Steelhead hatcheries: good or bad?

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Denny, Aug 25, 2008.

  1. In the Seattle Times this weekend was an article about the possibility of reducing hatchery operations, including some pretty well-established and long running hatchery operations (Tokul Creek Hatchery in Fall City, which provides steelhead for both the Snoqualimie and Skykomish).

    I've heard impassioned anglers rant about hatcheries being evil and part of the undoing of wild steelhead; I've also heard impassioned anglers rave about hatcheries playing an important part of our recreational program.

    What are your thoughts? Do hatcheries really adversely affect wild fisheries? Can our wild steelhead stocks truly recover in a reasonable time frame to the point where they can provide a recreational fishery?

  2. Herein lies the primary debate over whether it is 'worth it' to eliminate hatcheries to permit wild stocks to recover. "Reasonable time" will vary greatly depending on whom one asks.

  3. I think that hatcheries are important, but I also believe that the hatcheries are mismanaged.
    In order for the wild steel to recover, there is a lot of things involved, habitat, fishing regs, etc.
    I would love to fish for and catch some steel head.
  4. Richard,

    Steelhead hatcheries are neither inherently good nor bad.

    Hatchery steelhead really do adversely affect wild steelhead. The issue not discussed in enough detail is how much? If society decides it wants the hatcheries, then it becomes a matter of risk management. The emerging science suggests that hatchery programs ought to be sized proportionally to the wild steelhead populations they comingle with. That is, larger and healthier wild populations can tolerate larger hatchery programs with less risk of detrimental effects than can small wild populations.

    As to your final question, it depends on the meanings of "recover," "reasonable," and "provide a recreational fishery." Wild steelhead stocks more likely than not will remain at about their current levels UNLESS habitat conditions across their range significantly improve or deteriorate from curent conditions or early marine survival changes positively (or negatively, altho if it goes even lower, a number of stocks may become resident and give up anadromy).

    How long a time is reasonable? Most environmental indicators point to the three constituent elements of habitat: capacity, productivity, and diversity deteriorating faster than they improve over the next three decades. In that context, the only way wild steelhead populations can improve significantly is for marine survival to take a major upswing.

    Lastly, if by providing a recreational fishery you mean a consumptive one wherein the harvest of wild fish is normally allowed, my answer is no for the reasons given above. If you mean a largely non-consumptive fishery in the form of CNR, then barely yes, at about the levels seen over the past decade, which means most Puget Sound rivers won't produce enough wild steelhead to even support CNR.

    That's my crystal ball, and I hate it when it comes out like that.


    Salmo g.
  5. I thought the point to a hatchery was many fold. 1. Was to help imporve the number of wild steelhead, 2. Was to help recreational fisherman, and lastly that the steelhead population was in danger of extintion because of damns and pressure ect...
    Possible Novice questions here.
    Isn't a wild steelhead a fish that was never in a hatchery? So wouldn't a second generation fish, one that was borne from a hatchery steelhead, be a wild steelhead? Hetcheries ease pressure from angling and insure the species future, how can that be bad?
  6. Unfortunately studies are showing that hatchery/hatchery or hatchery/wild interbreeding has a 0% statistical chance of actually producing a long term viable offspring. Note, this is based on studies associated with the Chambers Creek stock, so Skamania and upper Columbia basin studies are better answered by the Bios on the board.

    Regardless, due to human intervention, even if the other stocks don't suffer from 0% offspring survival , they tend to do badly too. Why? Because we aren't fish, and do a really poor job of selecting for the appropriate attributes for survival. So over time, we end up doing a sort of "domestication" selection, and end up reducing fitness in general. You ever wonder why our hatchery fish all arrive at the same time, don't bite, and are cookie cutter in size? Because of our selection process. Rather than letting a mix of size, energy level, aggressiveness, "sexiness" (in fish terms), etc decide who breeds and succeeds, we make arbitrary decisions like "Ohh, this one looks nice". Not to mention that quite a few of the aggresive fish are culled by harvest, letting the tight lipped ones survive to breed.

