yes or no to hatchery steelhead


Will Atlas

such a strange social construct. we expect the government to make fish for us to catch. the government gets so used to doing it and anglers get so accustomed to having those fish to harvest that they both resist getting rid of the program even if it endangers wild fish. so ludicrous


Not to be confused with freestoneangler
Curt, while it would appear that hatcheries are currently essential in order to have a fishery, I agree with o mykiss that the bigger question is are they an essential part of restoring wild fish populations? If not and/or they are detrimental to the wild population in a particular system, I believe the hatchery program should be eliminated regardless of the impact on the fishery. If the health and long-term viability of a fish population is in jeopardy, I believe the higher priority is the fish, not the fishery (translation: I could care less who is upset they can’t have a fishery.)

As I read it, I believe this is consistent with the mandate of the department and commission: “Wildlife, fish, and shellfish are the property of the state. The commission, director, and the department shall preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage the wildlife and food fish, game fish, and shellfish in state waters and offshore waters…The department shall conserve the wildlife and food fish, game fish, and shellfish resources in a manner that does not impair the resource…The commission may authorize the taking of wildlife, food fish, game fish, and shellfish only at times or places, or in manners or quantities, as in the judgment of the commission does not impair the supply of these resources…” Seems pretty simple to me that the law meant to protect the fish above the fishery. If hatcheries really only serve to provide a fishery, then it seems like by law they should have a lower priority than perpetuating healthy wild populations.

If all means to restore the habitat and other limiting factors in a river system have been exhausted without successfully restoring the wild population and a hatchery fishery can be managed without detrimental effects on other populations, I would support a hatchery fishery. However, I would not give up on a river easily; nature has remarkable resiliency and I’ve come to learn that when people say “we can’t” it usually means “we don’t want to” as in “we don’t want to spend the money or extend the effort”.

Will, I agree - it is ludicrous, but it also allows us the delusion that things really aren't all that bad. :beathead:


Active Member
Freestone -
I wish I could give you a black and white answer but the reality is that answer is all sorts of shades of gray with each basin being different.

In some basins suvival of steelhead is so poor it is thought by many that their long term survival require the use of hatchery fish - upper Columbia are typical examples cited. Of course once one steps in with hatchery fish as a savior the pressure to fix the underlying problems is less urgent. These types of "rescue programs" are at one end of spectrum.

The majority of the hatchery progams have been to provide fish for harvest and it is hear that the majority of the debate on the benefits/impacts of hatchery fish is focused. The factors commonly talked about when considering the impacts of hatchery fish include risks from: competition, predation, disease, genetic inter-actions, and management complications.

Those factors can be addressed by quality control of smolts released, common sense policies that are inforce (example disease policies), undrestanding the mechanics of hatchery/wild interactions, impacts of various fishing actions, etc. Because the resource and our rivers are so complex the anwer vary considerably from basin to basin. Often the answer to such questions you are asking is how much wild risk is one willing to accept for the benefits.

One of the ironies of this situation is that the more robust wild populations have the productivity to withstand the potential abuse from interactions with hathcrey fish yet those are the very populations that we tend to feel have the lower need of such programs. In that light I have often wonder why it is not the case that we who are concern about wild fish do not push for higher escapement goals to buffer the imacts of the hatchery fish. If a basin has a MSH goal of lets say 5,000 spawners I would suggest that if we are going to plant hatchery fish in the basin to supplement the harvest that consideration might be given to managing for a higher wild fish escapement; in this example let's say 6,000. The thinking is that the increased wild fish escapement will increase the selection pressure on the less fit hatchery fish tipping the survival scale more in favor of the wild fish and the lost of potential harvestable fish would be off-set by those provided by the hatchery program - something I like to call a more pro-active management paradigm.

All the above is way too long winded probably. The short answer is that for me I think that we are stuck with the hatchery "solution" on a number of basins as typicalified by the upper Columbia tribs. In a number of other basins; for example north Puget Soud rivers I'm comfortable with risk/impacts equations for hatchery winters on those systems, in other basins. In other areas I'm less comfortable with those risks; for example most wild brood stock progams for harvest supplementation. However those are my "answers" and I would expect each of us would have slightly different takes depending on our values/wants, understanding of the issues, etc.

If I ducked your question sorry. If I can clarify anything ask away.

Tight lines
you could target the elimination of the winter run hatchery fish
and not the summer runs...... in my limited experience it seems like
most summer runs are hatchery, if it can't be done, then there is no choice
but tough love and kill the brats and put a moratorium on wild fish, the fastest way for recovery. but i think a few other things are needed more than just removing the hatchery fish, such as habitat restoration and dam removal.


