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Wild Steelhead?

3771 Views 18 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Jim Jenkins
Is there really such a thing left in our great state? Don't get me wrong as I favor C&R but fisherman aren't the problem! We (fly/bait fisherman) have little effect on the big picture and account for less than 5% of the fish caught, usually much less than that. Most of the fish we now call wild are really hybreds of mixed orgin. The state in all its wisdom has in the past transplanted fish to/from almost every river at one time or another. So what's that leave, a bunch of Heniz 57 fish, a little this and a little that! Saving wild fish is a nobel idea and should be commended for those whom choose to participate. The state knows these facts very well and I'm not to sure if even they can tell which fish are NATIVE anymore. Instead they group those not marked as WILD. There is a big difference, wild means they spawned naturally but genetically there is no difference between them and hatchery fish. So I pose the question for all, is there really any NATIVE steelhead left? Wild steelhead? Depends on your definition I guess. One more point if the state has its way they'd close down all the hatcheries, what's that leave to catch then? Wait a second they already closed more than half of them, hmmmmm..........
OK, my lunch is over back to work, later all, Jim
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Naive and incredibly irresponsible, especially now when flyfishers need to speak with a collective voice.

We are all accountable for the current state of our fisheries - fisherman and non-fisherman, alike. Our passion for greener lawns; our shopping for the lowest lumber prices irregardless or the supplier's environmental record; our support of political candidates compromised by their masters in industry - All those and more play to our personal accountability. Special interests and greed - yours and mine, our employers, our representatives, all with dirty hands. Sorry, but you are in a state of denial no matter the percentages. I have yet to start steelheading but I can see MY accountability quite clearly.

Yes, I believe there are "wild steelhead" (my personal naivete?) no matter the semantics there. Further, the fishery can't get any worse and still be a fishery. No matter what the starting point, genetically, let's start rebuilding it now. Let's assume you are right about the genetic stock being the Heinz 57 fish; if they are successful spawners and the best we can muster then call them the "wild", or the "native", or the "natural" and get on with it. If the hatchery fish, or whatever genetics, cannot spawn naturally then eliminate them from the genetic pool via "el kabong" and move on. Doing nothing nets us nothing (pun intended).

If the State had fewer commercial, tribal, hardware and bait fisherman dictating policy and more flyfishers, we probably would not be arguing this point at all. Let the experts (scientists and not politicos) decide which are the "wild" stock, rebuild these and eliminate the hatchery mules before they destroy want GOOD genetics remain.

On a personal note, I have a gorgeous Rottweiler bitch that catches most everyones eye. Great bloodlines from a nationally recognized breeder. She is huge and seemingly perfect in every way. But she is a genetic dead end. As good as she appears she is not a successful breeder (which is what breeding dogs is "mostly" about). You see, she only has one pup each litter. Not just one survivor, just one pup. Three breedings and three pups total. Different and proven males - makes no difference. So I keep her and have stopped breeding her so as not to hurt the Rottweiler Breed by continuing her genetics any further. As a farmer, I understand culling out undesireables and aberrant breeding is a Big undesireable, like hatchery fish...
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Great points, Stumpfisher.


Every consituency that has a negative impact on fisheries (sport anglers, commercial anglers, Indian tribes, dams, timber companies, agriculture, developers, and our modern human society in general) too often denies it's part of the problem when it comes to degradation of wild fish populations. It is pointless to me to debate who is "most responsible" -- time for each constituency to step forward, acknowledge it's part of the problem and take steps to modify its behavior in ways that improve the chances of wild fish to survive and thrive.

Yes, there are wild fish in this state. Your Heinz 57 analogy is not terribly compelling. Even if there has been interbreeding among truly wild fish and hatchery fish, it doesn't mean that there's no reason to maintain and improve wild stocks (those that breed in the river and not in a hatchery facility). In fact, risk of interbreeding and the resulting ability of a steelhead population's ability to sustain itself is one reason we should be seeking ways to reduce reliance on hatchery fish for our fisheries and increase the number of wild fish.

No, it is not true that there is no genetic difference between wild fish (however you want to define that) and hatchery fish. Hatchery fish each year come from a very small number of parents -- hence hatchery fish lack the genetic diversity Mother Nature has so effectively created in wild fish. It is that genetic diversity that is one of the most compelling reasons to maintain and improve wild stocks and the lack of genetic diversity that makes a hatchery only fishery a dead end.

