Home | Fly Fishing Features | News | Angling Community Frustrated by Steelhead Deal

Angling Community Frustrated by Steelhead Deal

By
Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font
Angling Community Frustrated by Steelhead Deal

Anglers are frustrated by an agreement between the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Wild Fish Conservancy that will halt the vast majority of stocking hatchery steelhead in Puget Sound rivers.

 

 

 


Source: Jeffrey P. Mayor / The Olympian


Representatives of the recreational fishing community expressed frustration at an agreement that ends a lawsuit over the state’s plans to release about 900,000 steelhead smolts in Puget Sound-area rivers.


The state Department of Fish and Wildlife reached an agreement on April 25 with the Wild Fish Conservancy that stops litigation against the department over its Puget Sound hatchery programs for 21/2 years and permits the release of hatchery steelhead this spring into the Skykomish River.


In a March 31 complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the Duvall-based nonprofit group claimed the department’s Puget Sound hatchery steelhead programs violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Those hatchery fish are impairing the recovery of wild steelhead, salmon, and bull trout, all listed as threatened, the group claimed.


Agency officials admitted the department was vulnerable to litigation because its hatchery steelhead operations had not been approved by National Marine Fisheries Service following the ESA listing of Puget Sound steelhead in 2007. The department worked with tribal co-managers to revise and update its hatchery genetic management plans for all Puget Sound steelhead hatcheries and resubmitted them to NMFS earlier this year. They are still under review.


The department, however, countered the conservancy’s claiming, saying it has taken numerous steps based on current science to ensure its hatchery operations protect wild steelhead and other listed fish species.


“While I am disappointed the agreement does not allow for the release of more of the early winter hatchery steelhead we have on hand into Puget Sound rivers, I am gratified that we were able to reach agreement to release fish from our Skykomish hatchery in 2014 and support a popular recreational fishery,” said department director Phil Anderson.


Conservancy’s Reaction

 “This agreement is a giant win for Puget Sound’s wild steelhead and their recovery,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy.

“There are four major causes for the decline of salmon and steelhead. Loss of habitat is the largest problem facing salmon and steelhead recovery. Science clearly points to dams, hatcheries, and overharvest as three additional problems that need to be fixed. Applying science-based hatchery practices is something we can do right now that will have immediate and long-term positive benefits. Fisheries all over the world have collapsed because politics, not science, guided their management. Science remains the best and most reliable compass to guide recovery and to meet our solemn stewardship responsibility to future generations.”


Angler’s Reaction

 “It’s incredible frustration. First because the department didn’t consult with any of the sports groups that might be impacted, nor did they talk to the tribes I think,” said Frank Urabeck, a sport fishing advocate from Bonney Lake. The state basically disarmed themselves. It is terrible. They left us with one fishery. There has been a lot of trust lost over this.

Where we go from here, who knows. This year is clearly lost. Who knows where we’re going to be a year from now. If the feds don’t have the resources to go through these plans, why would you think we wouldn’t be in the same position next year with another group. This could also go into chinook, and that’s the big money fish.
It’s one big mess and has been poorly handled by the state and feds.”


The key elements of the agreement:

 • The state Department of Fish and Wildlife may release up to 180,000 hatchery steelhead in 2014 and again in 2015 into the Skykomish River, which flows into the Snohomish River near Monroe.


 • The conservancy will not sue the department over its Puget Sound hatchery programs during the next 21/2 years, or until National Marine Fisheries Service approves those programs, whichever comes first.


 • The agency will refrain from planting early winter hatchery steelhead into most rivers in the Puget Sound region until NMFS completes its review.


 • A 12-year research program will be created on the Skagit River. During the study no early winter steelhead will be released into the Skagit watershed. In cooperation with the conservancy, the department will work with tribes to evaluate and potentially implement a steelhead hatchery program in the Skagit using native steelhead.


 • The department may release hatchery steelhead into other rivers around Puget Sound when NMFS approves the department’s hatchery genetic management plans.


 • Early winter steelhead from department hatcheries that cannot be released into Puget Sound-area rivers will be released into inland trout lakes that have no connection to the Sound. The department will give the conservancy 14 days’ advance notice of those releases.


 • The agency will pay the conservancy $45,000 for litigation expenses.


