Bob Gibbon's March 5 presentation summary March 5 Wild Steelhead Coalition meeting. Speaker: Bob Gibbons, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Presentation Title: Steelhead Management by Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife: where we have been, where we are, and where we are going Bob Gibbons, manager for WDFW's steelhead programs, spoke for nearly 2 hours about past and present steelhead management practices in Washington, and finished with a few ideas about where he would like to see WDFW steelhead management go in the future. Bob also responded to sometimes pointed questions about past and present WDFW management policies. All in all it was a very informative interaction between the people in attendance and our state's steelhead and resident fish program manager. On behalf of the membership and non-members in attendance, I offer a heartfelt thanks for Bob's efforts to share his time and expertise with us. What follows is a recap of Bob's presentation that I gleaned from my notes. Nate Mantua VP of Science and Education Wild Steelhead Coalition HISTORY: In Washington there are 3 management regions, the Boldt Case Area (coast and Puget Sound), the the Southwest (lower Columbia), and the region east of the Cascades. Each of the regions has distinct issues that shape the way WDFW has managed steelhead over the past 30 years. In the Boldt Case area, important issues include co-management with the tribes, very little in the way of hatchery supplementation of natural spawners, and no federal ESA listings. In the SW management region (below Bonneville), there is no co-management with the tribes, lower Columbia winter steelhead are listed as threatened under the federal ESA, and due to low escapements WDFW has managed for targeted Wild Steelhead Release sinced the mid-1980's. In the Upper Columbia and Snake River region, there is co-management with the tribes, several ESA listed stocks, Wild Steelhead Release has been in effect since 1985 on the Snake and 1987 on the Upper Columbia. Widespread fin-clipping of hatchery fish didn't take hold until the mid-1980's, and at the time was quite controversial. Prior to the 1974 Boldt Decision, WDFW's management can be described as "passive". Run-sizes and escapements were not tracked, and WDFW focused on setting seasons and bag limits, designating sanctuaries and specifying gear restrictions. The Boldt Decision prompted a suite of changes that include: * co-management with tribes * management on a river-by-river basis * monitoring to estimate run sizes and annual escapements, with a wild fishfocus * setting escapement goals * determining harvest shares (between tribes and the state) * monitoring fisheries * implementing in-season management actions In the mid-1970's, there was very little emphasis on protecting wild steelhead. Hatchery fish weren't marked, and there was essentially no data to determine run sizes or escapement. Likewise, it was WDFW's impression that there was not a large constituency for wild steelhead. Monitoring programs started in 1977-78, and this was done to support new management objectives that included: maintaining healthy wild runs, producing hatchery fish for harvest, allocating harvest shares, and providing a diversity of angling opportunities. They also developed separate harvest allocations for hatchery and wild stocks in the same rivers. Setting Escapement Goals: Boldt Case Area: The Boldt Decision foreced the co-managers to establish escapement goals for each wild stock. A major hurdle in doing this was the fact that little data had been collected. The courts decided that the management goal would be "maximum sustained harvest (MSH)". The co-managers developed spawner-recruit (S/R) relationships based on data they had for 3 stocks: the Skagit, the Queets, and the Kalama. A composite S/R curve was developed by scaling each record to make them comparable. Once this was done, the WDFW scientists and managers settled on a Beverton-Holt curve to represent a composite S/R relationship for Washington steelhead. With the belief that the key limiting factor for steelhead production is freshwater rearing space, the combination of a "scale-able" S/R curve and an estimate of freshwater rearing habitat for each stream allowed managers to estimate river specific escapement goals and carrying capacities for each stream. The target harvest rate under MSH is typically ~40% of the total run-size. However, the MSH run-size is only about 60% of the theoretical "unfished" population. So, in theory, if an unfished stream had an equilibrium population of 1000 spawners, application of MSH harvest policies would typically yield run-sizes of 600 adult spawners. Of those 600 adults, 40% would be harvested (240 fish), and the total number of spawners to meet the escapement goal would be 360. Therefore, the MSH harvest rate of 40% also corresponds to an escapment that is actually 34% of the theoretical "unfished" escapement. MSH, while based on a fishery science concept, is a political decision that the state is legally obligated to embrace for salmon and steelhead management. There are a few cases where the co-managers have agreed to less intense harvest policies. For example, the co-managers have agreed to cap harvest rates on the Skagit River at 16%. The WDFW position has been to set escapement goals for wild steelhead at or over the MSH guidelines. On the Nisqually River, for example, MSH calls for an escapement goal of 1700, while WDFW lobbied for 2000 (to which the tribal co-managers agreed). Outside the Boldt Case Area, most escapement goals are based on the composite S/R model. Recently, ESA listings on the Upper Columbia and Snake Rivers have led to many year-to-year changes in harvest and escapement policies. WDFW has attempted to address several questions about existing escapement goals, including: 1) do they provide adequate protection? 