TallFlyGuy -
Sorry about the confusion - the "Vancouver" streams I was referring to are those on the east coast of the Vancouver Island - see my comments to 808steelhead for links to some "data".

I don't think neither Salmo g (and he is more than capable speaking for himself or myself have ever said that there is no known cause for the decline in wild PS steelhead. In fact quite the opposite it has been clear for some time that other the lost of freshwater habitat the biggest change variable has been marine survivals which is currently a dominate limiting factor. The issue for me is that folks conitnually ignore those factors to advance other agendas. I have attempted (and it would appear to be poorly) to provide some "balancing" information.

KJ -
The issue should not be are our steelhead populations varying in abundances or whether trends are up or down rather is "management" responsive to those trends. The first step in that process is to recognize that such variation is normal and should be expected. Once it is accepted that such cycles will occur the next step is to understand what processes drive those cycles. With that knowledge/understanding the development of management paradigms that respond to the dynamic rather static processes is the next logical step.

In that context the Skagit is the logical place to look to providing some sort of the fishing opportunities. It is one of few PS populations (and the largest) that is realatively "healthy", has one of the most conserative escapements in the State (a goal that is buffered at 150% of MSY), and has some decent Wild Salmonid Zones all ready established, and has a history of support CnR type fisheries.


Marine survival seems to be the buzz word here. Studies that have come out and shown that hatcheries change the genetics of wild steelhead after one generation and those offspring have a lesser chance of returning/survival. Doesn't this coupled with the upswing in predators, from the millions of smolt (salmon/steelhead) dumped into the rivers, lead us to the reason why? The slow degradation of the genetics along with the upswing in predators from smolt release seems to be the elephant in the room. I don't think this is a mystery as to why marine survival is in question.
OK, last one, then you guys can regurgitate the same stuff again.
My point here has been rather than sit on our butts and quote suspect return forecast numbers while we spend millions of our tax dollars on hatcheries that have not helped improve our declining natural fish runs at all, we need to take those precious tax dollars and use them on actions that will actually bring our wild runs back. Don't believe the wild runs are declining? Then why are the Puget Sound rivers shut down now? The hatcheries have failed and I'm tired of my tax dollars going to funding them.


Well-Known Member

Reasons other than economic for discontinuing hatchery smolt stocking would be if the hatchery fish are having as adverse an effect on wild fish as some of the posters assert. For instance, if hatchery fish were responsible for say 40% or 50% of the decline in smolt to adult survival, then that might be sufficient biological or ecological reason to stop stocking hatchery fish. But as near as we can tell from the genetics study, and that is mostly by inference, is that the adverse effect is far less since most of the wild fish groups exhibit little to no hatchery genetic introgression. And lastly yes, I think managers would want to retain some CC brood stocks as a hedge option for an uncertain future.


Do you even read what Smalma and I post? Or do you have an agenda that blinds you to an open-minded analysis? We have repeatedly listed all the known causes affecting wild steelhead abundance, including hatcheries. How is this an agenda to protect hatchery fish? Is it because we examine all data available to us and form a conclusions that differs from yours that makes our conclusions an agenda?

Yes, studies show that hatchery fish spawning naturally and spawning naturally with wild fish depresses the survival of wild steelhead. Guess what? Studies show that hatchery steelhead spawn with a relatively low proportion of Skagit steelhead. Please tell me why the Hood R. or Kalama R. or any other steelhead genetics study should influence management of the Skagit R. more than the study specifically done on the Skagit. If I had strong reason to believe that stocking CC steelhead was the proximate cause influencing the abundance of wild Skagit steelhead, I'd be at the front of the line advocating getting rid of the hatchery program. But the data simply do not indicate that, and I form my opinion from logical analysis rather than emotional reaction.

Predation is fairly likely a significant factor, since large numbers of fish don't generally just up and die for no reason. However, an understanding of where and why that predation occurs is as important as the problem is significant. Hatchery steelhead smolts have been released by the hundreds of thousands when wild steelhead returns were at all levels observed over the last 34 years. Without a better indication, it is very loose and sloppy biology to conclude that the hatchery smolts are causing increased predation on wild steelhead smolts.

I've read the studies you link and many more in search of answers to the question of what affects the abundance of wild Skagit and other PS steelhead runs.

Calling marine survival a "buzz" word suggests an arrogance or ingnorance about how anadromous fish populations work in this world. I wrote above that freshwater survival in the form of egg to fry and fry to smolt and then marine survival in the form of smolt to adult are the basic life history experiences affecting the size of an adult fish population. When the data indicate that freshwater survival is normal and marine survival is low, it takes neither a rocket scientist nor even a fish biologist to conclude that marine survival is the apparent cause of the present low abundance of wild steelhead. If you have credible information demonstrating that stocking CC hatchery steelhead in the Skagit River is significantly depressing wild steelhead abundance, and that marine survival is normal instead of low, my eyes and ears are wide open. Are yours?