Active Member
Jason -
Actually if it were up to me I would target the summer hatchery program for elimination. On the whole they are much less segregated that the winters; at least here on the North Sound Rivers I spend my time on.

Gets quickly back to the issue of where ones interest are. For the fly angler there is little doubt that summer hatchery fish provide a better opportunity than winter hatchery fish but they bring large biological concerns.

Tight lines

Jeremy Floyd

fly fishing my way through life
Would we be within our legal right to ban the sale, and also the export of steelhead from within the US? That would mean that the indians could sell all the steelhead they wanted to on their reservations, but it would be illegal to transport it off of the reservation if they had to do so over non tribal US land to reach market.
Please get rid of them. That would be my wish.
From an ecological standpoint, when possible, I believe we should do everything within our power to protect another species from distinction. Get rid of the brats so the nates can bloom!

From a moral standpoint, I just don't think replacing nature with man-made nature is a path we want to walk too far down. It didn't work, so let's give it up.

From a swung-fly perspective, I couldn't care less about a fake fish.
Let's get rid of them.
Do you mean "extinction?"


Piscatorial Engineer
Respectfully, the debate is not hatchery vs. wild. There are plenty of fish sent downstream...they just don't come back. The fact that we debate hatchery vs. wild plays into the hands of those with nets. They don't care where the fish come from, they just want to net them until they get the very last one. The netters are reading this thread with big smiles on their faces, and offering silent encouragement. Hmmm.

Our fish are being netted in the ocean and lower rivers before they ever get back to us! We have endangered species that are still being netted. HELLO?

If we were to somehow, magically, get our fish back to where they were spawned, not only would we have more wild fish, we would have less need to augment with hatchery fish, and certainly the dependence on hatcheries would diminish. IF we were to magically be able to have hatchery fish be caught in nets, and our native fish left the hell alone, same result.

Before we engage the wild vs. hatchery debate, perhaps we could address the non-selective genocide and systematic ongoing extinction of our identified endangered species in the ocean, and in our estuaries.

That is the precise reason why I am a CCA member. You don't have to do much research to identify that this group gets $.02

Will Atlas

Citori, you sound like Gary Loomis. Focusing on only one of the 4 Hs (habitat, hatcheries, harvest, hydro) you are setting yourself up for failure. Plus we're discussing our reliance on hatcheries. I agree there are a lot of problems with steelhead harvest in this state, but wild steelhead harvest is minimal on Puget Sound rivers despite what conspiracy theorists would suggest. If we spend too much time focusing on imaginary problems we wont be able to get to the root of the real ones. I hope the CCA is successful at reducing the amount of harvest on wild steelhead in our state, I think that is essential for maintaining the few relatively robust populations we have left. There are A TON of populations that impacted by hatcheries though, including some of the most intensely netted, so why not eliminate that impact as well. You dont have to go through the litigation process against the tribes that you would to get rid of nets.


Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
All hatcheries producing anadromous fish on rivers with enough habitat to sustain a wild steelhead population should be closed within the year. The money alloted to these hatchery programs needs to be spent on restoring each system to increase wild survivability and spawning habitat.

I would love to never kill another hatchery fish, if only they weren't around...


Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater
curt... great topic to debate.

i agree that in order to recover native steelhead populations in many streams that are capable of recovering... hatcheries are going to have to be taken out....

also agree that the cowlitz is pretty much doomed...if you tell somebody you caught a wild steelhead there, they would laugh at you. I dont see any hope in recovering that artificial population. Probably the same for a handful of other rivers across the state.

I dont think just removing hatchery programs will be the key... as discussed in many other threads... habitat will need to be recovered/rehabbed and dams will need to be removed and sources of pollution/dirty stormwater will need to be corrected. logging practices corrected...

I think one of the biggest things we could do is attempt to fix the estuarian environment at our river mouths. unfortunately this is probably impossible without an uncountable amount of money. (Duwamish, Puyallup, Snohomish, etc).

Next, i think recovering native steelhead populations will largely depend on what happens out in the marine environment... which may not even be under our control. or maybe it is? Do we really have a handle on why there is such a low marine survival?

Coach duff.... i have had very similar feelings about how WDFW is running things. Often times been left wondering WTF.

As for if i care if the hatchery programs are shut down... I have to say that those fisheries that are set up for the Put and take fisheries... need to have the hatchery.

