Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Study Indicates "Segregated" Hatcheries are Ineffective at Minimizing Impacts on Wild Fish

A new study published yesterday in the Journal Evolutionary Applications, is giving credence to those who have long insisted that segregated hatcheries do not effectively minimize gene flow between hatchery and wild steelhead. The study used genotype data to track hatchery and wild populations over three generations from the beginning of the steelhead hatchery program in Forks Creek, a tributary of the Willapa. The authors found was that despite generations of selection for early run timing and a weir intended to reduce spawning interactions between hatchery and wild fish, over time the degree of hybridization between early run Chambers creek stock and wild winter steelhead increased to the point that as many as 80% of unmarked (non-hatchery origin) returning adults had some degree of hatchery ancestry.

Throughout the state WDFW releases several million early timed Chambers creek stock winter steelhead every year. The long held belief among managers being that these fish are subject to high levels of harvest, spawn earlier than their wild counterparts and are therefore unlikely to interbreed with the wild population. However in Forks Creek, despite high harvest rates in the Willapa, and a weir designed to stop upstream passage of hatchery fish, high water events in most years allowed hatchery fish to escape into the river above the weir and spawn among their wild counterparts. This is a major concern for the sustainability of the wild run within Fork Creek since Chambers Creek fish are known to have very low fitness when spawning in the wild.

Preliminary results from work on tributaries of the Skagit have shown similarly high rates of hatchery introgression despite the fact that the steelhead hatchery there is managed as a segregated program. These results also highlight the risks posed by ongoing releases of Chambers Creek stock steelhead in the Elwha throughout the dam removal and recovery period, and the importance of a recent agreement between the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Conservation Angler and the FFF Steelhead Committee in which the tribe agreed not to release Chambers creek steelhead into the Elwha this year. With an ongoing 5 year fishing moratorium on the Elwha, all of the returning Chambers creek stock fish would have spawned in the wild posing a severe threat to the fragile population of ESA listed winter steelhead remaining below the dam.

Read the article

Seamons et al. 2012 - Can interbreeding of wild and artificially propagated animals be prevented by using broodstock selected for a divergent life history.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interim Agreement Protects Wild Elwha Steelhead From Hatchery Release

For Immediate Release: Monday, February 28, 2012
WILD FISH CONSERVANCY PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 · Tel 425-788-1167 · Fax 425-788-9634

Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 206-310-9301 Richard Smith, Smith and Lowney, PLLC, 206-860-2124

Non-native hatchery steelhead will not be released into the Elwha River and its tributaries this year, say four conservation groups that earlier this month filed suit against federal agencies and officials of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (in their official capacities) for releases of hatchery fish into the Elwha. The groups announced today that they have reached an agreement with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (LEKT), where the four groups agreed not to seek a preliminary injunction against the LEKT’s release of hatchery-raised “Chambers Creek” steelhead, and the LEKT agreed not to release those fish this year. Normally, the fish would have likely been released sometime in April.

On February 9, 2012, the four groups, Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition filed suit in the US District Court for Western Washington in Tacoma against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives of the LEKT, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agreement on not releasing fish in 2012 was filed with the same Court, and was approved and signed by Judge Benjamin H. Settle on Monday, February 27, 2012.

Federal and state scientists and a recent review by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) all argue that releases of non-native steelhead could slow natural recovery of the Elwha, and these same concerns were expressed by the groups in their suit. The Fish Restoration Plan for the Elwha outlines releases of hatchery-raised steelhead and Chinook salmon.

Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy stated, “We hope to expand the agreement through future discussions with the Tribe and the agencies, so the Elwha’s wild fish have a better chance to recover and recolonize this magnificent river.”

“We are glad we could come to an agreement with the Tribe on this,” said Will Atlas, chair of the FFF Steelhead Committee, “and want to discuss the HSRG’s report and science with them on all of the planned hatchery releases and together develop a way forward.”

“We appreciate the Tribe’s flexibility on this matter,” said Rich Simms, president of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “and we recognize their special relationship to the watershed. We want to work with them to both restore wild fish and meet their needs."

“This is a good first step,” said Pete Soverel, president of The Conservation Angler. “We hope to discuss all the issues and exchange ideas to make the Fish Restoration Plan a better one.”