Read the full story HERE

 







Articles by the same author






Comments (14 posted):

grtlksmarlin on 07/05/2014 14:50:48
avatar
So sad and so typical....The experts try to do one thing, and a group that is about "preservation, not conservation" as thay claim, abuses the legal system to force their agenda.....and to top it all off get a pay-day from it! (which is really the point, as many of these sorts of groups are really about generating revenue in the name of a cause). Now most likely they'll be pushing for fishing closures....naturally due to the reduced Steelhead population of which by the way, if they were so interested in protecting the native population which is well adapted, why would they have an issue for a crop of "ignorant" fish to be stocked for anglers to catch? Because.....It's not about protecting the fish, but stopping fishing. B.E.F.
evan_aff on 07/05/2014 15:14:19
avatar
As someone who lives right at the confluence of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie, I'm very happy to see this decision. The groups who pushed for this to happen, believe it or not, want more fish. The reason for this action was because "more fish" is not being achieved by planting Chambers Creek stock steelhead. The science doesn't support their continued use in these systems, period. I'm especially happy to see them come out of the Skagit. Millions are spent on these Chambers Creek plants every year, and very little angling opportunity comes from it unless you stand, with dozens of others, right in front of the hatchery creek, where they bolt straight to when they enter the river. In the Skagit, the biggest of all these operations, only about 100 or so fish are harvested from these stocks each year the past few years. Time to try something new. ---------- Post added at 10:01 AM ---------- Previous post was at 09:57 AM ---------- And when they say "angling community," that definitely doesn't speak for all of us. The groups that have been working towards making this happen are all composed of anglers as well. ---------- Post added at 10:14 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:01 AM ---------- Because.....It's not about protecting the fish, but stopping fishing. This entire decision is based on protecting fish. The NATIVE, WILD fish that belong there, not the introduced strains of steelhead they are planting. I see that you're in Michigan, and I can assure you that our fisheries here in WA are much, much different than what you experience, and our management is extremely complex. Before passing judgment, please look in to more than just this one-sided article.
changler on 07/05/2014 15:32:01
avatar
It sounds like the hatcheries will still be releasing hundreds of thousands of fish to Puget streams in 2014 and 2015, just not the early winter strain- and I think the Wild Fish Conservancy makes a pretty compelling argument as to why. It's partly a numbers game. Wild steelhead runs consist of hundreds or thousands of individuals contributing to the gene pool, while in a hatchery you're typically spawning less than a hundred fish- there's a lot less genetic diversity in the hatchery than in the population. Releasing hundreds of thousands of fish that come from only a few parents can have negative consequences for the species, and part of the Conservancy's lawsuit was just to make sure the hatcheries had a protocol for maintaining the genetic diversity of the run. Part of the reason hatchery fish are looked down upon is because they're more aggressive than their wild kin- hatchery fish survive by adapting to crowded raceway conditions. Because of their aggressive nature they can interfere with spawning in salmon, steelhead and bull trout by pushing them out of choice spawning sites. It isn't all about genetics and spawning, a big part of the issue is simply differences in behavior between wild and hatchery fish.
evan_aff on 07/05/2014 15:42:54
avatar
Part of the reason hatchery fish are looked down upon is because they're more aggressive than their wild kin- hatchery fish survive by adapting to crowded raceway conditions. Because of their aggressive nature they can interfere with spawning in salmon, steelhead and bull trout by pushing them out of choice spawning sites. It isn't all about genetics and spawning, a big part of the issue is simply differences in behavior between wild and hatchery fish. It's not so much their aggression. In fact, I'd say wild fish are more aggressive. The problem lies in the smolts that are released in to the river. The hatchery smolts are substantially larger than the wild smolts they interact with in the river due to how they were fed and raised in their concrete tanks. The river is pushed past its biomass capacity, and the larger hatchery smolts out-compete the wild smolts for food in the river while they migrate to the ocean. Once in the ocean, the survival rate of hatchery steelhead is substantially lower than the wild fish. So we lose the wild fish on the way out, then the hatchery fish once they're out there. Then you have the issue of hatchery/wild genetic integression during spawning. The data suggests that survival rate and fitness of the offspring from wild and hatchery fish spawning is very low. It's a lose-lose-lose situation with these hatchery winter steelhead. I'm glad to see them gone for now.
blackbugger on 07/05/2014 15:43:59
avatar
I'm pretty happy with this decision. For those of you reading about Puget Sound steelhead for the first time through this article understand that it is a very complex issue. If you want a deeper understanding beyond one article reporting some people being unhappy that they can't harvest some hatchery fish in some of these rivers go to the Washington Fly Fishing forum and read through the debates in the steelhead forum. It will take you hours upon hours of reading arguments with many links to a great deal of research and information. There are some very knowledgeable people there and they manage to keep it reasonably civil. Being educated and informed about the state of wild winter steelhead in Washington requires WAY more in depth reading and discussion than this article even begins to address. There are no corollaries between this fishery and Great Lakes runs. My own forays into this world of wild winter steelhead has left my head spinning and the current state of this truly magnificent animal is depressing beyond any other fishery I'm aware of. In fact it would be pretty silly given the nature of this issue to draw some sort hard stance based on this article.
