Steelhead mortality

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Kaiserman, Nov 24, 2011.

  1. Jim Kerr

    Jim Kerr Active Member

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    Hey, on a similar note.
    So as for release mortality. If a native steelhead is brought to hand and released once its mortality rate is + or - 5%, O.K. I will buy that.
    How bout the 5th time it is released in the span of a week? I am sure that some, I would guess many, fish in the lower rivers on the OP are being landed that often.
    Try this on. I have spoken with old timers (guys that were guiding here every day when only 4 or 5 guys could say that) and they had a theory called "stressing down" It goes like this, when you land a particularly large fish and release it you will often catch it again the next day or so a couple of pools downstream from where you landed it the first time. The thought was that because larger fish take longer to land, even on heavy plug gear, they stress more and are tend to be more effected.
    So, in the last couple of seasons (of radically increased sport pressure)I have been noticing more bright gravid fish in the very lowest pools of the river that didn't fight well and bore the marks of being released, or broken off before. As I released them( for the ??th time) I looked down stream and thought, well, if you keep heading down, where to now? The ocean? Will this fish spawn at all? Will it even try?
    There is a lot we do not know about native steelhead.
    At the very least maybe err on the side of caution, and maybe be they guy that try's to make it a little harder once he has landed a fish, switches to the spey rod, or if he is already there switches to the dry line, or the dry fly, or the camera and a beer.
    And always, always, no matter how bad you want the picture, handle with care and keep them in the water.
    Jim
     
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  2. Ringlee

    Ringlee Doesn't care how you fish Moderator Staff Member

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    Jim,

    You bring up an extremely valid point with drop back and associated stress from captures. Radio tag studies show salmon will drop back after being caught and even go back to saltwater. This has been documented by commercial fisheries in saltwater intercepting adult salmon that were tagged in river and proceeded back out to saltwater.

    It could be assumed that a stressed steelhead will drop back and I have seen plenty of steelhead this past season with previous hook marks. This could put more fish in jeopardy of harvest from both sport and treaty harvest in the lower rivers. It could also lead to a shift in spawning distribution based on human impacts, that in turn could lead to less spawning productivity.
     
  3. Charles Sullivan

    Charles Sullivan dreaming through the come down

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    This is the most logical reason I have heard to be concerned with C&R impact. I don't know what he pressure has been like on the OP but I've heard it is high.

    I do wish as much thought was given to potential hatchery impacts as is to C&R impacts.

    There should be some info. that could be gained from the Skagit radio tag study. I'd love to see all of that data. Anyone?

    Go Sox,
    cds
     
  4. Steve Call

    Steve Call Active Member

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    I started fishing for steelhead in the 70's and have no idea how many I've caught over the years. This thread is simply reinforces my growing concern over the future of this fishery. If Jim Kerr's observation about fish being caught multiple times having a negative impact on spawning is at all true, I can no longer feel good about C&R of wild fish.

    If I continue to fish for steelhead, and I want to, I'll restrict myself to targeting hatchery fish.
     
  5. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Jim -
    Assuming a 5% hooking mortality the chances of a fish surviving 5 such encounters is 77% (0.95 to the 5th power). Researchers have noted that much of the mortality related to catch and release is from the mechanical damage the hook does to the fish - the amount of mortality is directly related to the amount of fish hooked in critical areas. This accounts for the importance of seelective gear rules versus say the use of bait.

    Ringlee -
    Have to careful with the "drop back" data. Pretty common for out of basin fish to dip into a system only to later leave that system and return to another. Common for salmon trap data to have higher portion of out of basin fish that say carcass recoveries.

