yes or no to hatchery steelhead


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.
I know. I was just pointing out that olde tymers I have talked to remember fondly the days when there was a steelhead in every tailout of the Stilly all the way above Fortson and further. The Stilly is so well known for its Deer Creek fish that I think everything else gets overlooked. It is just a DAMN GOOD STREAM. I actually think the Stilly has the best shot at recovering of any around here.....Maybe I am dreaming but it seems to have gotten better in recent years....for me anyway.
I cannot see how we can have a steelhead fishery if we do not continue to have some hatchery support in desginated rivers. There should though be some rivers that are protected and that should not be planted at all. The natives should then be watched carefully be both biologists and Fishery Patrol folks (of whom we are woefully wanting).

Having said that some hatchery support will be needed if there is to be any hope of a continued steelhead fishery I am concerned that with a highly comprehensive Steelhead Management Plan that it could go south at any time. There is documented data going back at least to the 1960s that there have been probems more than once.This information probably still exists going back all the way to the old WDG records.
A case in point is the steelhead crash of the late 1960s the WDG thought the problem occured at sea as the stock they'd released was supposed to be "the healthiest in years." Dr. Max Katz of the U of W School of Fisheries differed, telling the membership of the old Washington Steelhead Trout Club that "the steelhead loss had been experienced almost entirely in freshwater due to a parasitic problemin the rearing ponds and hatcheries."
If hatcheries are to be continued, we had better be sure that a good steelhead management plan is agreed upon and followed.
Furthermore as I've said before, we had better not let Jim Buck write a steelhead management plan. He has no credentials in science and has never in my experience come down on the side of conservation. It would really be letting the fox into the henhouse.
Good Fishing,
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.

Again... sorry my post wasnt clear... may have added a line in there that made it confusing... i was attempting to compare how the puyallup has horrible returns while the skook has much higher returns.. and as you said bigger/better fish. Would agree that puke brats are cookie cutter 4-5 lbers and skook/chehalis has 8-15lber sometimes pushing 20 lbs. Could be due to the strain of fish or where the fish enter the marine environment.


Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater
Again... sorry my post wasnt clear... may have added a line in there that made it confusing... i was attempting to compare how the puyallup has horrible returns while the skook has much higher returns.. and as you said bigger/better fish. Would agree that puke brats are cookie cutter 4-5 lbers and skook/chehalis has 8-15lber sometimes pushing 20 lbs. Could be due to the strain of fish or where the fish enter the marine environment.
Agreed, we are on the same page on this. I think they plant Chambers Creek strain fish in the Puy. The returns have been really terrible. Those Chehalis fish are the nicest Western Wa hatchery fish going in my opinion.
:beathead: you have VERY limited experience... there are alot of wild summers in the upper columbia tribs...:beathead:
no sh!+ sherlock, i've only fished for bows on the upper columbia and thats it.:rolleyes:

my only steelhead experience is local puget sound
and even at that it's very limited

how about making rivers with nates 100% no fishing period
until the populations are healthy

then have only a limited number of rivers open that have large
hatchery populations in relation to nates. there is a reason hatchery fish go back to the hatchery, so if a river has one, then its fair game.
if not, then off limits.:confused:

this is more of a question than a position.....

Chris Bellows

Your Preferred WFF Poster
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.
a perfect example of one who cares more about "opportunity" than wild fish.

what i read is "if i cannot fish, what is the point? hatcheries equal opportunity so plant more, more, more"

face it, for 99% of the fishing community wild fish are a nuisance that get in the way of hatchery fishing opportunity.... and that is why wild fish recovery is likely a pipe dream.

Chris Bellows

Your Preferred WFF Poster
Unfortunately, it is not as straightforward as you suggest, please refer to my previous post concerning the cowlitz. Each system may or may not have the ability at this point for wild/native fish to survive. I certainly would hope that native/wild fish could survive in the Cowlitz, but because of the history of this river and it's dams, and with no plans in the future for allowing wild fish to migrate naturally, how successful could it be for wild fish? Secondly, the native fish in this system have long been extinct.

