PS steelhead may be listed

Brother Triggs, the state has it all under control! Nothing to worry about! Hell, I am going to pull out my steelhead gear and start fishing for them again, it has only been nearly 20 years since I have targetted Mr. Iron Head!

Yes sir, the runs are healthy and I am going to fill my freezer! Good thing it is a SMALL freezer! bawling:



Active Member
Dave -
Other than the habitat problems the biggest factor that there aren't fish returning is in short ocean conditions; that is very poor smolt to adult survivals.

An example - Green River hatchery winter steelhead.
For the period 1979/80 to 1991/92 the average return rate for the hatchery fish was 3.91%.
For the period 1999/00 to 2002/03 the average return rate for the hatchery fish has been 0.4%.

This is nearly a ten fold reduction in survival. Similar declines are being seen throughout the Puget Sound and Georgia basin areas. An example from our neighbors to the north is on the Koegh River (north end of Vancouver Island) where a research facility has been monitoring the survival of the wild steelhead there. During the 1980s the average smolt to adult survival was 15% and at times reached as high as 25%. From the mid-1990s to date the survival has been well below 5% with some years as low as 1%. Please note this is the survival of the fish once they leave the river. With that kind of low survival there is no way that a population con maintian itself at former levels.

Granted if the habitat was better or higher escapements (no harvest?) there would be more smolts being produced and the returning runs would be larger but the fact remains we would still be seeing the same sort of steep decline in overall population abundance. To a large degree we are at the mercy of the fickle ocean conditions. I know of no management action that can off set a 10 fold reduction in survival - do you?

To your proposal of closing the rivers for 6 years. With wild steelhead release required by the sport fishery, seasons closing the end of February, the stacking of tribal gill net season during December to mid-February time period the estimated impacts on the wild steelhead populations in recent years has been less than 5%; on the Snohomish for example the expected impacts have been about 3.6% per year. I would submit that closing a river or limiting the total fishing impacts to less than 5% result in virtually the same populations. What would you do with the hatchery production in the closed waters? If you wish to maintain the hatchery program the State would have to continue to release fish even if the river wasn't open to maintain the locally adapted broodstock. Is it really acceptable to have a 125% increase in fishing pressure on the rivers that remian open?

Regarding both the State and Federal mandates requiring the continuation of viable commerical fisheries. An ESA listing or WDFW whinning about the situation will not change those laws. Rather it will take action by both congress and the state legislature. That means that anglers will have to become very involved in the political arena - good luck with that.

Tight lines
S malma

Steve Buckner

Mother Nature's Son
It has been argued over the past few years that the reason we're seeing such "great" returns of salmon is because of the "good ocean conditions". Now, you're saying that the reason we're not seeing more returning steelhead to puget sound (washington in general) is because of "poor ocean conditions". How can both statements be true?

It continues to sadden me to hear that the WDFW can't or won't do anything to prohibit wild fish from being killed, either by sportsmen or by the tribes and that it took the stance earlier this year to allow a percentage of wild steelhead to be killed to allow the gillnet fishery in the columbia. How can the WDFW have such a limited role in managing the wild resources of this state? Does the Washington Division of Wildlife Resources need to change their name so that we're not confused by their limited to non-existent participation in managing our resources? Maybe WDFW could just move into the same building as the DMV and issue seems that's all they're doing now anyway! :beathead:

I recently read an article about the state of our salmonid populations and how we've tried for 50 years or better here in the PNW to mitigate the loss of habitat due to dams by continuing hatcheries etc.. The article went on to say that every piece of the ecological chain is required for success. If one of the links is is broken, the chain itself is broken. We've decimate salmon runs accross the globe for centuries, why are we so amazed that our populations here are so threatened given the continued stance our "wildlife managers" take.

Hunting seasons are set based upon the projected population of that hunting season for that species. How can the Boldt decision and/or "maximum sustained yield", ideologies that are clearly outdated and that have continued the extermination of our salmonids, not be retracted in light of the dwindling resources? Who is going to step up to the plate and address this issue? How many more decades of "scientifc studies" will it take to determine that killing wild steelhead is not conducive to healthy steelhead populations?


