Bob Gibbons/WDFW Steelhead Manager -WSC meeting Feb 5th

Bob Gibbon's March 5 presentation summary

March 5 Wild Steelhead Coalition meeting.
Speaker: Bob Gibbons, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Presentation Title:
Steelhead Management by Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife: where we have been, where we are, and where we are going

Bob Gibbons, manager for WDFW's steelhead programs, spoke for nearly 2 hours about past and present steelhead management practices in Washington, and finished with a few ideas about where he would like to see WDFW steelhead management go in the future. Bob also responded to sometimes pointed questions about past and present WDFW management policies. All in all it was a very informative interaction between the people in attendance and our state's steelhead and resident fish program manager. On behalf of the membership and non-members in attendance, I offer a heartfelt thanks for Bob's efforts to share his time and expertise with us. What follows is a recap of Bob's presentation that I gleaned from my notes.

Nate Mantua
VP of Science and Education
Wild Steelhead Coalition


In Washington there are 3 management regions, the Boldt Case Area (coast and Puget Sound), the the Southwest (lower Columbia), and the region east of the Cascades. Each of the regions has distinct issues that shape the way WDFW has managed steelhead over the past 30 years.

In the Boldt Case area, important issues include co-management with the tribes, very little in the way of hatchery supplementation of natural spawners, and no federal ESA listings.

In the SW management region (below Bonneville), there is no co-management with the tribes, lower Columbia winter steelhead are listed as threatened under the federal ESA, and due to low escapements WDFW has managed for targeted Wild Steelhead Release sinced the mid-1980's.

In the Upper Columbia and Snake River region, there is co-management with the tribes, several ESA listed stocks, Wild Steelhead Release has been in effect since 1985 on the Snake and 1987 on the Upper Columbia.

Widespread fin-clipping of hatchery fish didn't take hold until the mid-1980's, and at the time was quite controversial.

Prior to the 1974 Boldt Decision, WDFW's management can be described as "passive". Run-sizes and escapements were not tracked, and WDFW focused on setting seasons and bag limits, designating sanctuaries and specifying gear restrictions. The Boldt Decision prompted a suite of changes that include:
* co-management with tribes
* management on a river-by-river basis
* monitoring to estimate run sizes and annual escapements, with a wild fishfocus
* setting escapement goals
* determining harvest shares (between tribes and the state)
* monitoring fisheries
* implementing in-season management actions

In the mid-1970's, there was very little emphasis on protecting wild steelhead.

Hatchery fish weren't marked, and there was essentially no data to determine run sizes or escapement. Likewise, it was WDFW's impression that there was not a large constituency for wild steelhead. Monitoring programs started in 1977-78, and this was done to support new management objectives that included: maintaining healthy wild runs, producing hatchery fish for harvest, allocating harvest shares, and providing a diversity of angling opportunities. They also developed separate harvest allocations for hatchery and wild stocks in the same rivers.

Setting Escapement Goals:

Boldt Case Area:
The Boldt Decision foreced the co-managers to establish escapement goals for each wild stock. A major hurdle in doing this was the fact that little data had been collected. The courts decided that the management goal would be "maximum sustained harvest (MSH)". The co-managers developed spawner-recruit (S/R) relationships based on data they had for 3 stocks: the Skagit, the Queets, and the Kalama. A composite S/R curve was developed by scaling each record to make them comparable. Once this was done, the WDFW scientists and managers settled on a Beverton-Holt curve to represent a composite S/R relationship for Washington steelhead. With the belief that the key limiting factor for steelhead production is freshwater rearing space, the combination of a "scale-able" S/R curve and an estimate of freshwater rearing habitat for each stream allowed managers to estimate river specific escapement goals and carrying capacities for each stream. The target harvest rate under MSH is typically ~40% of the total run-size. However, the MSH run-size is only about 60% of the theoretical "unfished" population. So, in theory, if an unfished stream had an equilibrium population of 1000 spawners, application of MSH harvest policies would typically yield run-sizes of 600 adult spawners. Of those 600 adults, 40% would be harvested (240 fish), and the total number of spawners to meet the escapement goal would be 360. Therefore, the MSH harvest rate of 40% also corresponds to an escapment that is actually 34% of the theoretical "unfished" escapement.

