Op-Ed: Rebuilding wild steelhead populations means more fishing opportunity

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Jonathan Stumpf, Jun 6, 2014.

  1. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Charles-

    The answer to the question do you want more steelhead is indeed in the "mighty Skagit".

    Overall on the Skagit the habitat to produce steelhead and other anadromous salmonids is 2 to 10 times less degraded than the rest of rivers found along the east side of Puget Sound. Want more steelhead? the answer is simple restore habitat; doing so is more difficult.

    Historically the big 5 PS rivers in terms of producing steelhead were the Skagit, Nooksack, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Puyallup. All but the Skagit have severely degraded habitats.

    Curt
     
  2. kamishak steve

    kamishak steve Active Member

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    Is there a possibility that the combination of those huge hatchery & wild returns of the mid 80's may be partially to blame for the depressed runs that occurred later. An analogy may be, we put too many cattle out to pasture, and as a result, our field (in this case the ocean) became overgrazed, and it is now depressed?
    I realize that oceans produce feed in cyclical oscillations, but it seems plausible that we were pumping too many fish into her to support that kind of growth long term. Thoughts?
     
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  3. underachiever

    underachiever !

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    There's no chance that 10 years down the road you won't be in the same position because of crediting the wrong medical researcher.

    If runs improve and they claim victory based on the wrong facts we'll just end up in the same place eventually. Maybe a worse place, if habitat is further degraded because it was deemed to not be a contributing factor to the health of the run.
     
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  4. David Dalan

    David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

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    Interesting idea. By increasing plants to offset poor returns, the suppression of the forage species may have been artificially exaggerated. Under natural conditions, the collapse of the food source would have dramatically reduced the predator numbers. This would/could have allowed the forage species to repopulate.

    I also have often wondered about the impacts of commercial harvest for forage species. And habitat impacts such as loss of saltwater forage species spawning areas, population collapse from pollution and changes in ocean acidity.

    But I have NO idea if this really has legs, or is just an interesting hypothesis. I mean the fundamentals are sound, but is there data to support or contradict this?
     
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  5. Charles Sullivan

    Charles Sullivan dreaming through the come down

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    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a dfw bio in the last couple years. He recounted how people complained to him about the amount of steelhead that they felt or knew were being netted along with squid in the open ocean. His first thought was, "why aren't they concerned with people harvesting all the steelheads food (squid)."

    It occurred to me a long time ago that givn the different population bottlenecks, hatcheries may not lead to their being 1 more steelhead in the world. They may just replace wild steelhead from one drainage with hatchery fish from another. It's a thought that really could not be tested because there's no way we shut down all the hatcheries in CA, OR, WA and BC, but if ocean conditions are the limitting factor in adult steelhead abundance, it makes some sense.

    Go Sox,
    cds
     
  6. Chris Bellows

    Chris Bellows Your Preferred WFF Poster

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    I'm trying to figure out who thinks habitat is not the major issue. Just because there is debate about the amount of negative impacts hatcheries have doesn't mean those negative impacts shouldn't be dealt with, especially since the agencies that run them are in charge of managing and protecting wild fish.

    Why we have to only focus one one thing at a time baffles me. It seems like another case of "if the action ain't perfect it ain't worth doing.".
     
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  7. FinLuver

    FinLuver Active Member

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    You can focus on 30 things if you like; but it doesn't mean you are focused on the "right" one.;)
     
  8. Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson Member: Native Fish Society

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    A few thoughts keep coming to mind for me. One is does anyone here believe that the hatcheries on the rivers in question are part of the solution for wild steelhead recovery? Does anyone think said hatcheries are effective economically or practically? And do you really believe that WFC and other conservation groups will stop advocating for habitat protection and restoration? The answer to these questions for me is no. I agree with Curt that Habitat and Ocean conditions probably have more of an influence, but that does not mean if something is of lesser influence that you should not do it if you have the chance. WDFW left the door open and WFC walked through it. You may not agree with their position or the science behind it but they are shaking up the status quo and holding the departments feet to the fire. According to the settlement in 2.5 years they can start up all the programs except the Skagit( if they can get NMFS buy off).

    Chris
     
  9. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

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    First, let's put "huge" in perspective. The good combined hatchery and wild steelhead returns in the 80s were significantly less than the combined returns in the 60s and 70s. I don't think there was over-grazing in the 80s. Niche partitioning may be more of a cause of reduced marine survival in the 90s through today, but that's not even good speculation on my part. Ocean food and space that steelhead previously used may have been taken by mackerel or other species. Or ocean squid fisheries may have reduced the food supply by reducing the number of spawning squid. Expanding pink populations outcompete chum and chinook in the estuaries. Pink salmon ocean range overlaps steelhead. Maybe pinks are over-grazing steelhead habitat. Or it may be none of those. I don't know.

    Ocean acidification is more plausible IMO. It's real, and we know acidification reduces aquatic productivity.

