What happend to the steelhead in Washington?

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by IHV2FSH, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. ozcast Member

    Posts: 405
    Vancouver, Washington
    Ratings: +23 / 2
    I agree with pretty much all of it, what does peak my intrest is that the year before last the Columbia and tribs had the biggest run of returning fish in hundreds of years. This year whole systems are closed. Nothing enviromentaly has really changed from then to now. Only 2 years. The experts credited "good ocean conditions" for the record number of fish coming back. So, is the main reason for good or poor returns ocean conditions, and has it always been this way? Im not saying that we haven't destroyed habitat and all that, anyone who thinks dams, logging, and building dont affect habitat is on planet 10. I'm just wondering if we took the last 1000 years and looked and the stats if the ocean conditions were on a cycle and that we will eventually see great returns again.
  2. Bill Aubrey Active Member

    Posts: 939
    Tacoma, WA
    Ratings: +165 / 0
    I was talking to one of the major things that's wrong the other day at my office. A friend who fishes (gear) a lot is, like our leaders, of the opinion that as long as there are hatcheries (and he can catch and eat his fish), the fisheries are in fine shape. That's a prevailing attitude, guys, and it is the main reason we have the damage from logging, roads, farms, development, over fishing, and you name it.
  3. SHARP Member

    Posts: 131
    Washougal, Washington
    Ratings: +1 / 0
    Why has this forum become such a "Save the whales, Save the trees, The ozone is failing us, It' their fault, It's my fault, The world is caving in", forum?

    Obama, Bush, Whites, Reds!

    Dams, Logging, Chemicals, Pressure, Global Warming, Garbage, Fishing technique!

    I mean this is depressing as hell! Bitch, Whine, Complain, Blame!

    Things change, people change, the earth changes! People change things on the earth....

    There are many things that have happened and many things that will happen. Shit is going to change! Some for the better, some for the worse! Many of the those changes are out of our (Mans) control. Kind of like the earth quakes, volcano's, hurricanes, etc. Our world will continue to evolve (this includes, plants animals and people). I think it's our job to do our best with the cards we're dealt!

    But this forum.. in the short time I have been reading, listening and contributing has become a bitch, poor us, poor world fest! Maybe we should do less talking and more doing!

    For Example: next time you see garbage on the river bank... Pick it up! Next time you see someone dumping something into our lakes, rivers, ocean... report it! If someone breaks the law... report them! If someone does something stupid... beat their ass! This world, humanity, has become to tolerant and passive! To much talk and not enough walk! When it's time to vote, make your vote count!

    Get involved! and make shit happen!
  4. Steve Saville Active Member

    Posts: 2,492
    Tacoma, WA
    Ratings: +317 / 1
    There are two other factors not mentioned, as far as I can see. Number one, there are ebbs and flows in genetic species. We are in the ebb times;proven fact. The second is the atypically large populations of Cormorants and Merganser Ducks that feed on smolts and other small fish. At the present time the large populations are not managed well enough to keep them from just palin overeating on the steelhead and salmon smolts on their way out to the ocean. It's survival of the fittest and currently the birds are winning the battle. There are huge populations of these birds on Puget Sound and especially the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  5. KerryS Ignored Member

    Posts: 6,716
    Sedro Woolley, WA, USA.
    Ratings: +1,759 / 0
    The Skagit system has 5 dams in it and you don't think they have any affect on the river enviroment and the fish that swim there?
  6. Evan Burck Fudge Dragon

    Posts: 6,445
    Duvall, wa
    Ratings: +1,623 / 2
    Skagit excluded. I always forget about that since I'm rarely there.
  7. cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    Posts: 1,713
    Olympia, WA
    Ratings: +237 / 0
    Just what do you mean by this? Ebbs and flows in genetic species?

    Steve
  8. Jonathan Tachell Active Member

    Posts: 790
    Gig Harbor, Washington
    Ratings: +186 / 0
    I agree cormorants are a huge problem for Puget Sound steelhead and salmon smolts. Over the last twenty years the cormorant population has exploded and continues to go unchecked. Obviously there are several other important factors effecting the fish, many of which are far more detrimental to the Puget Sound steelhead and salmon populations such as pollution and over fishing but the whole cormorant situation is definately taking a bigger toll on the remaining fish than most people realize.
  9. Bill Aubrey Active Member

    Posts: 939
    Tacoma, WA
    Ratings: +165 / 0
    Steve Saville

    Palin's overeating on the steelhead? I knew that gun toting wader broad was crazy. Sorry, Steve, couldn't resist.
  10. seasel New Member

    Posts: 25
    Vancouver
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    In 1877 the first hatchery was established in the Columbia Basin, on the Clackamas River, to improve spring chinook runs that had been hindered by... hmmm.... well, either there was a natural, cyclical reduction in returns around then that people happened to notice, or returns had been reduced by human impact, and people noticed. I wonder which is more plausible...