MSH, while based on a fishery science concept, is a political decision that the state is legally obligated to embrace for salmon and steelhead management.
There are a few cases where the co-managers have agreed to less intense harvest policies. For example, the co-managers have agreed to cap harvest rates on the Skagit River at 16%. The WDFW position has been to set escapement goals for wild steelhead at or over the MSH guidelines. On the Nisqually River, for example, MSH calls for an escapement goal of 1700, while WDFW lobbied for 2000 (to which the tribal co-managers agreed).

Outside the Boldt Case Area, most escapement goals are based on the composite S/R model. Recently, ESA listings on the Upper Columbia and Snake Rivers have led to many year-to-year changes in harvest and escapement policies.

WDFW has attempted to address several questions about existing escapement goals, including: 1) do they provide adequate protection? 2) do they allow for the desired level of genetic diversity? and 3) does the spawner abundance serve as a safety net in the face of unexpected run-size declines?
The question of Genetic diversity has been addressed in the Quillayute system. Under the Wild Salmonid Policy, maintaining desired genetic diversity calls for a minimum of 2700 spawners. On this system, the escapement goal is 5900. Under the MSH model 5900 spawners should produce an average of 9800 recruits.

Fishery Utilization Goals:
The default statewide policy is targeted as Wild Steelhead Release (only hatchery marked fish allowed for harvest). Harvest of wild steelhead is, however, allowed on systems that are consistently seeing run-sizes that exceed escapement goals. There are no directed harvests allowed on stocks that are not meeting escapement goals (for example, recent March/April closures on the Snohomish and Stillaguamish were prompted by extremely low run-sizes). If escapements are between more than 80% of the escapement goal targeted Catch and Release Fisheries are allowed. The sports fishing allocation is a blend of CnR and harvest fisheries. In 2002-03, 18 rivers/streams had targeted CnR fisheries and 17 rivers/streams had targeted wild steelhead harvest seasons.

Based on WDFW surveys, angler preferences for CnR and harvest seasons have changed dramatically since the 1970's. In the early 1970's, very few anglers preferred CnR fishing for steelhead. Later surveys found a rising trend in favor of CnR fishing for wild steelhead: 1986 -- 14%, 1995 -- 42%, and 2001 -- 66%.
While the majority now favors CnR seasons for wild steelhead, WDFW feels that the 34% in favor of harvest seasons form a significant constituency that deserves harvest opportunities.

Angling diversity opportunities are determined based on several pieces of information, including: status of individual runs, public input, angler preference surveys, adn biologist recommendations.


In April 1994 WDFW released a "Draft-Steelhead Management Plan" that outlined the goals, objectives, policies, and guildelines of the WDFW for addressing management of the steelhead resource. The primary goal was, and is, to restore and maintain the diversity and long-term productivity of Washington's steelhead stocks and their habitats. The plan's highest priority is protection and restoration of self-sustaining wild steelhead runs and their habitats.
Hatchery programs are major components of the Department's steelhead program, especially for recreation and harvest opportunities. Bob stated that the 1994 Draft plan has not changed since its release, but he would like to review and modify that plan in the near future with the help of WDFW personnel, the tribes, constituents and members of the WDFW's Steelhead and Cutthroat Citizen's Advisory Panel. WDFW is now examining new policies for such things as "lottery drawings for wild steelhead harvest tags". As Bob put it, the department now sells fewer licenses, but it seems that fishing pressure has actually gone up at the same time. It's as though only the hard-core anglers remain, and their ability to catch fish is relatively high.