evan_aff on 07/05/2014 16:09:24
avatar
There are no corollaries between this fishery and Great Lakes runs. I make this point often with my peers and others I come across who participate in the Great Lakes fisheries. It turns out that it's an unpopular, faux pas of a thing to say, but it's true. Our fisheries are the same in name only. The word "steelhead" is about the only thing they have in common. The environments, issues, behaviours, etc are worlds apart. ---------- Post added at 11:09 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:07 AM ---------- Probably the most significant piece of recent literature on this topic: [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Salmon-People-Place-Biologists-Recovery/dp/0870717243/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399478914&sr=8-1&keywords=salmon+people+and+place"]Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery: Jim Lichatowich: 9780870717246: Amazon.com: [email=Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com]Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51w7ES9dhsL.@@AMEPARAM@@51w7ES9dhsL[/ame]
blackbugger on 07/05/2014 16:18:38
avatar
I make this point often with my peers and others I come across who participate in the Great Lakes fisheries. It turns out that it's an unpopular, faux pas of a thing to say, but it's true. Our fisheries are the same in name only. The word "steelhead" is about the only thing they have in common. The environments, issues, behaviours, etc are worlds apart. ---------- Post added at 11:09 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:07 AM ---------- Probably the most significant piece of recent literature on this topic: Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery: Jim Lichatowich: 9780870717246: Amazon.com: [email]Books Cool. I just ordered that, thanks.
evan_aff on 07/05/2014 16:28:55
avatar
Cool. I just ordered that, thanks. This film is also incredible. Shane just finished it, and is starting to tour the country for showings. I highly suggest watching it. [ame=http://vimeo.com/60525732]Wild Reverence"The Plight of the American Wild Steelhead" Film Trailer on Vimeo[/ame]
tyler_durden on 07/05/2014 17:29:14
avatar
I have very little to add except that I've read that the cost of a PNW hatchery steelhead is just obscene when you consider the very low numbers of fish that survive. In contrast, the cost per fish of a GL steelhead is much more reasonable. Apparently the survival rate of the GL steelhead has surpassed most everyone's expectation.
blackbugger on 07/05/2014 17:44:09
avatar
It just blows me away that they still allow one wild fish retention on the O.P. It also amazes me that poaching is a problem, well sort of, economically speaking the O.P.is kind of a grim place. We were on the upper Queets this year and a park ranger was checking boats at the take out which is the first time I've run into any enforcement out there. He was very polite but wanted to see inside our cooler, dry box, boat bags and packs. I have no problem with this and opened everything up for him and as soon as I opened anything up he took a quick glance and said "That's fine, that's all I need to see.." as I started to rummage around so he could be sure I didn't have a fish. I got the impression he was trying to let me know without saying it that the only thing he was concerned about and checking for was a fish. So I struck up a conversation with him, he was a nice interesting guy, and I asked him if he really catches people poaching fish (The Queets is within Olympic National Park and subject to their regs which doesn't allow any wild steelhead retention). He responded "I wouldn't be here if they didn't". So then I got him telling me stories and as usual I was left frustrated and annoyed. Tales of entitled, belligerent assholes poaching fish. Just unbelievable but then I often think I give my fellow man too much credit. And this guy is out there, by himself, a LONG ways from any kind of help, trying to keep people from breaking the law and taking fish from an already stressed fishery. You can just imagine the kinds of people he'd be dealing with who would rationalize that it's their right to poach. If I were him I'd be more than a little concerned for my well being.
grtlksmarlin on 07/05/2014 18:55:29
avatar
Well, I stand corrected and you are right, I find this very difficult to understand coming from Michigan in that we have a DNR we can trust to do the right and best thing no matter the wants of business, the general non-using public, and even the sportsman themselves. Here in Michigan we're very fortunate to have an outstanding Department of Natural Resources made up of extremely intelligent and well educated biologists, managers and so on. More so our Universities educate individuals for this very field. Finally our outdoor sporting community which is substancial votes, and because of that our varied government officials best have the DNR's back or they won't be in office long. It is confusing to me in that our DNR places our wildlife and natural resources first, the outdoors sporting community second, and though part of the state government at large, are independant enough that they dictate to them policy, not government or commercial interests deciding the fate of our wildlife, lands and waters. Granted, our DNR has had to bring back an area that was long past devastated long before Washington was even recognized or much known about. Literally the face of the state wiped clean, the waters destroyed, and in most cases the wildlife all but extinct.....That situation and experience I suspect is perhaps why our DNR is so conservation oriented, in that it