COMPARING THE SKAGIT RIVER TO OTHER NORTHWEST RIVERS - STEELHEAD DECLINE AS RELATED TO HATCHERY RELE

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by 808steelheader, Jan 31, 2013.

  1. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Derek -
    Keep in mind that Cedar River O. mykiss has had access to the salt long before the system was re-plumbed by man. Before being divert to Lake Washington the Cedar flowed into the Green and then on to Puget Sound. Even though just 30 years ago there were as many as 2,000 steelhead returning to the Cedar if there is anything to the recent concept that the O. mykiss resident (including adfluvial) and anadromous life histories being part of the same populations I would think that most of us would not be very surprised that during of low survival conditions for one life history that the population would be dominated by the other.

    Curt
     
  2. kjsteelhead

    kjsteelhead Member

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    Well Curt and Salmo_g, your responses have me scratching my head even more now.

    On one hand you state that you couldn't find any empirical evidence that shows hatchery fish are at all beneficial to wild steelhead runs.
    But then you concluded by stating that you personally don't believe hatchery fish are bad for wild steelhead runs.

    I put a similar question to a relative of mine who is employed as a resource manager by a timber company and he couldn't find any evidence that logging has had an adverse effect on anadromous fish populations.

    I've heard several commercial fishermen state that their work has no ill effects towards steelhead runs.

    I've listened to hundreds of sport fishermen who insist their activities have no significant impact on wild steelhead populations.

    The fish farming industry has hired several biologists who insist that their industry has in no way damaged wild salmonid populations.

    Yes, the early marine survival conundrum is the most popular scapegoat now, maybe because no one has enough evidence in it to assign ownership.
    How convenient.

    So I guess we just do nothing and let the wild Skagit steelhead runs continue to decline since no one can prove that only one variable is causing this decline, or that the variable they represent is not number one on the list. Wonderful.

    Ken
     
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  3. _WW_

    _WW_ Fishes with Wolves

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    Define "decline"

    No one can prove there is only one variable because there isn't just one. There are many and most of the impacts are never going away. Under current conditions, the Skagit run is as good as it is likely to get.

    There is no magic cure to bring back runs of 40,000 fish, if indeed such a thing ever existed. What we have is a run that has averaged over 6800 fish for the last 34 years. It goes up, and it goes down, and right now it is trending up.
     
  4. 808steelheader

    808steelheader Member

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    Dear Sg,
    yes, I understand that the Nisqually in South Puget Sound has been a worst case stream. Apparently hatchery smolt plants ceased there in the 1990s, as you say. The question would seem to be how much worse would the Nisqually now be if smolt plants had continued or increased? The data from the other Puget Sound streams indicates it would be even worse which would mean at virtual extinction by now. This is the case for Chambers Creek steelhead and the entire hatchery steelhead program there. Both went extinct in about 1997 according to the graphic history that Mr. McMillan provided me. One might assume that the Nisqually could now be at the same status if Chambers Creek steelhead had continued to be planted. The question is, now what do you do for the rest of Puget Sound given the hatchery correlation of the more you plant the fewer steelhead you get back?

    I gather that your response would be, do nothing and just keep planting away. Seems like that is what managers have done now for 60 years with the end result of NOAA's ESA listing for Puget Sound in efforts to stop the bleeding before too late. Seems to me that doing nothing has not been a very good management practice for Puget Sound.

    What has been the purpose for planting Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead?My understanding is that it has strictly been to provide harvest. However, from the Skagit and other Puget Sound graphs it has been clear that the more you plant the fewer hatchery and wild steelhead come back. For years now there has been little or no harvest. So what is the practical purpose of continuing these releases of hatchery fish that do not accomplish what they have been promised to do? And they are very apparently contributing to further steelhead decline with the trend lines going toward zero. And who is paying for all of this waste of dollars on hatchery programs that are providing little or nothing of what they are intended to do? And what are we doing funding government programs that fail to produce when every dollar is needed for school children, college students, the elderly, the sick, and on and on? If each hatchery steelhead smolt costs about $1 as has been found to be a pretty good rule of thumb in the Columbia and at Great Lakes, in data I have seen for the Nooksack River steelhead hatchery and that at the Skagit, the amount of dollars spent for smolts to provide one harvested steelhead in some years of worst recent returns has cost taxpayers $1,000, or even more, for each.

