Steelhead Hatchery Programs Violate ESA

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Andrew Lawrence, Jan 24, 2014.

  1. Steelhead Hatchery Programs Violating ESA

    Jan 23, 2014
    PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 • Tel 425-788-1167 • Fax 425-788-9634 •
    Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167
    Brian Knutsen, Smith and Lowney, PLLC, 971-373-8692
    For Immediate Release: Thursday January 23, 2014
    Steelhead Hatchery Programs Violating ESA

    Today, Wild Fish Conservancy, a Puget Sound-based conservation group, sent a 60-day notice of intent to suethe Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), alleging that the agency’s planting of “Chambers Creek” steelhead in Puget Sound watersheds is in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The group states that the widespread planting of the highly domesticated hatchery stock across Puget Sound watersheds harms wild Puget Sound steelhead, wild Puget Sound Chinook salmon, and bull trout. All three species are listed as “threatened” under the ESA. Since the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead, WDFW’s Chambers Creek steelhead hatchery programs have continued to operate without permission from the NOAA Fisheries Service. The Chambers Creek fish are produced at numerous WDFW facilities across Washington.

    “The science is definite in that the planting of these domesticated hatchery fish is detrimental to protected wild fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Any release of Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead should be prohibited as incompatible with the recovery of wild Puget Sound steelhead and the perpetuation of their legacy. But at the very least any existing hatchery program must operate with an appropriate permit from NOAA Fisheries.”

    Recent research in the Skagit River watershed confirms that Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead are mating with wild steelhead. The offspring of hatchery steelhead and wild steelhead are substantially less likely to survive in the wild, further depressing the already low numbers of wild steelhead. The Skagit research is the latest of a growing number of studies that have concluded that the planting of domesticated hatchery steelhead has adverse effects on the health and resilience of wild steelhead. The hatchery steelhead program of the Skagit River watershed is the largest in the Puget Sound region.

    Because juvenile hatchery steelhead are far larger than their wild counterparts, they prey on the juveniles of listed salmonids, compete for food, and attract predators. Hatchery facilities that block habitat and degrade water quality also cause problems for wild fish.

    “WDFW has a split mandate between providing fishing opportunities and protecting wild steelhead,” Beardslee continued. “Ironically, what one hand of WDFW gives, the other takes away: the publically funded fish hatcheries undermine the publically funded wild fish recovery efforts, such as habitat restoration. Fully recovered wild steelhead populations would fulfill both mandates.”

    In 1969, the steelhead was declared Washington’s official “state fish.” Despite that recognition, wild Puget Sound steelhead populations have declined precipitously over the past thirty years: the average region-wide abundance between 1980 and 2004 was less than 4% of what it was in 1900. Since being listed as threatened under the ESA in 2007, Puget Sound wild steelhead abundance has continued to decline. The recent five-year average is less than 3% of what it was in 1900. In 2010, scientists from the regional science center of the NOAA Fisheries Service concluded “n our opinion… Chambers Creek steelhead have no role in the recovery of native Puget Sound steelhead.” The unpermitted Chambers Creek steelhead hatchery programs are the sole subject of the 60-day notice letter, because rather than aiding wild steelhead, these programs harm wild steelhead and prevent their recovery.
    Chris Johnson likes this.
  2. Interesting to say the least.
  3. Emerging science suggests they are flat out wrong.

    I'm all for wild steelhead, but over-stating one's case to such a degree destroys credibility IMO.

    HauntedByWaters and sopflyfisher like this.
  4. Steve, please provide "emerging science."
  5. Chambers Creek Strain Steelhead = Genetic Zombies. Wild steelhead are having a hard enough time as it is (logging, nets, sport fishing, etc.) without having to compete with non-native, introduced zombie-fish that can potentially cross-breed with them and dilute their genes, compete for spawning habitat, and their young compete for the limited forage-base available in these rivers. As quoted in the press release: "The offspring of hatchery steelhead and wild steelhead are substantially less likely to survive in the wild, further depressing the already low numbers of wild steelhead." I say good on ya Wild Fish Conservancy. And yes Steve I would love to see evidence of this so-called "emerging science"!
  6. It's DRAFT, not yet internal reviewed nor peer reviewed, but teases out the relationship of shared alleles between Chambers Ck and wild steelhead stocks. The degree of introgression suggested by previous interpretations may be significantly over-stated. Final report should be out about the time the lawsuit is filed or underway.


  7. Which ever side you are on in the "hatchery" debate, the way we "manage'' steelhead rivers has to change. Until there is some accountability nothing will change. Maybe this will prod us a little closer to that goal
    Derek Young and sopflyfisher like this.
  8. I hope these guys have deep pockets.
  9. Perfect... our limited and severely stretched tax dollars going into the pockets of a bunch of lawyers. Non constructive to say the very least. 1146.gif
  10. If we get rid of Chambers Creek steelhead than we will get our wild fish back and thus our c&r seasons back and catch steelhead every trip whilst swinging classic Spey patterns on a bamboo fly rod.

    Is this not the big picture?

    Why is it that few gear anglers are as over zealous about getting rid of these hatchery steelhead as fly fishermen? Are some confusing catching with how many fish there are to catch or trying to bring more meaning to choosing the most effective method to getting skunked?
    sopflyfisher likes this.
  11. Another try please... what are you saying?
    Irafly likes this.
  12. Something to keep in mind...