Active Member
Bob -
In NOAAs call for review for the status of Puget Sound steelhead a number factors were considered to be of concern. Let's look at some of those.
1) the downward trends in wild winter steelhead abundance. As I pointed out in the resonse to Dave's question it appears that poor smolt to adult survival is a major drive in that decline. Not sure what the State can do about that. Pretty sure that a listing will not improve that survival; heck the feds have been reclucant to consider anything but a very narrow strip of the near shore as critical habitat in either the Chinook or bull trout recovery plans. A listing may make some funds available to study the problem but how any answers learned would lead to corrective actions is unknown.

Of course the other develop is Wild Steelhead Release for the recreational fisheries - that had been in place for most of the Puget Sound) rivers (Skagit, Snohomish, Green exceptions) prior the state-wide requirement.

2) Low abundance of summer steelhead in the ESU was a concern in the 1996 review. With the decision in 1994 to manage all but the GreenRiver wild summer steelhead populations in Puget Sound with Wild Steelhead Release (WSR) regulations we have seen a rebound of summer steelhead. The one population with long term monitoring is the South Fork Tolt. The average escapement for the period 1985 to 1995 was 130 fish. For the period the average has been 185 (escapement goal of 121). It is interesting that the summer populations (both hatchery and wild) remained steady in late 1990s/early 2000s while the winters declned sharply again point towards spotty survival conditions in the ocean.

The Green river summer steelhead were excluded because they were not present in the Green prior to the introduction of the hatchery summer steelhead to the system. It was felt that they represent some threat (competition) to the wild winters and it was better to allow harvest of the returning adults. One could argue that the hatchery summer program should be ended -perhaps that would come with ESA listing.

3) Potental Genetic risks from hatchery fish spawning in the wild. As you may recall the hatchery winter steelhead in much of Puget Sound is the Chamber's Creek stock. WDFW's strategy with those fish has been to rely on temporal separation in the spawning timing of the hatchery and wild steelhead of the region. In the Department of Wildlife's 1992 Genetic stock model the spawning timing of the hatchery fish at the Tokul Creek hatchery was used as being representative of the Puget Sound programs (Hood Canal plantings came from different hatcheries). The model used the hatchery spawn timing from Tokul Creek in 1990. At that time the hatchery fish completed their spawning by March 22. 75% of the spawning was completed in late February. A review of the spawn timing today (last 3 years) at Tokul Creek shows that spawning is completed in late February (varied from 2/9 to 2/25) with the 75% completion point being mid-Janaury.

This is important because in the region our wild winter steelhead begin spawning in early to mid-March with the majority of the spawning occurring in April and May. As you can see the temporal separation between the hatchery and wild fish is nearly complete. I say nearly complete because the spawn timing from above was based on the females shedding their eggs. The males continue to be capable of spawning for several more weeks. So potentially a few of the latest maturing males could interact with the earliest of the wild females. Whether a nearly spend male could out compete a fresher wild male is unknown.

4) The unknow role of the resident rainbows in the population was a potential item of concern in1996. Today we now know that at least for some populations steelhead produce trout and trout produce steelhead. There continues to be debate of how important the interaction between the two is. I happen to think that especially during periods of low marine survival the resident life form may be key and I would prefer to see more aggressive management to protect that portion of the population. Fortunately it is known how to do that, need large minimum size limits and ban baits. So far the feds in areas with listed steelhead have not addressed the resident trout issue. We as anglers could likely make headway with that protection through the regulation change process.

The above according to my read was the largest issues.

Regarding whether addressing though issues would lead to "healthy runs of salmon and steelhead" I would direct you to the Snohomish system. There in the last 8 years or so the steelhead management template has been more or less applied to salmon management in the system. Currently steelhead are by far the most conservatively managed anadromous stock in the basin. The result has been increased escapements of all 4 salmon species with each species setting the historical (35 + years) escapement records. At the same time the bull trout have increase several fold and the sea-rujn cutthroat populations are at high levels. To put that in some contex the average escapement of wild salmonids (salmon and steelhead) in the Snohomish over the last 5 years exceeds 700,000 fish while the Quilleyute system average escapement for the same period is only 37,000 wild fish.

I would argue that it would appear that it is not the fisheries management paradigm that is limiting the Snohomish wild steelhead. That is not to say that said management can not os should not be improved; jsut that it is not the main factor in the decline of the population.