Unfortunately, it's not as cut and dried as one may first concieve it to be. I'd love to see wild, native fish thrive in this system, but their gone at this point, and furthermore, there are no plans for them to survive let alone thrive in this system. If we're serious about helping wild fish, the first step in the process is the removal of dams, for without that, the fish are unable to reach their historical spawning grounds. Without that, there is no chance for them to survive.
i think you are confusing survive and thrive. thriving populations may not be possible without dam removal... but i believe wild fish would be able to survive in the limited habitat below the dams. not in fishable numbers (which i think is the problem) but wild fish would probably be able to survive without hatchery or harvest pressure in degraded habitat.

again, my point is solely that it seems the arguments in favor of hatcheries are solely about fishing opportunity and have nothing to do with helping wild fish.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
Hatchery steelhead have been very bad for wild steelhead on many levels. They have displaced the wild steelhead from their migratory patterns and timing. They have competed with wild steelhead for forage and habitat. They have altered the natural selection process and genetic composition of wild steelhead. The state has dumped them into the waters as an idiotic public entertainment for so long, and in so many numbers, that many people now feel that the fish are owed to them. And this has made people take wild steelhead for granted. I think that WDFW should eliminate anadromous hatchery fish programs and get busy with wild habitat restoration and preservation and wild fish protections.

Steve Buckner

Mother Nature's Son
i think you are confusing survive and thrive. thriving populations may not be possible without dam removal... but i believe wild fish would be able to survive in the limited habitat below the dams. not in fishable numbers (which i think is the problem) but wild fish would probably be able to survive without hatchery or harvest pressure in degraded habitat.

again, my point is solely that it seems the arguments in favor of hatcheries are solely about fishing opportunity and have nothing to do with helping wild fish.
You're certainly welcome to arrive at you own opinion on the topic, but if you're unfamiliar with the Cowlitz and it's sordid history I'd suggest doing some research on your own to look at what smaller rivers make up this system and where they're located in correlation to the existing dams.

What you'll find is that the vast majority of historical spawning habitat for Chinook, Coho, Sea-runs, and Steelhead is located above the dams. The lower river has but a few small tributaries (Olequa, Salmon and the Toutle), so it is possible that the odd fish may be able to spawn there and may "survive" for some period of time. But the lower mainstem Cowlitz does not contain much gravel of the appropriate size for fish to spawn in. There are a handful of wild chinook that spawn below Blue Creek, and they are ESA listed. I've never seen Steelhead, Coho, or Sea-runs spawn in the lower river, but maybe it has happened.

With few exceptions, the Cowlitz is unique in that because of where the dams have been placed, and for the amount of time that they've been in place, it is exceedingly unlikely for one to catch wild fish on this system. Many river systems in Washington have a mixture of native/wild fish in combination with hatchery fish. The Cowlitz however, is a system that is made up of 99.9999% hatchery fish, and as such, without the hatcheries, this river will become sterile if the hatcheries are removed.

But back to the small tribs that exist below the barrier dam. The Toutle does have some fish returning to it, and because no dams exist between it and the Pacific, it has the best chance for surviving and possibly thriving populations of anadromous fish.

The Olequa is not an ideal river for maintaining much of a population. It's very small, and mankind has had a detrimental affect to whatever fish once lived there. I've been told by old-timers that the odd steelhead were once counted in that system, but it has been quite some time since that occured. The Salmon river, which is even smaller, often dries up, with the exception occuring during the winter. The Salmon river, which is small than the Olequa, is not much more than a ditch, I'd think that hitorically there couldn't be more than a handful of fish that use this system for spawning.

The bulk of the habitat where the fish could "survive" is located above the dams. If you read the Cowlitz FHMP, the goal is to truck fish to these spawning habitats because there is no means for them to swim there on their own and there are no plans for a fish ladder. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, if the fish do spawn, there is no natural means for the outgoing smolt to make it to the ocean, they have to be "netted", and the WDFW has has limited success with that method, which is also mentioned in the FHMP.

In the case of the Cowlitz, with few exceptions, the bulk of the native fish are gone. With the native fish gone, the FHMP plans to deal with "wild" fish instead. (As you know, there is a difference between wild fish and native fish). But what stocks will make up the "wild" fish now that the native fish are gone?

So is it possible to sustain "wild" fish? Maybe to some extent, but I'm skeptical that this goal is attainable, let alone sustainable, even with the ridiculously low goals the FHMP has set. Please refer to the FHMP for further clarification of the goals stated there.