If we don't all do something to improve wild stocks on our local rivers, we won't be fishing much longer. Look what happened on the Wenatchee River. To that end, the proposals to have statewide catch and release requirements for wild fish is a step in the right direction. Let's pray that WDFW has the cojones to put them in place this time. Statewide selective gear requirements would also be a compelling step in the right direction, but I'm not holding my breath that we'll soon see that.
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My point was that making all wild steelhead in our state C&R isn’t going to solve all our problems, its a good idea on the surface. The majority of our rivers are already that way, have been for quite a while. Maybe it should be kept on a river by river basis, as some are in relatively better condition than others. Some our coastal rivers are the best, being farther from population centers. Inland waters have suffered the most and are in more need of better regulation. As you know fly fishing C&R has much less effect on fish released then bait caught fish. The mortality rate for those fish isn’t very good because they tend to swallow the bait. Which is better letting fisherman have their one or two fish or letting them catch all day possibly injuring and killing many wild fish. I have seen this happen to many times, it’s a dilemma to say the least. As you point out there are many causes for the decline of our fisheries. The biggest are Native Americans and commercial gill netters, next would be environmental conditions, including logging, dams, pollution, etc. Something more extreme is needed to turn things around. Until all the agencies come together to reverse some of the damage done, I fear thing will continue to deteriorate. When 95% of the harvest-able fish is controlled by commercials, how much difference can we make. Look at what happened when we tried twice unsuccessfully to get the nets out. They (gill netters) threw lots of money at it because they knew it would make such a dramatic difference but people voted against it, why, because it didn’t include Native American’s, for them it’d still be business as usual. I don’t even want to get started on that issue. When have you ever seen a gill netter let wild fish go or non-targeted fish for that matter? NEVER! I repeat what I said before, “What you and I do makes little difference in the big picture”. You need to set your goals much higher if you want to change the status quo. You call me naive, I don’t think so, more of a realist. I’ve written letters to our elected officials and to the WDFW and yes I’ve gotten back some nice responses to my questions and opinions but what good has it done? Their going to do what ever they want regardless of what we say or think, its just good PR if they ask first. There is far to much politics involved in these decisions and to little scientific knowledge. You also seem to think we’re on different sides of the issue, fact is I agreed with most of what you say. Taking away more sports fisherman’s rights no matter how noble isn’t the answer, we have lost to many as it is. Next would be taking them all and not being able to fish, a real possibility! As fly fisherman, don’t take a mightier than thou attitude, we need to be united with those who choose to bait fish for the betterment of all, the opposition is counting on that. Until that happens they have nothing to fear. Every group has its own drum to beat, if you get enough drums together, they will be heard, one drum alone is only noise. And yet here we are again, arguing over who will catch the last fish! Shame, shame! We need to be fighting those things that have brought us to this, not against each other!
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O Mykiss,
You have no clue how hatchery fish are spawned. And you are completely WRONG about wild and hatchery fish being genetically different. They are with very few exceptions one in the same!
Do your homework before you make statements that you know nothing about!

You certainly have passion, and some good points, but I'm afraid your passion is getting in the way of your ability to examine your own assumptions. I'm afraid you are simply wrong about hatchery fish being the same genetically as wild fish. They are the same species as the wild fish they are supposed to replace, and they can breed (up to a point), but there the similarity ends. The explanation is long, but I'll try not to be any longer than anybody else has been.

The problem is that Hatchery fish have lower genetic QUALITY than wild fish, for a variety of reasons, and with a variety of consequences. Hatchery fish suffer from what scientists call DOMESTICATION SELECTION. What that means is that hatchery fish adapt to pressures exerted by their environments just like wild fish do, but their environments are artificial (domestic) -- usually with little relation to natural environments -- and exert pressures that "select" fish to make them suitable for survival in that artificial environment. This can be intentional, like selecting the earliest returning steelhead to have a "Christmas" fishing season for hatchery steelhead, or unintentional, like reducing the average size of chinook.

Domestication selection works both behaviorly; ie, hatchery fish are poor at avoiding predators because they are fed by hand. But it also has important genetic consequences. O Mykiss is correct about poor breeding practices compromising genetic diversity (the eggs of many females are often fertilised by a single male], but the problem is more structural than that, and less easily fixed. The main problem comes from the whole reason hatcheries exist in the first place: eliminating natural mortality from egg to smolt. In the hatchery, the survival rate from egg to smolt is well above 90%; in the wild it is well below 10%. The 80% difference wouldn't survive in the wild because of their POOR GENETIC QUALITY.

Among aother things, this results in females that mature earlier (younger, smaller) and produce fewer eggs, and males that have fewer secondary sexual characteristics (like big kypes, exposed teeth, or large humps) that would help them compete with other males and/or attract females. These are clearly GENETIC CHARACTERISTICS: You cannot say there is no difference. These differences create hatchery fish that have reproductive-success rates about 1/2 to 2/3 that of wild fish. This is all well documented in serious, peer-reviewed scientific literature. EVERY study that has looked at this issue comes to the same conclusion: Hatchery fish ARE NOT THE SAME, even when they come from native brood stock, even one generation-removed from the wild. NO SERIOUS STUDIES EXIST THAT DISPUTE THIS.

