Despite Vanishing Steelhead on Sultan River, State Won’t Delay Fishing Season

Salmo_g

Well-Known Member
WFF Supporter
False narrative. Fishing is not the proximate cause, nor a cause at all, affecting the abundance and productivity of Sultan River steelhead. It may not be intuitive, but fishing mortality is so low that it just doesn't affect the future abundance of steelhead in the Sultan or Snohomish basin. So Ed Eleazer, the WDFW biologist quoted in the article, is correct. The PUD biologist and Bill McMillan may be persuaded by feel good actions because they look good, but won't have any affect on abundance and productivity, but feelings ought not be the reason for management actions.

The proximate causes that are affecting steelhead abundance are almost all found in the marine environment, with pinniped and avain predation being top contenders, along with the blob limiting cold water upwelling along the coast and ocean acidification limiting available forage for ocean migrating salmonids. Now, if we could take actions to reverse those causes, that would be the effective thing to do. So steelhead are not being "managed" into extinction, despite the popular opinion of the less informed.
 

Rob Allen

Active Member
False narrative. Fishing is not the proximate cause, nor a cause at all, affecting the abundance and productivity of Sultan River steelhead. It may not be intuitive, but fishing mortality is so low that it just doesn't affect the future abundance of steelhead in the Sultan or Snohomish basin. So Ed Eleazer, the WDFW biologist quoted in the article, is correct. The PUD biologist and Bill McMillan may be persuaded by feel good actions because they look good, but won't have any affect on abundance and productivity, but feelings ought not be the reason for management actions.

The proximate causes that are affecting steelhead abundance are almost all found in the marine environment, with pinniped and avain predation being top contenders, along with the blob limiting cold water upwelling along the coast and ocean acidification limiting available forage for ocean migrating salmonids. Now, if we could take actions to reverse those causes, that would be the effective thing to do. So steelhead are not being "managed" into extinction, despite the popular opinion of the less informed.
The management mistakes were made years ago and there isn't much we can do about it now. We are "restoring " habitat as we can we've more or less eliminated harvest. And in most cases we are doing what we can and are at the mercy of ocean survival.

There is no reason to restrict sport fishing on any steelhead rivers.

Better to have the last one die with a hook in it's mouth than by any other means
 

Smalma

Active Member
The Snohomish basin steelhead like the Puget Sound steelhead and several other species are on the fast track to extinction. The decline of our steelhead is being enabled by folks are more than willing to focus recovery efforts on such things as harvest and hatcheries rather than the factors that are major factors in that continuing decline.

NMFS in the Puget Sound steelhead recovery plan (finally released in December of 2019) tells us that the historic Snohomish wild steelhead abundance has been estimated to be at 57,000 steelhead. The most recent 5 year (2015 to 2019) basin wild winter escapement has been estimated at 2,060 spawners or 3.6% of that historic abundance. It doesn't take much modeling to realize that fishing impacts of 2.2% mentioned in the article something else must be accounting for the vast majority of that decline.

We have to look no further than the fate of steelhead smolts once they leave the natal rivers and begin their migration to the open ocean to beginning getting a grasp on the forces that are driving our Puget Sound anadromous salmonid populations. It now is the normal that in the week or so it takes a steelhead smolt to travel from the mouth of the rivers through Puget Sound into the Straits as much as 10% of them die every day in that short migration. Unfortunately that is not true of not only the steelhead. The overall smolt to adult survivals of Puget Sound steelhead, coho and Chinook since the mid 1980s have declined 80 to 90 % depending on the stock and species. Even more alarming is those survival declines are occurring at accelerated rates compared to those on the Washington coast. Just one of the signs that the Puget Sound ecosystem is collapsing.

The cited article mentions all the money being spend on "recovery" efforts but fails to mention that the majority of those projects were directed towards Chinook needs. Things like estuary recovery have almost no benefit for steelhead. For much of the last 2 decades it was assumed that fish like steelhead would benefit from that Chinook work. It is only recently that folks like that Puget Sound Partnership have begun expanding recovery goals to be more species specific though I don't think those changes have been finalized.

Ian mentioned that decline of the char (bull trout) in the Snohomish basin which certainly the case. The major fact in that decline likely is the changing stream temperature profiles (climate change). Most of the basin's bull trout spawn use only a small portion of the basin. 30 years ago they shared that habitat with summer steelhead and a few coho and Chinook. In recent decades the number of coho using that habitat has increased 10 fold (in spite of total basin wild coho escapements being only a 1/3 of they were a few decades ago) Those coho are replacing the bull trout.