Well-Known Member

I think I'm beginning to see how you interpret the steelhead issue. You seem heavily swayed by visceral knowledge and would prefer that our fish management agencies make resource decisions based on emotional reaction to conditions, rather than by objective analysis of data, and it could even save some tax dollars. Is that it?




Smalma and I are not trying to be disagreeable. We're just looking as many places as we can at as many variables as we can to try and determine the proximate cause for low PS wild steelhead abundance. While hatchery stocking may be adverse, it's not near the top of the list. The best indicators point to early marine survival, and have for a number of years, yet we still do not know what (or which) early marine factor(s) are responsible, making it impossible to even try to address.


I will remind your earlier post you pointed out that the problem with marine survival was unknown and impossible to address. Given the ecological studies that show predation from the dumping of millions and millions of smolt into a river system, and then asking and wondering how or what is going on seems to be ignorant as well. AS you put it...."making it impossible to even try to address". It seems logical to address and think that over time as predators are fed "free" food, those predators will reproduce more and more to become a bigger and bigger problem hence causing the survival of outgoing smolt to go way down! Here is a quote from David Noakes, internationally known fish biologist, professor and senior scientist with the Oregon Hatchery Research Center.

“You often hear people say that we should create more fish,”...... “But if our hatcheries produce more smolts, do we know that more fish will come back as adults? When we push fish out of the hatcheries at certain times of the year, we create a big flush of food for hawks, cormorants, seals, fox and numerous other predators. If you drop a bunch of candy in the street, kids will show up to eat it.​
“The wild fish may get hammered along with the hatchery fish,”....."We may actually be doing more harm than good.”​


Geriatric Skagit Swinger
My point here has been rather than sit on our butts and quote suspect return forecast numbers
Do you have some forecast numbers that aren't suspect?
Then why are the Puget Sound rivers shut down now?
Many of the steelhead runs in PS streams should actually be listed as 'Endangered' but since they are looked at in aggregate with the heavy numbers from the Skagit helping to tip the scale they are only 'Threatened'. A basin by basin analysis is needed to secure protection for those fish that genuinely need it. The sooner the better.
The hatcheries have failed and I'm tired of my tax dollars going to funding them.
Maybe you need to 'Occupy' one of them!
IF it is well documented and "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that hatchery fish harm federally listed endangered native fish.....

1. Why do they continue to do it?
2. Why hasn't anyone taken WDFW and others to court for purposefully harming these endangered fish?
If there were no hatchery fish to take the pressure off of wild fish there would be no fishing. We would be left with a bunch of Skagit's. Rivers closed to all fishing. If that is the goal, then by all means close the hatcheries. I'm sure the cash strapped state would be all for it. It would save them a lot of money that they could squander somewhere else.


If there were no hatchery fish to take the pressure off of wild fish there would be no fishing. We would be left with a bunch of Skagit's. Rivers closed to all fishing. If that is the goal, then by all means close the hatcheries. I'm sure the cash strapped state would be all for it. It would save them a lot of money that they could squander somewhere else.
Under the current program and rules....yes. Other rivers and systems allow for catch and release only for natives with no problem. Another reason for Occupy Skagit!


Well-Known Member

Are you aggregating all river systems together and concluding that what is happening in one system must also be happening in another? I ask because it looks like you're extrapolation Columbia R. examples where quite a bit of information about predation is known, to the Skagit and PS, where it isn't. The Columbia sees millions of hatchery smolts, has unnaturally high water temperatures, and high fish disease rates, greater disruption to migration flows, and does create something of a predator's paradise, at least seasonally. The Skagit doesn't.

The Skagit has experienced larger wild steelhead runs when the releases of hatchery salmon and steelhead in the basin were far greater than they are now. Up to 500,000 hatchery steelhead have been released in the past, but releases in recent years are roughly half that. Up to 4,000,000 hatchery coho were released, but recent releases are a fraction of that number. Same with chinook, hatchery releases are greatly reduced. If anything, the attraction of predators that hatchery releases may have brought to the Skagit are presently much diminished.

So while I think that predation is part of the issue, I don't have data showing that it is. And I can reasonably infer that the predation issue is not exacerbated by the presence of hatchery releases when such releases are but a fraction of their former levels. Can you explain how fewer hatchery fish are attracting more predators and causing higher predation on wild fish? I can't.

I don't know the context of David Noakes' quote, unless it's referencing the Columbia situation that I did above. Oregon clearly had a problem with depressed wild coho, and it was attributed to high production of hatchery coho. While that likely had some effect, the most direct effect, proximate cause, if you will, was that because OR released so many hatchery coho, its coastal ocean fishery was over-harvesting the inter-mixed wild coho. Reducing the ocean harvest rate on coho most likely did more to recover their wild coho than reducing hatchery coho production. But it made sense to reduce the hatchery production in that case because they could no longer harvest them without adversely affecting the wild coho.