As for the Heinz 57 argument, several studies suggest that because hatchery fish breed so poorly in the wild, there has been relatively little genetic introgression between hatchery and wild fish. Unfortunately that doesn't mean there's no problem. When hatchery fish breed with wild fish, they commpromise the wild fish's reproductive success (the wild fish are less likely to produce young than if they had spawned with another wild fish, and those young are less likely to survive). They're whittling wild fish from the population! That's why there's been little introgression (the bad genes die with the fish, FISH THAT WE CAN'T SPARE).

And I'm afraid I don't know where you get your catch-numbers from. Of chinook and coho caught in Washington, the tribes take 50%, Commercials take about 30%, and sports take 20% (that comes from the NW Sportfishing Industry Association). Of steelhead it's tribes: 50%; commercials: 0%; sports 50% (the law). Those are the facts. sorry. Yes, Commercial and Tribal fishers overharvest (and they can't C&R); it's a major problem, probabably the biggest obstacle to recovery. But anglers of any stripe do our "cause" no good when they claim that we "have no impact." Catch and release has impact, for Pete's sake!

Finally, if you really believe that WDFW wants to shut down hatcheries, I'm afraid you haven;t been paying very close attention.

I hope you'll take the time to read this through and think about it before you reply. We are on the same side.
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Today, students, we will have a lecture on genetic diversity as it pertains to wild vs. hatchery progeny (babies, Alice). Always remember this, "Only the strong survive", or put another way, "Survival of the fittest". Also add to your list of cliches that in an artificial breeding environment, the key is "Control, control, control".

Big Mama and the Hatcheries-

Once upon a time, The Big Mama thought it would be really cool to have little things swimming around and, you know, frolicking in the rivers and streams. So in her wise ways she invented fishies. Some were large and some were small, but all were good in her estimation and she was happy, so she kicked back, popped a brew and went looking for a patent attorney. Oops, that's a different story. Anyway, she made thousands of these little buggers, many looking alike but still different in their genes. (No Charley, not Levis, genes; body stuff, for example, stuff that decides whether you are a pinhead or a fathead.)

She decided that making all these fishies was a tremendous chore for her to do on a regular basis so she decided to let the fishies take care of the making stuff all by their selves. She made the fishies horny and sent them on their way to procreate. Boy did them little buggers procreate until the waters were just full of baby fishies all wanting themselves to grow-up and do some of that procreating stuff. Before too long, there were millions of these little fishies swimming around procreating, all with their own unique pair, er, set of genes.

Soon Big Mama wanted someone to watch and look out for her little fishies so she created this monkey-looking thing which she named BillyBob but later changed to man to save type space. This seemed to work at first until man decided to eat the little fishies while destroying their environment in man's lust for green paper stuff - not to be confused with designer TP. Man had invented money, and greed quickly followed whereupon they invented attorneys to settle their squabbles. (This was soon followed by politicians destined to devise schemes to take it all away for themselves and their cronies, but that, too, is another story.) And the poor little fishies, they just got in man's way.

Soon man found that there were so few little fishies left. Some of the leftest-scum became concerned and created the green party to set things right (or left, depending on your politics). They invented Hatcheries. They could do better than Big Mama and do the procreating for their dullard fishies that they "saved" and proceeded to fill the waters with these dullards. Man was pleased, had he not placed himself as an equal to the Big Mama?

Shortly thereafter, Big Mama got bigtime pissed at these monkeys and released her new critters, Virus and Disease. And all man's little dullards croaked for they did not have the genetic diversity to survive the new critters. None of man's little dullards had acquired the immunities which have ALWAYS surfaced in the past when things were natural and as they should be - You know, Big Mama's way.

Next up (should the readers wish it): Control, control, control
An episodic story on natural vs. artificial breeding of fishies.
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Wishin there were fish

There is a certain irony to your choice of name and your statement.
Give it a couple years and you'll really be wishin you were fishin for steelhead in many rivers of the state.

With out re-stating some of the other accurate sentiments on this post: You are wrong! Do your home work, there are still wild native fish in these rivers. Support C-n-R policies, get involved in a group like TU or the WSC and be part of the solution.
ray helaers: superb post. thanks for taking the time to do this. :jj
Wishin there were fish

