Steelhead fishing in the Upper Yakima

Would you like to see steelhead rebound in the Upper Yakima?

  • Yes

    Votes: 56 71.8%
  • No

    Votes: 22 28.2%

  • Total voters
  • Poll closed .

mr trout

Trevor Hutton
"Originally Posted by TomB
it is shocking to me that anyone would argue against restoring the native steelhead in the upper yakima. Evidently some people value their personal play over the existence of a native species."

At some point, all the people who get bent about having native populations have to realize that a fishery is about a lot more than just conservation genetics. Lets face it that fisheries are driven by the human aspects, meaning economics. While having diverse stocks of fish is cool, it doesn't put money in pockets, and citizen joe doesn't give a rip about which alleles the fish on his line has. What about the farmers who need the water for their livelyhoods, who would be in a load of trouble if the river was managed for recruitment of steelhead and salmon runs? Are humans less important than fish? From the sounds of a lot of people lately, it seems like it.
It is a fairytale world you live in if you actually think that we have the power to restore the world back to how it was, especially in its current state. Conservation efforts are relative to the needs and values deemed important by society. Who's to say that having a great trout river for recreation isn't better than having some steelhead? It is purely a judgement call. "Personal play" is important. Maybe we should take out all the roads in Washingoton, plant trees over them, and hike or ride horses to all the places we want to go. After all, roads are certainly not natural...
A better solution in my opinion is to keep things from getting worse, and focus more on making the best out of the current situation, economically and ecologically. As long as the system isn't getting worse, or adversely impacting other "important" areas/organisms/etc, Let it be.
Before you flame me as ignorant, I know all the rhetoric on genetics and conservation that is being thrown around, and I do realize the importance of it. I just think we have to wake up and realize that the world is changed. Facts are facts.


Active Member
im not advocating an attempt to restore pre-settlement ecosystems. Such a view would not only be unrealistic, but fundamentaly misunderstand the dynamic nature of ecosystems....over time there is no steady state. What I do advocate with considerable economic and societal value on my side, is preserving ecosystem function. Collapsed ecosystems generate far less valuable market and non-market flows.

its fair enough to call me on the "shocking" part, because in reality, of course it isnt shocking. You are right that there are normative implications behind my positions. in many ways though, the upper yakima watershed would benefit from restoration of its native steelhead populations. i believe that restoring native steelhead in the upper river would increase net social utility.


mr trout

Trevor Hutton
I wouldn't say that the upper river ecosystem is collapsed. Changed... definately. I can agree completely with the value of functioning ecosystems and their importance, but I tend to think that at the scale of the upper Yakima, the steelhead wouldn't provide a significant change in terms of ecosystem function, especially with the upper system as changed as it is by dams and development.
BTW, I don't mean any of this personally, just for sake of argument.
Bottom line, I dont think there is a right answer. It all comes down to what people value most.


Active Member
Trevor- don't worry im not taking any of it personally...if you cant tell by now i like to argue too. Depending on how you define ecosystem function, the value of steelhead in the upper river changes alot, but at some point it is all semantics anyway. I like your bottom line....i like to toss ideas out there to offer a different perspective and challenge the way people are thinking though.

Will Atlas

You asked about using hatchery plants to jumpstart wild populations. While management agencies rally around this as a management tool, there is literally zero examples (except great lakes) where hatchery steelhead (even wildbroodstock) have been used to jumpstart a wild population. The trouble is fish raised in hatcheries arent adapted to life in the wild, eg. breeding, feeding and all the things that make wild fish so wonderful.

A paper I read on the Clackamas river in Oregon found that while 75% of outgoing smolts were of hatchery origin (wild spawned, these were strays spawning) less that 30% of the returning adults were from hatcheries. Here's what this means. A river has a certain level of productivity, this varies from year to year, but baisically there is a baseline number (roughly) for the number of smolts that can be produced. When there are extremely high numbers of hatchery juveniles, they squeeze out/ overwhelm the systems ability to produce wild smolts. Then, the fish get to the ocean, the few wild smolts that made it, survive at a relatively high rate to adulthood (15% wouldnt be too far fetched) and the hatchery fish die in droves (2% would be considered a sucess). The long and short of it is this. Here in the Northwest using hatchery stock to rebuild wild stocks will never work, because to get viable numbers of hatchery origin fish returning, we often lower the productivity of the already depressed wild stocks. Then the hatchery fish return, spawn in the wild, creating a swarm of less fit, hatchery descendant juveniles. Its a self fulfilling prophecy of failure, but there are still fish swimming in the river and thats what anglers like (I guess).

