I have had the wonderful blessing of having ongoing communications with Mr. Bill McMillan for the past several years. Bill's book Dryline Steelhead was the initial impetus for me to seek contact with him through Amato Publications in 1995. I lived in Hawaii at the time and as a long distance steelhead fly fisherman, Bill's methods and angling ethics resonated with me in a very profound way and his influence continues with me to this day. This is why I can be found fishing a dryline all year long - fishing surface flies throughout the summer and fall, and fishing big irons on the dryline during winter and spring.

In the course of our communications, Bill has provided me with many insights about our Pacific Nortwest Rivers along with a ongoing library of scientific studies and literature he and others have written as to the impacts related to trends in steelhead populations. Bill has generously provided me these resources and insights in the course of my inquires as an interested steelhead fly fisherman. In fact, in 2010, I had communcated with Bill about questions regarding hatchery summer steelhead on the North Umpqua river and Bill literally produced a reseach based document for me by the following day! Following this, Bill continued to do further reasearch on the Umpqua basin, realizing it's stable winter steelhead run size (with no significant winter hatchery smolt plants) is in stark comparison to the Skagit basin with it's long history of winter smolt planting.

Looking at the graphs in the attached document which are based on data Bill obtained from state fishery departments:

1. Skagit River long-term winter steelhead history of harvest data compared to hatchery smolt plants:

This graph depicts an overall trend of increased hatchery releases from 1948 to 2008 with a sharply declining trend in TOTAL steelhead harvest (wild+hatchery; sport+tribal) from 1948 to the present time.

2. Wind River wild summer steelhead history with hatchery smolt plants to 1997 and without thereafter:

This graph depicts a decreasing trend for wild summer run escapements during the period of hatchery plants and an INCREASING trend on wild summer steelhead escapements since the discontinuation of hatchery plants in 2000.

3. Hood River wild summer steelhead history with hatchery smolt plants through 2009:

This graph also depicts a declining summer steelhead run with hatchery steelhead plants in the river until 2009

4. Hood River wild winter steelhead history with continuing hatchery smolt plants:

This graph illustrates increasing smolt releases with an inverse trend of declining wild winter returns.

5. North Fork Umpqua River wild winter steelhead history without significant winter smolt plants:

This graph illustrates a STABLE trend in the North Umpqua winter steelhead population.

6. Smith River of Umpqua basin hatchery + wild winter steelhead harvest with hatchery winter plants suspended in 1996 due to declining returns and susbsequent shift to catch-and-release of wild steelhead in recovery effort:

This graph indicates a decreasing trend in steelhead sport catch while hatchery steelhead were planted up to 1996.

7. Salmonberry River of North Oregon Coast wild steelhead redd count history with no hatchery plants (has the highest steelhead redds per mile of any Oregon steelhead stream):

This graph indicates stable redd counts in a stream with no hatchery plants.

I found this data very enlightening when comparing rivers with hatchery plants vs. rivers with no hatchery plants or discontinued hatchery planting. It seems pretty clear that the continued presence of hatchery fish on the Skagit (and elsewhere) are driving our remaining populations of wild steelhead to extinction.

Some background on Bill McMillan:
Bill was the field biologist for the Wild Fish Conservancy for ten years until retiring in 2011. Bill has written numerous scientific documents related to wild steelhead conservation.

Thanks for reading,

Todd Hirano



IF it is well documented and "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that hatchery fish harm federally listed endangered native fish.....

1. Why do they continue to do it?
2. Why hasn't anyone taken WDFW and others to court for purposefully harming these endangered fish?
Thanks for posting Todd, Bill's book was the impetus for my journey into flyfishing for Steelhead as well. He is a great resource and a tierless advocate for wild Steelhead, and we are blessed to have him on the Skagit.

IF it is well documented and "beyone a shadow of a doubt" that hatchery fish harm federally listed endangered native fish.....

1. Why do they continue to do it?
2. Why hasn't anyone taken WDFW and others to court for purposefully harming these endangered fish?
Great questions TFG, we could talk all day about it, I'm sure. The industy, layers of gov. and careers that have been built on hatcheries and hatchery fish will not go away easily. And folks want fish to catch. In the U.S. we tend to forego the long game, because we want results now.


Active Member
In these kinds of comparisons one needs to be careful that we are not looking at coincidental impacts.

On the Skagit there is no doubt that with the increased hatchery releases there was a decline in catches/runs. However it is hard to ignore that at the same time decining marine survivals were also be noted. Those declining marine survival (and resulting smaller runs) were seen outside of the Skagit basin. A couple examples - On the Green where the smolt releases were essentailly constant the runs/catches mirrored that seen on the Skagit. In the north parof the Salish sea (east coast of Vancouver Island) in waters without hatchery releases or tribal netting the wild runs experienced similar kinds of declines as seen on the Skagit.

Was the declines in Skagit catches due to increasing hatchery releases or outside factors? To my eye at least the available info indicates that outside factors likely played the larger role.