Trout Unlimited, are you kidding me. This is one of the groups that told their members to vote against banning nets! You call that part of the solution? And show me where I said C&R wouldn't do any good? I've seen it do good in several rivers already but only point out that it may not be needed in some/all places. As to having exact split for who gets what, I'm not so sure your numbers are absolute either, aren't those target numbers? What is it really? Above you say "about 30%" as if your not quite sure. Only the state could give you the most accurate count, which I might add are estimates based on random samplings. And where did I say there were no more native fish? I also know about survival rates for hatchery fish not being very good for all your reasons stated. I still believe that damage has been done by cross breeding. True, some maybe even most of those fish as you say will not survive but some do and have, you can't dispute that small fact. Its there whether you want it to be or not. What you imply is that we should get rid of all the hatcheries, aren't they really part of the problem then? I also still disagree these fish being genetically different, I have seen/read articles that say our experts cannot tell difference between these stocks. Hatchery fish are taken from brood stock so how can they be genetically different? Now their behaviors will vary due to how they were raised and yes I know predators take more of them, where did I say otherwise? They are trying to change that by feeding them from the bottom of holding pens vs surface feeding. But it'll never be as good as nature does it, right? Also I have seen how they spawn hatchery eggs, they are not one female, one male mixed. In realality they're probably doing a better job than nature. They pick out the best fish and at various times during the entire run of returning fish.

Last, I am not the enemy here and shouldn't be attack for my view points or even my assumptions as you call them. All I did was bring up a subject that I thought would stimulate some discussion and it did. Right or wrong we are all entitled to our opinions, that's we need places like this to discuss and yes educate ourselves about those things that are important to ALL of us.
Thanks to all that took time to reply,
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Wishin there were fish

Oops, my wrong above on random samplings, sorry, I failed to include punch card data for those who bother to send them in. But that only accounts for the sports fisherman. Who's keeping track for the other side of the equation? Given the current state of under funding and cut backs at WDFW there will probably be less officers watch and keep records in the future.
Later, Jim
Wishin there were fish

I've heard that they do estimate for those not returned, so even this data has a certain amount of flaw. It is important though to try and get as accurate count as possible. They just love numbers, don't they? haha
Wishin there were fish

I guess that the random sampling was another one of my assumption. That is for monitoring the commercial and tribal fisherman. But I trust someone out there will correct me if I'm wrong, right? Good thing I better at fishing and sticking my foot in my mouth than I am at expressing myself. LOL This stuff gets way to serious sometimes. OK, I'm think I'm done for now, again.
Wishin there were fish


Sorry, I did not mean to jump down your throat, after writting several letters to the WDFW I was feeling a litlle grouchy. As I am sure you realise we all need to support these reg changes as they are a step in the right direction.

You bring up some good points about hatchery fish and wild fish inter-breading, which weakens the gene pool. These fish are genectically different from the pure native strain but it would take a lot of scientific testing to determine the differnce. The hatchery stocks in WA are not usually taken from native brood stock though. Most hatchery steelhead are Skamania stock fish from the White Salmon area of Washington (these seem to be a hearty strain and are also used in the great lakes region aka steelhead alley).

As for TU I feel your frustration. The people on the WA council really care about our fisheries but the organization runs mostly on volunteer support. With out that support they can only do so much, so I urge you to get involved. TU has done great things in many states and will do the same in Washington. Right now I am working with the WC of TU to get the Bellevue-Issaquah Chapter reactivated. With over 300 members it is a huge group of anglers that could make a real difference improving local fisheries, from stream restoration to policy changes.

Here is a rather long policy proposal the Washington Council of TU is sending to the state. It includes requiring hatcheries to use broodstock to re-populate runs. I think you will agree this is another step in the right direction





"We regulate our fisheries… but we concentrate them on the best races, and one by one these shrink or vanish, and we don't even follow their fate… knowing only that our total catches diminish, as one by one small populations disappear unnoticed from the greater mixtures that we fish… so we greatly underestimate what is needed or when it is needed and feel self-righteous about our conservation."
W. F. Thompson, l965


Wild steelhead yield and escapement estimates in practice today have not protected most stocks from population depression. Additional research is needed to determine new management criteria that will conserve wild runs in all Washington waters. Maximum Sustained Yield (MSY) calculations and annual run size estimates should be used in the future only if they consider watershed ecology, improved determinations of freshwater carrying capacity for each river system and its tributaries, variations in oceanic and freshwater conditions, and the impacts of hatcheries on wild fish survival. These factors, along with new research on stock dynamics and improved escapement and harvest estimates, are essential in developing a new management regime to protect and conserve wild fish.

The concept of harvest goals should be based on a conservation ethic that provides protection to wild fish first and allows a yield only when all risks of over harvest have been minimized and all benefits of stock rebuilding have been satisfied. The Washington Council - Trout Unlimited (WC-TU) recommends moving away from MSY and toward a policy of Maximum Carrying Capacity if we are to restore and maintain healthy wild steelhead populations in all Washington River systems. Additionally, a new management model should incorporate additional risk factors that err on the side of wild fish.

To provide the time to accomplish the suggested research and develop new management models, WC-TU recommends an 8-year moratorium on the harvest of wild fish in all state waters.

