Skagit River Steehead

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Andrew Lawrence, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. Do you really believe that 6,000 winter steelhead is the carrying capacity of the Skagit/Sauk basin? If so, why do you believe it?
  2. Chris -
    Fish populations in general and steelhead in particular are very dynmaic and population parameters such as carrying capacity reflect that. Carrying capacity is not a single value but varies with the survival conditions that the population encounters. With anadromous fish the dynamic nature of the various population paramters increase as they can be shaped by both the varing fresh and marine water conditons. As freshwater or marine survival conditions improve or decline those parameters (such as carrying capacity) increase or decline. In short when attempting to define carry capacity we need to clarify under what conditions.

    Simply carry capcity can be defined that under a given set of survival conditions the escapement level or point were on the average the population will be stable -a population equilibrium point where every spawner will produce one returing adult. At escapements levels above that point it would be expected that the next run will be smaller and at escapement lelvels below that point it would be expected that the next run will be larger than that escapement.

    The steelhead carry capacity of the Skagit basin under historic habitat conditions (pre 1850?) is much different (higher) than it is today under the current habitat conditions. It is equally true that the steelhead carry capacity under a high smolt to adult survival condition will be higher than under a low smolt to adult survival conditions.

    With the obvious poorer mariner survival conditions the Skagit steelhead are finding today the average carrying capacity is lower than it was during the 1970s and 80s. During the period from the late 1970s to early 1990s the best estimate of the average basin carrying capacity is around 9,000. Today it is clearly lower and the returns over the last 15 years would seem to indicate that current equilibrium point is less than 6,000.

    Nooksack Mac likes this.
  3. My friend Bill McMillan provided me with the following document that I wanted to pass on here. The data Bill obtained indicates that run timing on Washington rivers has shifted from earlier return timing to later return timing due to influence of hatchery fish. Thanks for reading.


    Attached Files:

  4. More information on historical abundance of puget sound steelhead:

    In the attachments below, included is a science paper about Puget Sound steelhead historic numbers that include that of the Skagit, Nooksack, Snohomish, and Stillaguamish published in what some consider the best fish science journal as done by Nick Gayeski, Pat Trotter, and Bill McMillan. Also attached is the article Bill did back in 2004 for the Wild Steelhead Coalition comparing the Situk and Skagit rivers.

    Also included in the attachment are the comparative graphs of Ralph Wahl's historic wild Skagit steelhead catch (1935-1955) as compared to Bills (and a few from his friends) today as well as how we have lost Skagit wild summer steelhead.


    Attached Files:

  5. These papers have been around for a number of years now. I have doubts about some of the numbers claimed in them. I read them some time ago but if I remember correctly there was a claim of something like 40,000 thousand steelhead returning to the Skagit. I ain't buying it, sorry. I am not sure but I also remember the method used to arrive at these numbers was poundaged turned into the canneries. Nothing really stating where all of these fish were caught and some questions about the actual validity of the records themsleves.
  6. They are especially suspect when they do not support an agenda.
    Rich Simms likes this.
  7. 808 steelheader -
    Run timing based on recreational and commercial steelhead catches probably should be used with caution.

    During the earlier periods of recreational catches the standard winter seasonon Puget Sound rivers was Decembe r1 through February with limited areas of the lower portions of the larger rivers open during March or early April. Hardly surprising that info would indicate that signficant portions of the wild catch occurred before March.

    The commercial bias is a little less clear but it was general true that timing of the steelhead fishery was driven by market forces. With fresh fish from ocean troll and Columbia spring Chinook fisheries kicking in during the spring the demand (and price) for steelhead would tend to drop.

    While we may never know how many steelhead run in our rivers historically it is pretty clear that there is significantly fewer today than 200 years ago. It is equally clear that much of that lost can be laid at the foot of habitat losses. Don't see that changing unless 6 or so million people are willing to leave Washington.

  8. We can and should blame habitat degradation for alot of what has happened in the last 200 yrs. But it shouldn't be an excuse today! Habitat comes back if we let it, sans dams. There aren't high densities of people living where steelhead spawn, even in Washington. Habitat loss doesn't work as an excuse for me anymore.
  9. I think you are confusing these # with the paper he and Nick Gayeski did in 2011 on historic steelhead abundance.
  10. the quillayute has seen escapements around 15K in the last 15 years. 40K isn't that hard to believe in a system as large as the skagit with pristine habitat (in river and estuary) and intact salmon food web (nutrients) along with the steelhead having a more fully diverse life history which would allow them to use all of the available habitat.

    it is pretty hard to imagine how abundant our fish runs once were.
  11. Thanks for the links 808!

    There is a lot of information in there...most of it pertaining to steelhead in general but there is some on the Skagit. They read like they may have been bullet point projections from a presentation. One that I would like to have seen.
    I remember my school days and the fun my teacher would have with graphs. The point of the lesson was interpreting what they say and to read any of the accompanying text. So naturally everytime I see a graph these days I still try to have fun with them. I'm going to have fun with one here and I want everyone to know that I am not serious and the following is in fun only. :)

    Wasn't that fun!