For hatcheries, they were once managed under the regional fish management programs, then switched to management under hatchery programs, and the latest trend is to bring them back to the fishery management programs. That would allow for better coordination with other fish management activities (harvest, allocation, wild stock protection). The WDFW has not embraced the use of wild brood stocks for steelhead hatcheries. There are a few native broodstock programs, including one for Lake Washington that aims to bolster the very low numbers of natural spawners in the Cedar River. Other native broodstock programs are aimed at increasing harvest opportunities and/or increasing the number of spawners in systems like Snider Creek, the Wynoochee, the Green, the Satsop, and the Skookumchuk. WDFW started hatchery enhancement programs in the 1950's and 1960's, and chose to use relatively early-returning Chamber's Creek spawners as a preferred broodstock for many hatcheries. The early returning spawners have a few key attributes that are valued by WDFW: 1) the return and spawn timing is distinct from the bulk of wild winter-run spawners in Puget Sound and coastal streams, so using Chambers Creek fish allows for temporal separation between hatchery and wild stocks (both in terms of harvest and spawner interactions); and 2) early spawning fish make it possible to rear a hatchery steelhead to smolt size in a single year; the typical spring spawning wild stocks have offspring that smolt after 2 years in streams, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to get late spawned and late-hatching juvenile steelhead to smolt after a single year in hatcheries. Hatchery programs have not wanted to take on the expense and other challenges of rearing juveniles for 2 years.

Other things the WDFW is looking at include "wild fish sanctuaries", where hatchery production would be eliminated. However, cutting existing hatchery production has proven to be politically extremely difficult, even in cases where hatcheries are known to suffer from very low production at relatively high costs.

And finally, other issues Bob hopes the WDFW steelhead program can address include:
* research into the limiting factors for wild fish production; determine why Puget Sound winter run steelhead have suffered drastic productivity declines and how those might be halted or reversed
* research into hatchery broodstock
* track angler preferences: once angler preferences exceed 90% in favor of CnR fishing for wild steelhead, Bob would back statewide wild steelhead release with no exceptions
* restore the complete WDFW steelhead program that existed in the 1980's; at that time, that included a significant research unit and extensive monitoring programs; today the activities have been reduced to monitoring and management, with very little research, as budget cuts have forced staff reductions

Bob did not go so far as to ask those in attendance to lobby our policy makers on behalf of WDFW steelhead programs. However, the message seemed pretty clear (to me at least) that one way interested anglers and conservationists can help the department improve its ability to meet the goals of protecting and restoring wild steelhead and their habitat is through political pressure.


Active Member
This is great, thanks Darin. Those of us who find it impossible to journey to Bothell at 7:30 on a weekday always want to know what happened at the meeting.

It seems to me that this is really heavily based on getting accurate assessments of the run size on a yearly basis.

How confident are we that the run size #'s are correct? How good are the counting methods? (this was probably discussed at other WSC meetings that I missed) How much do they rely on angler card data?


This is the argument I find most intriquing with regards to your question:
(As Bob Gibbons put it -I quote)
"WDFW has attempted to address several questions about existing escapement goals, including: 1) do they provide adequate protection? 2) do they allow for the desired level of genetic diversity? and 3) does the spawner abundance serve as a safety net in the face of unexpected run-size declines?"