WC-TU expresses its interest in working with co-managers and the State Legislature to obtain the funding needed to improve wild steelhead management and the enforcement needed to recover and properly manage these treasured native fish.


The 20th Century saw significant general declines in salmonid stocks throughout the Northwest with many factors to blame. These declines occurred despite the fact that the region maintained the nation's largest system of hatcheries to supplement harvest opportunities and wild runs. Washington's more recent salmon recovery efforts, albeit late and in reaction to ESA listings, are nonetheless admirable and should benefit steelhead as well. However, steelhead still take a back seat to the more visible salmon. Wild steelhead, a native northwest treasure, also deserve dedicated attention to their needs. The Washington Council of Trout Unlimited (WC-TU) expresses its interest in taking an active role in working with the co-managers and the state legislature to obtain the funding to improve wild steelhead management and enforcement needed to recover and properly manage these native fish.

WC-TU has reviewed the status of steelhead as we enter this new century, particularly the state of the irreplaceable wild stocks, and has drafted this policy statement for internal and external guidance in managing and conserving this valuable species in Washington State. This document stresses the importance of developing accurate scientific data for modeling and managing wild steelhead.

This policy contains five elements. Each is deemed by this organization to be vital to the recovery of depressed stocks and the future conservation of and fishing opportunities for wild steelhead. The five integral elements include: (1) habitat protection, (2) enforcement, (3) conservation goals, (4) hatchery production, and (5) catch policy. The reader will recognize that the elements are general with limited detail, as a complete plan would require preparation by scientists from many disciplines. However, the intent is to recognize the important needs of wild steelhead and outline the major steps needed for improved conservation. WC-TU believes a complete review of the state's wild steelhead management program is necessary based on the declining stocks. The present co-management program is not providing annual harvest production from many rivers and considerable new information has become available on hatchery fish impacts, habitat protection, population genetics, watershed ecology, and natural environmental variation since the publication of the harvest model presently used.


As the co-managers have stressed in recent years, river habitat (spawning and rearing) is a key factor to the health of salmonid stocks. We concur that habitat recovery and preservation is vital to the recovery of wild steelhead stocks in concert with the other solutions outlined herein.

There are many types of detrimental impacts to salmonid habitat that have long been identified but are still ignored or too laxly permitted. Stronger controls and multi-agency enforcement are necessary in land and water use, logging, agriculture and livestock husbandry, growth and development, mining, and the unpermitted private abuses of the riparian zone. A continued human influx (an additional one million people by 2020) must be anticipated and planned for to assure continued habitat protection for fish, and our quality of life.

A multitude of land use activities, statewide, have had deleterious effects on essential salmonid habitats, in the fishes' various life history stages. These are in spite of a number of federal and state laws and policies such as ESA, CWA, GMA, CZM, NEPA, SEPA, Shorelines Management Act and forestry agreements. Some of these acts and agreements have been effective, but many have not. Significant multi-agency involvement and coordination is required to ensure the enforcement and compliance of these mandates.

Impacts from logging practices, even decades ago, still plague riparian areas. We see this continuing from steep slope cutting, sediment transport, temperature increases, and lost buffer zones. The science associated with the monitoring of these activities must be developed through an adaptive management process between state and federal agencies, the tribes and the conservation/environmental community.

Water and land use activities from agriculture and livestock significantly impact salmonid survival. Diversion of water from river systems for irrigated land causes untold mortalities. Water quality degradation continues from uncontrolled overgrazing and a range of TMDL implications that are not enforced, while fertilizers and pesticides further threaten the fish as well as human health.

Growth and development has clearly had negative impacts on our fish. Examples are in unnatural stormwater flows, permanently altered hydrology of watersheds, point and non-point pollution, and the practice of "exempt wells." Transportation priorities, paving of land and even streams, and clearings of riparian zones add to the loss of fish.

Dams have severely damaged habitat and blocked upstream migration to spawning and rearing areas as well as providing high mortality barriers to downstream bound steelhead. Violations of contractual agreements with hydropower companies and other holders of dam operations licenses , such as the usurping of minimum flow agreements, have continued to plague wild fish populations. These avoidable violations need to be dealt with in the strictest terms and need to be addressed both by the courts and in the dam relicensing process.

Other man-made fish barriers continue to block thousands of miles of historical stream habitat. With the current limited attention and funding for the replacement of poorly designed culverts, it will take decades to open these waters that wild fish once used for spawning and rearing. The priority and funding must be raised to bring back this habitat for all salmonids. We applaud the removal of such barriers as the Elwha and Condit Dams and encourage more removals wherever feasible. Each additional mile of accessible stream will lead to additional adult returns, regardless of the management model used.

As with many issues, citizen, governmental and industry education is lacking in the realm of the steelhead. It must be expanded and improved to ensure due respect and concern for this species.


