Steelhead management/biology questios


Active Member
Dave -
Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. Most folks while critical of current goals are often hestiate actual propose an alternate numeric goal against which to measure impacts of any fishing.

Assuming the escapement objective was set at the carying capacity mid-point between average and good marine conditions -in this example 12,500 fish - would you allow fishing if the run was expected to be less than the escapement goal?

In this case we would expect that over a 40 year period the runs would be at that level only 10 years of that period. Any fishing in the other years would be allowing fishing would be intentally driving the population even further below the goal.

One of the points in my hypothetic was to illustrate that our steelhead populations naturally yoyo up and down varying marine and freshwater survivals. Over a period of several decades one would expect to see a several fold difference in run size even in the case where there were no fishing.

If you or others can frame your MSY question(s) I'll take a shot at it,

Tight lines
S malma

Steve Buckner

Mother Nature's Son
For me, it comes down to this simple question and that is "Is the WDFW ensuring that wild steelhead/salmon runs will remain healthy and viable indefinitely?"

We've observed the historic decimation of salmonids all over the world, starting with Atlantic Salmon in Europe, then the decimation of the Atlantic Salmon in Eastern North America, then the decimation of pacific salmonids in Idaho, California and then moving up the coast into Oregon, and now we're seeing that same decimation in Washington. The only places left for a sanctuary for Salmonids are those rivers to the North, ie, B.C., Alaska, and some of those in Russia. And that said, even many of those rivers were overharsted and are now just beginning to rebound. Look what has happened to the Thompson river steelhead in the past few years.

Wild steelhead are not doing well above the series of dams on the Columbia and snake river. Wild steelhead have been wiped out in every river in Washington that have been dammed. Those rivers left without dams are the only hope for the wild steelhead to survive, and despite this, WDFW (and the Boldt decision) has continued to allow the harvest of wild fish by both natives and sportsfisherman. To my knowledge, with the exception of Washington, every other state and B.C. has banned the harvesting of wild steelhead because of their threatened status. To my dismay, WDFW actually embraced the the thought of allowing more wild steelhead to be caught/killed as a result of the spring chinook fishery this spring. Thank God that ODFW stepped in and prevented it. Why doesn't WDFW have more common sense?

So it can be argued that salmon and steelhead runs fluctuate naturally, but overall, those fluctuations have resulted in a downward trend, and given the history of what our species has done to salmonids and fish all over the world, the results of "business as usuall" by the WDFW are clearly not going to work. Someone needs to revisit the Boldt Decision, we need to revisit the harvesting of wild fish (as well as C&R), and we need to revisit the removal of dams to ensure the wild fish survive. What aggressive plans to ensure the health of wild steelhead does the WDFW have on these topics? Given the bleak picture, how can WDFW honestly justify maximum harvest when we should'nt be harvesting wild fish at all? Without trying to be offensive, does the WDFW have the forsight, the knowledge, the will, and the power to make sure that wild salmonids thrive in Washington?
Where is the line drawn?

First lets make some assumptions.
1 the state laws are going to be changed from an emphasis on max commercial harvest to more fish friendly strategies
2 every system will respond differently to the normal up and down numbers of fish returning. Some will recover quicker from down cycles.
3 the goal is to gain max carrying capacities for each system
4 commercial harvest is based on numbers in excess of max carrying capacity
5 all the user groups are vested in the strategy

This is a two prong problem, commercial fishing which includes the tribes, and sport fishers.

The harvest of excess numbers would be given to the commercial interest, or say maybe 95% of the surplus over max carrying capacity. The remainder would be an allowable harvest by sport fishers. In time they would likely gain more numbers of harvested fish than current numbers.

The sport fishers would be allowed a C&R fishery at predicted levels of return based on max carrying capacity of say 80% depending upon the recovery rate of any given system. If the recovery rate did not rebound then a closure would be enacted. This percentage would have to be examined closely with good data. I am just picking a number that would have to be tweaked for every system based on recovery rates. It would have to be neccesarily flexible.

