Steelhead hatcheries: good or bad?

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

  1. :beathead: Hatcheries are just a stop gap measure, they don't solve the problem. If we took the money we spend on steelhead hatcheries, and spent it on buying streamside land and restoration, ma-nature would right herself. Eventually!

    Everyone wants to go to heaven, but few will do what it takes to get there!

    " history shows again and again, how nature points up the folley of men" Blue Oyster Cult.
  2. [Q

    My thoughts are the only good hatchery system collects native eggs propgates them to the eyed stage then returns them to there natal gravel via a Whitlock box type sytem just to give them a jump start [/quote]

    This process still qualifies these fish as hatchery origin. As stated above,we're not sure what makes a mated pair of steelhead attracted to each other. We simply don't know enough about the native selectiveness to try to artificially replicate it. I believe the idea of selecting certain rivers as hatchery/sport fishing rivers may have merit. Those watersheds where natives have a reasonable chance of restoration may have to be left off limits to sport and tribal fishers for years to come. If anyone doubts the effectiveness of discontinuing harvest, hatchery propagation and allowing fish to replenish themselves take a look at the comeback of the sea-run cutts.

    Delbert Sorry I wasn't clear I propose use of native stock caught in stream and eggs collected eyed and imediatly returned to the gravel
    again sorry I was incomplete.
  3. Smalma,

    I haven't yet obtained enough information to be well informed, but the WDFW releases just don't add up to make sense. While the Snoqualmie has wild winter and summer steelhead, the populations are very low, and their sustainability is suspect. There is no indication that the hatchery program harms the wild runs or prevents their recovery. Yet the hatchery program appears like it's going to be moved to the Sky. The Sky wild runs are much larger than the Snoqualmie's, and considerably more likely to be recoverable. Just because the Sky already has a sizeable hatchery steelhead program doesn't make the action of increasing the hatchery program an intelligent one - although there is the near equal chance of it not causing further harm.

    Without a better explanation from WDFW, the proposed action looks more like a "paper" cover intended to impress the HSRG and or other reviewers than to achieve any actual steelhead conservation.

  4. Exactly Will, I know we've talked about this before but I agree completely. I'd guess this will never happen b/c of the political nonsense and giant amount of hands in the cookie jar, but I think it would be so great to see no hatchery production on the Skagit, Sauk, Stilly, Sky and heavy hatchery production on the Green, Puyallup, Snoqualmie, Cowlitz. This would be coupled with no harvest of wild fish anywhere in the state (including the OP) and fishing pressure would adjust itself accordingly. Those who want meat would go to the "hatchery rivers" and those that wanted the "pure" experience and didn't need to harvest would go elsewhere. Those like myself that enjoy both at different times would go back and forth depending on how stocked the freezer was. Hatchery rivers should be the ones with little to no wild fish that have hosed habitat and are in urban centers, therefore making habitat restoration over time very difficult. I don't really understand why WDFW is concentrating on hatchery reform on the Snoqualmie and Cowlitz right now. Shouldn't these be further down the list as far as cutting back the hatchery fish? I don't want to see the fishermen that regularly fish these rivers move somewhere else that has some wild fish.

    You also mentioned OR taking management in this direction. The North Coast of CA has this situation as well (sort of) simply by chance and as no result of management. The Mad River produces tons of hatchery fish and eats up a lot of the pressure from the population centers of Eureka and Arcata. This keeps many folks from fishing elsewhere where you can't harvest because there is no hatchery production. It also keeps them from driving to more remote rivers that have hatchery and wild fish making these rivers actually feel remote (little to no crowds). They almost closed the Mad River hatchery but volunteer effort kept it going; and I'm all for it. Many wild fish advocates were screaming to close it but I think that would have been a big mistake. Closing it would have hurt many more wild fish in other rivers and lowered the quality of recreational fishing opportunities elsewhere. It's all about compromise.

