Chambers creek steelhead video

Derek Young

Emerging Rivers Guide Services
Personalize this issue using this easy example. Let's say your block has 20 homes, ten on each side of the street. They are all single-story, single-family residences. That works pretty well, as designed, for a generation or two.

Now imagine six of those homes being torn down and eight stories added - apartment complexes. The "habitat" of your neighborhood just changed. Feel like the same old place? Parking any easier? More demands on services? Tempers flare? Start to feel a little less like home?

Just because a river has a lot of fish in it, doesn't mean it's as healthy as it could be. In fact, hatcheries work to do just that - over populate rivers that can't handle what's naturally there.

Of course, this is just my opinion. ;)
First off let me say how much I appreciate Steve and Curt's input. I'm sure it is a bit frustrating explaining things multiple times to folks who don't understand the intricacies of fish biology.

For the sake of argument, lets say that Steve is correct on all counts. Hatchery Steelhead don't effect wild fish that much and the river is healthy given the carrying capacity. We want to minimize the negative effects on the wild fish as much as possible and Ocean conditions are out of our control, but hatcheries are not. If the river is healthy enough to sustain a catch and release season with hatchery fish it also is with out. So what is the value of continuing a hatchery program with returns as low as MM ? All it does is give guy a chance to fish in Dec. and Jan. Not good stewardship of the tax payers $, IMO. Lets spend the next two years ( or how ever long it takes), trying to get the regs changed so we can fish in March and April ( or something like that)?

For the most part folks have been respectful in this thread, and I'm not trying to bust anyone's chops, just want to keep the discussion going.

In Solidarity,


Active Member
Chris -
I'm sure that Steve will chime in with additional insights but I try to provide my thoughts.

On the Skagit specifically many us would agree that the minimal impacts associated with a CnR fishery do not represent any sort of significant risk to the wild steelhead resource however it also probably the case that the risk of the now defunct Chambers Creek to the wild steelhead is likely than current fishing impacts let alone any increase associated with a CnR fishery.

In talking about the factors limiting wild populations folks typically refer to the 4 "Hs"; hatchery, harvest, habitat and hydro. Consider that over the last twenty years or so across the region impacts from hatchery/wild impacts have been reduced by maybe as much as 90%, the impacts associated with fishing have been reduced by at least 75%. It also can be demonstrated with those reduction there has been no measurable increases in the wild populations. It seems to me it is unlikely that small additional reduction in either the hatchery or harvest component will suddenly produce some measurable increase in the wild population.

It continues to be my position rather than attempting to squeeze the last few drops of blood from the hatchery and harvest turnips that time and energy would be more likely to be productive if directed at the other "Hs" This constant focus on hatchery issues only has serve to keep the recovery focus from being direct into areas that might actual positively affect the wild populations.

In regard to the 12 year "study" period on the Skagit it seems to me that those that benefit from the degraded habitat cards have been issued a get out jail card for the next 12 years while "everyone" waits for the "expected" benefits from eliminating the hatchery programs. Why would the powers force expensive restoration efforts in the habitat area until it is determined the hatchery elimination piece does not do the job?

I believe there a things that can be done in the marine arena that would be more beneficial than the elimination of the current hatchery programs.


Thanks for the response. I understand what you say about the 4 H's and the importance of habitat. But I don't see Habitat work and the cessation of Chambers crk. programs as mutually exclusive. I believe habitat work will continue. And if the effects on wild Steelhead can be shown to be minimal then the other programs can be restarted if NMFS buys off on them ( basin by basin management?). I Know there are things we can do to restore some of the marine habitat and I hope like hell we do. I'm just not sure there is the political or social will to do it. My main question remains: why should we continue programs with such poor returns?



Active Member
Chris -
In regards to why continue the hatchery returns with such poor returns? I guess it comes down to a couple issues and the value we each as individuals put on them. One argument for continuing them is to preserve future fishing opportunities if and when survival conditions improve. The other of course the program does continue to provide opportunities (at least in a limited fashion). Without that Chambers Creek program on your home water (the Nooksack) your seasons would close at the end of December on the main stem and South Fork below Skookum, on the North Fork below Maple Creek it would close at the end of November with the rest of the basin closing the end of October. It is your call on whether those opportunities (current and future) are worth it. Does not make much difference to me - have not target hatchery steelhead in a couple decades.

