to be his next area of focus, should start a study on this later in the year).
3) On the Nestucca and Wilson, wild fish at least had the river to themselves from February to May up until 2004. Now it's a constant onslaught of hatchery pukes. Summers from May - January, Alsea stock from November - February, and "wild" broodstock from January - May.
4) Increased pressure.There used to be minimal pressure from Feb-April, and now it's a parade of drift boats. The gravel from Beaver to Blaine is no longer even utilized as the fish aren't going to spawn when 25 boats are going over them.
I would like to thank Bill Bakke and Spencer Miles from Native Fish Society for their contribution to this subject

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The ODFW Version of 3 Card Monte

What is the old saying? If you can't wow them with facts then baffle them with bullshit!
Here is what those fine folks at ODFW are doing on the Sandy river
Lowering the baseline and avoiding the ESA by Spencer Miles