Discussion in 'Spey Clave' started by Eric Tarcha, Jan 6, 2011.

  1. Sean, The WDFW regional biologist is where I would start in your quest for information. The Dept of Wildlife and the Dept of Fisheries (aka WDFW) have been documenting these numbers for a long time. They should have access to all the info you like. SS

    PS To all who have participated in this thread. This is one of the most informational and enlightening that I have read on this site. Thanks to all.
  2. what the fishing for crumbs article doesn't tell you is how freaky the situk is... It is a freak of nature river, and there is nothing anywhere close to it in Alaska or the world.

    Question: how do they estimate escapement on the skagit?

  3. Sean,

    If you are looking for information regarding Skykomish River steelhead, you might find these interesting:


  4. chicken bones and small animal skulls
  5. I realize the current escapement is based of the carrying capacity of the watershed, however my concern is that it bends too easily. Going back to the "fishing for crumbs" article, the author points out we are gradually accepting lower baselines as the norm. What qualifies as a "good" return now would have been pitiful back in the 80's. At what point does it stop? If they are content with accepting a shrinking carrying capacity, things will never improve. I realize that many of the factors contributing to the lowering capacity are well beyond the control of WDFW and other state agencies, but I think its time to set the sights higher. Maybe using current goals for recovery or hoped-for conditions as the escapement goals would put more pressure on improvement rather than acceptance.

    Smalma, you mention the carrying capacity in the 90's was estimated at 9000, however the current escapement goal is 6000. What accounts for this difference? Is the escapement usually set at 70% of the systems capacity?

    Also ESA listings came into the scene in 07. I'm not overly familiar with the background of the listing, but I'm curious if any of this was based on the current carrying capacity or escapement goals (of all PS rivers)?
  6. Plecoptera,

    The lower baseline is the new norm. It really doesn't matter what the escapement goal is if the present management strategy of no targeted kill of wild steelhead is kept. The escapement goal could be 1,000, 6,000, 10,000, 100,000 - it just doesn't matter. The run will be what it can be under present freshwater and habitat conditions. The freshwater habitat is roughly the same as it was in the more productive 80s, but marine survival is down, with barely one recruit per spawner, meaning the run is just barely replacing itself, on average. In the 1980s, recruits per spawner ranged from 1.0 to 2.0, and that makes a world of difference. We haven't been getting any of those higher range recruitments, and it appears to be due entirely to factors we have no control over.

    This seems like going over the same information twice, so I'm not sure if this explanation is helping. The take home message here is that raising the escapement goal will have ZERO effect on increasing the run size under current marine survival condtions.

    I'll add that currently, freshwater production of juvenile steelhead appears good. That is, surveyers are finding abundant steelhead juveniles in all the surveyed habitats where they would be expected, and good production in a tributary that was really in the dumps in the 80s. This means that the adult steelhead that do return and spawn are quite successful in seeding juvenile steelhead habitat. But if marine survival rates don't increase, there is no way that the adult returns will improve.

    You asked Smalma if river system escapement is set at 70% of carrying capacity. The answer is no. WDFW's predecessor, WDG established escapement goals estimated from a habitat productivity model. That is the goal for many systems. That value for the Skagit actually was around 20,000, which seemed impossibly high (and correct too, as it turned out). It was more or less arbitrarily reduced to around 10,000 temporarily. It was temporary because the Skagit tribes didn't agree with it. It was revised downward after years of collecting spawner-recruit data that calculated an MSY/MSH escapement goal of about 4,000. The co-managers settled on 6,000 to give it some buffer, as many of us believe that MSY estimates are too low and have a track record of promoting declining population trends. So the present escapement goal is based on biological data with a 50% buffer added. That doesn't mean the population will perform accordingly. It's a management decision that says we won't harvest (deliberately target) wild steelhead when the run is predicted to be below that number, except for some incidental harvest while targeting hatchery steelhead or prosecuting a CNR recreational fishery.

    The Puget Sound steelhead ESA listing is based on the trend beginning in the 90s of steelhead runs returning less than 1 recruit per spawner. Less than 1 means the population isn't replacing itself. With R/S of less than 1 to somewhat above 1 for the last 15 years or more, steelhead populations that had rebounded from low levels in the 70, have now declined again, despite the absence of significant fishing mortality. The ESA listing adds a federal requirement to keep fishing mortality low, and lends additional support to habitat protection efforts. Depending where you land poliltically, the ESA already hamstrings business and agricuture and forestry way too much, or is nothing but a paper tiger not doing anywhere near as much as it should to protect listed species. Not wanting to change the subject, I'll let it go at that. The ESA listings are not based on escapement goals, but rather that populations aren't achieving them, and more importantly, not replacing themselves in too many years, thereby causing and perpetuating a declining trend.

  7. Im praying for at least 6 more weeks of fishing before they shut us down.... PLEASSSSSSSSEEEEEEEEE just 6 more weeks!
  8. Also, since pinks were used in comparison for smolt survival, I know that the entire run of pinks isnt always surveyed to account for escapement. For example, the South fork Nooksack gets a good pink run, but those fish arent surveyed towards total escapement for the river system for some reason, at least they werent when I surveyed that river, so Im sure that there are other systems where this is also the case. That right there provides a skewed estimate on how well outward migration vs return is accomplished for this species.
    Im actually glad they dont, because lower escapement predictions mean lower net quotas for commercial and tribal interests, leaving more fish to return to spawn, and hit my pink scud pattern.
  9. Seriously though how the hell do you count steelhead on the skagit?
  10. by counting redds an using a formula that quantifies each redd to a # of fish
  11. Thanks for all the input Salmo, it sheds a lot of light on the big picture. Sorry if my questions seem redundant, but its something I have always had concerns with. I realize that increasing escapement would do nothing for productivity and unfavorable ocean conditions. I didn't want to imply that raising the escapement goals would change anything, but rather that it may put more pressure on improving habitat conditions (and provide more of a buffer from potential harvest). Hypothetically if the ocean conditions improve in the near future and we have runs at or above the escapement goals, couldn't harvest seasons be re-instated?