I could not agree more that it is questionable that there is the political or social will to address habitat issues. It has always been the case that as a society we will opt for the easiest/least painful option. It also pretty clear that over all habitat degradation continues. Something to consider; if it turns out that folks like myself who think that for North Puget Sound rivers the Chambers Creek program has been essentially a non issue for more than a decade we have pissed away the opportunity for past decade and much of the next decade in forcing the discussion focus to habitat issues. Hope I am wrong and folks like you and others are correct and that there will be a significant benefits from the elimination of the hatchery programs. If not sure how many decades the fish have left.

As I have discussed in the past I continue to believe that there are things that can be done in the marine arena that does not require address the habitat aspect. Maybe as this hatchery issue settles down there can be dialogue about other options (though I don't remain optimistic).

Not sure why I continue to invest the time I do on these issues. Like the fish I am running out of decades and over the long run the decisions from these debates will make no different to me. It will however be critical to the younger generations, their fishing and the viability of the resource. I wish you well.


Chris Bellows

Your Preferred WFF Poster
the idea that habitat work will be put on hold seems silly to me. how does shuttering the chambers creek program have an impact on habitat restoration work going on for the other esa listed stocks in puget sound such as chinook? it seems like what is good for chinook will have benefits for steelhead, especially any lower river work that increases/improves overwintering habitat. the people who profit on habitat destruction have had the "it's not me, it is the hatcheries/harvest/etc" card to play for years and one of those cards just got taken away.

we can disagree with which river got to keep plants, but it seems like this decision fits the argument that we've been hearing for years, that we should stop planting fish on the healthiest wild runs and just choose a river or two to plant. maybe without hatchery seasons there can be even more pressure placed on the department to open some c&r opportunities when escapement allows for it. that would be a great thing as i would love to return to the skagit and swing it's beautiful fly water sometime in the spring.

i've had issues with the wfc in the past (bullshit bottomfish science in regards to area 4), but i'm having a hard time getting worked up over this one. let's not fall into the trap that any solution has to be perfect and do everything... which means nothing gets done because a perfect solution does not exist. small imperfect victories such as these strike at the heart of over a century of mismanagement. there is no guarantee of success with this deal, but we know what wasn't working in bringing back wild steelhead fishing in puget sound.

curt, even though we do not always agree on all of the issues i do value the time you take participating on this board. i hope any frustration you feel doesn't keep you from continuing to post in these threads.

Charles Sullivan

ignoring Rob Allen and Generic
The thing that I enjoy most about WFF is the free interchange of info/ positions/ ideas w/ regards to steelhead management. None of us view things exactly the same. Some are more pro-hatchery than others. We disagree over C&R seasons/ sport fishing reg's etc. but nearly all of us care for the resource. Save for the obvious glaring examples most people who post in these discussions can do so respectfully, and have done some homework that they can share.

Go Sox,

o mykiss

Active Member
Leaving aside the biological impacts, does anyone have an informed opinion whether the economic benefits of fishing for hatchery steelhead on Puget Sound outweigh (or even break even with) the cost of running steelhead hatchery programs that isn’t covered by fishing license revenue? There is often a lot of bitching on this board about taxes and how wasteful government is – I’m just curious how many people think that the benefits reaped by society generally (i.e., economic activity associated with steelhead fishing and associated tax revenues) exceed the cost of running hatcheries that we as anglers don’t cover through license purchases? Or are we really just sucking off the teat of taxpayers? These are not rhetorical questions, because I honestly don’t know the answers, but have always assumed (with a small measure of guilt) that someone other than me and my fellow anglers is helping to foot the bill for my recreation.


Well-Known Member
O. mykiss,

Steelhead anglers owe a debt of thanks to their brethren and sistren (?) who buy fishing licenses to fish the lowland lakes season. Steelhead licenses alone don't come close to covering the cost of producing hatchery steelhead at WDFW hatcheries, not even beginning to count utility mitigation hatchery production and Mitchell Act federal (and grants to state) hatchery production.