    Sg
     
  10. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

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    Chris,

    No way is/was the Chambers steelhead program part of the solution for wild steelhead recovery. The rather solitary purpose of the Chambers program is to enhance fishing. Although it hasn't done very well at that in recent years, it certainly did so during the decades of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s - except on the Skagit where it petered out in the 70s and never went great guns again after that, but that gets into another story.

    The reason I'm opposed to closing down the Chambers program is because having the program, at a reduced scale, preserves future options. The fact that the Chambers program has some negative effects on wild steelhead can, again IMO, be lumped into the pot of "many things that individually have a negative impact on wild steelhead." In NMFS' various recovery plans, a host of factors that are not good for the listed species are allowed if the factor is deemed quantitatively to not have a level of impact that precludes or interferes with survival and recovery. In my view, the data regarding the effect of the Chambers program falls in that catagory. IMO, there are a lot of other things that should be prohibited, but aren't, before the Chambers program enters the equation.

    If wild steelhead recovery is the goal, it would be more effective to prohibit ever adding another piece of riprap along the Sauk River instead of closing the Chambers program. But do the agencies, including NMFS, prohibit riprapping the Sauk? Hell no. The wimpy ass policy wonks don't find jeopardy with riprap that measurably reduces spawning and rearing habitat and instead are very concerned about the low level of genetic introgression that has occurred with Chambers Ck steelhead. With management like that I guarandamntee you will not see recovery. The failures to protect spawning and rearing habitat are limitless, but you can be sure that lots of paper will be filled out and sportfishing opportunities will dramatically decline.

    Sg
     
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  11. John Hicks

    John Hicks Owner and operator of Sea Run Pursuits

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    This thread has been possibly the most interesting read I've seen on this forum in quite a while. Well, with the exception of Fin's comments. Nice try troll boy.

    I hope this thread continues.
     
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  12. Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson Member: Native Fish Society

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    Thanks for the reply Steve, your point about rip-rap and spawning habitat is well taken. So how do we change that, how can we put pressure on the powers that be to resolve some of these issues. I don't believe they are, or need to be mutually exclusive. Again thank you for the response. I find these interaction to be informative and encouraging ( discounting a few turds). We need to keep this in the front of our minds (imo). The more hands pulling, the quicker it comes.
     
  13. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Something for folks to consider. The 4 "Hs" (hatcheries, harvest, hydro and habiat) are considered to be the 4 broad categories of factors limiting the production of wild anadromous salmonids. Of the 4 factors two - hatchery and harvest (fishing impacts) are fishing related. The other two factors could lumped under the broad heading of "habitat".

    Over the last 30 years the vast majority of the issues associated with adverse hatchery/wild steelhead interactions have been largely addressed. As Salmo g. has pointed those interactions have been addressed to point that today even the elimination of all hatchery fish will play a significant role in recovering wild steelhead. The fishing impacts/harvest have also been reduced to the point through out Puget Soundover the last two decades that in the ESA listing decision NMFS agreed that those impacts were not a significant factor in limiting PS steelhead.

    The contrast that with the "gains" that have been made for steelhead in the habitat and hydro arenas. Throughout the Puget Sound region in spite of significant habitat recovery efforts (largely directed at Chinook needs) the quality of the habitat is no better (and likely worst) than what it was 20 years ago. The same situation exist with the hydro impacts.

    Should the angling community continue to shoulder the majority of the conservation burden in recovery? Should that recovery onus continue even though any additional actions will have effects that will hardly be measured? The fact of the matter even if all hatchery releases were terminated and all fishing ended for the next 25 years the stocks will be no closer to long term recovery without significant improvements in habitat (including hydro).

    I continue to ask the question for those that take part in this forum whether using some of the productivity of our wild salmonids stocks to support fishing is a reasonable and legitimate use of that productivity? If not then the logic actions are to end all hatchery releases (except rescue programs) and all fishing in waters support ESA stocks until such time that we as a society decide to prioritize habitat restoration and conditions improve to the point that all ESA stocks/species are delisted. If however you believe that fishing is a legitimated use of a limited portion of the population productivity then I argue that the fishing community has been shouldering more than our share of the "pain" of recovery and it is time for other users of that stock productivity step up in a similar fashion.

    Chris - You asked the question of how we can put pressure on the power that be to resolve some of these issues? The first step is stopping providing those "powers that be" the out that further reducing hatchery and harvest impacts will significant contribute to recovery allowing them to escape making the hard choices that would actually contribute to recovery. It is past time in the steelhead arena for the myths of ending hatchery programs and further reducing in fishing are essential to recovery. Continuing to allow those myths to persist as valid actions all serves to delay actions in those arenas that may actually make a difference.