    Until the early 1900’s, it was legal to harvest fish using any method, and it was legal to build dams with the sole purpose of blowing up the dam to float logs downstream. So, early commercial fishing and early logging practices just happened to coincide with a natural fish run reduction, or early commercial fishing and early logging practices contributed to the reduction. I wonder which is more plausible...

    In the 1940’s Grand Coulee Dam came online, blocking more than 1,000 miles of spawning grounds in the Columbia Basin. Antecedent and subsequent dams throughout the state have blocked thousands more miles, probably tens of thousands, but I haven’t added it up. Mitigation attempts have not replaced these runs. Or maybe the dams just happened to coincide with a natural reduction in fish runs. I wonder which is more plausible...

    In 1980 or so, the population of Washington surpassed 4,000,000. In 2008, WA population surpassed 6,000,000. Predators such as sea lions, terns, and pikeminnows have been aided by the impacts of these millions of humans, specifically through damming, diking, and dredging. While we do various things to mitigate damage to steelhead and salmon runs, at the same time we do things that increase predation on steelhead and salmon runs. If 10% of Washington’s population in 1970 (about 3.5 million) harvested a single salmon or steelhead, that would have been 350,000 fish. If the same percentage wanted to harvest a single salmon or steelhead in 2010, that would have been about 700,000 fish. So either the state's population increase just happens to correlate to anadromous run decreases, or it contributes to the decrease. I wonder which is more plausible...

    The 1974 Boldt decision and many, many, many others decisions were (and continue to be) based on political and legal reasoning, not biologically or scientifically sound reasoning. So, either political and legal decisions happen to coincide with natural downturns in fish runs, or they create downturns. I wonder which is more plausible...

    It's worth noting that the last decade has seen some impressive anadromous returns to the Columbia Basin in specific years, and various other Oregon and Washington watersheds have seen impressive returns in specific years. There's hope - there's always hope, that's why I fished today - and there's more hope if more fishermen help however they can.
  11. Salmo_g Active Member

    Posts: 7,484
    Your City ,State
    Ratings: +1,622 / 0
    Ihv2fsh,

    Several things have happened to steelhead in WA. And it's not the same things in the same proportions throughout their range in this state. There are five separate steelhead eco-regions in WA when you think of how the watersheds work and the factors affecting steelhead productivity and survival. The regions are: Puget Sound, N. Coastal, S. Coastal, lower Columbia River, and the Columbia River upstream of Bonneville Dam (the lowermost dam on the mainstem Columbia).

    Steelhead runsizes are presently averaging between 5 and 10% of their estimated levels in the 1850-1895 time period, with some populations even lower. Nearly all populations are adversely affected by logging, roads, and urban and rural development across all the regions. Puget Sound populations are additionally significantly affected by dike and levee systems, dams on about 8 rivers, and very likely over-fishing on some Hood Canal rivers. Occasional water pollution of rivers is likely, and it's equally likely that the over-all effect in minor at most. These factors have collectively reduced stream productivity, capacity, and population diversity. Managing wild and hatchery steelhead in aggregate negatively affected wild runs until the mid-70s, but over-harvest is not been a proximate cause of the current status of almost all the individual runs. Puget Sound steelhead populations appear to be affected by low marine survival, significantly lower than coastal steelhead and even lower than Collumbia River populations, which is a reversal of what we know of historic survival trends. Presently, Puget Sound steelhead smolts, which average around 8 fish per pound and surviving at less than one percent to the returning adult stage. Contrast that with the small pink salmon which smolts and goes to the ocean at the tiny size of about 1200 smolts per pound, and they are currently surviving to the adult stage at three to five percent. In a world where we understand size directly correlates with survival, something has gone totally lop-sided here.

    Coastal rivers are affected mainly by the first three factors described above. The main difference between the N. and S. coastal rivers is that the N. coast rivers have their headwaters in a national park and thereby the habitat is more protected than that of the S. coast rivers. S. coast rivers were the last to receive any wild steelhead protection, so they might still be affected by over-harvest. Same with lower Columbia River tributary steelhead, with some more dams thrown into the adverse effects list mix.

    Steelhead populations upstream of Bonneville Dam are affected sorta' roughly in proportion to the number of dams they have to cross - first going downstream as smolts and again going upstream as adults. These populations also have the greatest amount of hatchery steelhead genetic introgression, making the plight of wild steelhead in this region just a bit more difficult.