The most recent value I read for the cost of producing hatchery fish is $6/lb. Hatchery steelhead are reared to between 6 and 8 per pound, making the ave. cost about $0.85 per smolt. At an SAR of 10% that's $8.50 per adult steelhead. At an SAR of 1% that's $85.00 per adult steelhead. At an SAR of 0.1% that's $850 per adult steelhead for a frame of reference. I read on another internet forum that steelhead fishing results in an economic value (however calculated) of $1,000 per sport caught steelhead, but I'm frankly dubious that is a value many qualified economists would agree with.

I know this includes all hatcheries, but found it interesting none the less.
From WDFW web site:

The Hatcheries Division is the largest single component of WDFW's Fish Program, with 298 FTE employees and a total operating budget of $63.9-million during the 2011-2013 Biennium, including $11.1-million from the State General Fund. Working out of the Department's headquarters in Olympia and hatchery facilities throughout the state, hatchery staff are responsible for fish culture, fish health, facility maintenance, hatcheries support (including activities ranging from tagging and marking fish to securing permits) and administration


Continuing the narrative that has been played out a few time already. I know what the "pro hatchery” response is going to be, but why not do it again.

Concerning the environment and habitat. It is my opinion that the pro hatchery crowd uses the cover of the environment to hide under and point at saying it is the cause of our runs being so low. They try to shift the blame 100% on the environment and not the destructive nature of hatcheries. Do I think the habitat and environment are worse off than what they were 100 years ago? Of course. Is the environment/habitat as bad off as some pro hatchery people want you to think it is? I don’t think so. IF the ocean has enough food, cover, protection for “x” amount of fish, and that amount is being choked out by hatchery fish, it is obvious the hatcheries are playing a key role in keeping wild fish populations lower than what they could be. Again, dumping millions and millions of "artificial" smolts into the rivers cannot have a positive ecological effect. The only positive effect they might have is predator populations increase.

Have environmentalists/biologists been wrong about the environment in the past? Yes.

Does this set a precedent for them being wrong now and in the future regarding steelhead? YES

Let’s look at the South fork of the Toutle river shortly after Mt. St. Helens erupted. Just about every biologist and environmentalist in the area was saying how the destruction and overall habitat was destroyed, and it would take decades for this river to come back to any form of recovery. (Ecological Responses to the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens” page 168) Within a couple years wild steelhead were spawning in the Toutle river. What? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not only were they spawning, but the overall run increased tremendously. Then along comes the pro hatchery experts and they start planting the Toutle river full of hatchery fish. Guess what happened? The run tanked and hasn’t been the same since. The point here is habitat and environment is very subjective, and the overall resiliency of wild steelhead is amazing when left alone. Now that hatchery steelhead have been eliminated from the Toutle, we will see if populations thrive once again.

Regarding the Skagit and the chambers creek fish. The people in charge would have you think that chambers creek fish have little to no negative effect on wild fish populations. I feel they do have negative effect. I personally have not caught any chambers creek Kelts, but I know people who have caught hatchery fish in March and April that have already spawned. Perhaps a few on this board have as well. I feel the largest portion of the Skagit run use to come in between Dec-February, but has been decimated by chambers creek fish. This again has been shown to us by Bill McMillan and his research.

Historically, wild winter-run steelhead here were dominated by December, January and February returns. If you go back to the tribal catch data from 1934 to 1959, prior to the hatchery programs for the 10 principal rivers where we’ve got data, from 85 to 98 percent of all the steelhead harvested in the tribal fisheries were between January and the end of February. Almost no steelhead were caught late. It’s possible that there were more later-returning fish than indicated by the tribal catch data; maybe the tribes didn’t target them because they weren’t as desirable to sell commercially at that later return date. Nevertheless, many of the later return steelhead are just as ocean fresh as the early return group on entry, and if they had been in large historic numbers there is no doubt the tribal fishers would have been fishing for them. Today a number of our Washington rivers may be at 50 to 75 percent of historic late-returning wild steelhead numbers. They’re actually not in that bad shape. They used to be the dominate return group. They are the steelhead best adapted to Washington habitat conditions—and yet the very fish that steelhead management has largely eliminated

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