Steelhead management/biology questios

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Smalma, Feb 9, 2005.

  1. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,800
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +655 / 0
    Recently there seems to have a fair amount of interest in steelhead management and biology topics so I thought I would start a thread were we could bring our collective knowledge and interest to the topic and explore those interest. I'll attempt to share my own limited knowledge and experience Answering various questions beginning with the following:

    From Kerry regading Skagit steelhead escapement numbers-
    1) who sets the goal?
    The goal is established as a co-manager (WDFW and local tribes) goal and only exist when the two parties agree.

    2) How was/is the escapement number determined?
    The federal court has set the standard as the MSY level though the parties have the option of agreeing to something other than MSY. On the Skagit there has long been some uncertainity without river specific data what the best way to estimate the MSY level should be. As a result the parties had not agreed on a single number but rather agreed year to year on the management objective. With the sharp drop in wild steelhead returns in the Puget Sound region in general and the Skagit it became apparent that a specific goal was needed (for the much of the 1990s the co-managers had agreed to cap the fishing on the wild fish at no more than a combined 16% harvest rate). At that time (following the 2000/01) run there had been enough Skagit specific data collected to make an estimate of what the MSY level for the wild Skagit steelhead might be. Depending on the recruitment model chosen the estimates of MSY varied from a low of 2,800 to a high of 4,800. The co-managers after review that data and esitmates (developed by tribal, state and private consultant under contract with Washington Trout) they opted for a goal of 6,000 (higher than any estimates of MSY) and to further limited harvest they opted to retain the harvest rate cap of 16% for runs above the goal.

    It was thought that under such management the 6,000 goal would provide some cushion or protection during poor return periods. The cap on the harvest rate would continue to allow the population to show what they may be able to do. For example if the wild run was 10,000 fish rather than fishing down to 6,000 by taking 4,000 fish they agreed to the harvest cap which in this case would result in an escapement of 8,400. Such management over the next few years should continue to produce an range of escapements so that appropriateness of the established goal could continued to be tested and revised as the data dictated.

    Tight lines
    S malma
  2. Luv2flyfish Another Flyfisherman

    Posts: 753
    Western WA, US.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    There is NO POINT in managing this resource unless ALL parties concerned do something. A native net schedule of 6 days a week (confirmed by park ranger) on the OP is NOT CONDUCIVE to any type of management. :mad:
  3. Nailknot Active Member

    Posts: 1,896
    Cascadia
    Ratings: +8 / 0
    Boldt stands legally. Railing against it won't change anything. I'm glad to see sportfishers doing their part, as this is one way to put pressure on the tribes.

    Thanks for the insights Smalma.
  4. TomB Active Member

    Posts: 1,620
    seattle,wa
    Ratings: +58 / 0
    Thank you Smalma- I can't think of any more questions right now, but if I do, I will certainly post them.
    -Tom
  5. Billbob must escape the warren

    Posts: 47
    King County, Washington
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    There is no sport harvest of steelhead on the Skagit, right? So is that 16% figure really only a cap on the tribes? 16% for the tribal nets, 0% + hooking mortality for the state? If so, then that looks and smells like an invocation of foregone opportunity. What am I missing? Presumably I am missing something - I really doubt the tribes would pick up the state's harvestable fish. Does expressing the cap as a total harvest percentage of run change something in that regard? And how do they know what percentage they have netted while they continue to net? Hard to say what percentage of the run has been netted without knowing how many fish are showing up. Are the estimates typically overstating the actual run size? Is there any rule about spreading the netting pressure throughout the season? Eliminating the early returning wild genetics wouldn't be smart. Unless that's the plan, so that it is easier to justify hatchery fish presence.

    I'm sure I'll think of more things that confuse me.

    Jeff
  6. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,800
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +655 / 0
    BillBob -
    The 16% harvest rate cap is used to determine the harvest number. The tribal fishery targets what would be their share - to date no talk of foregone opportunity on the Skagit.

    The number of harvest fish would be based on the pre-season forecast. And yes you are correct in that the forecast is often off target. As you suggest the forecast over estimates the actually run during periods of decreasing marine survivals and tends to under estimate the run size in periods of increasing survivals. The last 2 years runs in most of Puget Sound have been better than expected so the escapements are more than predicted

    For the Skagit having the escapement objective set well above MSY and the harvest rate cap provides a buffer on the fisheries (harvest) so that the escapements will be above (in good times well above) MSY level.