One example that I will elaborate on is about the sea-run cutthroat. Prior to the dams, the Cowlitz recived nearly 50,000 sea-run cutthroat. With the FHMP, the hope/goal is that 500 "wild" sea-runs can sustain themselves above the dams. But it remains to be seen if the 500 fish, which will be split into two different watersheds, will really have much chance for survival. Can we really call this program a success if the river only gets 1% of what it historically received?

But my own skepticism leads me to believe that this isn't really about bringing wild fish back to the cowlitz, I believe is has more to do with Tacoma P&L finding a way to get out from underneath the expense of hatchery production. If they can convince the general public that they're doing what they can to bring back wild fish, they won't have to continue to support the hatcheries, and that will save them millions annually. Approximately 4 years ago, I attended the meetings put on by Tacoma P&L and found, as others who attended this meeting, it to be a crock of shit. When the Tacoma P&L biologist was asked if he really thought this was possible, he just rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders - it's never been successful to date on any other system.

For me personally, I'd love to see wild fish not only survive, but also thrive. And I believe that ought to be the goal of this change in policy. But to meet even the low threshold of "survival", there needs to be plan where fish can migrate in and out of a system without human intervention.

In their initial licensing aggrement, Tacoma P&L was obligated to mitigate the loss of fish due to the construction of the dams some 40 years ago. And now that the river and it's native fish have been lossed due to the dams, I believe they are still liable with this latest licensing agreement. If Tacoma P&L wants to get out of hatchery production, then at minimum they should be required to meet the goal of restoring the river to it's historical, pre-dam fish populations. IMHO, that's the price Tacoma P&L should pay for the millions of dollars they made and for the damage done.

I tried to attach the FHMP but the file is too large - but here is a link{C26401C2-9C50-43DA-8174-2F3555BC026B}/Cowlitz Final FHMP.pdf

Chris Bellows

Your Preferred WFF Poster
steve, i understand what you are saying and agree to some degree. my point is that supporting hatcheries is about fishing opportunity and has nothing to do with wild fish conservation.

yes, the cowlitz is unique in placement of the dams and the history of hatchery abuses in the system. ask yourself though, if there was no hatchery supplementation, would wild fish recovery be easier or harder? hatcheries allow the dam owners to do nothing to alleviate the root cause of the decline. hatcheries allow the dam owners to join forces with the people who should fight them, sportfishermen, and fool them into supporting the destruction of the fishery through historically high harvest rates and massive competition from hatchery fish.

the idea of giving up on river systems and their wild fish is not one i like... and it doesn't help the tributaries you mentioned such as the toutle. why should the toutle wild fish have to compete with cowlitz hatchery smolts and strays? plus the negative impact lower columbia salmon hatcheries have on wild salmon stocks due to increased harvest and by-catch levels on endangered and threatened wild fish. we know the impact salmon carcasses have on the health of rivers, and increasing salmon escapements would no doubt have a positive impact on wild steelhead.

hell, i get the "fishing opportunity" argument. it was one i made for years and supported in the north of falcon process when i ran a charter at neah bay. i knew that the process was flawed and we were killing endangered and depressed stocks of chinook and coho salmon, but my lust for the fishing overrode my heart and conscious. it is much easier for me now that i'm outside of the industry.

i know that hatcheries are going to be a part of washington fishing forever, but i think honest dialogue about their real impacts is important. i believe the science is clear about hatcheries impacts both past and present, and it isn't positive.

i know the cowlitz is screwed when it comes to wild fish and that hatcheries are not going anywhere. but i think the debate can push people into wondering why we have hatcheries on every river system. if we can push the debate then maybe we can rid certain rivers of hatcheries and hatchery plants. wild fish recovery on relatively healthy river systems is impossible with the increased harvest rates and competition that hatcheries create (and some hatcheries actually destroy habitat). while steelhead are the main focus of this thread, lets not forget the negative impact salmon hatcheries can have on not only wild salmon, but wild steelhead.

but i do believe that supporting hatcheries is really about supporting fishing opportunity, and that support of hatcheries cannot honestly go together with support of wild fish.


I don't agree with Topwater that being for hatchery steelhead means you're against wild steelhead recovery.

There's a long history in WA of hatchery mismanagement. Much of what was considered "best science" a couple generations ago has been refuted. Hatcheries will not replace wild fish production, and should NEVER be considered a substitute.

But just because hatchery management has been indiscriminate in the past doesn't convince me that it's not possible to have responsible hatcheries create fisheries where none would exist otherwise.