Curt
 

SilverFly

Active Member
It now is the normal that in the week or so it takes a steelhead smolt to travel from the mouth of the rivers through Puget Sound into the Straits as much as 10% of them die every day in that short migration. Unfortunately that is not true of not only the steelhead. The overall smolt to adult survivals of Puget Sound steelhead, coho and Chinook since the mid 1980s have declined 80 to 90 % depending on the stock and species. Even more alarming is those survival declines are occurring at accelerated rates compared to those on the Washington coast. Just one of the signs that the Puget Sound ecosystem is collapsing.
Curt,

Armchair biology warning:

I've brought this up before, but I can't help but wonder if there is a correlation between the decrease in kelp density/distribution in PS, and marine survival of out-migrating smolts?

Without that protective cover, those smolts have to migrate through completely open water, which would seem to put them at vastly higher risk for predation. And in addition to cover, kelp would seemingly provide feeding opportunities that these small fish, with limited fat reserves, need to fuel their journey.

If this is indeed the case, are you aware of anything being done to restore kelp, or possibly install some artificial sustitute as "rest stops"?
 

Yard Sale

Huge Member
False narrative. Fishing is not the proximate cause, nor a cause at all, affecting the abundance and productivity of Sultan River steelhead. It may not be intuitive, but fishing mortality is so low that it just doesn't affect the future abundance of steelhead in the Sultan or Snohomish basin. So Ed Eleazer, the WDFW biologist quoted in the article, is correct. The PUD biologist and Bill McMillan may be persuaded by feel good actions because they look good, but won't have any affect on abundance and productivity, but feelings ought not be the reason for management actions.

The proximate causes that are affecting steelhead abundance are almost all found in the marine environment, with pinniped and avain predation being top contenders, along with the blob limiting cold water upwelling along the coast and ocean acidification limiting available forage for ocean migrating salmonids. Now, if we could take actions to reverse those causes, that would be the effective thing to do. So steelhead are not being "managed" into extinction, despite the popular opinion of the less informed.

By this logic no fishery would ever be closed.
 

Salmo_g

Well-Known Member
WFF Supporter
By this logic no fishery would ever be closed.
An incomplete explanation on my part, sorry. At some point it is entirely conceivable that fishing would be a cause affecting abundance and productivity. At that point it would make biological sense to not fish. At the present time, there is so much going on in the marine environment (and lower rivers) that is negatively affecting abundance and productivity, adverse impacts from fishing, if there are any, are masked and immeasurable.

I should also have mentioned, although most readers here are already aware, the Sultan is not the only river from which steelhead are vanishing. It's happening all over the state and likely elsewhere. Additionally, steelhead abundance in the Sultan River has declined significantly because the numbers were propped up with significant plants from Reiter that SnoPUD paid for as mitigation for the hydro project. Another couple things about the hydro project is that since relicensing, the Sultan now has a flow regime that is likely as good for fish production as it did pre-dam and pre-hydro development in the sub-basin, although there is the more complex issue of hydrograph manipulation. I say complex issue because the Sultan channel has no place to spread out. It is preponderantly canyon-like and rock, with limited soils for bank storage of water under a normative hydrograph. SnoPUD also opened up the upper-most habitat that was blocked off by Everett Water in the early 20th century.
 
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skyrise

Active Member
One alternative to not opening the river would be to only open the upper river from the Wallace upstream. Then open the lower river on June 15th. Sorta like the reverse of the winter season where only the upper river is open in February. But that does mess up the 3 best weeks of the summer King fishing. And isn’t it funny how when talking about habitat improvements no one mentions restricting development next to the rivers ?
 

Charles Sullivan

ignoring Rob Allen and Generic
If you want to blame wdfw then attack "fish management" and try to change angling rules. You wont do a damn thing to help fish but you can act morally superior. So that is nice.

If you want to look for culprits or solutions you have to try and see the whole picture. One nice way to do that is to look at the aerial photography from the area and in the sound. It gives you a much better visual depiction of what is going on. It's harder to reinforce your belief that WDFW is to blame though. So that kinda sucks.

Go sox,
Cds
 

Creatch'r

Heavies...
The wild steelhead are also disappearing from the NF, SF, Wallace, woods and elwell. The sultan isn’t alone.


Trout and char populations in that watershed have apparently also declined over the past four years.
Ever since they changed the summer time flow regime the water stays much much colder all summer and it seems to have had some negative consequences on the resident fish and insect life. The bull trout have seemingly disappeared. On a positive note the salmon runs look really strong and because of the dam didn’t seem to experience the hit that the droughts dealt us. I hike around it every fall with my dog and family salmon viewing and some of the recent salmon runs seem as strong as I remember in the past.

If you float the river in an inner tube and hit the confluence with the sultan it’s shocking how cold the water is, and remains so for quite a ways downstream in the mainstem.
 

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