    Regarding British Columbia, there is a most thorough steelhead examination of British Columbia steelhead status that Mr. McMillan provided me (it is a place I fished years ago and still dream of returning):
    The Status of Steelhead Trout in British Columbia by Ahrens, 2004:
    ftp://fshftp.env.gov.bc.ca/pub/outgoing/wsLite/ahrens/Ahrens 04/Status of Steelhead Trout.pdf

    For the period of 1968-2003: For the overall long-term 35 year period assessed, of the 21 steelhead conservation areas 3 had increasing trends, 13 were neutral, 4 were in decline, and 1 was in moderate decline. Cumulatively over that long-term, 16 (76%) conservation areas have been neutral or increasing and 5 (24%) in decline. For the period of 1990 to 2003, 5 had increasing trends, 4 had neutral trends, and 12 were in decline. Therefore, even in the more recent period that some consider to be a general ocean condition decline there was considerable variation in the steelhead conservation area trends. In the cumulative, 9 (43%) were neutral or increasing trends, and 12 (57%) were in decline.

    Of the BC steelhead conservation areas, the Lower Fraser River steelhead streams are in close geographic proximity to the Skagit and Nooksack. From 1990 to 2003 the Lower Fraser wild winter steelhead had a neutral trend and a 35 year trend similarly in the neutral zone (Skagit River has had a 50-60 year declining trend). At the East Coast of Vancouver Island from 1990 to 2003 the trend for wild winter steelhead is declining, but the bar has great breadth that includes through the neutral zone.The 35 year trend is moderate decline (Skagit River is continuous steady decline). In British Columbia it is apparent that there is great diversity of steelhead patterns probably due to remaining diversity of its wild steelhead, even for individual streams in quite close geographic proximity. The Keogh is by all measures the worst case, some of which is apparently related to the level of experimental work that has included two failed hatchery programs that have now ceased. Not too distant from the Keogh, also on the Northeast side, is the Tsitika River whose summer steelhead have had no hatchery plants and where snorkel counts since 1980 have been relatively stable and most recently increasing. The nearby Nimpkish River winter run where hatchery fry plants were discontinued has had only a slight winter steelhead decline – nothing resembling the Keogh, Skagit, Green, Puyallup, or Nisqually. As a broad general rule, those streams with least hatchery history tend to have less decline than those that have a greater hatchery history on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. And it remains to be done to align the locations of the many aquaculture farms to the steelhead streams to see if their locations may explain some of the steepest declining trends for individual BC streams.

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  5. kjsteelhead

    kjsteelhead Member

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    What color is the sky in your world?
     
  6. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Todd -
    Thanks for the link to the Ahrens paper - I had not seen or read it before.

    It however seems to confirm what I had been saying about the East coast of Vancouver Island steelhead populations. I refer the reader to figure 4.30 on page 37. It shows the status of the various populations over time. The latest period is 1990 to 2004 which shows the status of most populations in red (and there is alot of red) meaning they have been changing at a rate of minus 0.5 to minus 0.05 per year. Again not much different than what we are seeing in the US portion of the Salish sea. Keep in mind that hatchery programs on many of those waters ended 1 to 2 decades ago and some much longer ago.

    The Keogh continues to remain one of the more interesting/instructive data set. In large part due to the fact that counts are based on weir counts rather than less accurate methods. It is also one of the few places where there is good data on smolt to adult survival of the wild fish giving us insights into how those fish do once they leave the system. Figure 4.41 on page 48 provides a graph of those smolt to adult survival which shows a decline in those survivals very similar to what we have seen on the Skagit and elsewhere. Keep in mind that the release of hatchery fish on the Keogh was ended in 1990 (see table 1.2 - pagers 3 through 5 in the Ahrens report) - though it is my understanding that in recent years some sort of hatchery program has be started as a genetic rescue program (not unlike a couple of those being attempted on Puget Sound rivers.