The most critical element of wild steelhead recovery is protection of the remaining stocks by the co-managers. This protection is generally accomplished through a scientifically based set of rules designed to protect the species. The importance of protecting depleted fish stocks in a recovery mode cannot be overstated. It is the fundamental building block for recovery.

Wild steelhead are highly vulnerable to unlawful harvest due to a disregard for the regulations and the circumstances under which they are taken. Many Washington rivers are isolated from the view of officers and sport fishers, creating many illegal opportunities for those who disregard conservation regulations. The amount of illegal harvest is impossible to quantify and remains unknown, but is believed to be significantly high. The goal of enforcement in rebuilding the wild steelhead populations should be to protect wild stocks to the highest practical level. This protection can be accomplished by placing officer emphasis on the following enforcement strategies:

1. Create a highly visible presence on the state's rivers to deter the breaking of regulations designed to protect wild steelhead, with an emphasis on unlawful harvest.

2. Conduct frequent random patrols by out-of-uniform officers posing as fishers, by boat and on foot, to identify and arrest those who flagrantly disregard the harvest regulations. An emphasis should be placed on prosecuting to the full extent of the law those who flagrantly violate the rules designed to protect critical wild stocks. Violators' names should be published in newspapers.

3. Establish an effective statewide crime reporting system based in the communities and conservation organizations that would facilitate the reporting of unlawful harvest of wild steelhead and other resources. This will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of individuals that are dedicated to conserve our fish resources. This statewide program should be modeled after a Neighborhood Watch concept, or the "Eyes in the Woods" program already begun with hunters.

4. Create a reward system similar to that in use in the big game program of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for those who turn in the most serious violators.

5. Emphasize the accurate and timely reporting of catch data from commercial and sport fisheries.

6. Emphasize habitat protection not only by enforcing the provisions of the HPA's, but also through random patrolling of habitat sensitive wild steelhead spawning and rearing areas to locate habitat violations so that they may be corrected at the earliest possible time and/or prosecuted to the appropriate degree.

7. Establish a friendly and professional relationship with local community based conservation organizations to educate and promote a conservation ethic throughout the state.


The concept of harvest goals should be based on a conservation ethic that provides maximum protection to wild fish first, and allows a yield only when all risks of over-harvest have been minimized and all benefits of stock rebuilding have been satisfied. The existing harvest goal, Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), infers that the maximum harvest must be extracted from a population, based on average modeled returns of past generations. The model and run predictions do not adequately take into account the years (and especially the periods of successive generations) when poor environmental conditions drive the returning run below the expected average. The model also does not consider the impacts of hatchery production, the needs of the ecosystem, or the many other factors that can cause an over-harvest. The failure of so many runs in Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca suggests the present MSY model is far too simplistic, is erring on the side of harvest, and is not conserving the wild steelhead stocks.

A harvest management policy for wild steelhead should never place the population(s) at risk of low spawner return or extinction. A new concept for harvest management needs to be developed by the co-managers that assures spawner escapement will: (1) have the potential to increase wild populations to historical run sizes, (2) maintain full wild steelhead juvenile carrying capacity of the watershed, and (3) meet the ecological needs of the watershed. Further, any escapement goal should always err on the side of the wild population and future spawner returns. As an example, Oregon has adopted the policy of "Maximum Spawner Escapement" through (but not limited to) catch and release only fisheries in most cases. It is Oregon's intent to totally remove any risk of extinction and to provide maximum fishing opportunity to its public. TU recommends a new conservation policy for wild steelhead in Washington waters of maintaining "Maximum Carrying Capacity." Wild steelhead should be managed to meet this policy in terms of both spawner escapement and maximum juvenile carrying capacity.

A new model, if one is used in the future by the co-managers, should include not only the existing population dynamics data of wild fish in fresh water, but also include:

1. A new evaluation of the fresh water carrying capacity of each river and all tributaries to that river. Fish runs in some rivers should be allowed to exceed the equilibrium point to test the presently accepted carrying capacity. Carrying capacity should be periodically evaluated for each river as habitat improvements are made.

2. Annual variations in the freshwater habitat of each river system including flow, flooding or drought, and man-made changes (both detrimental and improvements).

3. Annual/temporal variations in ocean conditions and smolt/juvenile fish survival in salt water.

4. Developing methods and necessary enforcement to accurately account for all the sport and commercial catch by river and fishery. Each year the co-managers should produce a standardized statewide report showing the run reconstruction for wild and hatchery steelhead in all rivers where data is available. This report should include wild steelhead total run size, escapement, and state and tribal harvest. The same information should be included for hatchery fish.