    Tight lines
    S malma
  7. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,800
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +655 / 0
    A new issue/question

    On a recent thread a statement was attributed to one of the local WDFW idiots about there being too many steelhead. It was in some sort of context regarding the CnR fishery on the Skykomish.

    Perhaps what was really said that with the recent down turn in marine survivals that the carrying capacities of the local rivers under those conditions have been reduced to levels below what was considered to the MSY level under the conditions 20 years ago. How can that be?

    While river systems and the fish populations they support can and are often very dynamic that makes them difficult to grasp perhaps a simple hypothetical example will illustrate how that may occur.

    Lets assume that the freshwater survival conditions of Lunker River are constant and the spawning and juvenile rearing environments consist of two parts with one in relatively good shape and one degraded. For this example let’s assume the one in good shape on the average has a productivity 40 smolts per spawning female (a reasonable high value) while the degraded one has a productivity of only 20 smolts per female. Lets further assume that the smolt capacity for the basin is 100,000; with 65,000 coming from the better habitat and 35,000 from the poorer habitat.

    Under average smolt to adult marine survival conditions we might expect a return of 10% or 10,000 adults. The adults would be distributed based on ratio of smolt production with 6,500 adults returning to the good habitat and 3,500 to the poor habitat. Please note that at 20 smolts/female or 10 smolts/spawner it would take 3,500 spawners to produce the 35,000 smolts in the poor habitat section while in the good habitat section at 20 smolts/spawner it would only 3,250 spawners to produce the 65,000 smolts. While it would only take 6,750 spawners to “seed” all the habitat to capacity to do so would require the spawners be distributed very precisely – hand placed? If the fish were allowed to spawn randomly it would take all 10,000 spawners to insure that enough spawners would be using the poor habitat to fully seed that habitat. In effect the carrying capacity of the system would be 10,000 spawners.

    Typically estimates of the MSY escapement of system under average environmental conditions is about 60% of its carrying capacity (it can vary a lot but for this simple example lets assume again that it is so). Which means that the MSY escapement goal for this population would be 6,000.

    Not less see what would happen to the population and its dynamics if marine survival were to crash like has been seen recently in Puget Sound and the Georgia Basin. What if the survival dropped from 10% to 5%. In our example on Lunker River the return (marine survival times the number of smolts) would 5,000 adults (3,250 returning to the good habitat and 1,750 returning to the poor habitat). Please note that under these poor conditions the fish using the poor habitat can no longer replace themselves. 3,500 spawners produced only 1,750 spawners which in turn will only produce 17,500 which the generation will produce only 875 adults – in short that habitat has become a population sink and no longer able to maintain a viable population. While the better habitat’s productivity is such that it continues to be able to replace itself (though barely).

    In event under the poor survival conditions of 5% marine survival the carrying capacity of the system has been greatly reduced. In fact it is now at a level less than what was MSY under favorable survival conditions. It also means that regardless of what management actions one may take the returns are not going to improve until those survival conditions improve. Is that failure of the management paradigm or the result of the natural variation of marine survival conditions that were likely compound by degradation of the freshwater habitat (reducing its productivity as measures as smolts/spawner)?

    Don’t know if any of this makes sense to anyone. However I’m sure that we often shot the messenger when we don’t like or understand the message.

    Tight lines
    S malma
  8. Bob Triggs Your Preferred Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide

    Posts: 3,980
    Olympic Peninsula
    Ratings: +649 / 0
    Is "MSY" working?
  9. Trevor New Member

    Posts: 341
    Poulsbo , WA
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Umm, what does MSY stand for? Color me ignorant...
  10. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,800
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +655 / 0
    Trevor -
    Sorry - I sometimes forget about the alphabet soup we sometimes communicate in confuses others.

    MSY = Maximum Sustained Yield: It is the escapement point on a the spawner/recruit curve that on the average produces the largest number of harvestable fish.