    In short in neither Puget Sound nor East coast of Vancouver Island is there evidence that on the average ending hatchery programs has improved the status of the wild populations. That is not to say that consideration should not be given to ending hatchery programs;there is a wide variety of reasons to have that discussion. Rather it is important to realize that the available information continually indicates that those hatchery programs in comparison to other factors driving the status of those steelhaed are bit players. This is key so that discussion on potential limiting factors is focused on those that are having the biggest impacts and not getting side tracked.

    curt
     
  7. _WW_

    _WW_ Fishes with Wolves

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    Escapement for the last ten years
    2002 - 5394
    2003 - 6818
    2004 - 7332
    2005 - 6382
    2006 - 6757
    2007 - 4242
    2008 - 4887
    2009 - 2502
    2010 - 3981
    2011 - 5462
    2012 - 6185
    If you study these numbers you will see that only three times in the previous ten years did the run actually decline from the previous year. 70% of the time the numbers increased.
     
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  8. kjsteelhead

    kjsteelhead Member

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    Interesting WW.
    Now isn't this data part of the same report that shows the escapement numbers to have gone from 13,194 in 1988 to 2,502 in 2009? Wouldn't that be a loss of 81% of the run in 21 years? I don't know about you, but I'd consider that a decline.

    Aren't these numbers from the same set of data that showed the exact same number of fish returned in 1995 (7088)and 1996(7008)? What are the odds of that happening?

    Wait a minute, at the top of the data table it says those were forecast numbers. Were those actually the precise numbers of fish that returned to the Skagit River and all of its tributaries? That would be some unbelievable forecasting!
     
  9. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

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    Kjsteelhead,

    We didn't say we have all the answers, and we haven't said that understanding what's happening with steelhead populations is easy. Your assertion that people in specific vocations and avocations have no adverse effects on wild steelhead is a point taken. I'm a fish head, but I think if you read a good sampling of my work you'll conclude that I don't have a strong bias for or against hatchery fish. I'm not promoting the continued stocking of CC smolts in PS river systems, I don't deliberately fish for them, and personally wouldn't be affected if stocking them were eliminated. In contrast, I do fish deliberately for hatchery steelhead on the Cowlitz because it is fairly near my home. Ironically, sport fishermen there accuse me of causing reductions in hatchery production in that system, which I have no authority to do. However I did agree that Tacoma's hatchery mitigation obligation would decrease in direct proportion to increases in natural production, fish for fish. Yet I'm the fall guy even though I helped write a settlement that maintains one of the largest hatchery steelhead populations on the entire west coast.

    You used the term scapegoat to describe ocean or marine survival. I think that's inappropriate. Marine survival of smolts to adults is the largest factor affecting abundance of anadromous fish species in many cases. Consider the possibilities of survival and mortality. First you have egg to fry survival, then fry to smolt (this mainly applies to the stream rearing obligates), and then smolt to adult (which mainly occurs in the marine environment, although there are important cases where high mortalities of smolts occur during the seaward migration). Although empirical data are limited, wild steelhead egg to fry and fry to smolt survivals have not changed significantly in the last two decades. Scapegoat or not, that leaves marine survival as the proximate variable most affecting the abundance of adult steelhead populations. By comparing PS steelhead with their coastal counterparts, we can infer, but not empirically know, that early marine survival is the culprit. Additional and more intensive research is needed to identify what or which early marine factor(s) are responsible.

    As for doing something about this "state of affairs", one needs to know the proximate cause. Further, one needs to be able to do something about that cause when it is identified. The very distinct possibility exists that the cause is some natural (or anthropogenic) environmental condition that we cannot change.

    Hope this alleviates some part of your confusion.