Tight lines
S malma

All river basins are different, comparing the Keogh to the large rivers in PS and the Puget Sound is comparing apples and oranges. Folks, the Keogh is a small coastal river, and the Keogh smolts don't enter PS. Would I compare freshwater survival rates from the Keogh to the Skagit?

That said, what about hatcheries? From Alaska to California, guess which state has the highest ratio of hatchery to wild smolts (for managed salmon and steelhead stocks)? Hmmm, it isn't Alaska... California? Nope. Oregon, it must be? Nope. Washington is the correct answer. In fact, the ratio of wild to hatchery smolts entering the marine environment from Washington State is 30-35% wild/65-70% hatchery. No other state has worse than a 56% hatchery/44% wild ratio. You cannot expect us to believe that 300,000 wild smolts stand a chance in hell of surviving at a decent rate when they are competing and dealing with predators focused on the annual feast of 1 milliion hatchery smolts.

Considering that WDFW continues to dump millions upon millions of hatchery smolts into the marine ecosystem, wouldn't you want to know if that is affecting marine survival of wild juveniles? This question is so easily ignored by WDFW, nonetheless there is research that indicates dumping mass quantities of hatchery smolts into the marine environment negatively affects wild fish survival, both through competition and consolidating predators across time and space. My guess is Smalma, is that the massive hatchery motor of WDFW is one reason that ocean survival rates are so low. I mean, come on, do you believe that the near shore marine environment does not have a carrying capacity? Research suggests otherwise, there is a carrying capacity to near shore environments.

Interestingly folks, the fish that don't have big hatchery runs, like pink salmon, are doing well.

Here is an analogy. I gave my stockbroker 2K$ when I was 30, and received quarterly updates from him over the past 20 years. The updates told me my money was being invested wisely, the models showed I was making money. Then, when I went to retire, the stockbroker told me that I had lost all of my money. However, he said it wasn't his fault at all. It was the markets fault, not his, he had simply left the money in the same stock as he had for the past 20 years. How could I blame the stockbroker? All he lacked was foresight and the ability to read the market and move my money from one stock to another.

Smalma, this is the same lack of adaptibility, foresight, and buffering (on the side of the fish) that WDFW has exhibited. And now you, a WDFW employee find the easy scapegoat, much like the market, ocean conditions. I don't blame you, nor find you personally at fault. But I wonder why you so steadfastly stick to a sinking ship's motto, much like a Phillip Morris employee who says cigarettes are fine. In reality you have had many years to see this coming as winter steelhead runs have crashed around the State without any type of adaptibility or foresight by WDFW. How can you not see it but so many others do?

At the end of the day what else can I expect from WDFW.

Thanks for listening to my rant and I hope I didn't offend you too much, but I wonder why WDFW continues to ignore their massive hatchery plants?


Active Member
Steve -
You guys are asking questions faster than I can respond - maybe I'm too long winded!

Regarding different species response to ocean conditions. First and foremost the various species migrate at different times and too different places. For example coho and chinook tend to spend the majority of their time along the continental shelf or inland waters while pink, chum, sockeye, and steelhead spend most of the ocean time out in the high seas. Additonally as they young fish leave their natal areas fish from different regions encounter different local conditions, steelead leaving the Columbia will find different conditions than fish from north California, than from fish in SE Alaska, etc. Finally two different species at the same place in the ocean may well be utilizing different food sources;. As result it should not be surprising that we see different survival response from different speceis and within species from different areas.

You mentioned the situation on the Columbia with the allowing the impacts on the ESA listed steelhead during the commerical spring chinook gill net fishery. It should be important to remember that prior to WDFW suggesting an increase in the allowable impacts from 2 to 6% NOAA fisheries had reviewed that request and determined that such an increase did not represent unaccpetable risk to the listed fish. If you are expecting protection from that type of decision with a ESA listing you are going to be disappointed. There are plenty of things going on in the Columbia both at the State and Federal level causes one wonder.