    Because it is the management point the produces the largest number of fish that in theory can be killed and still maintain the population at that level it is a popular place to manage for those who want as many dead fish as possible. In the past it was often considered to be a management failure if the full number of fish was not harvest which resulted in many populations being over fished. As a consequence many folks advocating for wild fish management and protection find MSY a distasteful to be managing. To make life more complicated the Federal Courts have mandate for the Boldt Case that unless the co-managers agree the escapement goal shall be MSY.

    Bob -
    Is MSY working? I guess that it depends on ones prespective. I'm sure that most tribal communities would say yes. Other and suspect you would fall into the camp of HECK NO!

    The point in my most recent posting was that under the extreme poor marine survivals we have been seeing in Puget Sound that having an escapement goal of MSY under average survival conditions is actually the same as having a goal of carrying capacity under poor conditions -neither are limiting the population.

    FRom my prespective I see a real difference between managing to achieve MSY harvest level and sitting an escapement objective at MSY and managing the resulting fisheries to insure that the escapements will be at or preferably above the MSY level.

    As an angler my interest are two fold - conservation of the resource and have abundant fish for my angling preference. With any kind of habitat productivity what I have read regarding consrvation biology a population at or above MSY would be above population viability. So meeting my test of conserving the resource would met with a MSY escapement objective though to reduce the risk of falling below that level I would prefer to see any manage using a MSY escapement objective be well buffered to reduce the probability of management error. As an angler catches and release the vast majortiy of all wild salmonids that I catch (release all resident trout, sea-ru cutts, Dollies, STeelhead) but do keep some salmon - mostly hatchery but the occassional wild pink, sockeye or even coho that I feel are robust I would prefer that manage be well above MSY but below carrying capcity - more fish to recreate on.

    Tight lines
    S malma
  11. wet line New Member

    Posts: 2,313
    Burien, WA, King.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    In my ignorant view they are trying to sustain runs of fish based upon depressed runs after the problem of low returns became overly apparent.

    There is no consideration of what was there at one time nor what could be there now.

    It is based upon minimal returning spawners, with max harvest, and still keep the run off the endangered list.

    6000 spawners on the Skagit should be enough reason to close the river down for everybody. That is less than 25% of what the river used to kick out in caught fish! And it produced that number of fish for years until it was over harvested! and minimum escapement goals were instituted. It should be maximum escapement goals and minimal harvest if the runs are going to ever come back!

    Dave
  12. Trevor New Member

    Posts: 341
    Poulsbo , WA
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    This sounds a lot like they are trying to sustain current levels (without much of a margin for error). Is that the current paradigm? Is there any effort to restore runs to levels seen in the past?

    Trevor
  13. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,800
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +655 / 0
    Wet line -
    A question for you - where you would set the escapement goal in my hypothetical example given the following?
    Carryinng capacity at low marine survival (5% marine survival) = 3,250
    Carying capacity at avg. marine survivl (10% marine survival) = 10,000
    MSY at avg marine survial = 6,000
    Carrying capacity at high marinve survival(15% marine survival) = 15,000
    Carrying capacity at high marinve survival and restored habitat = 20,250

    Ignoring the whole tribal thing for the monent which of the 5 options above best fit your thoughts for the best escapement objective?

    Others have any thoughts?

    tight lines
    S malma
  14. Nailknot Active Member

    Posts: 1,896
    Cascadia
    Ratings: +8 / 0
    We can't ignore the current real habitat restrictions, nor cherry pick past banner years (many based on huge initial hatchery success) when figuring capacity. I see MSY as problematic but hardly the evil- it is just a system negotiated for all the stakeholders. Obviously the sports don't gain max opportunity overall, but we are in the game. Sports can make steps to close areas to bait/barbs, do our part within the system to affect a little bit, or mitigate our harm. If we close them all as Wetline suggests nobody will be watching or caring I think. We need to maximize rec opps within reason and keep pushing other harvesters to mitigate their kill- including the developers and city planners, tribes, commercials etc. We lose our seat at the table if we close rivers to rec fishing.
  15. wet line New Member

    Posts: 2,313
    Burien, WA, King.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Smalma, you have more knowledge than I about this but I will jump at the question anyhow.