    Charles -
    At least for the Puget Sound area steelhead it was my experience that at least as much consideration was given to hatchery/wild issues as CnR mortalities. In most cases if assumptions were need in regard to hatchery fish interactiing with the wild fish those assumption where on typically on the worst case end of things. Just one example is that it was always assumed that uncaught hatchery fish shot-gun through the river and were more likely to se as likely to sawpn with a wild fish as a hatchery fish. That is in spite of what has been observed - that natrually spawning tend to cluster near release sites (though some do stralong distances) and as result the hatchery fish are more likely to spawn with each other than with a wild fish.

    tight lines
    Curt
     
  6. Wilken

    Wilken Member

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    WDFW allowed harvest of wild fish for decades while the resource was on a downward trajectory. Always using their ridiculously low escapement goals as justification. Those escapement goals were a small fraction of what the wild fish were producing before we showed up and starting kiling them in unsustainable numbers. It was only once the escapement numbers were regularly not being met before anyone even started to think about C and R. It doesn't matter how good the habitat is if you aren't allowing the fish to replace themselves through overharvest. The idea that Puget Sound steelhead should not have been listed is nothing less than ludicrous. Do we have to wait until wild fish are extinct in more than 50% of the rivers in PS before listing them? What is the threshold then? How many rivers do we need to lose?

    Banning or shortening C and R seasons to protect the wild spawning fish has some "unintended consequences" that are beneficial to the resource. For one, it makes it much harder for poachers to kill wild fish without detection. Anyone that thinks poachers are not a big problem for wild steelhead/salmonid production has their head so firmly planted up their ass, they need a snorkel to breath. Take the fishery on the Cedar River. Granted, it is a wild trout fishery, the only mykiss left in the river after the steelhead went functionally extinct. I agree the final nails in the coffin had little to do with fishing. However, driving the resource to a a level that left the population very vulnerable to other impacts had everything to do with overharvesting wild fish. Kind of like cancer leaves a patient more vulnerable to dying of pneumonia. What happened once the trout fishery began after more than 10 years of complete river closure? The larger fish were poached out and the numbers of adult fish dropped precipitiously. Prior to the opening of the fishery, the river closure had made it hard for poachers to blend in and kill fish. When the fishery opened, the trout population was very healthy with very large AK/New Zealand sized trout in every pool. You could detect them easily with polarized glasses, you didn't need to catch them to know they were there. After the fishery was opened (a catch and release, no bait, barbless fishery no less) the population plummeted, the size frequency distribution was massively skewed to the smaller fish and the large 20+ inch fish became quite rare in comparison to what existed after the long closure. Why did this happen? I would agree that C and R mortality was a small but real part of the equation. The habitat was relatively stable over this time period. The primary cause was bait fishermenl and head bonkers that were able to camouflage themselves with the other fishers making the detection of poaching much more difficult for fishermen, the public and the enforcers and making the poachers much more brave. Once the poachers realized the enforcement was totally ineffective if not completely absent they became even more belligerent. Effectively, we opened the fishery for catch and kill by letting C and R fishers access to the river. Did poaching exist before the opening? Hell yes, but to a much, much lower degree because of the much higher probability of detection. These days I can float 17 miles of the Cedar in the summer and perhaps see one or two very large trout. Before the opening, I would see 1 or 2 very large trout in practically every pool and sometimes many more than that in the bigger pools. Before, I would see fish in excess of 6 pounds not often, but they wer detectable. After, the larger fish that I see may be approaching half that size. It is not that their are no really large fish, they have just become so rare that they are not as detectable. Before, very few bait hooks in trees and shrubs, power bait jars or styrofoam worm cannisters. After, lots of barbed hooks with dried worms hanging from trees, lots of bait cannisters and lots more fishing out of season, before and after the intended season. So, closing a C and R fishery has benefits above and beyond preventing C and R mortality.

    Any wild salmonid fishery in PS that can not be adequately enforced should be closed. If you disagree...hit me up in another 20 years and cry me a river. Think about what the fisheries were like 20 years ago....40 years ago....60 years ago. Look at the trajectory of wild Green River fish, Cedar River fish, Nisqually river fish never mind the small creeks that used to hold steelhead and no longer do. Yeah, the habitat has degraded and, if fish managers were honest and effective, the escapement goals should have gone up with that degradation to keep the populations robust. Carrying capacity my ass, the fisheries have been overfished for decades and the recent moves by the WDFW and co-managers is nothing less than crisis management, too little...too late. A function of denial that is alive and well today. I for one have no more sympathy for the wild steelhead fisherman than I do for the big game lion hunter. They are both going to go away with time the only question is...will that be because there is no quarry or because the rules force them to stop? Neither will stop by themselves that is for sure.