In the agreement, neither side has admitted to any claims or assertions made by the other party. In addition, the agreement does not apply to any possible releases in future years.
The four conservation groups are represented by Brian Knutsen with the law firm of Smith and Lowney, PLLC, in Seattle.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Brief from the Steelhead Society of BC

The Enbridge Northern Gateway project consists of two parallel pipelines between an inland terminal at Bruderheim, Alberta and a marine terminal near Kitimat, BC, each with a length of 1,177 kilometers (731 mi). Diluted bitumen (dilbit) produced from oil sands, would be transported from Bruderheim to Kitimat, while natural gas condensate would move in the opposite direction in a smaller pipeline.

A statistic from the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) states: ‘’ It should also be noted that pipelines in Alberta have never been safer. In 2009, Alberta posted a record-low pipeline failure rate of 1.7 pipeline failures per 1,000 km of pipeline (considering all substances), bettering the previous record-low of 2.1 set in both 2008 and 2007.’’ Source

Visit the SSBC website for more information:

Submit your comments by following this link:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wild Salmon Center Report on Pebble Mine

The Wild Salmon Center recently released a comprehensive report on the potential impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine on the Bristol Bay ecosystem. Not surprisingly they conclude that the proposed mine has the potential to catastrophically impact the Bristol Bay ecosystem and the salmon fisheries it has long supported. Bristol Bay is home to one of the world's largest and most intact salmon ecosystem and annually supports commercial sockeye fisheries worth as much as $ 572 million. Placing one of the worlds largest open pit mines and the 2.5 billion tons of toxic tailings it would produce right in the heart of this ecosystem is a recipe for catastrophe. The EPA is currently conducting an environmental review of the Pebble Mine proposal and will likely issue their findings sometime this year.

More info at the Wild Salmon Center's website:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Help Support the Opposition to Multinational Salmon Farming Companies

Wherever they have gone in the world, the proliferation of open net pen fish farms has resulted in the destruction of wild salmon populations. From Norway, where massive numbers of stray Atlantic salmon have overwhelmed native genetic stocks to the BC coastline where parasites and disease spread by salmon farms have contributed to severe declines in salmon populations, open net pen aquaculture ranks among the principal threats to the persistence of wild salmon.

Fortunately for the fish, opposition to these environmentally destructive practices has sprung up almost since day one, and today there is an every growing public awareness of the impact of salmon farming thanks to the efforts of wild fish advocates. One individual in particular, Don Staniford, has been a constant and firm voice for wild fish and consequently he has drawn the ire of the fish farming companies he opposes. In an effort to silence him Mainstream Canada, a Norwegian owned fish farming company which controls a major stake in BC's fish farming industry is suing Staniford for libel alleging that he has made false and defamatory statements about the impact of fish farming.

Anyone who has followed Don's coverage of the fish farming industry over the years knows this is absolutely false. Rather, this is baseless lawsuit in which a company is seeking to silence one of its critics through brute financial force, crushing him under the weight of their political influence and a legal system in which a fair case is dependent on access to high quality, and expensive representation. For years Don has served the public interest as a passionate critic of the salmon farming industry now its time for us to support him. Visit Don's go fund me site and donate to his legal defense today. Even small amounts help so please give whatever you can.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ocean Conditions Primed for Excellent 2012 Survival

While a multitude of factors in freshwater may drive long term trends in salmon populations, year to year variation in abundance is typically the result of the conditions in the marine environment. The survival of smolts in the early marine environment is highly variable and is known to have a particularly important role in determining the size of the subsequent adult run. In the area around the mouth of the Columbia River researchers monitor yearly changes in the productivity of the ocean food web and their effects on the survival and growth of juvenile salmon.

In this region productivity is largely driven by summer upwelling whereby summer winds transport surface waters offshore bringing cold, nutrient rich bottom water to the surface to replace it. Years of strong upwelling are often associated with La Niña conditions and negative (cold) phases in an oceanographic phenomenon called Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Typically, the survival of juvenile salmon outmigrating from the Columbia tracks closely with these environmental indicators and many of the best years for Columbia River salmon and steelhead have come on the heels of outmigration years with strongly negative PDO and La Niña conditions.