    I would opt for something between the average survival and max. survival rates say as in your example around 12,000 targeted escapement, though 10,000 as an average may be exceptable. There is a lot to consider between those two numbers, such as is the average number of survival the norm over a long period of time. Meaning that for a 20 year period the average number is actually the number for say better than 50% of the runs.

    Harvest by those user groups that do harvest, would be the number of fish expected over the carrying capacity of the system.

    Habitat restoration would also need to be addressed and as the carrying capacity increased then escapement goals could also be increased to some hypothetical number which would insure better opportunities for the user groups.

    Nailknot, I would not go along with a complete closure of all the systems at one given time. However I do think that to close 20% of the systems for say 6 or 7 years and then reopen them and then shut down another 20% would be benefitial. Continue doing this until all systems have gone through the cycle. If needed then repeat the process. This would have to be a cooperative effort between all user groups to be succesful. The intent would be to get the runs built up to over the maximum carrying capacity which allows a harvest by the user groups that do harvest.

    Dave
  16. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,800
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +655 / 0
    Dave -
    Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. Most folks while critical of current goals are often hestiate actual propose an alternate numeric goal against which to measure impacts of any fishing.

    Assuming the escapement objective was set at the carying capacity mid-point between average and good marine conditions -in this example 12,500 fish - would you allow fishing if the run was expected to be less than the escapement goal?

    In this case we would expect that over a 40 year period the runs would be at that level only 10 years of that period. Any fishing in the other years would be allowing fishing would be intentally driving the population even further below the goal.

    One of the points in my hypothetic was to illustrate that our steelhead populations naturally yoyo up and down varying marine and freshwater survivals. Over a period of several decades one would expect to see a several fold difference in run size even in the case where there were no fishing.

    If you or others can frame your MSY question(s) I'll take a shot at it,

    Tight lines
    S malma
  17. Steve Buckner Mother Nature's Son

    Smalma,
    For me, it comes down to this simple question and that is "Is the WDFW ensuring that wild steelhead/salmon runs will remain healthy and viable indefinitely?"

    We've observed the historic decimation of salmonids all over the world, starting with Atlantic Salmon in Europe, then the decimation of the Atlantic Salmon in Eastern North America, then the decimation of pacific salmonids in Idaho, California and then moving up the coast into Oregon, and now we're seeing that same decimation in Washington. The only places left for a sanctuary for Salmonids are those rivers to the North, ie, B.C., Alaska, and some of those in Russia. And that said, even many of those rivers were overharsted and are now just beginning to rebound. Look what has happened to the Thompson river steelhead in the past few years.

    Wild steelhead are not doing well above the series of dams on the Columbia and snake river. Wild steelhead have been wiped out in every river in Washington that have been dammed. Those rivers left without dams are the only hope for the wild steelhead to survive, and despite this, WDFW (and the Boldt decision) has continued to allow the harvest of wild fish by both natives and sportsfisherman. To my knowledge, with the exception of Washington, every other state and B.C. has banned the harvesting of wild steelhead because of their threatened status. To my dismay, WDFW actually embraced the the thought of allowing more wild steelhead to be caught/killed as a result of the spring chinook fishery this spring. Thank God that ODFW stepped in and prevented it. Why doesn't WDFW have more common sense?

    So it can be argued that salmon and steelhead runs fluctuate naturally, but overall, those fluctuations have resulted in a downward trend, and given the history of what our species has done to salmonids and fish all over the world, the results of "business as usuall" by the WDFW are clearly not going to work. Someone needs to revisit the Boldt Decision, we need to revisit the harvesting of wild fish (as well as C&R), and we need to revisit the removal of dams to ensure the wild fish survive. What aggressive plans to ensure the health of wild steelhead does the WDFW have on these topics? Given the bleak picture, how can WDFW honestly justify maximum harvest when we should'nt be harvesting wild fish at all? Without trying to be offensive, does the WDFW have the forsight, the knowledge, the will, and the power to make sure that wild salmonids thrive in Washington?
  18. wet line New Member

    Posts: 2,313
    Burien, WA, King.
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Where is the line drawn?