    Perhaps we should do an experiment. Close 50% of the relatively productive rivers in PS to all SH fishing after December 15th and stop dumping hatchery fish in those systems. Stop ALL bait fishing for trout to protect juvenile steelhead. Wait ten years. Compare the trajectories of the wild populations in the protected rivers to the ones that continue with the current regs. Manage the fisheries as dictated by the results and wild steelhead extinction will be far less likely...I'd bet my house on it.

    Wilken
     
  7. Ringlee

    Ringlee Doesn't care how you fish Moderator Staff Member

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    Curt,

    You bring up a good point regarding salmon "testing the waters" and being intercepted with tags, to then go up a different drainage. I saw that with the study I worked on in Alaska. We also tracked fish out into saltwater after capture and then those fish migrated upstream to spawn in the tagging stream. It was not the focus of the project, but a very interesting observation that will be monitored closer next season. These were Chinook however and not steelhead, so a steelhead project could offer different results.
     
  8. Charles Sullivan

    Charles Sullivan dreaming through the come down

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    Wilken,

    I respect your obvious passion, although I disagree with the premise. I really don't believe that the PS steelhead decline has been caused by overharvest. There was sport harvest for far too long and native harvest continues today. Run sizes fluctuated above current thresholds with much higher harvest rates than today. The runs seemed to crash 12 or so years ago. Reading the ta leaves it appears that early marine survival is the culprit. Given the ability for all anadromous salmonids to bounce back under good conditions, I believe a rebound is possible. It won't be possible if current conditions persist even with little or no harvest.

    My thought about listing being a bad idea is just that a thought. Clearly there was a sound enough reason for it that the Fed.'s bought off on it, however it has accounted fo no change that amounts to anything. I honestly don't think that ending the season on Jan 31 will do a damn thing.

    As far as your proposal, it doesn't take into account that the hatchery issue may be a puget sound issue not an individual river issue.

    Smalma,

    Maybe it's cuz I haven't been in the DFW conference room when these things are discussed, but from my perspective, the proof is in the pudding. What I see is that rivers are being closed to sport fishing for hatchery fish on a yearly basis, to ensure that there are enough hatchery fish to plant again. This is done because of silly (and I am being kind) interperatation of out of basin stock. After all, alll hatchery fish are out of basin. This interperatation serves only to strengthen the grip of hatcheries over the management of the rivers and sport fishermen alike.

    Anyways, if any real conservative practice was put in place the hatcheries would be closed. Fiscally and ecologically this would be conservative. Fishing for steelhead in the PS would stop, but honestly it really already has.

    The real issue is that the state won't even consider the possibility that hatchery fish may have a negative effect on wild fish in the sound. I've spoken to several of the bio's that have a say. They seem to discard it as a thought without much thought. It's as though when you say wild hatchery interaction they can only think about spawning impacts. All other potential impacts can't be. I can only imagine it is because it has never been studied or it would get in the way of the sacred cow that is steelhead hachery production.

    If the listing had worked, hatcheries would be closed. Money would be transferred from failed hatcheries to funding projects trying to isolate the actual reason that the fish come back at such a low rate given the amount of smolts produced.

    Go Sox,
    cds
     
  9. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Wilken -
    Regarding the Cedar - I think you have missed a major mortality issue with those large resident trout. Once the river was open for that non-treaty summer recreational fishery there was a tribal hook and line fishery in the winter that targeted those large trout.

    In regard to the PS river escapement goals established in the mid-1980s. I think everyon (even those working for the State) understood that steelhead where much more numerous in 1850 than today. The question was and continues to be do managers establish goals based on what was or what can be achieved under current conditions. Managing steelhead for what was possible in 1850 makes as much sense as expecting to cointinue to log old growth Douglas fir in down town Seattle.

    Estimating goals for MSY or even carrying capacity levels under current conditions can be very different that recovedry goals for ESA listed fish. Those goals established in the mid-1980s were among the very first attempts to establish wild steelhead goals on the coast and were the State's best shot at what MSY levels may have been under those conditions. In high sight those goals were clearly wrong. In nearly every case those goals are clearly hgher that the baisn's carrying capacity to produce steelhead since the mid-1990s (even with a region wide fisihing impact of 4%) the basins can not produce runs that come close to those goals.