As far as the great lakes. Its a whole different story. Most wild spawning populations were estabilshed over generations of straying fish, until eventually they had adapted to their watersheds to a degree. Remember the great lakes are alot smaller pond than the pacific, and the primary piscivorous predator (lake trout) were extremely depressed when salmon/steelhead started flourishing, meaning there was an ecological niche to fill. (invasives do best in disturbed ecosystems).

Hope this helps clear some stuff up, maybe not. But baisically hatcherys are not a road to recovery, rather further demise.


Active Member
another thing to add to the great lakes is that steelhead were filling a vacant niche....there were no native steelhead or rainbows there.
Trevor -
I know that when you asked: "Are humans less important than fish?" you were just making the point that most people think human welfare is more important than nature. However, when it comes to species threatened with extinction, our society decided more than 30 years ago, through Congress enacting the Endangered Species Act, that humans ARE less important than fish. Courts have been consistent in ruling that humans must make sacrifices, including economic costs, to save species from extinction. The ESA has been threatened by politicians in recent years, but the courts remain firm and so far, so has Congress.

I think most of us here at WFF believe that our society should be sacrificing more than we are to preserve natural resources, and not give in to the argument made by many 'humanists' (if I may stretch that definition) to always put human welfare above that of the natural ecosystems that work so hard to support that 'human welfare.'


Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
docstash said:
After they did studies on the river above Rosa dam planting hatchery Steelhead and found that the size of the resident population declined because they inhabit the same water they quit planting hatchery fish and stopped the local Steelhead Ass. from planting fish.
I'd like to read more about that. Was that around 1995? Did WDFW publish anything on this that I can track down?
Dick Olmstead

I like your philosophy and you speak for me. I find it strange that we speak of accomodating endangered species as making "sacrifices". I do think the ESA will survive into the future-we are going to bury Richard Pombo in January!:thumb:

Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
TomB said:
Keep in mind that the yakima system already supports one of the healthiest native wild steelhead populations in the upper columbia (or is it considered mid columbia?). Ahtanum (sp?) creek has many native wild summerruns. The difference though is that it joins the yakima very low down, and thus its fish are not subject to the habitat problems that plague the rest of the system.
Actually Satus and Toppenish Creeks are more important than Ahtanum.

Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
Well, that was interesting.

I'd been told by some cynical people, some former agency people, that the Yakima flyfishing community was completely against steelhead restoration. As an example, there were the writings of Steve Probasco and others. My contacts told me that the flyfishing community on the Yakima is just a big sewing circle for middle aged men. They may occasionally talk the "Save the Planet" rhetoric when protecting their own narrow recreational interests, but ask them to get behind habitat restoration or fish restoration and they won't lift a finger. If a bait chucker caught a fish, or, God forbid, an Indian caught a fish, it's a terrible deed -"conservation first!", "save the planet", "catch and release!" But mention mortality from hook and release fishing or damage from walking on redds, and they're inexorably in denial. They are afraid of change, and just want to finish off their years with their butts in a drift boat seat catching, tormenting, and releasing the mix of hatchery origin rainbows without any aspiration or imagination of anything better, and not really caring about fish for their grandkids. If they were more aware, maybe they could see how poorly the Yakima Canyon stacks up to other Blue Ribbon waters around the world.

This puzzled me, because it didn't sound like the fishermen I knew. I had had great results working with sport fishing groups in Grays Harbor County on habitat and fishery restoration projects. So I decided to test this by setting up a poll just asking if it would be a good thing to have more steelhead in the Yakima above Roza without much detail on the "How", then stay out of the conversation and see what happened. I was pleased that the poll results seemed to prove my jaded contacts wrong. 58 yes to 22 no. In the thread, some qualified their opinion that steelhead restoration would be good only if it didn't mean the establishment of a hatchery stock run.

I'm hopeful that with recent habitat and passage improvements, steelhead are on the verge of resurging in the upper Yakima. Roza Dam prevented any anadromy from 1939 to 1958, and probably prevented adult steelhead passage until 1989. BOR, BPA, WDFW, and YN Fisheries have invested on fish passage and habitat, most importantly, I think, access to the spawning areas in Manastash, and Taneum Creeks. Some harder and more expensive projects will be required to fix Wilson/Naneum and to get better flows in the Teanaway. If the Yakima is anything like the Deschutes, most of the steelhead spawning will be in these small trubutaries, and anything we can do to increase the numbers of rainbows in the main river will increase the numbers of migratory rainbows.

Will Atlas

thought I'd revive this thread since the recent thread surfaced about Yakima steelhead. Perhaps they're already rebounding a bit in the upper Yakima. Les when was it you said you were fishing the Yakima for steelhead? Was it in the lower river?