    What happens if 20 years from now, conditions have only worsened and its determined that the cc is < 4000? Then what, does the escapement goal get adjusted to reflect this, or have we hit rock bottom with the current number?
  12. S. Stalker,

    Better get your licks in now! I just read that the co-manager signed HMPs list Jan. 31 closure dates for most PS rivers. There may be some extended open areas around hatchery fish return sites to "clean up" the last of the hatchery returns.

    Surveys of an entire river system are not the norm. Index area counts are extrapolated for unsurveyed areas, and the total escapement estimate is adjusted for that. The escapement estimate doesn't set the net fishing quota. The runsize forecast does that, and it is estimated from brood year escapement and early marine surveys. And when really large pink runs occur, management really doesn't set the commercial season (it tends to go wide open); the commercial fish buyers do, as they have only so much receiving and processing capacity. And that has decreased over time in Puget Sound because of the declining trend of PS commercial landings. The commercial pink catch will probably be whatever the processers will buy.


    Aerial surveys count redds on the mainstem Skagit and Sauk, with foot surveys on index tributary streams. These counts are extrapolated for unsurveyed ares to estimate the total spawning escapement.


    If marine survival increases and adult steelhead runs increase well above escapement goals, then yes, directed harvest will again become part of the equation. The treaty co-managers generally have a low opinion of CNR fishing, and have federally protected treaty rights to harvest fish from surplus production. And the treaty tribes have a say in setting escapement goals.

    Hypothetically, yes, if habitat productivity continues to decline, and data indicates that the run can sustain itself at a lower level with a correspondingly lower escapement goal. Rock bottom would probably be a population less than 1,000 adult fish, where the run is considered a coincidental occurrance rather than a solidly self-sustaining population. There is some arbitraryness in the number, but the biological realities become that an extreme loss of biological diversity occurs, and in a watershed as large as the Skagit, not every spawner may find a mate, resulting in a population death spiral.

  13. Plecoptera -
    I have long thought that with Puget Sound (and probably elsewhere) anadromous salmonids there should actually be two escapement goals.

    Lacking a better term the first would be a recovery goal - This would be when sufficient habitat has been recovered to support the production that would both assure long term viability of the population as well enough productivity to support consistent fishing. Measure how current populations are doing against this goal and whether they are moving away or towards that goal would be a measure of how the health of the system is changing

    The other would be a management goal that would be based on the currrent population productivity. This would aid in measuring whether management activities (such as fishing and hatchery fish) are significantly limiting the population rather than habitat factors. Since as several have pointed out that productive will likely change over time and as a result that management goals should be adjusted over time.

    AKPM -
    The escapement estimate for Skagit steelhead is basically the sum of 3 estimates. First pieces is the tribuatry stream counts. A based study was done over several years where every steelhead spawning tribuatires had complete redd census. Obvious that is very labor intensive (and expensive). As a result a number of index streams were established (those wer small, mid-size and large size streams and located through out the basin). On those index streams a complete redd census is done by marking every redd seen during surveys that occur ever 10 days. Using the census counts from those index streams a linear regression is used to develop an estimate of the tribuatary redd count.

    As mentioned the main stem areas are flown by aircraft several times a spawning season. As part of that effort a number of test redds (marked redds that are either man-made or if possible a natural redd that the date of construction is know). From those test redds an average "redd-life" for various sections of the river; this redd-life allows for the conversion of the air redd counts (where an individual redd may be count more than once) to an estimate of the total redds.

    Finally for the upper Skagit (above the Sauk) boat surveys are used to mark and count every redd. With the relatively stable flows and very long redd life that is not as difficult task as one would think.

    The result is the 3 redd estimates are added together for a basin redd count. It is know that some steelhead females dig more than one redd. Studies have found that the ratio of females to number of redds dug is pretty constant. That average redds/female ratio is used to convert the redd counts to the number of spawning females. A sex ratio of one male to one female is used to convert the number of females to total run size. Again over the years there was a fair amount of variability in the sex ratios though over a number of years the average is close to 1:1.

    Finally on redds dug after mid-March are counted (assuring that redd dug by hatchery females are excluded) and the final estimate is for natural spawning wild steelhead.

    All the above is the basics though there are more details.

    Tight lines
  14. AKPM -
    You are right about how unique the Situk and its steelhead are!! Not sure that there is another river of similar size producing the number steelhead the Situk is currently producing.

    You might find it interesting to look at the available information from the Situk on its run sizes over time; particularly during most of 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Illustrates that even there run sizes are not constant and it is normal for abundances to vary over time. It just that when you put habitat loss in the equation that the low points of abundance get pretty darn scary.

    Tight lines
  15. They are staring to roll in. Just got WDFW emails about the Green, Puyallup, Carbon, White closings...
  16. Sg and Curt, I don't know you gentlemen, but you are obviously extremely knowledgeable. Equally obvious is that you both have devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to the issues discussed here. I sense you both must be more involved and are actively representing the interests of all sportsmen in the fishery. Thank you.
  17. so there is no way to manage the fishery in season?
  18. No.

    Go Sox,
  19. AKPM -
    In Washington the only steelhead runs were the potential to manage in season would be the case where the COE or a PUD has installed a nice fish counting station LOL!.

    Are there any steelhead populations that are "managed" in season? All the data I have seen have been from weir counts of kelts - hardly in-season.

  20. if you can't manage the skagit in season, it should be closed to all fishing, and hatchery augmentation should be halted.

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