  5. this is interesting. how do we choose which rivers to "sacrifice"? you choose the stilly over the snoqualamie, and yet the snoqualamie historically produces more wild winter steelhead than the stilly (at least since 1986, which isn't really historical in any real sense) and also produces wild summer runs that were considered "healthy" in 2002.

    since wdfw has "sacrificed" every major river system in the state with hatchery plants.... determining which ones to "un-sacrifice" seems to be a hard choice with lots of choices that may or may not make sense.

    i will agree that just moving plants to other river systems is not wild fish management, and makes no sense when the plants are going to other rivers with listed populations of wild winter steelhead.
  6. Curt,

    I think you are absolutely right about the need to have defined criteria for wild fish sanctuary water for without such criteria, there isn't anything to insure that the waters (or portions of rivers) set aside for wild fish (i.e. zero hatchery plants) are rivers that actually have a reasonable chance to succeed with wild only. There needs to be a defined way to know if they have sufficient habitat and wild fish numbers to allow the wild fish to do their thing without catch and kill fisheries or interaction and competition with hatchery fish on the spawning beds and not have a river closed to hatchery plants simply because it is politically expedient.

    I too am anxious to see what happens in the next 5 years on the Sauk, Upper Skagit, and Cascade with the elimination of hatchery plants on the Sauk, the Skagit above Marblemount, and the Cascade above the hatchery. Especially since I proposed the regulation change to total C&R on these as adopted by WDFW.
  7. Didn't know the Snoqualmie produced much in the way of wild fish. Interesting to know and maybe a reason to not "sacrifice" it to hatchery plants. I know the Stilly doesn't produce much anymore but historically it was prolific. I guess I'm also just thinking about habitat restoration potential - the Stilly is located further from urban expansion so could potentially be restored to its former glory. If you take both the Sno and Stilly off my list, I still like the idea for the immediate future and then deal with these two rivers next. Curt and others are completely right though that many things need to be considered in deciding what to do with each river. Perhaps the Skagit system changes are a good start and will teach us a little bit about what works. Hope so.
  8. Salmo g.
    Not sure what at population levels of wild fish folks would consider about to be above a low threshold.

    Just for fun I took a look at the escapements of the 3 Snohomish wild winter stocks (Pilchuck, Skykomish and Snoqualmie) over the latetst 6 years I could find information (1998 to 2003 in SASI). During that period the average escapement for the Skykomish stock was 2,166 adults, for the Snoqualmie it was 1,315 and the Pilchuck 757. In a couple of years the escapement in the Snoqualmie was higher than the Sky. Seems to me that and average of more than 1,000 (range 674 to 2,164) fish is important.

    Off the top of my head I would say that of the Snoqualmie winter escapement roughly 1/4 would occur in the Tolt and Raging rivers - an alternate suggestion for a wild steelhead gene banks. I have to think that if find good wild steelhead bank is a priority that in addition to the Tolt and Raging (as well as North Fork Skykomish) all ready being talked about the Pilchuck offers some interesting potential.

    The Pilchuck supports roughly 20% of the basin's wild winter steelhead. It is a tributary joining the Snohomish below tide water. In recent years it has recieved only 20,000 winter smolts (outplanted) and no summers. Ending those plants and making the area a gene bank would have a lower impact on the recreational fishing while sitting aside nearly 20% of the wild production. But more importantly those fish returning to the Pilchuck would not be subject to the recreational fisheries targeting the hatchery fish being released up stream in the Snohomish. I would think that continued monitoring of escapements would provide a good case study measuring the benefits of the gene banks. 5 or 10 years down the road are the portion of the Snohomish wild fish using the Pilchuck increasing, holding static, or decreasing?

    While it is true that the same trend information would be available with a Snoqualmie there would be a heavy recreational cost for unknow benefits.

    Tight lines
  9. In this particular case, I seriously doubt that compromise is a good idea. For instance, lets make the assumption that hatchery plants cause an increase in near shore predation (just an assumption). If having this larger than normal predator population near shore equates to having seriously higher mortality to wild fish, wouldn't this be a bad thing? If we want to use hatcheries for supplimentation so be it, but I'm pretty sure the days of dump, wait, and harvest are pretty numbered.