5. Improved estimates of the wild fish escapement and spawning/egg survival success.

6. The impacts of hatchery production on wild fish by river/tributary and stock.

7. Assurance that the full ecological needs of the watershed are met. This task should include information on marine derived nutrients, nutrient cycling, and the value of fish carcasses to the biota of the watershed and to increasing wild fish fresh water carrying capacity.

8. An adjustment for the unknown or unforeseen (such as poor environmental conditions) that errs on the side of the fish population(s).

9. Methods to restore genetic and life history diversity (age/size/sex structure, run timing, etc.).

Traditional management models require accurate annual run predictions for each river and its tributaries to allow for proper harvest planning. The methodology requires models or accurate estimators that incorporate the information listed above as essential for a harvest model. Incorporating information such as ocean and freshwater conditions during the spawning and out-migrating years will allow these predictions to better protect wild fish. However, all of the above mentioned information is necessary to assure accurate predictions of the annual runs in each river system. These approaches have generally failed everywhere they have been applied because the science of environmental prediction and fish ecology is not advanced enough to accurately monitor or predict all the relevant factors required to make deterministic production and harvest models work.

This situation begs the question of the value of continuing the use of deterministic harvest models. An alternative approach would accept the lack of predictability of annual fish returns, expand efforts to conduct in-season monitoring of target stocks, and simply manage stocks conservatively enough that risks to over harvest are minimized. Such an approach would be consistent with a new goal of Maximum Carrying Capacity for wild steelhead.

There has been a general decline in wild steelhead stocks throughout the Pacific Northwest in the last century that is not well understood. The run size data suggests that rivers entering or close to the Pacific Ocean have responded best to modern management practices while those entering Puget Sound and tributaries to the Columbia River have experienced the largest stock declines. The co-managers need to investigate the reasons for these declines to better understand how to recover depressed stocks. Investigators should include rivers that are not responding to intensive management such as full closures or wild steelhead release.

WC-TU believes that the use of selective fishing techniques is one of the most important components needed to achieve restoration of wild steelhead in the State of Washington. WC-TU fully respects the treaty harvest rights that are accorded the treaty tribes by the 19th century treaties between the tribes and the federal government. We recognize the co-management rights and authorities of the federal, state and tribal governments. Co-managers are strongly encouraged to establish selective gear requirements for all fisheries.

Hatcheries have often been blamed for reducing wild steelhead and salmon diversity and productivity. This is due in part to the increased fishing pressure they have generated, the concept that they would mitigate for lost wild fish production due to river diversions and impoundment systems, and the adverse impacts they have on wild fish production and survival. Conversely, we now recognize that hatchery production can have positive values in the future if administered in a scientifically sound and closely monitored program. These include broodstock programs that may be capable of re-establishing wild runs, and supplementing wild runs where they are depleted. Today, hatchery fish also help take some harvest pressure off wild fish by providing hatchery fish opportunity and catch to commercial and sport fisheries.

Because the state is improving the science and policies of hatchery steelhead use and production, WC-TU supports hatchery reform efforts which will develop scientifically appropriate maintenance and operation of the co-manager's hatchery programs. However, WC-TU believes these efforts should be applied only where they do not significantly impact the present and future production and recovery of wild fish. To assure hatchery fish can be fully utilized, to have the ability to separate them from wild fish in fisheries and to reduce their impacts on wild fish, WC-TU strongly supports the need for all co-managers to visibly mark (such as adipose fin removal) all hatchery produced steelhead.

To prevent undesirable genetic transfer and crosses, hatchery fish should be planted only in their river of origin.


To provide adequate time necessary to accomplish a thorough evaluation of the department's wild steelhead management policy and program, WC-TU suggests a minimum 8-year moratorium (a period that approximates two generations) on the harvest of wild steelhead. All wild steelhead should be released immediately without removing any body parts or inflicting any harm to the fish. The 8-year period would provide time to review and conduct new research to improve stock conservation and production. It would further allow time to study the biological and sociological effects of wild steelhead release. The moratorium should be monitored to determine its effect on rebuilding depressed stocks including summer, early and later winter, and spring runs. A fisher survey at term is recommended to determine angler interest in continuing the release of wild fish.

On rivers where escapement goals are not projected to be met, stronger fishing restrictions designed to protect recovering wild stocks need to be implemented. In planning a fishery, WDFW should consider not only the winter run (March/April/May returning spawners), but also the historical runs that returned during the summer, fall, and late spring for each river and its tributaries. The normal resiliency of low populations should not be considered a reason to open a fishery, as poor environmental conditions may drive the survival of recruits far lower than predictions of the model.


The Washington Council - Trout Unlimited recognizes, as does the scientific community, that there is a long term declining trend in wild winter steelhead populations from California to Alaska. The factors of decline are variable and complex. Many of the factors are identified in this policy document. There is tremendous need for additional information on the life histories of steelhead and the critical impacts which the 4 H's have on these Northwest treasures. It is and has been our organization's basic view that fisheries should be managed for the resource, not for harvest. It is for this reason that we submit this document to the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission for its consideration.