    While the 4 Hs - hatcheries, harvest, hydro, and habitat are frequently listed as the cause of decline of steelhead and salmon, the present effects of each varies significantly from population to population. Over-harvest is presently the least of the problems for wild steelhead in WA. Harvest by non-treaty commercial and recreational fisheries is strictly controlled and hasn't posed a significant threat in years. And while treaty fisheries typically harvest more wild steelhead than non-treaty fisheries, they are not a limiting factor to steelhead habitat productivity or capacity, but may affect diversity to a measurable degree. Many fishermen attribute the poor status of wild steelhead to treaty Indian fishing, but you won't find one single biologist who is familiar with the data and the situation of these fisheries who agrees with that. If you do, I'll buy you the drink of your choice.

    Returning once more to Puget Sound steelhead, the loss of fish during the early marine life history phase must be due to pollution, disease, or predation, or some combination of these. If there is another factor, we haven't a clue what it is. As some posts have noted, a number of predator species have increased in abundance. Couple that with a reduction in species like eel grass and kelp that are associated with the production of some food species, as well as providing cover for juvenile fish, and it's possible that a significant reduction in key forage has occurred coinciding with increased predation due to diminished cover. This is an untested hypothesis on my part, but one must begin somewhere if there is going to be an answer to what has happened.

    Sincerely,

    Salmo g.
  12. Evan Burck Fudge Dragon

    Posts: 6,445
    Duvall, wa
    Ratings: +1,623 / 2
    Salmo: Is it possible that the pink salmon population has contributed to the decline in Puget Sound Steelhead? Makes sense from the perspective of finite food sources for them.
  13. _WW_ Fishes with Wolves

    Posts: 1,906
    Skagit River
    Ratings: +648 / 0
    My vote does count...unfortunately it only counts once.

    I would like to report some missing steelhead. Where and to whom, exactly, would I do that? Will we get some detectives on the case? Maybe some US Marshalls or FBI dudes? Nothing ever happens until the badges start being flashed.

    What? No badges!

    So I'm thinking...next time I re-up for my fishing license there is really no need to get the steelhead endorsement. The only valid steelhead fishing I've done in the past two years is in E. WA. And the river is full of small mouth bass, trout, whitefish, suckers, etc. Steelhead are mainly a bycatch...in fact I caught more bass than steelhead...so I guess I was bass fishing. And if by some measure of bureaucratic blunder my home river does open up I guess I'll get an endorsement then.
  14. Salmo_g Active Member

    Posts: 7,484
    Your City ,State
    Ratings: +1,622 / 0
    Evan,

    It's possible that the pink salmon abundance has contributed to a decline in PS steelhead, but I doubt it. The two species do overlap some in their ocean migrations, but the general shape of the migration circles differs enough that I'm skeptical of pinks being the culprit. I think pinks contribute more in marine derived nutrients to the freshwater environment than any adverse marine effect they may cause, but that is just my hunch, supported by nothing more than the general differences in the two species' marine migrations.

    Sg
  15. IHV2FSH Member

    Posts: 69
    Northern California
    Ratings: +21 / 0
    What I find so amazing is how much time, money, effort, money, gas, money, travel, money, planning, money, energy, money, talk... and money, we spend chasing down, casting to, outfitting for, gearing up, arguing over, dreaming of... a fish that, for all practical purposes- apparently doesn't exist.

    Gotta go. No more time to type. Gotta get ready to hit the river first thing in the morning!
  16. SHARP Member

    Posts: 131
    Washougal, Washington
    Ratings: +1 / 0
  17. gt Active Member

    Posts: 2,616
    sequim, WA
    Ratings: +6 / 0
    i don't fish for them any longer, period. have wonderful memories of over 3 decades of steelhead from many different drainages. great fishing, good friends, fun times were had. now, well i can still take you to a pile up of hatch jobs ripe for the taking but the west end, from my perspective, is not worth the effort. now if the tribal nets were to come out, you bet, things would probably be quite different but that is not going to happen until there is absolutely nothing left to net.

    sub-tropic is the name of the game for me at this point in time. CR is the place with the right attitude regarding fishing and available big challenging fish on the fly.
  18. Old Man Just an Old Man

    Posts: 21,636
    Dillon, Mt
    Ratings: +1,664 / 0
    While all above is true. You all have to realize that we all like to bitch as it is the nature of man. If one didn't bitch, one would blow up.

    Me, I like to bitch about the weather. Which by the way it snowed again last night.

    But I fish for the fun of it and I guess that you could say that catching fish is a by-product of having that fun. Some people like to catch and eat fish. But I only eat fish if it is like in a sandwitch.