Tight lines
S malma
I'm afraid that in my own reviews of the harvest and hatchery plans that I've seen since the PS chinook listings, I do not really see the changes smalma is referring to; I certainly wouldn't call them improvements. But then again, I have a different bias than he does. I would liken the "changes" to a situation like this: I have a monthly budget of $500; I've been spending $750. Of course that finally catches up with me and I have to do something about it. My solution is to start spending $600 a month to see if that helps. When it doesn't I call it evidence that overspending must not have been the problem; it's that things cost too much, or they're not as good as they used to be, or it's ocean conditions, anything but my money management. It doesn't seem to ever occur to me that I'm going to have to spend considerably less than $500 a month for quite some time to get out of this hole, and eventually, I run out of money and starve to death.

I also feel compelled to point out that WDFW has a responsibility to manage FOR reduced productivity if/when it occurs, not around it. The buck has to stop somewhere. It strikes me as childish to try and blame management failures on God.

I also have a few questions. Couldn't low productivity and low ocean survival be partly the result of competition impacts at early life-history stages from the release of roughly ten times as many hatchery smolts as wild smolts in the PS basin? Doesn't citing poor ocean conditions acknowledge that at least under some conditions there IS an upper bound of carrying capacity in the ocean that somebody might be overloading with hatchery production? Doesn't that huge increase in salmon escapement in the Snohomish rely in part on the fact that 38% of the chinook spawning in the basin are hatchery strays from the Wallace and Tulalip hatcheries? And isn't a total-salmonid escapement comparison between the Snohomish and Quillayute sytems a little misleading, considering the Snohomish gathers runs of pinks and chums, and the Quillayute doesn't?


Active Member
Gordon -
You stated: "All river basins are different, comparing the Keogh to the large rivers in PS and the Puget Sound is comparing apples and oranges. Folks, the Keogh is a small coastal river, and the Keogh smolts don't enter PS."

The point in my comparison is that winter steelhead smolts (hatchery and wild, Puget Sound and Vancouver Island) are all experiencing the same low survival. The only things that they all have in common is their origin (Geaorgia/Puget Sound basin) and the ocean. It doesn't seem to make a difference whether the fish were hatchery or wild, from Puget Sound or Georgia Strait, from a small stream or a large stream, a stream without hatchery fish or a stream with large hatchery programs, a stream that allowed harvest of wild fish or a stream that was all Catch and Release. In short when populations over a large region experience the same phenomenon I tend to look for what the populations have in common. While it would be handy to be able to blame net pens, hatchery releasese, mis-management, etc it seems to me that only explaination that makes sense is the poor marine survival. That doesn't mean any of those other factors are important locally they just are the dominate factor regionally.

The massive releases of hatchery smolts of all species could well be an issue. After all it makes sense to me that the capacity of the ocean has a limit. However why has it affected all the steelhead? - the coast and Columbia populations are doing at least as well as they were a decade ago. The number of hatchery releases in the State hasn't changed much in the last decade so why were the fish surviving 10 and 15 years ago and not now?
I don't have the answers, while the abundance of hatchery release maybe a contributive factor it doesn't seem to me to be the driving factor.

I too have long had concerns about the size of salmonid releases in Puget Sound but at least in the case of steelhead which by all accounts spend very little time in the Sound the release don't seem to be a big problem. The delayed releases of coho and chinook may be an issue for fish rearing in south though it has seem to impact the pinks, chums, sea-run cutthroat, and bull trout which typcially spend days to weeks to months along the Sound's near shore habitats. To date I have not been able to connect the dots to be able to say aha!!

Ray -
I agree that comparing the Snohomish to the Quillayute is an unfair comparison. I wasn't really attempting suggest that the two basins should have similar numbers of salmonids but rather but in context what a large abundance the current escapments in the Snohomish are. Though it is common to hear the question why aren't the steelhead populations in the Snohomish like - the Quillayute, like those in Alaska, like those in North BC, or like those in Russia. Which as both you and Gordon a unfair expectation as each river has it owns uniques set of habitats and fish communties. In this example the Snohomish is one heck of a coho system, twice in the last 4 years the wild coho escapement has exceeded 250,000 wild coho while as we all know the Quillayute is an exceptional steelhead system.

You of course are correct that a significant portion of the chinook escapement - roughly 40% are stray hatchery fish. As you know I help develop that information. But that still change that amount of wild fish (natural origin recruits if you will) in the escapement of the basin. However you may be interest in that in 2004 it appears that escapement of chinook NORs in the Snohomish for the first time in decades exceeded the basins escapement goal.