It is our hope that the Commission will use our "Wild Steelhead Policy" document as a resource tool. This document was developed to assist the commissioners in their deliberations to potentially develop a public policy which will be grounded in current scientific understanding of the status and needs of wild steelhead in Washington State. This public policy must also be validated by intensive monitoring to assess the proposed impacts to the steelhead resource. It is our hope that this document will assist the Commission in charting a new course in the management of Washington's steelhead resources.
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Wishin there were fish

Gentlemen, In time, Mother Nature will heal herself, if we remember that we are guests here on Earth and that we cannot adapt nature to us, WE have to adapt to nature. Very good arguements, get off the couch, make your words heard to those that can make changes. Native or Hatchery, I will catch both with a grin on my face! I will let ALL go no matter what! We are anglers! We fish! We respect nature! We respect the attempts to restore nature.

Now get out there and fish!}>
Wishin there were fish

I said "about 30%" because the number fluctuates around 27-29%, so I was trying to be charitable to our point. Yes, your right, it's a range estimate, but my point still stands that the sport take is nowhere near as low as 5%. We need to acccept accountability for our impact.

I also did not say there has been no introgression; I said all the studies done so far suggest there has been relatively little, related to the fact that when hatchery fish breed with wild fish, the wild fish don't produce as many viable young. Doesn't that sound counter-productinve to you?

I'm not quoting articles I read in STS or the newspaper. The information in my post comes from serious scientific papers printed in the Journal of the American Fisheires Society and other journals like "Conservation Ecology." These articles DO NOT GET PUBLISHED until they are reviewed by panels of qualified scientists to determine if the data is solid, and the methods and conclusions credible. I'm sorry if the science tells you what you don't want to hear; it's still the science.

You're not thinking through enough what you call genetic difference. You and I are both human so in that way we're the same genetically, but we still have genetic differences. Some of those differences appear to be superfulous and benign -- I have brown hair; maybe your's is blonde. But some of them will have consequence -- maybe you're tall; I'm short. And some may not be benign at all -- you're healthy; I may develop diabetes. THERE ARE GENETIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HATCHERY AND WILD FISH; THAT IS A PROVEN FACT. The only dispute anyone can make is about what the impacts of those differences are.

You're right, some problems are behavioral, and may or may not be fixable, but there's nothing behavioral about developing fewer eggs or haveing a less pronounced kype or teeth to small to compete effectively with other males.

To scott r.: unfortunately, for many of the reasons I alluded to above, native brood stock are no better than any other stock, and in fact may be worse becaouse they are more likely to attempt to spawn with the wild fish.

I don't consider you the enemy at all. I'm just trying to present you with facts that it seemed you weren't aware of. I didn't make this stuff up. My goal isn't to "prove you wrong." It's to give you information that you might want to use in standing up for this resource that you obviously care about.

Finally, I don't mean to "imply" anything. I'll say it explicitly to anyone who will listen: Hatcheries will not recover or even "supplement" wild fish; they are part of the problem; they should be shut down. I draw that conclusion from every piece of scientific literature I've read on the subject that was free of institutional conflict of interest. I'm sorry that it's so. I'm an angler; if hatcheries were going to make the fishing better, what could I have against that?
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Wishin there were fish

Oh, by the way: I'm with you on TU.
Wishin there were fish

I am curious what your feelings are on TU and why you hold those opinions. Would you mind elabotrating? I am starting to get really involved with and would like to know what your thoughts are ongroups like these. To you belong to any clubs or conservation oragiazations that you think do a good job? When I have more time I will make a new thread on this subject.

Wishin there were fish

I have nothing against them (TU) except for that one issue but they have done a lot of other good things. Groups like these do help in getting attention of our government officials. I also think they have done some hands on work out in the field with fixing habitat and the like. So I will not bad mouth them here or anywhere, they deserve our respect for their dedication and conservation efforts.
I will be the first to admitt I don't know as much as maybe I should and that I put most of my faith in those in the know.
As I stated before I am in favor of C&R but for the right reasons. Not just to throw a blanket on the whole state and call it good. Some places may not need it. I would think some might argue the same reason for not supporting the banning of nets apply to this issue, it won't affect tribal fishing. Their rights are protected by federal law and they won't be giving them up anytime soon. So why is it they don't get trashed for catching wild fish? Is that a double standard on our part? That's a tough one, huh? We just choose to pull out of a missle treaty with the Russians, why can't we do that with Native Americans? Let's not forget those casino's either. With the money they bring in from them they are buying power to use on other issues, including fishing. Enough said about that. I need to run for now, will get back to ya later. Thanks again to all who replied. Jim
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