The other key ingredient to this is that hatchery numbers of released smolt would be greatly reduced and a wild enhancement program initiated. There are different stategies available.

If it were up to me to make the decision this how I would start to solve the problem. There are other things that would have to be taken into account but this would be the base I would work from.

Yes there is a lot of sacrifice by all user groups in such a strategy. A percentage of river systems will be shut down on a cyclic basis and fishing opportunity in the short run is going to decrease. As I see the current decline there is coming a time when no opportunity is going to exist. The runs will be so decimated that for all practical purposes the fish will be gone. There are very few river systems left where sport fishing for wild winter runs is available for the sport fisher. Every year we lose another river. Maximum harvest does not allow for full recovery and the strategy of minimal survival is not working.



Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!

"above MSY but below Carrying Capacity".

I have to say that what the environment, and these rivers, can "carry", as an abundance of wild fish, is something no presently living human being here has experienced. These runs of fish have evolved over millions of years, along with all of the other organisims that they encounter throughout their life history.

These rivers and their tributaries could "carry" so many fish that you could still not see the bottom. And that would be "healthy" as far as the fish and the rivers, and all of the related biota of those ecosystems is concerned. That is how they symbioticly evolved throughout the millenia.

That is what was here before men came with axes and bits and chains and dams and an explosion of human development and pollution at the waters edge, for over the past 150 years. Before the dark legacy of depletion began that has stripped the nutrient base, including the fish, from every biological system here. And long before homo sapiens invented the science of fisheries management for harvest as success. Wild fish biology is still something relatively new here. Well, say, compared to the notion of how hatcherys could replace nature so that we could have: "salmon without rivers".

When we use the term "carrying capacity", we should be considering rebuilding the biomass first, and the natal rivers, and not supporting "harvest" as the goal and measure of fisheries management success. And no matter how you see it, if we really want restoration; it will always end up with the need to allow more fish to swim upriver and spawn unhinderd. And somebody is going to have to stop fishing to allow that to happen.

If I have to stop fishing I will. I have already reduced my own personal fishing pressure on these fish to a fraction of my potential time on the water. Maybe it is already too late.

o mykiss

Active Member
I think Wet Line is right that one big part of the problem is that the state agency that we all consider the party responsible for "managing" the resource ultimately has a legislative mandate to maximize exploitation, which mandate is only subservient in the case of certain species on certain systems to limitations that the feds may place on WDFW due to the Endangered Species Act. WDFW presumably manages with an eye towards the future, but they seem to succumb to the pressure to maximize exploitation opportunities in the short term. And who can blame them, when that is what our legislature requires them to do? And since the feds seem to be inclined to interpret the ESA as narrowly as possible, wild fish don't really seem to stand a chance given the legal structures fisheries managers are working within. As long as harvest is the legislative priority, conservation will always be second fiddle. That's presumably why Smalma looks at this issue within the box of concepts like "MSY" and "carrying capacity" while those who are not personally involved in the state's management of the resource look at it from different perspectives. Only if the legislature changes the management paradigm will WDFW look outside that box.


Active Member
State and Fed resource directors follow instructions given to them by elected politicians. I mean, It's not that simple, but really, it is that simple. Obviously extraction, commercial and tribal interests are much more powerful than recreational or conservation interests. To a large degree, WDFW is just the messenger. I doubt most wildlife managers get into the business because the want to see the destruction of our resources. I would think quite the opposite. And here we are, back to jobs vs. owls (or fish, in this case).
Mr. Triggs, somehow that sounds better than Bob, LOL.
You put into words what has been ratteling around inside my head for the last couple of weeks. Spot on in my opinion. I quit fishing winter fish and almost all summer fish a long time ago. A personal moral issue for me! Heck I quit fishing SRC's for a long time because the numbers were down but are now rebounding.

Omykis and nailnot, I have been spouting this idea of changing the state laws for 15 very long years and maybe more. If it is much past yesterday I have a hard time remembering LOL! But seriously, you are the first two people to appreciate what this means. We got to get this issue out of the political light if anything is going to happen on a possitive basis. The management stategies are there to rebuild the runs. The emphasis needs to be changed.

