Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Salmon and steelhead have evolved in a landscape in the Pacific Northwest rife with peril. From landslides and volcanoes, to glaciers which have intermittently advanced and retreated throughout the region over the last few million years. Under these evolutionary circumstances it is not surprising then that salmon have the ability to colonize newly available habitats. Indeed straying and colonization by salmon could be considered one of the very cornerstones of the species. A recent article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin highlights this point, presenting research from the Cedar River, Seattle's municipal watershed, that has shown convincingly that when passage is restored into areas above dams salmon will naturally recolonize the habitat quickly. Landsburg Dam on the Cedar River was built in 1901 as the diversion dam for Seattle's drinking water. In 2003 the city built a fish ladder over the dam following the ESA listing of Puget Sound chinook and growing concern over salmon recovery in the region. At the time there were some vocal advocates for using hatcheries to reintroduce salmon above the dam, but ultimately cooler heads prevailed and the city opted for the lower cost, natural option of letting salmon recolonize the habitat on their own.
They also teamed up with researchers from UW and NOAA who tracked the recolonization process from the very beginning. What they found, while not surprising, should help inform the debate around salmon recovery all over our region. In just a few generations coho and Chinook had established populations above the dam. Coho, which rear for a year or two in freshwater prior to their seaward migration benefited the most from the access to 30 miles of intact habitat that the fish ladder provided. Today hundreds of coho spawn above the dam every fall and with each passing generation the population continues to grow.
More information in the CBB:
Friday, December 19, 2014
The Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society is sponsoring the Hatchery vs. Wild Salmonid Symposium – Research, Management, and Reform in the Pacific Northwest, January 22-23, 2015, at the Hilton Portland in downtown Portland, Oregon. Early registration ends December 22nd, for what should be a fascinating and worthwhile two-day event.
Check out the symposium page for more information and to register:
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Wild is the future
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced last week that the Nooksack River is closed to fishing. The reason: to allow the hatchery program in the watershed to get enough fish for their egg take goal. The river has been closed to protect hatchery fish. Unfortunately this occurrence has become commonplace over the last decade as hatchery programs in Puget Sound (and around the state for that matter) have failed to produce even enough returning fish to support their own existence. These programs cost state taxpayers millions of dollars per year, and are counterproductive to the goal of recovering ESA listed wild steelhead in the region. So why is WDFW continuing to run these programs?
Because the hatchery programs are an entrenched and broken part of the department, and leadership can see no other way of providing "opportunity". At WDFW the first two tenants of the departmental mission are to 1.) conserve and protect native fish and wildlife and 2.) provide sustainable fishing and hunting. The department's apparent answer to their mission of conserving fish and providing sustainable fishing? Spending millions of dollars on hatcheries that are so ineffective that they force fishing closures to protect the fish returning fish as broodstock, and failing egregiously to provide opportunity in Puget Sound and around the state because of a lack of vision on how to protect wild fish while providing fishing opportunities. Hatchery populations are tanking all over the region, while on the Skagit and other North Puget Sound rivers the last two years have seen some of the best returns of wild steelhead in decades. These rivers could have easily supported catch and release fisheries through the end of April with negligible impacts on steelhead populations. Instead they were closed to fishing.
The Nooksack, like every other river in Puget Sound will close on January 31st this year, eliminating opportunity for three months of catch and release angling for wild steelhead. While steelhead populations are undeniably depressed in these rivers, the state could and should where possible manage these rivers to support opportunities for anglers to fish, and do so in ways that minimize impacts on ESA listed populations to the greatest extent possible. This would hardly require a precedent setting battle with NOAA. Steelhead are listed in the majority of rivers in the Lower 48, but when state management agencies make providing catch and release opportunities a priority NOAA has by and large gone along with it, and fishing is open throughout the entire steelhead season in most areas in Oregon, Idaho, and Northern California despite listed populations. NOAA does this because they know that for the most part these fisheries have very little impact on population trajectories and they're extremely popular with anglers, supporting millions of dollars of economic activity around our region every year.
Even in Puget Sound WDFW has gone to battle to protect sport fisheries for ESA listed chinook, getting NOAA to agree on "recovery harvest rates". While these fisheries are less biologically defensible they illustrate a key point, the ESA does not necessarily guarantee a perpetual end to fishing opportunity as we've seen in Puget Sound. Rather, it compels state managers to defend the decisions they make with some minimal level of biological justification. WDFW has been more than willing to do this for expensive, failing hatchery programs, so why not for catch and release fisheries for wild steelhead which are ostensibly free for the state?
It's time for WDFW to think differently and change their priorities when it comes to steelhead management. The hatchery paradigm has failed so miserably over the past two decades that any rational observer will agree that there really isn't another defensible choice. The state could improve monitoring, enforcement and creel surveys at a fraction of the cost of the current hatchery operations, With this information and enforcement regime in place, WDFW could sustainably manage catch and release fishing in the region, setting thresholds for impacts on wild populations, and conducting in season management accordingly.
So while we're sitting at home this winter not fishing the rivers that we've known and loved for decades, remember that there is a different way forward for WDFW and our state. But until we emphasize the protection of wild fish and the fisheries they can support we'll continue to squander millions of dollars a year all in the name of perpetuating a broken system of hatcheries and river closures.
See the WDFW press release here:
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Steelhead of the Olympic Peninsula need your help. Despite some of the most intact habitat in the Pacific Northwest, an explosion in fishing pressure and the highest harvest rates for wild steelhead anywhere in their range have populations in the region on a troubling downward trajectory. It's long past time for the state and tribal co-managers to take a proactive approach to conserving and managing this precious resource. A new petition put together by Shane Anderson, director of Wild Reverence clearly articulates the issues and the steps necessary to ensure the long term viability of Olympic Peninsula steelhead. Please take a few minutes to check out the petition and add your name, the time for change is now and waiting will only allow these populations to slip further into decline.
Sign the petition here:
Thursday, November 6, 2014
photos by Tavish Campbell and Brian Huntington respectively - from the Vancouver Observer
A coalition of North Coast First Nations released a statement this week relating their opposition to a proposed LNG terminal on Lelu Island in the Skeena Estuary. The area effected by the terminal construction and the shipping traffic lies atop some of the largest eel grass beds in the Skeena estuary, making it a vitally important rearing area for salmon in the Skeena watershed and even adjacent rivers. They also believe that thus far the evaluation of the risks posed by the project and mitigation strategies proposed by the project proponent Petronas, a massive multi-national natural gas company based in Malaysia, have been grossly inadequate to protect salmon in the Skeena.
More information in an article from the Globe and Mail:
Add your name to a petition and voice your opposition to putting an LNG terminal on Lelu Island:
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
The Osprey vol. 79 is out and it's generating some buzz among the conservation and angling community. In this issue are:
- To Save Wild Steelhead, Get Rid of Hatcheries. by Bill McMillan
- Science Shows Better Marine Survival in Wild Steelhead. by Dr. Elizabeth Daly
- Victory for Puget Sound Wild Steelhead. by Nick Gayeski
- Implementing Washington's Wild Steelhead Management Plan. by Pete Soverl
- Nickel Mining Threat in Southern Oregon and Northern California. by Michael Dotson
Read The Osprey here
Subscribe here and support our work