    Charles -
    I agree that the policies regarding the developed of localized hatchery brood stock were miss placed and have failed.m (those changes were aimed at increaing hatchery return rates by developing brood fish that were locally adapted). After all the returns from those brood stock changes have gone worst not better. Further it would make sense in these times of exptremely poor mainre survival to suspend those marginal programs until conditions improve. However the State has put themselves in such a box that restarting such programs would difficult. Given all that it woujld have been far more productive to have provided input during the process in the development of the State's steelhead management plan than ranting on threads like this one.

    None of the above is what I would really call part of the hatchery /wild interaction question. You are correct that question is really made up of two major parts - genetic interaction and ecosystem interactions. It is those later interactions that you are referring to. While they have not been study to the degree that most of us would like to see it is equally clear like the harvest question those interactions are not what is the major driver in current status of our steelhead. Remember that the this survival situation is occuring across the region with the steelhead populations to the BC portion of the Salish sea doing as poorly as the Puget Sound fish even though most have not had any hatchery fish for decades.

    If what you mean by the listing working that recovery would happen then it would be foolish to expect that recovery without addressing the principal factor limiting those populations. In the Fed's ESA listing decision document habitat is listed as that factor; as they stated -

    "...the principal factor for decline for Puget Sound steelhead is the present, threatened destruction,modification or curtailment of ist habitat or range."

    from the same document-

    "..concluded that ocean and climate conditions can have profound impacts on the continued existence of steelhead populations."

    Tight lines
    Curt
     
  10. Chris Bellows

    Chris Bellows Your Preferred WFF Poster

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  11. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Chris -
    Your concerns about the impacts on the "early" wild fish by the harvest of early timed hatchery fish is a common one that has been discussed a fair amount. There is some pretty good information thatc oncern is certainly valid for places like the western OP streams. However it is questionable how many early wild winter steelhead there were on Puget Sound rivers.

    I have tried to research that question a bit. Remember that the hatchery programs did not really become successful in retruning fish to the rivers until the early 1950s. The "old timers" that taught me the steelhead fishing game (on the Snohomish system) learned thier craft during teh 1930s and 40s. When question they consistently told me they did not start steelhead fishing after the first of the year - there were not enough fish in the river to warrant them spending time and $$ trying to get a fish for the table until then.

    For those that may be interested in this subject a good read is Enos Bradner's "Northwest Angling" (some of you may have it in your library), specifically Chapter 5 where the Washington steelhead rivers are discussed. The book was published in 1950 and the river information is from the 1940s (including punch card info). A couple quotes regarding run timing from Bradner's book that folks may find interesting -

    Regarding the Bogachiel -

    "It follows the same pattern as its parent river, the Quillayute, with fish being taken from December through February, but it does not have an extended season in March."

    Regarding the Skagit -

    "It is fished very little in December, but January is good , and the period from Wshington's Birthday until the end March is the best.".

    Two very different pictures in regard to steelhead run timing.

    A couple of additional comments.First note that the "Bogy" was not open in March. That was the norm during that era - most streams had a summer season that ran from July first to the end of October with a winter season that ran from December first to the end of February. A few of the larger main stem rivers had that "extended season" that may have ran through the middle of March or even into April but the vast majority of the fishing was confined to what we now consider to the front half of the "steelhead season". Is anyone really surrpised that the report catch from that period is mostly in that early season?

    Secondily the rivers from Puget Sound and the coast have two very different spring hydrogarphs. The coastal rivers with their rain driven flow patterns have hydrographs that typically declining with the progression of spring. While the Puget Sound streams with the spring flows driven by snow melt have increasing hydrographs in May and June with the highest average daily flow happening in the May or June. This has significant impacts on the spawn timing of the basin's steelhead - the coastal streams have favorable flows for the emergence of the fry as early as March while those in PS don't see those flows until July or even early August. As a result the spawning curves of the two regions are very different with the PS riuvers have a more condensed and later timed spawniing curve. It is not a great reach to expect the run timing to be siliarly effected.

