Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Dangers of Steelhead Broodstock Programs

Wilson River angler delivering wild winter steelhead to holding pond for use in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's hatchery broodstock program.

I've been mulling this entry over for a few days now, wanting to express how I really feel about the exploitation of wild steelhead through the broodstock programs.I had fully intended to do one of my emotional rants because it goes without saying I despise this program.I cringe every time I read where someone supports the broodstock program based on false information or because greedy professional guides on ifish.net says it's a good way to restore depleted wild populations. I've even alienated a few friends and phony so called conservation organizations like the Association  of  Northwest Steelheaders because of my opposition to broodstock programs.
I don't care! The wild steelhead are too important to worry about sparing feeling and making enemies. So that is all old news and why be redundant ranting about something I've ranted about many times on this blog. I've decided that I will let the experts tell you all about the harm this program does and the misinformation that is being put out there by ODFW, Northwest Steelheaders and those professional guides.

Here is what Kathryn Kostow, formerly of ODFW, says about broodstock programs
Juvenile phenotypes and fitness as indicated by survival were compared for naturally produced steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), a new local hatchery stock, and an old non local hatchery stock on the Hood River, Oregon, U.S.A. Although the new hatchery stock and the naturally produced fish came from the
same parent gene pool, they differed significantly at every phenotype measured except saltwater age. The characteristics of the new hatchery stock were similar to those of the old hatchery stock. Most of the phenotypic differences were probably environmentally caused. Although such character changes would not be inherited, they may influence the relative fitness of the hatchery and natural fish when they are in the same environment, as selection responds to phenotypic distributions. A difference in fitness between the new hatchery stock and naturally produced fish was indicated by significant survival differences.
Acclimation of the new hatchery stock in a “seminatural” pond before release was associated with a further decrease in relative smolt-to-adult survival with little increase in phenotypic similarity between the natural and hatchery fish. These results suggest that modified selection begins immediately in the first generation of a new hatchery stock and may provide a mechanism for genetic change.
Kostow notes in her study that ‘new hatchery fish’ derived from the wild population and called ‘native brood stock’ had poor survival.” She said, “Average smolt to adult survival for the naturally produced
winter and summer steelhead were five to six times higher than for the new hatchery stock."Large phenotypic responses by fish from the same parent gene pool to the differences between the captive and natural environments are consistent with the process of domestication.”
“This study demonstrates large average phenotype and survival differences between hatchery-produced and naturally produced fish from the same parent gene pool. These results indicate that a different
selection regime was affecting each of the groups. The processes indicated by these results can be expected to lead to eventual genetic divergence between the new hatchery stock and its wild source population, thus limiting the usefulness of the stock for conservation purposes to only the first few

Bill McMillan of Wild Fish Conservancy had this to say about this broodstock program
It doesn't much matter where they (broodstock programs) have occurred geographically, the basics are the same. It is virtually the same hatchery technology that we began with 130 years ago on the West Coast -- take wild fish from their stream of origin (where they are typically needed on the spawning grounds, not removed from them), strip wild females of their eggs, squirt sperm on them from males, rear the eggs in hatchery trays, and rear the juveniles in hatchery confinement prior to release. British Columbia has used native brood steelhead programs for over 30 years beginning with the Big Qualicum Hatchery. Most of the steelhead rivers on the east side of Vancouver Island have virtually collapsed in the past 10-12 years with closures of many of those rivers necessitated to preserve the remaining wild steelhead. I am a personal friend of the now retired hatchery manager who began the Vedder River Hatchery on the lower Fraser system. It had early success, and has seen significant failures in its objectives since. He is now an outspoken pessimist regarding native brood programs for steelhead who recently spoke out against such a program now being suggested by some for the Thompson River.