    Todd,

    I think you suggest that the Nisqually steelhead would be at extinction if hatchery stocking had continued because you have already concluded that correlation equals causation. I think hatchery stocking would not help the wild steelhead, but if it continued I think the Nisqually fish would be in about the same condition they currently are in. I base that on the other PS rivers where hatchery stocking remains prevalent, and the examples that Smalma points out through the Salsih Sea rivers in BC. CC steelhead didn't go extinct. WDFW stopped propagating them because they were no longer being used to seed all the other PS hatcheries that have developed their own on-site CC brood stocks. I speculate that CC steelhead would be doing as well or better than they're doing in other PS systems if the culture had been continued since that is the local watershed to which they presumably were best adapted, both for artificial and natural production.

    Regarding the question of what do you do now in the rest of PS, it is a bit of a conundrum. Using $ as a yardstick, all the PS CC hatchery steelhead brood stocks would be discontinued due to the exceptional high cost of producing a returning adult steelhead. On the other hand, if that were done, that would leave all of PS with no viable (ironic use here, I know) hatchery steelhead broodstock. Even if doing so is a good idea, that is a steep and high cliff to step off of. And we really don't know if it is a good idea for other than economic reasons. Generally speaking, a resource manager prefers to keep his options open. That is about the best reason at this time I have for maintaining at least some of the hatchery broodstocks. We don't know what the future holds. Maybe the best alternative is to eliminate the CC brood stocks, but I don't think we have enough information to be there yet.

    I also thank you for the link to Ahren's paper.

    Sg
     
  10. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

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    Kjsteelhead,

    There were no wild steelhead data for 1995 and 1996, so the forecasts are placeholders.

    In that data set you'll see that steelhead numbers both increased from 1978 to 1988 before declining to the numbers seen today, all under approximately the same freshwater environmental conditions (accounting for some flood season effects). Ergo, the ugly "scapegoat" of marine survival raises its head.

    Sg
     
  11. _WW_

    _WW_ Fishes with Wolves

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    It also shows escapement in 1979 to be 2982 and 13,194 in 1988 - about a 400% increase in nine years. Like I said, it goes up and it goes down.

    In '96 and '97 there were no escapement surveys taken due to high flows.

    The document I'm using is the one I've attached, the Skagit is on page 23.

    BTW, the skies here in Clear Lake are usually gray...
     

    Attached Files:

  12. Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson Member: Native Fish Society

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    Sg,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your opinions and the reasoning behind them, it is a complex problem with many unknowns and these kinds of conversations are very useful. That goes for you too Curt.

    In the paragraph above I don't understand your statement" And we really don't know if it is a good idea for other than economic reasons." What other reason could there be? They don't help to maintain or increase wild runs so their import is socio-economic. Or is your point that managers would want to maintain a Chambers Creek broodstock somewhere in case all else fails?

    Chris
     
  13. TallFlyGuy

    TallFlyGuy Adipossessed!

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    Curt,

    The Vancouver streams you mention I believe you are referring to Salmon Creek. This is an urban stream that does not compare to wild streams and wild environments. Most of the spawning grounds and most of the stream runs through private property. The Cedars is another one I have heard has had many artificial/environmental changes. Getting to the point, I think these two examples are poor examples to throw up and show that native fish populations decline when the state stops planting hatchery fish.
     
  14. TallFlyGuy

    TallFlyGuy Adipossessed!

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    I agree. There seems to be an "agenda" by those here to show there is no known cause or reasoning for the decline in wild fish. When we the fishermen speak up and start a little fire, the "scientists" come and tell us "we are doing everything we can, there is nothing more to do, and we just don't know what the problem is". There are numerous studies that have come out to show how hatchery fish hurt wild fish survival and numbers. There are also ecological studies that show how hatchery smolt release bring in more predators and can cause a predator upswing because of the free "candy" being released to willing predators. This in turn can and will lead to low survival of smolt.... both wild an hatchery.

    http://nativefishsociety.org/conser...gical_competition/ecological_interactions.htm

    IT seems when we point out these studies, we are told the studies do not apply to the river basins in question.
     
  15. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    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.

    Curt