took in many cases a ground up rebuild, and no doubt a lot of trial and error. I'm sorry to hear that the citizenry, more so its outdoors sporting community cannot rely upon its natural resource biologists and managers to make sound intelligent decisions that both protect yet also enhance the natural resources and wildlife of your state. Perhaps here in Michigan we're just spoiled. Our DNR we can trust to make informed decisions based upon the greatest good. Even if the powerful sporting community disagrees, they do what is right to insure a positive balanced growth and improvement of our natural resources.....In fact I'd say our greatest threats of late have actually come from the West and East coasts. Environmental groups only interested in absolute preservation....the end of hunting and fishing their secondary agendas, naturally making a fat paycheck their first. I sincerely hope that you folks in Washington can turn things around. That you can acquire intelligent wildlife managers that realize the value of conservation over pure preservation to insure a healthy, sustainable and balanced outdoors, serving the environment first, sportsman second, and the wants of those simply seeking to commercially exploit or who just simply want a voice based on bambi logic seen as the threat it is. Best wishes! B.E.F.
Bigfly on 07/05/2014 19:19:04
avatar
Seems to me, most folks think about how their fishing will be impacted.... before worrying about the survival of a species. When the majority of people think hatchery fish are better for their environment than the real deal, it is time to leave them out of the process.. We have catered to consumers and the wild fish stocks are reduced....almost gone... Let's cater to the fish for a while....... Jim
evan_aff on 07/05/2014 20:46:31
avatar
Well, I stand corrected and you are right, I find this very difficult to understand coming from Michigan in that we have a DNR we can trust to do the right and best thing no matter the wants of business, the general non-using public, and even the sportsman themselves. Here in Michigan we're very fortunate to have an outstanding Department of Natural Resources made up of extremely intelligent and well educated biologists, managers and so on. More so our Universities educate individuals for this very field. Finally our outdoor sporting community which is substancial votes, and because of that our varied government officials best have the DNR's back or they won't be in office long. It is confusing to me in that our DNR places our wildlife and natural resources first, the outdoors sporting community second, and though part of the state government at large, are independant enough that they dictate to them policy, not government or commercial interests deciding the fate of our wildlife, lands and waters. Granted, our DNR has had to bring back an area that was long past devastated long before Washington was even recognized or much known about. Literally the face of the state wiped clean, the waters destroyed, and in most cases the wildlife all but extinct.....That situation and experience I suspect is perhaps why our DNR is so conservation oriented, in that it took in many cases a ground up rebuild, and no doubt a lot of trial and error. I'm sorry to hear that the citizenry, more so its outdoors sporting community cannot rely upon its natural resource biologists and managers to make sound intelligent decisions that both protect yet also enhance the natural resources and wildlife of your state. Perhaps here in Michigan we're just spoiled. Our DNR we can trust to make informed decisions based upon the greatest good. Even if the powerful sporting community disagrees, they do what is right to insure a positive balanced growth and improvement of our natural resources.....In fact I'd say our greatest threats of late have actually come from the West and East coasts. Environmental groups only interested in absolute preservation....the end of hunting and fishing their secondary agendas, naturally making a fat paycheck their first. I sincerely hope that you folks in Washington can turn things around. That you can acquire intelligent wildlife managers that realize the value of conservation over pure preservation to insure a healthy, sustainable and balanced outdoors, serving the environment first, sportsman second, and the wants of those simply seeking to commercially exploit or who just simply want a voice based on bambi logic seen as the threat it is. Best wishes! B.E.F. Our situation here is just worlds different. We have the natural habitat, dams, development/developers, sport fishers, tribal fishers, commercial fishers, ocean survival, international issues (our fish swim in to international waters and are harvested by other countries), fish farms, and the list goes on. That's just the tip of the various icebergs we deal with. It's taken me the better part of the last decade to even begin to understand what is going on here. Also, keep in mind: Even if the WDFW made the right decisions, they are only half of the equation in the management of our steelhead and salmon fisheries. The tribes are co-managers, and the two must come to agreements before any decisions are moved forward. Well, that's how it's supposed to work. Lately, the tribes just kind of do what they please in certain places whether the plan is agreed upon or not.
grtlksmarlin on 08/05/2014 00:03:17
avatar
Actually, Michigan runs into all of those issues, international water boarders, commercial fishing, Native American Tribal fisheries, all of it except the "ocean survival".....Add to that a few industrial issues having been the center of industrialized America, and naturally invassive species being brought into the lakes on freighters from all over the world.....Naturally as I also stated, having to just about rebuild it all from scratch. But I understand now how different it must be, every ecosystem unique......Again, best wishes in your endeavors! B.E.F.
Add/View Comments
  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Tagged as:

steelhead

Rate this article

0

Follow NA Fly Fishing Forums!