Word. And there is little I can add to what just said except to say that he is dead on. Fish used to be so numerous that they actually touched each other as they migrated up river. This busiiness of maximum number of fish whether as a miminmal sustainable yield number or as a maximum carrying capacity notion is simply an enormous cross upon which the fish of this state have been crucifed for the last century.

I do appreciate your taking the time, Smalma, to answer a few questions and I have always thought it was the responsibility of the WDFW to make available some its scientist to help enlighten the general public. Thank you.

But the WDFW is a tough mother and I imagine it is difficult to work for. Made up of political appointees, some of whom have never or seldom fished themselves, how can they understand the field as you must. But you can only make recommendations and I am sure many of them go unheaded.

But let me ask you this, do you ever hear talk of closing a given river system for a reasonable period? If the sports take no fish, then I should think it would be reasonable to stop Indian netting of the river based on the Bolt decision of 1/2 for each side. (50% of 0=0).

Bob, the if asked, I'd nominate the Hoh as I feel it could recover quickly. Of course, the hatchery would have to be closed.


Active Member
Saying I won't fish depressed run winter steelhead is akin to saying I won't watch the news in the hope terrorism will go away. The key to this whole power issue is simple in my mind:

We fish "recreationally"
The power holders are "professionals"

And until we direct our arguments exclusively at bottom line benefits we will get our collective ass kicked. Plus we don't have industry organizations (of any size) etc funded by dues or union fees or whatever to make our point in Olympia. A full time lobby. To me, it is very easy to see who wins and loses at the political table. Why not mimic the successful parties, add some new techniques, and see what we can do? Why are wild fish declining? Why are we dependent on foreign oil? Why do we bail out corporations who send VP's to prison? Because they hold the power, that's why. I always laugh at ingorants think the 2nd amendment will save them from oppression. Maybe we need a tea party to wake people up.


Active Member
Some good questions/comments.

First it is a certainity that survival conditions vary over time which also means that parameters like Carrying Capacity and MSY values vary annually.

Carrying Capacity as typcially is that point above which adding additional fish to the spawning population will not produce a resulting larger run size. That is very much a product of the condition of the habitat. That means that current and historic carrying capacity are very different values. From the info that I have seem it is probable that depending on the species and individual river the current capacitys of our rivers are 1/2 to 1/10 or even less of what they were 200 years ago.

So Bob in respond to one of your comments no matter what WDFW does in management we'll never see what was once here unless say 6 or so million people opt to leave the state, we remove all dams and water withdrawals in the state, allow all the forests to return to an old growth state, etc and then wait several centuries we aren't going to see those kind of numbers.

The question should be how are going to use what productivity the current habitat is to support our populations/fisheries? With a second and perhaps more question would be what can be done to increase that habitat productivity?

Steve asked: What is WDFW doing to insure wild steelhead/salmon runs remain healthy and viable? Great question!

The reality is that we anglers and society as a whole have made WDFW the scape-goat for what ails our salmionid runs when in fact the majority of the problems lay at the feet of habitat destruction. An example - WDFW didn't have the dams built on the Columbia just count fish but rather we as a society want that cheap (?) power and water. WDFW real has virtually no authority to control many of the factors effecting our river's habitat. The onus lay with each of us and society as a whole as what we demand of our state Legislature and the laws they enact. In the end all that WDFW can is to attempt to insure that fishing is not a major contributor to any reduction likeyhood that the populations will persist over the long haul (100 years?)
As with our environment the legislative manadate of having "vaiable comerical fisheries" is not something that WDFW requested but rather something that our representives in the State Legislature enacted on our behalf in response to lobbying by the commerical industry. The only way to change that mandate is by the same process in which it was created. Is that WDFW's job or as recreational anglers ours?

I'll attempt to address Bob's question(s) about how one might manage the resource in regard to carrying capacity at the current state of our rivers in a following posting (in an effort to keep the length of individual posting down).