Something else to consider: on the North Fork Stillaguamish during the same time period that those falling catches were noted on the Skagit there was a series (3) regulation changes each of which was more conservative (less impacts on the wild winter steelhead). Before the first regulation change the widl steelhad escapements on the North Fork index (all waters above Deer Creek) was approximately 1,800/year. With each change to more conservative regulations the sapwning abundances (based on redd counts) fel - to 1,200 to 900 to about 600/year. Are to conclude that conservative fisheries management is bad for wild steelhead? Or that there might have been coincidental factors in play? Suspect for most logic dictates the later.



Active Member
IF it is well documented and "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that hatchery fish harm federally listed endangered native fish.....

1. Why do they continue to do it?
2. Why hasn't anyone taken WDFW and others to court for purposefully harming these endangered fish?
So, I'm not well versed in the background of the situation here in WA, as it's all still new to me, but, The California DFG got sued by Stanford for stocking trout without doing an EIR, and stocking was shut down for quite some time. They're back at it now, and I lost track of the story. But, man, those years without stocking made for some AWESOME wild trout fishing with ZERO meat hunters on the banks.

Maybe some precedence there to use as a model?
Dear Smalma, are you indicating that the relatively steady 50 year decline in Skagit steelhead is "ocean factors" while NF Umpqua, Wind, Hood, Siletz, and Salmonberry steelhead are all part of the mixed North Pacific ocean steelhead population along with Skagit and other Puget Sound streams? I have heard of ocean conditions that last a year or two, and others that go up and down in 10-20 year cycles, but not continuous 40-60 year declines. There seems to be one commonality in the long-term declines -- hatchery plants, whether Puget Sound or elsewhere. Conversely, absence of hatchery plants seems the common denominator for those that are stable and/or recovering.



Well-Known Member

Like Smalma, I keep a pretty close eye on the Skagit and other regional river systems. To look at only one variable in isolation is what leads analysts to conclude that the stock market follows hemlines on women's skirts instead of other, more direct influencial economic factors.

Stocking hatchery steelhead may be one factor affecting wild steelhead abundance. However there aren't enough data supporting hatchery stocking as the proximate cause when other factors are also considered. Further, Puget Sound and coastal WA steelhead are not directly comparable to Columbia River tributary steelhead in that they appear to have differing ocean migrations.

A well reasoned analysis should examine all likely factors affecting abundance for each of the rivers on your list, in a multi-variate regression sort of way. Unfortunately adequate data are not available. But limiting one's analysis to hatchery stocking is to deliberately avoid learning what other factors might be responsible for the results we observe.



Active Member
Todd -
I too was unable to open the file but am familar with McMillian's work. If we are going to go into it in detail maybe having it available as pdf file would allow all to follow along though experience has shown that such a discussion is rarely driven by hard data.

I wish that just eliminating hatchery fish would turn things around. As Salmo g indicated regional differences in marine survival is to be expect. What confuses the situation here in Puget Sound that for a couple basins where hatchery releases had been ended 20 or so years ago there has been no positive results. In addition as I mentioned other streamsflowing into the Salish seas (east side of Vancouver Island) that never had hatchery fish or had not had them for 30 years have shown the same declines as the Skagit. For example since the mid-1980s the smolt to adult survival of wild winter runs on the Keogh River on North end of Vancouver Islandhas declined from an average of 15% to less than 5%.

One of the things that confuses me is how these hatchery fish are advrsely impacting the wild steelhead. It seems to me that the two like pathways would be genetic via the two populations spawning together or ecosystem interactions with either the residual hatchery fish interacting with the wild population or the hatchery fish successfully spawning in the wild and again competing with the wild populations. Changes in the hatchery program are such one would expect those potential impacts to have been reduced. 30 years ago the hatchery fish spawned through March (even early April) today they are done by the end of January. With the late spawn timing of the wild fish there is now virtually no temporal overlap in the spawning hatchery and wild fish. The fry from any of the natural spawning hachery fish would be emerging in the peak of the sprng run-off (which in the Skagit is huge ). The timing of the release of the hatchery smolts has also been moved to May which due to the run-off should flush both the smolts and many of the residuals quickly to the salt. And finally all smolt releases in the major spawning tirbutary (the Sauk) has ended. Collectively those changes should have reduced hatchery/wild interactions but there is no evidence they have done so. Maybe it is just a case of me not being bright enough to see where that interaction is happening.

Dear Sg, when the variables examined are repeatedly similar in numerous examples over differing regions it seems pretty compelling. This is what was found in the Mark Chilcote and all paper of 2011 when 93 populations of salmon and steelhead in the Northwest region were examined with a common linkage to wild productivity declines in those populations examined linked to hatchery fish. My understanding is that we should act on what science data is available and that if other conclusions come to be found that it is called adaptive management to then alter them. If we do not act in a timely way on data available, and this type of data has been available for quite a few years, seems to me pretty irresponsible. My understanding is that an analysis similar to what you suggest has been recently done on the Skagit.)


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