Run-size declines is most interesting here. Think of it like food supplies or your savings account.... Got an idea now?! Nature AND man can unexpectedly effect future run sizes in the here and now -besides what will happen tomorrow as result of our savings or lack of it today. Need an analogy? Can't we put a little more into that "low-risk" IRA today for savings for tomorrow so we ALL can reap the benefits as it grows and matures?(sorry, I was a business major..) --And furthermore, can't we now ration our "food" more appropriately keeping our sheleves full and stocked but yet still having good quality meals at the same time?
-Ideas anyone.... does that sound o.k. or make sense?
I was appalled at Bob's statement that he would not support CnR on a statewide basis unless polls showed 90% of all fishermen favor such an idea. Give me a break here!
Where else does it require 90% to do something?
This is a democracy here (has that been forgotten?) with a simple majority required for most actions. Occasionally, because of the constitution (has that been forgotten as well?) a 2/3 majority is requisite.
But 90%? I suspect Bob is really not in favor of CnR because license revenue would lessen and he and other game managers would be looking for work elsewhere.
I suppose that 90% is favor of anything would make the dust fly and even Bob would scramble.
I know Bob works hard and I don't mean to denigrate his efforts. But these are desperate times in the management of the resource and drastic actions are called for.
What is so drastic about closing the state to the taking of (not the fishing for) steelhead? Must we have 90% to save our fish?
This fishermen, for one, would like to see a sanctuary for all steelhead in Washington, freeing them from hatcheries and their disastrous effects.
Start on the Olympic Peninsula. Close all the hatcheries here. They do little good and much harm. The Quilicene hatchery cranks out a bunch of fish who never seem to enter the rivers, just that area immediately below the concrete tanks.
They are snagged and even pitchforked by the locals. If you ask them how can they do this, they respond by saying ,"These fish are no good. They ( the hatchery personnel) just kill them and throw them in a truck. So why shouldn't we help ourselves?" This was said by a man who had a pitchfork and had his son holding a plastic trash can to throw the "worthless" fish in. What a lesson for the kid!
I have witnessed this same sentiment over and over again at the "hatchery fisheries." Crowding, rude behavior, snagging, unsportsman like conduct and on and on. Is this what the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is creating? If so, then shame on you!
Close the hatcheries; retrain the personnel to act as assistant game wardens and put them in the field to protect what little we have left. End this charade, this sham!.
Robert J. Lawless:reallymad

Scott Behn

Active Member
I too have witnessed this type of "combat behavior" every Aug. 1st at Reiter Ponds. It seems as though you should be carrying a firearm instead of a fishing pole. I can understand why they started the hatchery programs back then, but to me it's like social was a short term fix for a long term problem that has out-lasted it's usefulness.
I also agree with Bob, why 90%. I understand that you can't please everyone all time, but isn't it about the STEELHEAD and not about upsetting the 34% that oppose the C&R on all wild steelhead? Did they worry about the "34%" when the closed the Cedar river to all fishing?
Ever since I can remember, well at least since I was in High School in the 80's, I have always wanted to get my degree and work for the fish and game and I'm from Idaho. Sometimes I wonder if the people in high places that make these decisions still remember why they chose the career field they are in. I know I want to do it cause I love the wildlife, fish and game.
I reckon I'll just keep using my methods while on the river and maybe if one person sees me releasing a wild fish then perhaps they too will start and so on and so on.

Here is a saying that my Dad used to always tell me when I asked him any questions about policy makers...
"Don't underestimate the power of stupid people in large crowds."
This is just my heartfelt opinion.



New Member
What a great quote and a wise man your father was with that type of thinking. This Washington based forum has over 1,000 fairly active members who post frequently. Out of that number how many would be willing to keep the pressure on? Out of that pressure how many are registered voters, who in fact can make a change. Even if you are not registered to vote, your letters, emails, telephone calls, and presence at these meetings is really noticed. Now if it were possible for 90% of our forum to show up at one of these meetings, what an impressive showing that would be. But 10% of our forum isn't unrealistic either, and that too is impressive numbers to a bean counter. I used to be a Congressional liaison, ( nice way to say lobbyist) I have watched as one tiny -- but very active group became the catalyst for change and a new way of thinking. It can be done here. We need to apply constant pressure. Not just when the issue is hot-but year round.
Support the Coalition in what ever way you can if it means so much to you. Do it when you can, it will become effortless to you, and in the long run it will make a difference.