Tight lines
S malma

Old Man

Just an Old Man
I have a question mulling around in my mind and was having second thoughts on where to put it at. So I thought this would be a good as any place to ask it. Who pays for those hatchery fish that are fin clipped and are out there for us to harvest? Be it Steelhead or Salmon. Do us as license holders pay for them or do the Indians also pay for them? Sorry as there are two questions out there.

It just seems that we who pay for all of this are not getting our moneys worth. If the other half is not paying why are they allowed to get our fish. I don't think that the Boldt decision listed Hatchery fish.

Sorry to start to go off but sometimes this angers me to no end :(



Active Member
Many of the hatchery fish are produced by state through WDFW's budget. Those $$ come from lic. sales, state general fund, and mitigation funds for various dams etc. Various tribes also raise and release; mostly salmon. For example the Tulalip tribes raise and release chum, coho, and chinook.

I understand exactly where you are coming from and that issue was addressed during the legal wrangling that followed the Boldt decission. AS you the State argued that the hatchery fish should belong to who is footing the bill. The tribal position was that the hatchery fish are in effect mitigation for all the habitat destruction that has occurred over the years and in effect the State's hachery plants were replacement fish for the lost production from that destruction. The Courts bought the tribal position so they are entitled to half of those fish. The non-treaty fisheries were also entitled to 1/2 of the tribal produced fish (an exception would be cases like the Quainault River steelhead where access is limited by the reservation).

Watch your blood pressure! There isn't much that we can do about that situation.

Tight lines
S malma

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!

I am not saying that I believe it would be possible for us to restore the wild fish runs, the habitat etc, to historic pre- development numbers. I am saying that we can do a lot better- if we put the fish and the environment first in our plans.

What I am suggesting is that our "science"; that brings us to the belief that we "know" what the rivers can hold- as far as numbers of fish and spawning "success" etc- is limited to an understanding based on the relatively short-term study of a diminishing resource. So that our body of knowledge is limited firstly to something that is changing for the worse about as fast as it can be looked at, and limited secondly to the narrow confines of "harvest" as the hoped for goal of the science employed. So we are continuously adapting our science to fit the decline, so that we can continue to support harvest.

And so far everything I have read on "carrying Capacity" has to me looked more like "aquarium management" than any true understanding of the dynamic evolution of interrelated species in a natural system. I believe this is because our regional fisheries science arose from the hatchery culture to begin with. And I do recognize that things are changing in that respect.

We could just as easily assume that we do not understand why or how it is that historicly so many fish could occupy a system, even though many of them are not "successful" as spawners. Couldnt it be that over the millennia of genetic inheritance this was what provided the diversity for any of them to have made it into the 19th century to begin with?

And now that we have been removing the breadth of numbers of fish and other species, (of all kinds), from the equation for 150+ years, along with all of the genetic chromatin and diversity once possible in their greater numbers, and along with the loss of habitat; we assume that we "know" what the best numbers are for "success".

The notion that we truly understand what is required for these wild fish fish to "succeed" in these rivers is limited soley to the hubris of our "science", which in the end, is a very small view of an enormous period of time, driven primarily by the goal of harvest and commerce.

Our real success will come with a committment to the environment, and all of our indigenous species first, and our goals for species exploitation last. In my personal opinion harvest is not a good basis for our understanding any more.
S malma

I really understand the difficulty involved in pleasing everybody at the same time. It is an impossible task. It is too bad we can’t just split up the drainage systems and say, OK, Natives fish here and manage these systems, Commercial guys here and manage that, Sport guys get here and here and manage that. Since we are wishing, I wish I had the winning Lotto.

But more to my point. I understand the cyclic effect of Steelhead populations over time and how they compare to the rise and fall of other species. At what point ARE conditions supposed to improve for Steelhead numbers? In other words, where are we in the cycle and when can we expect an up turn? Also, what will happen if the cyclic theory fails and there is no improvement. I just have this overwhelming feeling there is going to be a lot of river boats and rods for sale over the next couple of years.

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