As Smalma has pointed out before, the hatchery smolt/adult impact on wild fish is mostly dependant on hatchery management practices and varies from river to river.

IF a hatchery can be operated without significant interaction/impact on existing wild steelhead runs (or if no intact wild stocks other than hatchery strays remain as would seem to be the case on the upper Cowlitz), I see no problem with them.

If it is difficult/impossible to segregate the populations, then the wild runs should be deferred to every time.

IMO the bar should be set much higher for proving that a given hatchery will not negatively impact existing stocks (like the wild summer and winter runs in the SF Toutle).

They have a place, but a MUCH smaller place that was originally envisioned when hatcheries were offered as mitigation for dam-induced destruction of our native steelhead stocks.

Just my .02,



Active Member
From what I understand the fish culturists convinced the powers that were they could produce more and better to allow for the absolute gross overharvest of stocks for canning purposes. This little tidbit is what also played the role in setting the legal precedence (on obviously false presumptions) that the rivers could be developed and there would be plenty of fish for the commercial catch. Sport angling had no hand in this nice arrangement of times past. And now we are stuck with the idea that fishing doesn't exist without them.


Rob Allen

Active Member
every place where hatchery steelhead plants are ceased wild runs rebound quickly and strongly..

the best thing you can do for wild steelhead runs you want to restore is eliminate hatchery plants..

Hatchery steelhead have NO ROLE WHATSOEVER in wild fish restoration. NONE!


Active Member
Thanks guy for a very civil and informatiive discussion - this an example of the internet forums at their best.

Lots of valid points and thoughts. I think it is pretty clear that there is a variety of opinions and thoughts on this issue and as with most matters in the fisheries management world there is no black and white answers. So of these issues are as much a social one as biological. As Steve and others pointed out one's answer would depend on which system is under discussion. The major limiting factors vary from basin to basin and as a result the focus on what will produce more wild fish will vary.

To some specific questions/corrctions -

Jbuehler -
Regarding wild summer steelhead above Deer Creek on the NF Stilaguamish. While occassionally one sees the odd Deer Creek fish pull upstream of the Creek they usually don't go very far - just looking for cooler waters. Above Deer Creek there is not any water that one would call wild summer run water - wild winter fish are much more adapted to those habitats.

The vast majority of wild steelhead caught above Deer Creek during the summer that I have seen or seen picture of have been winter fish, usually kelts or very late spawners.

Coach -
Regarding wild versus native fish. That whole issue is somewhat of a red herring. Our steelhead are a very adaptive fish quickly changing as their habitats change. Clearly our rivers are much different than they were 200 years ago and one would expect that the steelhead would also be somewhat different.

I think the critical issue here is more aobut whether the existing wild populations are as productive as they can be in the habitats that they have than about specific genetic markers they have.

Goose -
I agree that estuarian habitat is a major need however that restoration will have very little impact on the overall wild steelhead production. Steelhead juveniles spend virtually no time rearing there. Typcially they spend just a hand ful of days in that habitat as they leave the system as smolt on their way to the salt.

Restoration of estuaries is hugely important for Chinook whose juvenles can spend weeks rearing in such areas and as a result the capacity of the basin is greatly influence by the amount and quality of its estuary. Obvious estuaries are also important forgaing areas for crittes like cutthroat and char.

Jeremy -
Almost immediately afer Boldt the State attempted to limit the tribal fishery arguing that steelhead were a state game fish and the sell of those fish should not be allowed. As I recall the issue when to the 9th Circuit Court where the court decided that the tribes could indeed catch and sell those fish - they said ineffect that banning the sell of those fish was the same as the limiting their treaty rights and not support by intent of the treaties.

Rob Allen -
I'm familar with several examples where ending hatchery planting paid dividents for the wild fish (the Wind immediately comes to mind. However it is not true that in every case ending hatchery planting resulted in increased numbers of wild steelhead. In the Puget Sound region ending the planitng of steelhead in the early 1990s to date has not resulted in increased wild fish. In fact if any thing the plight of the steelhead thsoe basins have gotten worse. Leads me to believe that other factors must be largely responsible for limiting those wild populations.

Just once again illustrating that our steelhead are under attack by diverse and complex factors and there are rarely simple universal answers.

Tight lines


Active Member
smalma, i continue to note a tit-for-tat sort of response from you regarding other folks ideas and concerns. i don't seem to recall reading anything definitive from you regarding this specific issue.

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