Monday, November 22, 2010

WDFW Accepting Comments on Snider Creek Broodstock Program

The contract for the Snider Creek Broodstock program on the Sol Duc River is expiring in 2011 and WDFW is accepting public comments on the future of the program. The Snider Program takes early returning wild fish, spawns them in the hatchery and releases their offspring for harvest opportunity. In its 25 year history the program has been terribly managed and has been a massive waste of the few early returning wild fish that remain in the Sol Duc. It is critical that the public tells WDFW that this failing program needs to be curtailed. Comments are due before December 15th.

Comment at:

Snider Creek Steelhead Hatchery Bullet Points

1. General effects of supplementation hatcheries

Evidence in scientific literature suggests numerous negative impacts of supplementation hatcheries, of which I will discuss two; A) Fitness B) Ecological Interactions.

A. Low Fitness in the wild: Supplementation hurts wild runs through low productivity of HxH crosses and HxW crosses, and these effects can last multiple generations, potentially depressing productivity of wild populations.

B. Ecological Interactions: Residualized hatchery smolts as well as the offspring of hatchery-origin fish that spawn in the wild both compete with wild juveniles for limited food and space in freshwater rearing areas and may precociously spawn with wild steelhead. Scale data from WDFW in fact shows considerable proportions of the Snider Program adults return after rearing for an additional year or two after release in freshwater (Mean = 11.5%). This is direct evidence of hatchery smolts using, and presumably competing for, the same limited freshwater rearing habitats and resources as wild juveniles. Further, this percentage likely underestimates the actual percentage of released fish that residualize because residualized fish produce 11.5% of the adult returns after surviving for one year in freshwater. Surviving the additional year in freshwater likely incurs at least 50% mortality, suggesting that at least 20% of the initial releases actually residualize. This represents an additional ~10,000 (20% of a 50,000 Mean Annual Release) hatchery O. mykiss parr competing with wild juveniles as a result of the program.

2. Unclear or contradictory program goals

If the Snider program was designed to supplement the wild population, the mass-marking and open-harvest of returning adults is contradictory to that purpose. If the purpose of the program is to provide harvest, then it comes with the direct cost of removing individuals from the wild population to satisfy this objective. Further, if the latter is the case, there is already an existing segregated program to provide harvest opportunity that doesn’t require the mining of wild populations.

3. Impacts on already-depressed early component of wild run

The program removes wild fish from the segment of the wild population with run timing that is most depressed (early)—a time of year that wild steelhead retention was just outlawed by WDFW (in 2010) in recognition of the depressed state of early runs.

4. Low and inconsistent smolt quality, low rearing survival, and resulting impacts

The program consistently fails to meet state steelhead rearing guidelines. It has low eyed egg to fry survival (Mean = 72.4%) and low fry to smolt survival (Mean =69.6%), both of which should be greater than 90% in a successful hatchery program. It has highly variable mean smolt size (Range of Mean Annual Size = 5.5 to 17 fish/lb) between years, and high individual size variation within a year, both of which likely lead to much higher than desired rates of residualism because large numbers of fish are too small to smolt or are so large that they are likely to precociously mature and then may spawn with wild steelhead.

5. Disease impacts

Infectious Hematopoetic Necrosis (IHN) of the M clade, which is most virulent in steelhead, has spread throughout hatcheries across the Washington Coast over the last several years, exposing na├»ve wild populations to the diasease. Last year the positive test results for wild fish captured for the program resulted in their slaughter and thus the waste of those wild steelhead—they weren’t necessarily infected before being caught but may have been infected during holding together in close proximity at the hatchery—the program likely infected and then killed those wild steelhead with no tangible benefit.

6. Low productivity of program

The program produces small run sizes most years (Mean = 210 or 290 using either WDFW run reconstruction method), has low contributions to fisheries (Mean Tribal + Sport Catch = 140.2; Mean Total Run Size = 210 or 290 using either WDFW run reconstruction method), and very low smolt to adult survival (Mean = 0.34% in other words 3.4 returning adults for every 1000 smolts). This suggests bad hatchery rearing practices (see #4) and/or low smolt to adult survival. This is a much lower return rate than the segregated Chambers Creek stock currently planted on the Bogachiel and Calawah (Mean SAR = 8.3%, in other words 83 returning adults for every 1000 smolts released), and is poor in comparison to virtually all other existing steelhead programs in the state.

7. Cost

The program costs thousands of dollars per year to operate and oversee during a time when the state is in its biggest budget crunch ever.

8. Cumulative impacts of hatcheries in the Quillayute Basin

The Percent Hatchery Origin Spawners (PHOS) spawning in the wild from the segregated programs in the Quillyute Basin is already above the HSRG recommendation of 5% based on the WDFW run reconstruction data. To bring it in to line with HSRG recommendations, reductions in hatchery production are needed. A program like the Snider Creek program only increases the hatchery influence in a basin where it is out of compliance with HSRG recommendations.

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