As Always ....
JUST Go <")}}})><
Upon re-reading my response to yesterday's post concerning Bob Gibbon's speech about requiring at least 90% of all fisherman to favor catch and release of wild steelhead before he would be interested in the idea, I noticed an error in something I wrote. Just to make things more clear, let me say that I favor catch and release only for wild steelhead and I think this should be a state law in order to save what few wild fish we still have.
I have no objection to the taking of hatchery fish, either by fly fisherpersons, gearpersons, or plunk persons. Myself, I don't kill any fish regardless of whether it is wild or hatchery, but that's just a personal decision of mine and I don't expect anyone else to share it.
But we can not give up on this idea of saving our few, precious wild steelhead. Generation X seems to feel that all is lost and therefore nothing can be done so don't get involved. Don't write, don't read, don't vote and don't care...
Lawless may be crazy (I've always thought so), but if he goes down, he will go down in flames. I will try until my last breath to save these fish..

I'll go down on that Titanic with you damn it! Here is a post Bob Ball( the few C&R guides from Forks Oly Pen. He just posted in response to the issues Bob Gibbons raised in the meeting at WSC.

Is as follows, I quote:

"Smalma ... I don't have the magic answer, but obviously netiher does the WDFW when 90% of the streams have suffered crashes in the last twenty years.

Lots of reasons sure ... but why do we continue to esentially manage the few remaining "healthy" streams in the exact manner that we used in all the other streams that are now in such poor shape?? The track record sucks, I know that isn't what you like to hear, but it's sad, but true fact.

C&R is not the only answer, but it IS the one thing anglers can do TODAY to immediately lessen our impact.

Everything in this state's management policies has focused on harvest opportunities before angling opportunites ... it's time for that to change.

All the formulas, research, and studies don't mean a thing if the fish stocks decline. It's the end result, not how we get there!

IMO, I don't hink we can manage steelhead with the MSY model like we can do salmon ... fankly, I think the life history of the steelhead creates problems. Where does the MSY model take into account the increased fecundicity of repeat spawners and the impact of their removal from the system??

Sure there are areas where C&R regs have not led to increases, but there are plenty of others where they have certainly played a role!

Frankly, it often seems that there appears to be some point in stock makeup / numbers that appear to be a point of no return and the state always seems to allow the stocks to recede below this point before doing something to reduce harvest!

I also believe that too much blame is placed upon oceanic conditions on whole ... if the ocean conditions were such a factor, why aren't the results widespread??

Case in point, recent poor PS returns are blamed on ocean survival, yet the state then reports that the Quillayute system has record returns, yet the Queets just a little further south was facing the lowest returns on record. At the same time, Vancouver Island streams were struggling ... yet Skeena watershed streams saw huge returns. Southern Orgeon streams saw large increases ... where's the widespread effect that you would expect here???

Piont is, there's lots I don't know, you don't know, no one will likely ever know about these fish ... yet we continue to harvest them while we watch stream after stream's populations crash. I'm simply asking that we act conservatively in their management, and the first step there is no harvesting them ... the second being quitting all fishing.

I hope that we only have to take one of those steps to help insure their survival!"

:beer2 I couldn't agree more. DB
-By the way, a reply posted by the fella by the name of "Smalma" who Bob is referring tois a fisheries biologists that posts on Bob's website regularly.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
I guess the one thing I can say with certainty is that the more I learn about things here, the more I realize how much I do not know. I appreciated the presentation and was most impressed that he was willing to say, publicly, that there is allot of political influence on fisheries management that has nothing to do with the science, and everything to do with the social pressures and politics of the subject.I feel like the man is "Old Guard" and that he's a kind of politician too. But I also feel like he is doing a very dificult job with little in the way of complete support. He admits that the history of steelhead management was weak and somewhat misguided, and he seems genuinely concerned for the future. So I will give him that, and my support for wild steelhead release. I bet his presentation to a bait fishing club would have had a differant tone entirely. I feel we should not be killing any wild fish at all, and that we should close the hatcheries...but who am I?...just another stupid voter.