    Seriously, without being able to peruse either man's diaries as to weather, water conditions, places fished, and as Curt noted when it was legal to actually fish for steelhead, I don't know what to make of it. I do know that Ralph reportedly made over 300 trips to his Shangri-La. This was a Skagit side channel containing the mouth of Day Creek and, it is generally acknowledged that his catches were Day Creek fish.
    McMillan puts fault at the feet of the hatcheries. He is most likely correct. But, (there is always a but ain't there?) The native harvest is timed to coincide with the return of these hatchery fish. Without these hatchery fish they would be gillnetting their 50% from 100% wild fish stocks. Has anyone ever seen a catch and release gillnet?

    In the Skagit, historical lower river rearing habitat is now on the wrong side of the dikes. You could move the dikes except there are several towns there now – so it ain't happening – ever! Puget Sound itself is also habitat. Is that pristine? Count the river front homes from Sedro Woolley to Darrington – do you think those folks and their septic systems and other residential pollutions are leaving? The only intact habitat is behind conservation borders.

    This all ties back into what we were talking about before – carrying capacity.
  12. Everyone has an agenda. Sometimes we even know what it is...
  13. Clearly the Occupy Skagit effort does; open the river to fishing because we want to fish...and believe we have the undisputed data to justify doing so.

    As all of us can clearly see (if we choose to remove our jade shades), there is tons of data and varying interpretation and questions surrounding its pedigree. Any of us who believe we know absolutes about the past or future of this fishery is naive at best.

    As I stated on the other related thread, I would love to see the Skagit and all of my local rivers (Green, Puyallup, Nisqually) open to C&R fishing. I think what some of us are saying is that, with all of the uncertainties associated with the steelhead fishery, taking the most conservative path may be the best option... I really want to fish, but will forgo doing so if that gives them the best chance.

    ...I would find no joy in being the person who catches the last one.
  14. You are correct I was confusing the documents. Thanks for pointing out my mistake.
  15. Please provide some data. We have.

    I don't think that anyone has claimed to have "undisputed" data either. In fact, you often dispute it. Now if you can provide some data that would be interesting to discuss.

    Go Sox,
  16. That's noble but ultimately ineffective. Somehow you missed all the earlier references that the C&R fishery is not a material factor in determining the long-term health of the Skagit. Habitat and land management particularly along the lower river are much larger factors (along with ocean conditions) on steelhead population recovery. Where do you think the river advocacy and awareness that is supported much in part today by gear and fly fisherman, and the businesses that support them will come from when we have an entire generation unaware of PS steelhead? How would steelhead be treated any differently from the snail darter in land use planning if its regarded as "yet another creature that only enviros care about".

    The current one-size-fits-all PS steelhead management plan we have today is diabolic in how well it can effectively marginalize the species in one generation in terms of awareness and advocacy - a plan that effectively makes the WDFW and the Feds act as an agent of the Pacific Legal Foundation.
  17. Our steelhead fisheries have been a mess for quite some time now, yet we haven't lost any support within the gear and fly fisherman community seeking ways to protect them. Some could argue the levels of support have increased -- even as fishing opportunities have declined. There are still enough other fishing opportunities in the state to keep the sport from going extinct... and BTW, why I advocate hatchery fisheries on certain systems as they provide that opportunity.

    I didn't miss the comments about C&R not causing any detrimental effects. Compared to other contributing factors, I would agree it is a lower risk...but risk nonetheless. Not all will handle fish correctly, some fish will take a fly or lure deep enough to cause mortality and some fisherman will simply not follow the rules -- which is much easier to do when the river is open to fishing. I experienced seeing the later on several occasions years ago on the Green in the canyon area where enforcement is difficult.

    It's all about trade-offs and each of us must make up our own mind about whether having the pleasure of fishing for wild steelhead, when they are being challenged by the many other factors we do not have as direct control of, outweighs the benefits of not doing so...the option we do have control over.
  18. Freestone,


    Go Sox,
  19. LOL,

  20. It seems to me that while the historic steelhead numbers projected through Mr. McMillan's, Mr. Gayeski's, and Mr. Trotter's analysis of commercial catches and cannery records could not be considered totally accurate due to many variables, they still reflect conservative estimates of what steelhead run sizes were based on what data they had available. It is then possible that actual historical run sizes were even larger than what is projected in the studies.

    So aside from habitat losses and population growth, what part do you think years of hatchery plants in the Skagit have played in the decline of it's wild steelhead? I apologize if you have already answered this question. I'm just wondering since other's have mentioned some examples such as the Wind where removal of hatchery steelhead has resulted in the wild run rebounding. I live in Oregon and fish a stream that is no longer stocked with hatchery fish by ODFW and the wild winter run is doing quite well, so I wonder why the Skagit would be different, besides the fact that it is a large river system?

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Best Regards,
    Todd Hirano

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