    Any impact that hatcheries have is not the sum total of impacts to wild fish. Eliminating them with a scorched earth policy will in all likelihood do little to increase wild fish numbers.
  13. Warning, the following is a matter of opinion:

    Freestone, I'm saying the ones who think the skies are falling are the ones who catch the fewest fish by choice of method. They have a lot of empirical evidence that there are no steelhead left but their logic is flawed because they have chosen an approach to their fishing that is exceptionally ineffective.

    The two distinct fishing worlds; gear and fly, seem to have their own ethics, rules, myths, and politics. This disconnect leads to a lot of misinformed fishermen on both sides.

    I swing flies a lot for steelhead and love it, I had a two hander when a windcutter line was the only line you needed, but I am not as concerned as some. I expect it to be really tough if not impossible depending on conditions to hook a steelhead on a fly.

    I saw a fly guy going skunked yesterday while he watched 2 gear anglers walk into the run above him and hook 4 steelhead and about a dozen dollies in a half hour. Each cast was a hookup. He was visibly rattled because he had just pounded that water. I was one of those gear anglers. If that fly angler had not seen our show he would have probably given the report with the phrase, "dead river" or "no fish to be found".

    We choose to fish how we want, I wouldn't have it any other way, but I don't like how insulated and yet over zealous many fishing groups are nowadays. In the age of the internet I feel people are ironically more misinformed than ever. Why listen to the seasoned biologist when you can go to the internet and find a hundred consenting minds no matter how misinformed?
    the_chemist, wolverine, Anil and 3 others like this.
  14. Thanks for the follow-up. There is room for both methods of fishing and management approaches to the fishery stocks...the perfect model only exists in our minds.

    The action by WFC is akin to a custody battle... lawyers get rich and the kids (fish) get screwed.
    NateTreat, Irafly and sopflyfisher like this.

  15. Very cool read. Like everything is life, as well as fisheries, "it's complicated."

    The Tucannon is another example of this complexity. There is an ongoing change in what fish are used as the local stock. They are switching to endemic stocks as I understand it. Not likely "native" but unclipped fish that are the product of wild rearing. And there was some crying about this transition. Mostly about the 2-3 years (or more) of reduced angling opportunity as hatchery stockings based on this process increase to harvestable numbers, and again get clipped. But since some years 80% of the fish planted in the Tucannon (which were basically Wallowa River fish) are estimate to cross Lower Granite Dam (in other words, go right past the Tucannon, and never "go home") the long term result could not only be more local spawners descended from endemic fish, and less pond brats filling the void, but better fishing as the planted fish return to the river the were loosed from.

    Hatcheries can be used for good and evil. Unilateral declarations about them are not likely accurate.

    FWIW, I think most rivers should use endemic fish as brood. Just seems like a better idea. Maybe it is more expensive. For example you could not breed and raise stocks from 10 rivers in one big pond. But the results per $ spent might go up.

  16. Truer words never spoken. I cut my teeth using drift gear and swinging metal. Its not better or worse, but does lend some perspective.

    I think a lot of people who flyfish do indeed use other methods. But it does seem at times the loudest have the most limited perspectives. But that's often the case in life generally as well.

    Before anyone here thinks I am writing about them...I AM NOT. I am speaking generally and I do not have anyone in particular in mind as i write this.

    So if I raised your hackles, relax. You were apparently not that memorable :D
    aplTyler, constructeur and Anil like this.
  17. as with all things compromise normally ends up in the middle. getting to the middle doesn't happen if you start in the middle, which is why i am happy there are groups that push for a "wild fish only" perspective because the other side, wdfw, has a financial stake in continuing their failing hatchery management.

    as for reduced hatchery plants i think the one thing we, as wild fish advocates, will have to come to grips with is harvest. by this i mean that if we remove hatchery fish and wild runs do move upwards (hard to imagine with our tribal brethren doing everything in their power to overharvest and over-hatchery our rivers) we might have to loosen our grip on wild steelhead c&r as the holy grail of steelhead management. i personally would give some sport harvest to end hatchery plants on coastal rivers with good and improving habitat because i believe there is no way to actually bring back wild steelhead numbers without restoring our early timed steelhead which is impossible with the current hatchery plants on those rivers.

    just a few things i have been thinking about.
    Irafly likes this.
  18. i get what you are saying but fishing experience most often does not tell the whole story when it comes to run sizes (good or bad). i have had great fishing over miniscule populations of wild steelhead, but i considered that very lucky and did not think that the run is rebounding due to a day or two of amazing fishing.

    most of us agree that puget sound rivers meeting escapement should be opened, but the non-fishing data clearly shows that wild steelhead populations are struggling in most of our watersheds, and fishing method has little to do with it, besides that some people catch more fish than others.
  19. In the 30's when they were building dams, scientist knew they were not good for fish and there was enough question as to the effectiveness of hatcheries that the dept of interior put together a board to study the matter. This is a quote from their findings " the adoption of the plan for trial should not be understood as implying an indefinite commitment to its support but only for so long as the results may reasonably appear to justify its continuance" . Sixty years later in another review of hatchery mitigation, " Artificial propagation remains experimental. Adaptive management practices that evaluate benefits and addresses scientific uncertainties are crucial". Of the Billions of dollars spent on mitigation In the Columbia an overwhelming majority has been spent on hatcheries, and the rest of the state as well. And things continue to decline. The status quo will not do, are we suppose to wait for managers to have an epiphany ? Or for our elected to do something? No, its time to push.
    Adrian likes this.

Share This Page