    Additionally, the same logic that was used in the 70's to justify pollution is the same logic being applied here. Back then it was considered for a while to "sacrifice" some rivers to industry and let some rivers be "pristine". In the larger scheme of things, the steelhead are the canary in the coal mine. By simply hiding environmental degredation of some rivers by larger hatchery plants we are ignoring the larger implications. Some include flood issues (see the Chehalis), sediment problems (see the Stilly), water quality issues due to runoff (Green, Yakima, Columbia river itself).

    While the hatcherys per say are one issue, I'd rather have wild steelhead and other fish in rivers mostly to give us a good indication of the overall health of a drainage. Furthermore, the more we understand about steelhead in the salt, the greater we'll begin to understand oceananic conditions as a whole.
  10. My biggest concern is that if we get rid of all of our hatcheries, and in doing so then force ourselves as fishermen to sever the golden opportunity of personal one on one time with the magnificent steelhead, then the group of folks who are passionate enough about the fish to donate time and money will have no new blood coming in to keep pushing in the right direction for the benefit of the species. Few people are willing to put time/money/energy into things which will not benefit them in some way, as we humans tend to be a very selfish breed.

    I agree that hatcheries are not a solution, but a band aid. At some point we as fishermen along with everyone else associated with the fish are going to have to sacrifice in one way or another in order to benefit the species. "Species" can be read as either the steelhead or us, because benefiting the wild steelhead definitely benefits us as humans.

    My financial reasoning also drives me to hope that in any case where us as sportsmen are funding the hatcheries which are dumping fish into our watersheds, that we should have the first and last shot along with the lions share of the fish, since we as a group funded the hatcheries to put them there. Otherwise there is no reason to pour our money into funds for a hatchery.

    Lastly, I tend to agree with Mr Goin. Because of my personal beliefs and lack of trust in this states management abilities, I would choose to sacrifice a severely mismanaged river (historically) which at best would have scant chance for the natives to rebound to the hatchery fish. This would be in order to preserve the other surrounding rivers which stand a better chance of recovery in order to benefit their native species, while still keeping fresh blood and money flowing into the wildlife conservation groups.

    Sometimes we can't have it all like our famous and hallowed forefathers of fly steelheading, who are held up on a pedestal by many, did in their time. They not only allowed but wholeheartedly took part along with conventional fisherman in the rape and pillage of our states resources. I don't hold them to the same level of accountability as I do the modern fisherman, but I still have that small reservation which I hold on to in the back of my head for the clear cutters, the slash and burn farmers, strip miners, and modern non-selective fishermen, which severely shortens or completely erases their pedestal height in my opinion...

  11. A lions share of the hatchery program dollars come from either federal money (Army Corp mitigation) or utility mitigation (Tacoma Power, etc....). While the state runs some hatcheries, the $$$ outlay compared to the mitigation money is pretty much dwarfed...
  12. Yeah James, I can't argue that in any way as I don't have the numbers, but if money is spent to put fish in I see no reason to leave any there that have been paid for already.

    I would be happy to see the hatchery doors opened and after the season pull the excess fish out of the holding pens and donate them to food banks or whatever. I just hate to see them left to rot on the banks, even if it marginally enriches the biomass of the river.

    This is only my opinion which greatly differs from employers and friends in many ways.
  13. Curt,

    I hadn't thought about the Pilchuck and having it go wild fish only. But it makes perfect sense to me for the exact reasons you laid out. Thanks for cueing me in on the next river to send in a proposal to WDFW for total C&R, along with elimination of hatchery outplants. I'd like to see the same on the Calawah above Hwy 101, the Bogey above the hatchery, and the upper Hoh as well.
  14. FT -
    Not sure you will see much of CnR fishery on the Pilchuck. Yes it potentially make a good gene bank (though would like to see some clearer definition of exactly what that is) but like the Snoqualmie with current wild winter runs on the Snohomish being less than escapement objects and no hatchery fish the Steelhead management plan calls for no steelhead directed fishing.