    This is the reason why Salmo_g mentioned that the hatchery size *must* be proportional to the size of the wild run. If sized appropriately the wild fish will end up diluting or reducing the domestication selection, thereby not adversely affeting the long term survival of the fish. If we don't then we end up genetically "swamping" the wild fish, and end up reducing or removing their natural genetics from the river. On a side rant, DO NOT, fall prey to the idea that integrated hatcheries are the answer to our problems. UNLESS they have a total run size of hatchery fish that are a significantly smaller size than the whole run component, you end up diluting genetics. In this case, while temporal seperation with Chambers Creek fish isn't bullet proof, I'd rather have those fish be the mainstay of our hatchery program rather than the long term death of our wild fish by a completely mismanaged integrated hatchery program.

    Finally, in some cases, the hatchery programs aimed at recovery are being viewed as death by a 1000 paper cuts. Over time, unless the wild fish and survive without the hatchery intervention, their genetics will slowly erode over time, loosing the unique features that allowed them to survive all this time.

    But for the most part hatcheries exist either for our sport pleasure, or for mitigation for dam projects.
  7. Buck,

    The purpose of developing hatchery steelhead runs was purely to enhance sport fishing, thanks to Clarence Pautzke and others of the old WDG. No consideration whatever was given to the effect on wild steelhead. All steelhead were considered one gene pool at that time.

    Subsequently hatchery steelhead runs have been propagated to mitigate the impacts of dams.

    Hatcheries do not ease angling pressure. In fact, the effect is just the opposite. More people go steelhead fishing - increasing pressure - for the very reason that there are hatchery steelhead to fish for.

    And hatchery steelhead do not ensure the species future. The species' future is ensured by habitats with high productivity, capacity, and diversity. Hatchery runs are the epitome of the lowest possible diversity, and productivity and capacity rely on the whim of human intervention.

  8. I was under the impression that hatchery fish in runs where no viable wild runs exist any longer would provide recrational opportunites that did not disrupt the wild populations. I have also read quite a bit that I percieve as a bad plan to have hatcheries operating simultaneously with runs of viable fish populations. I see my explanation and being very simple and not as detailed or statistically supported as they would need to be to attempt to convince someone, but that is my viewpoint from the cheap seats. If a run is viable in the wild, albeit diminished numbers, I think that particular area would be negatively impacted by sport fishery pressure and hatchery fish. Wherever, by overfishing, overdeveloping or whatever, the native fish have been destroyed, those areas seem to be better hatchery locations. This thread will become another on my must read list as it grows so my knowlege base can grow too.
  9. My opinion only - hatcheries are for put and take. In order for any kind of wild recovery to take place, we can't have hatchery strays spawning with wild fish. The hatchery programs should mesh with a science based recovery plan in streams with wild stocks. Hatchery fish are for catching and eating.

    Just my opinion.
  10. The rub is this:

    Hatcheries are good for anglers because they put fish in the river for us to catch when the wild numbers are too low to allow an open season.

    But, hatcheries are bad for wild fish because of all the points mentioned above.

    If you want are willing to sacrifice what few steelhead seasons left than you will be alright with closing hatcheries.

    I for one am nervously excited to see what happens. I just wish that if they put sport anglers out than they put commercial anglers out as well but that is supposedly a legal impossibility so the whole thing just pisses me off when I consider what will actually play out:

    No steelhead fishing for us, better price for rarer steelhead = more commercial fishermen, steelhead numbers continue to fall.
  11. Conflicting...

    I know that hatchery fish are not ecologically right, but without them I wouldn't have much of a steelhead season over here. Like everything else important and controversial in this world, there has to be a compromise. First, we must protect the rivers and the peripheral temperate forests that insulate them. It does no good to protect a species if we don't protect the ecosystem that supports it. Second, we need to make stricter laws governing native steelhead waters in terms of regulations and in some cases shutting down the system. The best middle ground I have seen is the brood stock programs of the N. Umpqua and Methow. Here, the genetic pool of the natives is far less compromised because the hatchery fish genetics are taken from the natives. Over time the gene pool certainly changes, but it remains viable. IMO this is the best ecological solution aside from shutting down native waters completely. So, I will stick with my original, egotistical, human opinion: I like brats. Some people would put their rod down forever to restore the fish, hats off to them. Me? I'll stick my iron in other fire.
  12. I'm sure someone has thought of or discussed this before but, is it possible to sterilize hatchery fish prior to release? Probably through diet or radiation? Seems like it solves the interbreeding problem. Probably too much to ask that, like Trips, they might grow larger due to re-directed body function. I'd guess there's a ripple effect involved (like maybe they don't return) but what say the fishery guys.
  13. Put and take without the risk of shake and bake. Good point of interest David, I look forward to hearing what those who might know have to say about that one.
  14. Without hatcheries, we have no fishing for steelhead for the foreseeable future.
    With hatcheries, the steelhead will not last into the future.