    Tight lines
    'Curt
     
  12. Jim Kerr

    Jim Kerr Active Member

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    Good points Curt,
    Lot's of folks forget the the OP "prime time" of today was more or less the closed season in the past. Another great point your post brought up is that all these rivers are significantly different. The data that is most widely used today is very Columbia centric, and may not always be one size fits all. Finally, here on the peninsula, the hazy past is not much different than the hazy present when it comes to accurately assessing steelhead numbers. We comb through old fishing books and catch card data, or talk to grey beards to try and figure out how many fish there used to be, while no one really has any idea how many there are now. I have spoken to redd counters who have never seen a protocol for there job, spoken with creelers who are unwittingly collecting entirely different data sets from their co-workers and predecessors, while the manages, hours away, accept the data at face value. And harvest numbers based on catch cards and tribal harvest? Ugg.
    Did not intend to hijack, just tired of hearing from Olympia about conditions here that are not, in fact, conditions here.
     
  13. Chris Bellows

    Chris Bellows Your Preferred WFF Poster

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  14. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

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    Chris,

    Understanding that "early" is a relative term, I think it remains useful to the discussion. While the major water source for Puget Sound rivers is the Cascade mountain range, you're right that there are a multitude of low elevation tributaries with significantly different hydrographs. They are rain sourced, not snow or glacier. More likely than not, and with at least some anecdotal data, they historically supported wild steelhead runs that necessarily spawned earlier than their mainstem and upriver counterparts. Those fish are gone, or nearly so, due to past overfishing and they likely remain gone due to habitat modification. I don't think we can bring those population segments back because the habitat has become so marginal. Steelhead are habitat generalists, but they won't do well in creeks that are straightened, diked, deforested, and either run dry or subsurface in late summer. Climate change will only exacerbate that effect based on the climate change prediction of warmer wetter winters and warmer drier summers for the western WA region. If anything, the upper watersheds will become increasingly important as habitat refuges in the most likely climate change scenario. In most cases, those areas remain the most intact in terms of habitat quality, even if they are not the most highly productive.

    Sg
     
  15. Sean Beauchamp

    Sean Beauchamp Hot and Heavy at yer 6

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    I hear a lot of talk about winter steelhead. But rarely many words in regards to puget sound and coastal summer steelhead. Why is that? Great discussion by the way smalma you are a wealth of info, thank you for your insights. I wish I had more to contribute other than concern.
     
  16. KerryS

    KerryS Ignored Member

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    One of the reasons you don't hear much about Puget Sound summer runs is, from what I understand, the Stillaguamish has the only true summer run steelhead, Deer Creek, in the sound. I may be wrong and if I am I am sure someone will point this out for me. Not may fish, not many fishermen, so not much is said about them. Smalma likely has as much knowledge of Deer Creek steelhead as anyone on this board or any other board for that matter.
     
  17. Charles Sullivan

    Charles Sullivan dreaming through the come down

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    S. Fork Nooksack and Day creek have had summers. There are still S. Fork nookie fish. I don't know about the Shang-ri-La fish. of Day Creek.

    Go Sox,
    cds
     
  18. KerryS

    KerryS Ignored Member

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    There are likely summer run steelhead in many sound rivers but I think the only run of significance is the Deer Creek run. The Cascade gets a fair amount of summer run fish. Almost enough to go up and fish for but I can't remember if they are a native run or not. We would always say there are steelhead in the river 12 months of the year and I know of some who have attempted to catch steelhead out of the Skagit in as many different months as they can.
     
  19. Nailknot

    Nailknot Active Member

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    North Fork Sky? Suiattle? North Fork Sauk? Not giving away anything since these are remnant tiny runs at best anymore. Not sure if they are/were native and wild or colonized by hatchery plants or strays. Agree Deer Creek seems to be by far the largest summer run, at least since folks started keeping track. I should refer to Enos' book if he refers to any additional PS summer runs.
     
  20. Ringlee

    Ringlee Doesn't care how you fish Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't think the Suiattle has a Summer run, but the Sauk and Sky have them, but they are extremely small populations.The Cascade and many other streams host summer runs according to WDFW. WDFW knows very little on the summer run components of these rivers. Another area of much needed research but extremely limited funding.
     

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