    First lets make some assumptions.
    1 the state laws are going to be changed from an emphasis on max commercial harvest to more fish friendly strategies
    2 every system will respond differently to the normal up and down numbers of fish returning. Some will recover quicker from down cycles.
    3 the goal is to gain max carrying capacities for each system
    4 commercial harvest is based on numbers in excess of max carrying capacity
    5 all the user groups are vested in the strategy

    This is a two prong problem, commercial fishing which includes the tribes, and sport fishers.

    The harvest of excess numbers would be given to the commercial interest, or say maybe 95% of the surplus over max carrying capacity. The remainder would be an allowable harvest by sport fishers. In time they would likely gain more numbers of harvested fish than current numbers.

    The sport fishers would be allowed a C&R fishery at predicted levels of return based on max carrying capacity of say 80% depending upon the recovery rate of any given system. If the recovery rate did not rebound then a closure would be enacted. This percentage would have to be examined closely with good data. I am just picking a number that would have to be tweaked for every system based on recovery rates. It would have to be neccesarily flexible.

    The other key ingredient to this is that hatchery numbers of released smolt would be greatly reduced and a wild enhancement program initiated. There are different stategies available.

    If it were up to me to make the decision this how I would start to solve the problem. There are other things that would have to be taken into account but this would be the base I would work from.

    Yes there is a lot of sacrifice by all user groups in such a strategy. A percentage of river systems will be shut down on a cyclic basis and fishing opportunity in the short run is going to decrease. As I see the current decline there is coming a time when no opportunity is going to exist. The runs will be so decimated that for all practical purposes the fish will be gone. There are very few river systems left where sport fishing for wild winter runs is available for the sport fisher. Every year we lose another river. Maximum harvest does not allow for full recovery and the strategy of minimal survival is not working.

    Dave

    Dave
  19. Bob Triggs Your Preferred Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide

    Posts: 3,980
    Olympic Peninsula
    Ratings: +649 / 0
    Smalma,

    "above MSY but below Carrying Capacity".

    I have to say that what the environment, and these rivers, can "carry", as an abundance of wild fish, is something no presently living human being here has experienced. These runs of fish have evolved over millions of years, along with all of the other organisims that they encounter throughout their life history.

    These rivers and their tributaries could "carry" so many fish that you could still not see the bottom. And that would be "healthy" as far as the fish and the rivers, and all of the related biota of those ecosystems is concerned. That is how they symbioticly evolved throughout the millenia.

    That is what was here before men came with axes and bits and chains and dams and an explosion of human development and pollution at the waters edge, for over the past 150 years. Before the dark legacy of depletion began that has stripped the nutrient base, including the fish, from every biological system here. And long before homo sapiens invented the science of fisheries management for harvest as success. Wild fish biology is still something relatively new here. Well, say, compared to the notion of how hatcherys could replace nature so that we could have: "salmon without rivers".

    When we use the term "carrying capacity", we should be considering rebuilding the biomass first, and the natal rivers, and not supporting "harvest" as the goal and measure of fisheries management success. And no matter how you see it, if we really want restoration; it will always end up with the need to allow more fish to swim upriver and spawn unhinderd. And somebody is going to have to stop fishing to allow that to happen.

    If I have to stop fishing I will. I have already reduced my own personal fishing pressure on these fish to a fraction of my potential time on the water. Maybe it is already too late.
  20. o mykiss Active Member

    Posts: 1,303
    .
    Ratings: +176 / 0
    I think Wet Line is right that one big part of the problem is that the state agency that we all consider the party responsible for "managing" the resource ultimately has a legislative mandate to maximize exploitation, which mandate is only subservient in the case of certain species on certain systems to limitations that the feds may place on WDFW due to the Endangered Species Act. WDFW presumably manages with an eye towards the future, but they seem to succumb to the pressure to maximize exploitation opportunities in the short term. And who can blame them, when that is what our legislature requires them to do? And since the feds seem to be inclined to interpret the ESA as narrowly as possible, wild fish don't really seem to stand a chance given the legal structures fisheries managers are working within. As long as harvest is the legislative priority, conservation will always be second fiddle. That's presumably why Smalma looks at this issue within the box of concepts like "MSY" and "carrying capacity" while those who are not personally involved in the state's management of the resource look at it from different perspectives. Only if the legislature changes the management paradigm will WDFW look outside that box.