I agree with you. We basically have the answers we need to make decisions which will recover the fish to whatever degree is possible. But instead we keep doing studies which dance around the important questions which remain. The Methow is a perfect example, hundreds of thousands of hatchery fish released every year but the river is closed, which is something I hate. The studies which are coming out of there are not asking whether the so called conservation hatchery programs has a benefit or cost to wild fish, only what the relative differences between one and two year old smolts are, etc. Plus, we have a large body of literature which tells us these programs won't work for steelhead and a couple dozen different reasons why.I agree with this statement but I do not think there are any advocates for this approaching the NMFS, WDFW....it seems like there is a strong advocacy for "perfect" genetic matches.
To me it is the quest for "perfection" that is turning this into a legal mumbo jumbo of acronyms, Acts, rulings...blah, blah blah...it makes great opportunity for lawyers and fascinating biological "studies", but it dooms the fish. We (man) have a great record of "counting and studying" things into extinction.
We need to accept that we have made irrecoverable changes and adjust our thinking. Then maybe we can go look at the ocean. Bureaucrats love to avoid decisions and let the inevitable happen and let the inevitable make the decisions. That's where this process is headed, as I read it.
Rather than study these fish to death we should let them use their own evolutionary tools to persist and repopulate where they can, and we get what we get. If we decide that isn't enough fish or we have already torched the habitat then we can have hatcheries in some places, but not almost every major watershed on the West Coast like we have now, or we can just write wild fish off for the future. And when I talk about torched habitat, I mean truly bad. If fish can survive and rebound with the clearcutting of the Northern Oregon Coast they can surely survive in the Upper Skykomish. I haven't seen a clearcut up the NF where the summers spawn that looks like it was done since the NW Forest Plan was written in 1994.
One reason the genetic works takes a forefront in a lot of arguments is that is one of the regulatory mechanisms we have made for ourselves. Puget Sound steelhead have been reproductively isolated from other DPS's and that has been determined through genetic testing. So the make up of my comments will include that, less because I care about purebred fish and more because that is the regulatory standard NMFS will use. Although I do appreciate the natural variety that exists between watersheds, one of my favorite things about steelhead vs. salmon. But, regardless of the genetic purity of a stock that will reform with time if fish are left alone.
I don't want this program to happen for two reasons. One is that I have absolute faith the NF Sky could produce a few hundred wild summers a year. That is enough for me to be happy, I don't like to eat steelhead. They are ok smoked, but I would rather fish than cook or eat.
Second, I am sick and tired of the BS claims and circus acts we go through to justify actions. Case in point. NMFS told WDFW they would no longer allow Skamania releases in the Sky in 2017. So WDFW writes a plan to use a naturalized Skamania strain to develop a "new" hatchery program. NMFS will likely approve it as a conservation program to reintroduce NF Sky fish, which aren't extirpated. If we want to have Skamania releases save everyone the headache and a bunch of money and keep the existing program in place. The end effect on wild fish is the same.