Thursday, December 24, 2009

WDFW Closes Cascade River

Last week WDFW closed the Cascade River to fishing to protect returning hatchery fish and allow the hatchery to reach its egg take goal for this year. The North Fork of the Nooksack has also been closed all year because of chronically low hatchery returns and the fact that the hatchery has regularly missed its egg take goal over the past few years.

In an era when managers are increasingly acknowledging the impacts of hatchery supplementation on wild stocks why is the state fighting so hard to save these failing hatchery programs? Over the past decade survival of hatchery steelhead in Puget Sound has plummeted meaning each year state hatcheries are scrambling to get enough fish back to spawn the next generation. With a recent state rule banning between basin transfers of hatchery fish, programs which consistently fail to meet egg takes would be forced to close. We have to ask ourselves, are these fisheries providing the benefits they claim, when terminal areas which provide most of the harvest opportunity are closed to protect hatchery fish? These programs are expensive and the bottom line is, they aren't working very well. Now the Nooksack closes February 28th to protect wild fish, and the Skagit will in all likelihood close early this year for the second time in 3 years. Given the state of the wild returns, and the glaringly obvious failures of the steelhead hatchery programs why is continued supplementation justified?

In 2007 more than 500,000 smolts were planted in the Skagit system and produced a return incapable of supporting harvest. The question is what is the impact of that supplementation on the wild stocks? Most biologists will agree that the early marine period of a steelhead's lifehistory limits survival and year to year variation in early marine survival dictate subsequent adult returns. If wild fish are experiencing the same difficult early marine conditions how does having half a million hatchery smolts competing for limited resources not hurt their chance of survival? This is a simple case of a cost and benefit analysis. No one knows how much harm these two steelhead hatchery programs are doing, however given their very low benefits, the availability of other hatchery programs nearby and the great potential for ecological impacts from huge numbers of hatchery smolts it seems prudent to consider discontinuing these two steelhead programs. Numerous rivers in Oregon have been designated Wild Fish Refugia, why are none of the major watersheds in Puget Sound receiving the same protections?

A press release from WDFW on closing the Cascade December 19th

2007 smolt releases in Washington

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