    Salmo G is right on.
  15. DL,

    Given that steelhead return from the ocean to spawn, why would triploid steelhead return to fresh water?


    With hatcheries that do not overwhelm them, wild steelhead may well last into the future, but not in fishable numbers in many cases.

  16. I guess in some sense they will always last with habitat, but the fishable numbers part is to what i was refering.
    A sad state of affairs.
  17. As Salmo g. pointed out hatchery steelhead do effect wild fish though the question of how much of a impact various hatchery programs have on wide populations vary considerably from basin to basin.

    Hatchery steelhead generally have lower productivity when spawning in the wild than naturally produced fish (in some cases as suggested earlier that productivity can approach zero). That can have significant impacts on wild production when either the hatchery and wild fish spawn together (the hatchery/wild crosses are less productivity than wild/wild matings) or when those hatchery fish are relied on to achieve natural escapement objectives.

    In addition wild brood stock programs have the affect of "mining" the wild population to support the hatchery brood stock needs.

    As also pointed out in much of the State there would very little fishing if it were not for hatchery fish. The decision of whether a hatchery program is having an adverse impact on the wild population often comes down to a risk assessment question - are the benefits of the hatchery program (fishing or rescue program for a depressed population) worth the risks that the program presents to wild production? The answer typically comes down to ones comfort with the various risks and it would be safe to say that each of us probably have some different comfort levels with those risks.

    The Tokul Creel winter steelhead hatchery program which seems to be the focus of the referenced article has been a long term program and as current structured presents less risk to wild populations than many other hatchery programs in the State. The Tokul Creek winter steelhead brood stock (as well as most other Puget Sound basins) is a Chamber's Creek fish. This brood stock is an early spawning population. In the last decade or so the spawning of the hatchery fish is completed prior to the end of February and in the last couple of years prior to the end of January. This greatly reduces the potential of any of the hatchery fish spawning with the wild winter fish of the Snoqualmie. Those wild winter fish begin spawning in early March with most fish spawning in the latter half of April and first half of May with some spawning extending into the summer. This creates a temporal separation between the hatchery and wild fish that more than meets the current guidelines for genetic interactions between a segregation hatchery program and widl fish.

    Of course that genetic interactions is only part of the story of how hatchery and wild fish may interact. There are several ecological interactions that are often brought up as potential concerns. This include rearing/feeding competition between the hatchery smolts/residuals and wild parr and smolts, juvenile competition between wild fish and any successful hatchery spawning, and fishing impacts on wild fish from fisheries targeting hatchery fish. Currently that later may be represent the largest impact/risk.

    Regarding the question about the future of the various wild populations. Without a doubt the current depressed populations (at least compared a couple decades ago is being dictated by a shift in marine survivals. It has become obvious that marine survival of most of our anadromous salmonids go through wild oscillations of survival with periods of generally good and bad survivals. We are currently in a period of very poor survival and if that improves we can expect to see significant more wild fish (however if the current poor survival in driven by global warming than things will be more bleak). That poor survival couple with degraded and decling habitat accounts for most of the reduction in wild fish abundances. Both hatchery and harvest impacts are minor players when compared to those two factors.

    In short it looks like the State is considering closing one of its more successful (is that the right term?) Puget Sound steelhead hatcheries which with that closing may have only marginal benefits to the wild populations. That leaves us to each decide whether that those wild benefits are worth the lost of recreational opportunities.

    Tight lines
  18. hatchery steelhead are still steelhead right?
  19. We are just not that smart! Or not even, that unsmart?..... I would hold on to our nates. Maybe some day we will relize that we are just Unsmart?..
  20. Unsmart.........

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