Large numbers of hatchery smolts attract predators. We get it. And the Skagit hatchery attraction is very greatly reduced. I suppose I should have mentioned that earlier, but I did not anticipate what direction your criticisms would take. I've tried to address that issue now with this post. Is it satisfactory, or will you now venture off on another potential cause of decline - other than early marine survival - because you don't happen to like that one?


Chris Bellows

Your Preferred WFF Poster
i agree that marine survival is driving PS steelhead abundance.

i think that the marine survival puzzle does offer some potential positives. since currently hatchery fish only provide a paper fishery (in as much as they do not appear to be providing many, if any, actual fish in many PS systems) it has actually opened up a real discussion on whether they are worth keeping around at all. we can argue about the exact impacts hatchery fish have on wild fish, but we can take more detailed studies from elsewhere and studies locally and be certain the impacts are negative (and then be arguing over degrees). if the management framework can be changed to actually allow fishing over wild steelhead without the presence of hatchery fish (GO Occupy Skagit!), it might be worth actually shutting down hatchery plants on an entire major system with a decent population of wild steelhead instead of our current tributary "wild steelhead sanctuaries."

personally, i believe that we are only now starting to see how insidious the impacts of hatchery fish are. not only the negative impacts on wild fish, which i believe are magnified the more generations they have existed and the smaller wild fish runs become, but the negative impact on harvest and the resulting loss of diversity all our rivers once saw. i am optimistic that we could actually turn things around that would not only result in more wild steelhead but better fishing for them.

smalma and salmo g, while we often tangle on minutiae i appreciate and value both of your input when it comes to these discussions.




Let’s recap

A.You tell us in your previous posts that all keys point to marine survival as the problem to Skagit steelhead, but no one can even start to address or even solve.
B.I suggest that the marine survival mystery/problem might be related to genetics and predation on outgoing smolts then tell me I’m ignorant or arrogant for pointing to marine survival, using it as a buzzword, and accuse me of not reading any previous posts
D.I remind you that I have read your posts (the one about the impossible problem) and show you how another biologist on another system is pointing the finger on predation and outgoing Smolts as a marine survival solution to our impossible marine survival problems.

So now are you asking me if Skagit steelhead, conditions, and environment are different than anywhere else, and all studies done elsewhere are exempt to look upon or apply to the Skagit system problems? I’m not saying the problem is predation 100%: done end of story. I’m only saying; here is a possible solution, here is a very reputable source pointing the finger at a predation problem, and maybe we should look into it much further.

Thank you for pointing out that the numbers of smolts have come down regarding the Skagit. I’m sure there is no correlation between these hatchery smolts numbers coming down, and, as WW has pointed out, the native fish numbers are coming up. What about all the other hatchery planted rivers that dump into or have access to the Strait? Could the predator problem be farther down in the strait or even in the nearby ocean itself?


Well-Known Member

Hatchery production in PS is down considerably from its peak, and wild runs of most species are currently lower. Therefore fewer smolts are passing through the Strait. There could very well be a problem of increased predation in PS and the Strait. But it's nearly impossible to deduce that increased predation is the result of hatchery smolt releases when those numbers are down.

Predation may be up for other reasons. Among them are commorants that previously foraged almost exclusively in salt water are now commonly foraging in freshwater as well (hitting lowland trout stocked lakes especially hard). Seal population in PS has increased exponentially, and are likely the proximate cause of rockfish declines. Maybe they like steelhead smolts too. Bull trout have increased and prey heavily on juvenile steelhead in the uppermost section of the Skagit, but that is the part of the Skagit where steelhead have always been least abundant, so it would be a stretch to impune native char for depressed steelhead runs in the Skagit and PS rivers that don't even have char.

The major factor, whatever it is, is affecting both hatchery and wild steelhead populations. It is probably affecting hatchery steelhead even more than wild steelhead. It affects all PS rivers and BC rivers in the Salish Sea. It affects south PS rivers more than northern PS rivers. It affects PS rivers more than coastal rivers. That information right there points more to marine survival, and early marine survival particularly, than it does toward the other potential life history stages of egg to fry and fry to smolt. Exactly what in marine survival remains unknown.

Again, how this can all be due to stocking hatchery steelhead smolts when wild steelhead runs have been low, medium, and recent history highs, while hatchery steelhead smolts were being stocked, and stocked in significantly larger numbers than presently, takes a peculiar bent of science that I'm not privy to.



Active Member
In regards to marine survival one of the interesting developments has been the decline of older fish in the returning adult population. The portion of the returning 3-salt adults in the Skagit the last decade or so has been roughly 1/2 of what it was during the late 1970s to early 1990s. The same decline has been noted in repeat spawners. That would seem to indicate that reduced marine survivals continue the whole time the fish are at sea and not just in Puget Sound.

If the increased mortality was on the smolts just the first month or two the ratio of 2-salt to 3-salts would have remained more or less the same. No one knows the cause of those declines but it appears to be real and impacting steelhead the whole time they are at sea.