2) do they allow for the desired level of genetic diversity? and 3) does the spawner abundance serve as a safety net in the face of unexpected run-size declines? The question of Genetic diversity has been addressed in the Quillayute system. Under the Wild Salmonid Policy, maintaining desired genetic diversity calls for a minimum of 2700 spawners. On this system, the escapement goal is 5900. Under the MSH model 5900 spawners should produce an average of 9800 recruits. Fishery Utilization Goals: The default statewide policy is targeted as Wild Steelhead Release (only hatchery marked fish allowed for harvest). Harvest of wild steelhead is, however, allowed on systems that are consistently seeing run-sizes that exceed escapement goals. There are no directed harvests allowed on stocks that are not meeting escapement goals (for example, recent March/April closures on the Snohomish and Stillaguamish were prompted by extremely low run-sizes). If escapements are between more than 80% of the escapement goal targeted Catch and Release Fisheries are allowed. The sports fishing allocation is a blend of CnR and harvest fisheries. In 2002-03, 18 rivers/streams had targeted CnR fisheries and 17 rivers/streams had targeted wild steelhead harvest seasons. Based on WDFW surveys, angler preferences for CnR and harvest seasons have changed dramatically since the 1970's. In the early 1970's, very few anglers preferred CnR fishing for steelhead. Later surveys found a rising trend in favor of CnR fishing for wild steelhead: 1986 -- 14%, 1995 -- 42%, and 2001 -- 66%. While the majority now favors CnR seasons for wild steelhead, WDFW feels that the 34% in favor of harvest seasons form a significant constituency that deserves harvest opportunities. Angling diversity opportunities are determined based on several pieces of information, including: status of individual runs, public input, angler preference surveys, adn biologist recommendations. WHERE ARE WE GOING? In April 1994 WDFW released a "Draft-Steelhead Management Plan" that outlined the goals, objectives, policies, and guildelines of the WDFW for addressing management of the steelhead resource. The primary goal was, and is, to restore and maintain the diversity and long-term productivity of Washington's steelhead stocks and their habitats. The plan's highest priority is protection and restoration of self-sustaining wild steelhead runs and their habitats. Hatchery programs are major components of the Department's steelhead program, especially for recreation and harvest opportunities. Bob stated that the 1994 Draft plan has not changed since its release, but he would like to review and modify that plan in the near future with the help of WDFW personnel, the tribes, constituents and members of the WDFW's Steelhead and Cutthroat Citizen's Advisory Panel. WDFW is now examining new policies for such things as "lottery drawings for wild steelhead harvest tags". As Bob put it, the department now sells fewer licenses, but it seems that fishing pressure has actually gone up at the same time. It's as though only the hard-core anglers remain, and their ability to catch fish is relatively high. For hatcheries, they were once managed under the regional fish management programs, then switched to management under hatchery programs, and the latest trend is to bring them back to the fishery management programs. That would allow for better coordination with other fish management activities (harvest, allocation, wild stock protection). The WDFW has not embraced the use of wild brood stocks for steelhead hatcheries. There are a few native broodstock programs, including one for Lake Washington that aims to bolster the very low numbers of natural spawners in the Cedar River. Other native broodstock programs are aimed at increasing harvest opportunities and/or increasing the number of spawners in systems like Snider Creek, the Wynoochee, the Green, the Satsop, and the Skookumchuk. WDFW started hatchery enhancement programs in the 1950's and 1960's, and chose to use relatively early-returning Chamber's Creek spawners as a preferred broodstock for many hatcheries. The early returning spawners have a few key attributes that are valued by WDFW: 1) the return and spawn timing is distinct from the bulk of wild winter-run spawners in Puget Sound and coastal streams, so using Chambers Creek fish allows for temporal separation between hatchery and wild stocks (both in terms of harvest and spawner interactions); and 2) early spawning fish make it possible to rear a hatchery steelhead to smolt size in a single year; the typical spring spawning wild stocks have offspring that smolt after 2 years in streams, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to get late spawned and late-hatching juvenile steelhead to smolt after a single year in hatcheries. Hatchery programs have not wanted to take on the expense and other challenges of rearing juveniles for 2 years. Other things the WDFW is looking at include "wild fish sanctuaries", where hatchery production would be eliminated. However, cutting existing hatchery production has proven to be politically extremely difficult, even in cases where hatcheries are known to suffer from very low production at relatively high costs. And finally, other issues Bob hopes the WDFW steelhead program can address include: * research into the limiting factors for wild fish production; determine why Puget Sound winter run steelhead have suffered drastic productivity declines and how those might be halted or reversed * research into hatchery broodstock * track angler preferences: once angler preferences exceed 90% in favor of CnR fishing for wild steelhead, Bob would back statewide wild steelhead release with no exceptions * restore the complete WDFW steelhead program that existed in the 1980's; at that time, that included a significant research unit and extensive monitoring programs; today the activities have been reduced to monitoring and management, with very little research, as budget cuts have forced staff reductions Bob did not go so far as to ask those in attendance to lobby our policy makers on behalf of WDFW steelhead programs. However, the message seemed pretty clear (to me at least) that one way interested anglers and conservationists can help the department improve its ability to meet the goals of protecting and restoring wild steelhead and their habitat is through political pressure.