But here is an example where i believe the hatchery steelhead program should be shut down:

Voights Creek/puyallup/carbon.... there are how many steelhead smolts released from that hatchery every year??(approx 200,000)... and how many make it back??? (18 so far this year, recent years < 100)(not counting gill netting take) how many dollars does it cost to run this? why not take that money to enhance the entire puyallup river watershed? Being as I spend almost every weekend and some weekdays on this system I can tell ya that the hatchery run here is barely exsistent... I have heard of about 5 fish caught all year(in other words not many)... where as i have already heard/seen of lots of wild fish caught in the two weeks since they started showing up. To me from a management stand point this points towards elimating hatchery steelhead on a system like the puyallup... when say the skookumchuck hatchery returns 1500 hatchery fish??? from say 75000-100,000 smolts. Im sure there are other systems that are like this.... and they too should have hatchery steelhead programs removed. To me the benefits of eliminating the hatchery steelhead program on voights creek is two fold: first you are eliminating the competetion from the hatchery fish in the system and two you are taking the money you would have spent on the hatchery program and you are using it to enhance habitat or educate people on what they can do to protect these fish.

So overall i still think hatchery steelhead programs will have there place...but also believe that some of them need to be phased out sooner rather than later.
Just my opinion, the hatchery fish that return to the Chehalis system are much better quality fish the the Puyallup system ever dreamed of.
Perhaps the difference is the strain of fish they are using. The Chehalis fish are bigger and return over a much longer period of time.
If they are truly getting 1.5% return to the Skook while the Chehalis is being hammered with nets 5 + days per week, that would be the hatchery program I'd least like to see go away.
Curt- I want the opportunity to fish, period. I might be wrong, but if we do away with hatcheries wouldnt our opportunities go down as well? Arent the hatchery fish counted as part of the impact when considering ESA listings impacts?There is nothing pretty than a March or April wild steelhead, but when was the last time we could fish the Snohomish system March or April? The Snoho system has been closed, has it made a difference in the return rate of adults? And what are the chances with the way things are going that it would be viable enough to allow fishing again during that time?

Again I want opportunity, if I wanted to take part in a non-impact sport I would take up bird watching.. So I am all for hatchery fish the more the better. More fish provides more opportunity.
you could target the elimination of the winter run hatchery fish
and not the summer runs...... in my limited experience it seems like
most summer runs are hatchery, if it can't be done, then there is no choice
but tough love and kill the brats and put a moratorium on wild fish, the fastest way for recovery. but i think a few other things are needed more than just removing the hatchery fish, such as habitat restoration and dam removal.
:beathead: you have VERY limited experience... there are alot of wild summers in the upper columbia tribs...:beathead:


Active Member

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating for continuing the summer hatchery plants in the Stilly and would be very comfortable with curtailing the winter steelhead hatchery plants in it, provided selective gear rules are put in place. But there are a lot of folks from Seattle to Bellingham who do fish it for the hatchery brats in summer and for winter brats from December to February. I rarely fish above Oso so not having summer runs above Oso wouldn't bother me; however, there are a lot of fly fishers from Bellingham to Seattle who get started fishing for steelhead by going after the hatchery fish on the Stilly.

As I've said before, this question isn't as cut and dried as it appears on the surface.
"survival rates of wild steelhead can be considerably higher than survival rates of hatchery steelhead smolts. The smolt-to-adult survival rates for Umatilla hatchery steelhead have generally ranged from 0.3 to 1.4% (Rowan 1999)."

lessee here, 1500/100,000 = 1.5%

Seems like they deserve a raise, not to be shut down.

Wild smolt-to-adult survival rates, depending on the study, have been pegged at anywhere from 200%-1000% higher than hatchery fish. (~4-15%).

You're using a utilitarian mindset (e.g. the amount of returning, surviving hatchery fish not justifying the resource investment of hatchery production) to argue that a program, whose entire existence is justified by the same philosophy, should be shutdown.
my point is lots of $$$$ poured into puyallup for hatchery steelhead with little return success... putting more fish into that system will not help out one bit... because they will just die off in the ocean or on their way to the ocean... little increase in total return will be seen.

Besides what is wrong with maximizing the good that can possibly come from a particular system by removing the failing hatchery steelhead program and enhancing the native steelhead program???

I am already fully aware that the native fish have a higher % return than hatcheries... but my point is that the puyallup has a particularly LOW LOW hatchery return rate so far this year. (18/200,000= .009% return) and hasnt faired much better in the last 5 years.

I was not saying the skookumchuck hatchery should be shut down i was using it as a comparison to show how much better returns were coming from that system as compared to the puyallup system....and i also agree with your calculation (1500/100,000 = 1.5%) merits getting more smolts being released. Also taking in to consideration that the skookumchuck native run is probably already extinct or cross-bread with hatchery stocks. (however i dont really know this...if someone has more information on the skookumchuck feel free to give input)