    Jim
  19. Brazda Fly Fishing guide "The Bogy House" Lodge

    Posts: 428
    Ellensburg, Washington
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    I personally feel that there are three basic regions of steelhead and a few sub regions. Each region has had its problems and most have been pointed out here.
    Three things reduce steelhead runs, harvest, poor ocean conditions and inefficient habitat. Great ocean survival can over come the other two with good runs entering the rivers.
    Harvest by Gillnets can destroy even the best of runs because they are so unselective and unsustainable.
    Habitat will reduce a run to a fraction of its former self BUT can be repaired as we see happening across the state since the 90's.
    The big problem with Puget Sound runs are Fish Farms, they swim past and die at sea, and we are allowing it to happen in BC and Washington, that is what I personally feel is a problem with Puget Sound Steelhead. Fortunately that can be remedied also we just need the POLITICAL balls to do it.
    Every river that has lost its fishable steelhead runs are inside Puget Sound, Even the Columbia with all its Dams supports huge runs or Salmon and Steelhead (comparatively)
    The Puget sound fish run past fish farms, they are the worst off of all Regions, if it was more of a habitat issue there would be a Plato of loss and then a cycle of ocean survival. The Puget Sound fish are being killed by something NOT determined yet, I think its Fish Farms.
    Combined with other formerly mentioned problems and we have what we have unfishable numbers when every other Region is doing good.
  20. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,801
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +657 / 0
    For our Puget Sound rivers there is no doubt that we as a society have opted to use most of those river's potential to produce wild steelhead (and other anadromous fish) for uses other than fishing/fish abundances. Those choices are reflect in severely degraded freshwater habitats. There is little doubt that today that potential is but a small fraction of what it was historically (various estimates places the current potential at 2 to 20% of what it once was). Further it is equally clear that as a society we will continue to make those sort of decisions until there is so few wild steelhead fish that allowing fishing for them will not be allowed.

    It is also equally clear that as a whole PS steelhead populations are currently far below the current average productivity potential given the freshwater habitat conditons. By far the largest driver in limiting that productivity potential is marine survival. That reduced marine survival is best illustrated by tracking smolt to adult survivals which currently is approximately 10% of what was seen during the early/mid 1980s.

    The above two issues are so large in their impacts (especially working togehter) that they essentialy render the other factors mentioned (harvest, hatcheries, etc) almost meaningless in the big picture

    To date I'm convinced that largest mistake made by both the managers and anglers is a failure to recognized the cyclic nature of such factors as marine survival - that fact that steelhead production is dynamic/constantly changing and not static. There is good evidence that seeing survival cycles between good and poor conditions lasting decades is the norm and further we are in depths of poor cycle.

    The big question should be is how will the populations weather this survival storm and what management choices can be made to add that survival. Clearly the largest safety net for the various populations would be productive freshwater habitats but we as a soceity have effectively taken that off the table. Some of the more commonly suggested actions include -

    HARVEST - across Puget Sound harvest levels have been reduced over the pass 30 years until the last decade the fishing impacts on wild steelhead across Puget Sound is in the 4% range. Is that low enough (adding significant risk to the populations?)? If not where do further cuts come from and what will be the benefit?

    HATCHERY - Again the potential for interactions between hatchery and wild stocks on Puget Sound Rivers have been reduced over the last 30 years. with each reduction wild steelhead survivals have fallen. The next step would be the elimination of all hatchery fish (and all steelhead fishing). Are any benefits from that change worth the cost (no fishing)?

    DIVERSITY -For Puget Sound rivers there appears to have surprising little lost in adult diversity (run timing, spawn timing, age structure). There clearly has been a loss of life history diversity (resident/anadromous etc) which may be a key factor for the species during these periods of low marine survival.

    FISH FARMS - There is some good information that they have affected local populations of pink salmon but it is hard to argue that they are a signinficant problem for Puget Sound stocks. As we all know we are currently seeing increasing returns of pinks with near recorded or record returns to the region. In regards to steelhead they are by far much larger smolts than (pinks and larger than any of the salmon) meaning they can tolerate much larger parasite lots than say pinks. Further their migration patterns are such to greatly reduce interactions from fish farms - they migrate in deeper water away from the shallow water locations of most net pens, generally migrate quickly through interior waters reducing exposure time, and for Puget Sound steelhead the majority (all?) of the smolts leave the region via the Straits (away from those BC net pens).

    PUGET SOUND EARLY MARINE SURVIVAL - Recent studies have shown that something like half of the steelhead smolts leaving our rivers do not survive to reach Neah Bay. It is unclear whether this outside of the norm. It is to be expected that there would be a high mortality of those smolts after they leave the river. They are the smallest size they will be while in the salt, they are moving into a very different environments require different behaviors (both for foraging and predator avoidances) and physiological demands.

    IMHO it is hard to make harvest, hatcheries, or fish farms the smoking gun for the current status of Puget Sound steelhead. With diversity there is developing information that the lost of life history diversity (resident form) could be key - they could well provide a population safety net for the species in the various rivers and this issue needs further thought and actions. The importantance of that high early smolt mortality in Puiget Sound is somewhat unclear but surely needs continued study.

    Anyway after much though on this issue the above is my long winded response to the question "What happened to Puget Sound Steelhead".

    Tight lines
    Curt