    Tight lines
  15. Spotting on! James
    Conservation people use flagship species such as steelhead in this case , Giant Panda in their bamboo forest represent an environmental issue which usually has multitudinal impacts on other organisms and the ecosystem.
  16. Yuhina-
    While James is certainly correct that one of the insidious aspect of hatchery programs can be hiding or confusing the status of co-mingled wild populations I'm not sure that is the case with many of the steelhead hatchery programs.

    In the case of the Tokul Creek winter steelhead hatchery program on the Snoqualmie which started this discussion there are differences and separation between the hatchery and wild fish. All the hatchery production has been massed marked for 25 years so there is little confusion whether a fish an angler catches is a hatchery or wild fish. Further the State while monitoring wild steelhead escapements in Puget Sound has measured the wild escapements as those fish that were produced in the wild. This is considerably different that what had been (as still is in some areas) with salmon.

    Separating the wild from hatchery steelhead escapements is aided by the fact that the Chamber's Creek winter steelhead are a segregated stock with a significant differences in spawning timing between the hatchery and wild fish. The hatchery fish are done spawning before the end of the February and the wild fish begin spawning in early March with most spawning after April 1st.

    Tight lines
  17. It's not how the fish are managed that are at issue (see my preference to CC stock versus integrated). Rather what I see in my mind is the idea that the mass fishing population still doesn't understand the difference between the hatchery successes and wild successes. To most folks a fish is just a fish, and there is lots of misconceptions. You as a biologist can see these issues and seperate the concerns. But unfortunately, you aren't in charge of things and public perception and politics often muddy things.

    Also, hatchery genetic integression in only one aspect of the impacts of hatchery stocks. Open ocean, near shore, and even outmigration impacts still exist, and in some cases aren't particularlly well known.
  18. There are several different issues mixed in this topic, I would like to clarify and elaborate some of my thoughts here. (some of them are already mentioned in the previous posts)
    First, we are dealing with two different things in this post. Quality and Quantity of the steelhead populations. As we can see here, most of people are concerning the genetic quality of the steelhead.
    Hatchery fish is bad, because they are poor quality and they are going to spread their poor quality gene into the wild fish. Based on the hood river steelhead study in Oregon, they found only few generations of domestication of steelhead in their early life (remember those hatchery fish were still grown up in the Ocean), they found their survival rate decreased almost 50% compare to their wild cousin. The experiment design is fairly convincing, because they capture every single individuals returned from the ocean (thanks the dam), and by using genetic markers they were able to identified the fish’s parents four year ago, whether it was coming from hatchery parents or wild parents or half hatchery and half wild. (like finger printing identification). The amazing part to me is the profound impacts of few months rearing environment in the hatchery. The only difference between hatchery and wild fish here is the first few months of natural selection in the wild (or plus the female mating choice in the field). Obviously, the natural selection in the early few months has a huge impact even into the adulthood of the fish, thus altered the life their reproductive fitness. This is the amazing part to me. That is the reason people mentioned that we are doing a poor job compare the selection exerted in the wild environment. To my knowledge, we even don’t know where is the bad genes? What is the mechanism to cause those bad impacts.

    Second, back to the original “canary” idea of habit healthy and management. Wild environment is important and can hugely shape the life history and evolution of the fish. (as we learned from several research on steelhead). I think the influx of hatchery fish not only are going to degrading the genes in the wild pool, but the huge number of hatchery fish are going mask the degradation issue of the environments.

    Third, about the summer run and winter run steelhead. I am not sure if it is a good idea to manage different group of fish differently (hatchery and wild) in the same river. Due to the fact that we know the steelhead exchange their genes frequently with the resident rainbow trout…and to my knowledge there are no report about the genetic characters comparison between summer run and winter run. (Please correct me if I am wrong…)
  19. Great point, I notice this a lot in SW WA rivers, where the fish, and people, tend to really bunch up, but I fish the Nestucca on the OR coast several times each winter and with its' relatively healthy population of wild fish there are fish throughout the system. BIG NASTY fish too.

    What is the answer for early marine survival?

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