Tight lines
S malma


Active Member
It seems strange to me to blame the WDFW as a whole. Our elected officials are responsive to votes. We should start there. After all, they define the WDFW mandate, correct?


A day not spent wasted is.....wasted.
Davy Earl said:
Choose between a casino or fishing rights, but not both. They argued in Boldt they ( the Indians) needed the fishing rights for economic stability-- well not anymore.

I respect your view Davy, but its more than economic stability and I don't think we need to take away anything more than we already have from the Indians.

A while back (I think ten years ago) most of the native tribes put together a plan for salmon steelhead recovery that would have improved things considerably. It included a ban on gill netting, partial dam removal, habitat improvement and limiting catch totals.

I agree that commercial fishing should be severely restricted in order to save the species. However, taking away the traditional rights of a group that already has a 60% unemployment in some tribes is unethical.

I believe that there was plenty of fish before the whites introduced commercial fishing and dams.

Last thing, I knew someone who worked with a large tribe as a consultant and found out through dinner and lunch meetings that many of the natives cannot eat beef or chicken as well as people of european decent. Most of the natives lack the enzymes that are needed to effectively break down meat. All these people could eat was fish. Everybody knows that alot of natives cannot process alcohol well if at all. This is the same situation.

Just my opinion,

Troutfantic :thumb:

Old Man

Just an Old Man
I think that the reason that I've switched to just trout fishing is all of the above reasons. It seems that nobody can get along and just have a decent season of fishing. Everybody has to squabble over who gets what fish. We used to get half but now it seems like we shouldn't get any. Soon there won't be any left and then they will find something else to waste away. Where will it all end.


o mykiss

Active Member
Smalma, thanks for taking the time to compose these long and informative posts. You handle the heat with grace and poise. I just have two more questions if you feel comfortable answering them:

1) Have you personally made up your mind about whether an ESA listing of some sort if not justified, or are you waiting to see what the feds come up with?

2) Do you think we should expect WDFW to oppose a listing, or will the department wait to see what the feds come up with?

Matt Burke

Active Member
Smalma, if I may add just one more question:

3) If you had no constraints from federal, state or tribal law, what would you do to improve Stealhead populations? In other words, what laws need to be changed? Your vision of a perfect world.
Hey Dolly Varden,

A status review may indeed be timely, given that NMFS (yeah, name changed again) has largely improved their understanding of in-basin interactions (e.g., resident-anadromous), steelhead mating systems, population dynamics, and descriptive metrics of viable salmonid populations. Additionally, should listing be warranted, it may be that the recovery planning process will benefit greatly from work done under the Shared Strategy for PS chinook, and other regional ESA recovery planning efforts (e.g., Lower Columbia, and many more by 6/30/2005). True, individual watershed entities will likely develop basin-specific chapters of a PS Recovery Plan, but as I understand it, NMFS will be responsible for developing the ESU-level plan before/as the thing goes to the Federal Register as ESA Recovery Plan.

NMFS’ regional administrator is very interested in keeping local planning in local hands. Recall in 1994-5 that they did a recovery plan for Snake River stocks that went over like a lead balloon--chiefly because the plan was written by folks in Portland w/ exceedingly little input from affected locals. Fisherman and nonfederal groups have a right to be at the table and often provide significant help and intelligent input—this is especially likely in Puget Sound where the average fish/habitat/hatchery IQ of the average citizen is much higher than other places in the Pac. NW. However, non-federal folks can only go so far, and it is up to NMFS to do the rest—recovery involves a host of actions upon which no state agency alone cannot exert equally effective influence or statutory authority (i.e, hatchery, harvest, hydropower, habitat and history [as added by Dave Montgomery of UW]). NMFS should be putting the Lower Columbia recovery plan in the FR soon, and it will be interesting to see how that goes.

Federal protection and the threat of serious fines and/or jail time seems to make a few folks/agencies stop doing stupid things. ESA listing was intended as the last resort. It took a few years to erode population viability in PS steelhead stocks, and it will take a few years to recover them. How do you “recover” a damaged group of fish in a process free of “bureaucracy and an extremely intensive and drawn out recovery planning process” as you put it in an earlier post?