Bill Bakke of Native Fish Society has been an advocate for our cold water fisheries for over 40 years. He has written many times about broodstock programs and their impact of wild salmon and steelhead.
The fish management agencies and the NMFS have sold the native broodstock hatchery as a recovery tool for wild salmon and steelhead before they have been fully tested to determine whether they work. The few on-going research projects are not promising, showing that the native broodstock hatchery fish are not equal to wild fish in survival and reproductive success. These hatchery fish diverge from the wild fish gene pool they were derived from in phenotypic traits in the first generation. The native broodstock hatchery changes the fish so that they have greater survival fitness in the hatchery than in streams. This change is due to both selective pressures in the hatchery and to relaxing selective pressures the fish would encounter in streams (Reisenbichler 1977; Goodman 2005). This domestication selection in the hatchery can be reduced but it cannot be eliminated, so the hatchery fish will always be different from wild fish in traits important for survival ( Reisenbichler et al. 2004 ). The only result that can come from integrating wild and hatchery fish in hatchery programs is a homogenized population that does not do well in the hatchery or in streams (Goodman 2005). The fish managers have coined a term for these homogenized creatures, they call them “natural” salmon and steelhead, and they have the institutional commitment to transform the region’s wild salmonids into mongrels.

There are others that have written about these broodstock programs and I would encourage you to investigate further by going to Bill Bakke's blog .
Remember one thing though as you do. You will not get a truthful analysis of broodstock programs from people still working for ODFW. They are not allowed to tell you the true facts because it may jeopardize their jobs with the agency. Remember also that professional guides, the people that the broodstock program benefits the most, are going to paint a rosy picture of wild steelhead populations and that they are just borrowing the wild eggs and milt. Again do not believe it! These guides make money on this exploitation of wild steelhead and that too is a fact.
So you can take the word of experts in their fields of study or some loud mouth wannabe on an internet fishing forum.
Make no mistakes friends. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is fully invested in this program and native fish be damned. When some HRC (Hatchery Research Center) talking head says he just hates hatchery programs he isn't telling you the whole truth. He may hate the old out of basin plants of the past but you can bet your ass he in in love with wild broodstock programs.
Also you could ask some locals from the Tillamook area what they think of the broodstock boondoggle and almost to a person they dislike it intensely.
That speaks volumes to me.
Please join us on Facebook  in the The Love Of Wild Fish group if you believe in the importance of wild and native salmon, steelhead and trout along with other native species in our region.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Wonder

I love the smell of the forest after a fall rain don't you?
There is a cleanness and purity in the way the woods smell after a rainfall.
Autumn is my favorite time of year and I look forward to it every year. It is a season of change and movement. The great Pacific Flyway is full of eager waterfowl making their way to their winter feeding grounds. The mighty Chinook salmon and the sleek Coho salmon are making their ultimate and only trip back to the waters of their birth. The fall leaves are an explosion of color.
I especially like the turning leaves. On some of the maples it looks like the tree is on fire with the brightness of the red leaves that will soon drop.
I often can be found along my favorite cutthroat trout stream at this time of year before the Halloween closing. The urgency of a cutthroat taking a fly is magnified this time of year as is my own urgency to squeeze in one last trip before putting my rods away.
I have no interest in taking one of these wonderful little ambush/predators home for dinner. Killing wild fish holds no interest for me whatsoever these days.
I am in the fall of my life and it shows as I amble and sometimes stumble my way along the riverbank looking for a likely spot to cast my fly. I wonder how many more falls I have left. Did I spend this fall foolishly or was this fall well spent?
I think a lot about my cutthroat trout mentor Pete, who passed away last year. I wonder what he thought as he fished for his beloved trout in the fall. I wonder......
Fishing in the winter does not hold the attraction for me it once did and it's mostly because the desire to catch a steelhead no longer makes me forget about the cold and rain and lack of sleep. Every once in awhile it's fun to rise in the wee hours of morning when the only people on the road are like minded anglers such as myself. Those times are becoming less and less attractive though and I would just as soon sleep.
In my angling life I have taken many things for granted and now that my time on the river is at a premium do I regret it all? Not hardly! I have had a wonderful life on the river. I've seen many wonderful things and even a very few not so wonderful things. It all been good and the fish I encountered have been worth it. Lot of memories to keep me warm when the winter of my life is upon me. Fish hooked and fish lost, friends long since gone and the memories....oh the memories
I wonder if I will be a part of someone's pleasant memories of their time on the river....I wonder.