    One of the arguments about taking habitat actions is the potential benefits from those actions maybe decades in the future; unlike in reducing fishing impacts benefits are more or less immediate. However there are steps in the other two "Hs" that could be taken that would also have more or less immediate benefits. An example for the Skagit would changes in how power is generated. The daily flow fluctuations to meet peak power demands yield high economic returns for the operators it comes at steep cost to the fish resource of the basin. When is the last time any of you have seen that potential action even remotely discussed?

    Curt
     
  14. Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson Member: Native Fish Society

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    Curt,
    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I agree with most all of what you say, especially about sport fishers shouldering the majority of the load when it comes to impacts on steelhead. You pointed out that if we believe some impact to allow sport fishing is a good use of productivity ( in many cases I think it is). What I don't understand is why those impacts must come with rather feckless hatchery programs ( Kendall creek & Marblemount). Why can't we extract those impact through limited c&r fisheries? No doubt there is much left to be done, we all need to stay on point and pressure our elected officials to protect and restore habitat, including Puget Sound. It's hard to convince people to sacrifice for fish they know nothing about, and besides " if you want more fish, why don't you plant more in the river?". It's a common phrase from Joe & Jane Doe. Also, I believe WFC is monitoring PSE's management of there water releases.

    Chris
     
  15. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Chris

    To your comment/question -"What I don't understand is why those impacts must come with rather feckless hatchery programs ( Kendall creek & Marblemount). Why can't we extract those impact through limited c&r fisheries?"

    First you must realize that under current ESA take rules PS steelhead impacts from recreational fisheries are limited to incidental impact while targeting non-listed stocks (various salmon or hatchery steelhead). Those impacts currently would not be available for CnR fishery targeting ESA steelhead.

    If the "Occupy Skagit" effort is successful and the co-mangers and the feds are able to agree to Puget Sound steelhead fishery plan that includes river by river basin management criteria and depending on the details of that agreement it may well be that fishing impacts would be possible on a listed stock however I would expect that such targeted fishing impacts would be allowed in very limited and specific circumstances. Initially it was hoped that a new PS steelhead management plan might be in place by 2016 but I beginning to have doubts that is any longer a likely time line. WDFW has a pretty full plate with the PS Chinook plan (in this state agency resources directed to salmon/salmon fisheries will always be prioritized over steelhead) and the rush to get HGMPs for Puget Sound steelhead hatchery programs completed. The harsh reality is that without a completed and approved PS steelhead management plan with basin by basin allowable impacts or hatchery fish to target winter steelhead (and summer fish to follow?) will be a thing of the past and future fishing may require a delisting of PS steelhead.

    Even with a new PS steelhead management plan the reality is that given the conservative requirement where target fisheries would be allowed on those listed fish in the next decade might be allowed would be the Skagit (and maybe the Samish). None of the rest of the Puget Sound basins would need a least a decade to develop a track record of consistent achieving robust escapements for the feds to be comfortable with allowing any directed fisheries (and that assumes that survival conditions improve almost immediately).

    Do you really think that eliminating the steelhead hatchery programs on most PS rivers move the needle of the recovery gauge to any degree?

    Another item to consider since you mentioned "Joe and Jane Doe" is that there is a sizeable chunk of the angling public that wants to take a fish home. The hatchery at least provided some sort of opportunity for them to do so. If there are no hatchery fish there will be demand to provide that opportunity by using at least a portion of the potential target impacts for a kill fishery. While you and I may well agree that the best use of those impacts would be in CnR fisheries there will be demand for some harvest opportunities and I would be surprised that the agency and the Commission would not make at least some sort of effort to spread those allowable impacts among the diverse angler interest. With hatchery fish there was somewhere to direct that harvest interest; without them there will be battle royal between the angler community on how to divide those impacts.

    Bottom line from where I sit the elimination of hatchery steelhead will do almost nothing for the wild resource while greatly increasing the chance that there will not be any sort of recreational steelhead fishing in Puget Sound and also potentially throws a major monkey wrench in developing significant CnR opportunities in the future.

    BTW -
    Salmo g. mentioned that the hatchery returns on the Skagit "petered" out during the decade of the 1980s. While that is true in relation to some of the returns seen earlier (especially since before 1974 the tribal catch was limited) the actual hatchery returns were still relatively respectable. The average hatchery run size for the Skagit basin during the decade of the 1980s was 6,500 fish a year. To put that in prsepective the average wild run to the Hoh (catch and escapement) during the same period was only 5,000 adults.

    curt
     
  16. o mykiss

    o mykiss Active Member

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    Maybe this is why PS steelhead stocks are so depressed? http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023825217_apxvictoriasewage.html Are all those hatchery fish, conditioned as it were to feeding on pellets, eating and choking on Victorian shit as they swim through the Salish Sea?

    I know this isn't really news, but I'm always astounded this state of affairs continues every time it makes it into a news story.
     
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  17. Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson Member: Native Fish Society

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    Add to that the 4,500+ man made outfalls into Puget Sound region and you have a problem.
     

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