Now after two consecutive La Niña years and with PDO locked in a strong negative phase, scientists with NOAA fisheries say we're primed to have some of the best out migration conditions in recent memory. Years like these are a major boon to populations of wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin; excellent survival in 1999-2000 and again in 2007-2009 which helped turn the tide against extinction for many populations was largely due to good ocean conditions and court mandated spill in the later years.

More information in the Northwest Fish Letter:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

HSRG Issues Elwha Review

Last week the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), an independent federal science review panel released a long awaited review of the Elwha Hatchery programs. Not surprisingly the HSRG came to many of the same conclusions as we did in choosing to join the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition and Conservation Angler in a lawsuit against the Elwha hatchery program.

Specifically, the current hatchery emphasis in the plan is unnecessary and counterproductive to the aim of recovering robust wild populations in the Elwha River and that an inadequate monitoring program will limit the ability to adaptively manage hatchery programs and determine the degree to which they are aiding or hindering recovery. Furthermore, no specific recovery goals or thresholds have been established that would lead to a reduction in the degree of hatchery supplementation in the Elwha and many of the hatchery fish being released into the Elwha are not marked with an adipose fin clip.

A few quotes from the document:

"The main concern the HSRG has with the Elwha Plan is the potential for unintended negative consequences of excessive and prolonged hatchery influence."

"Prolonged hatchery influence may lead to loss of fitness of natural populations, potentially resulting in reduced or delayed restoration and loss of long‐term sustainable harvest opportunities."

"Inadequate program monitoring may lead to management decisions that reduce or delay recovery, rather than promoting it, and prevent managers from identifying and testing alternatives that could be more effective."

"The continued production of Chambers Creek steelhead stock during the early phases of recovery therefore appears inconsistent with the priorities and goals the managers have presented."

download a copy of the HSRG report

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bills Seeks to Help Recovery of Derelict Gear in Washington

Every year thousands of fish, birds and other marine life die because of lost or abandoned fishing nets. Despite the dangers posed by lost fishing equipment, Washington State still has a voluntary reporting system which since 2002 has only received 2 reports of lost gear. Efforts are underway to remove these deadly "ghost nets" from the marine environment, but with dozens of nets lost each year going unreported, recovery efforts are fighting an uphill battle. Now a bill recently passed in the Washington State senate seeks to aid the recovery of lost fishing gear. SB 5661 makes reporting lost fishing nets and traps mandatory allowing for their rapid recovery before they can inflict serious damage. This has been too long in coming and a similar bill died on the floor last year. The bill must now pass the Washington State house. Contact your representative today and let them know you support SB 5661.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Suit Filed To Block Elwha Hatchery Programs

For Immediate Release: Thursday, February 9, 2012

PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 • Tel 425-788-1167 • Fax 425-788-9634 •

Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 206-310-9301
Brian Knutsen, Smith and Lowney, PLLC, 503-287-4194

Citing warnings from agency and independent scientists, four conservation groups filed suit today against several federal agencies and officials of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (in their official capacities) for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and ignoring the best available science and threatening the recovery of killer whales, Chinook salmon, and native steelhead by funding and operating fish hatchery programs in the Elwha River. The groups agree with federal and state scientists and a recent review by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) that restoration of the lower Elwha River and recolonization of the pristine upper Elwha River above Elwha and Glines Canyon dams should prioritize recovery of wild fish. The proposed reliance on large-scale hatchery releases undermines ecosystem recovery and violates the ESA. Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition have brought the suit against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

The federal government is spending nearly $325 million for the dam removal project, opening nearly ninety miles of pristine riverine habitat in Olympic National Park, much of which is designated a wilderness area. Rather than allowing wild salmonids to naturally colonize this pristine habitat, the agencies and the Tribe are going ahead with a plan that will release approximately four million juvenile hatchery salmonids annually throughout the recovery, including the continued release of non-native steelhead during a five-year fishing moratorium. The hatchery releases will be supported by a new fish hatchery on the Elwha River built with $16.4 million of Stimulus Act funds. State and federal agency scientists pointed out that the current plan gives no measureable goals for wild fish recovery, provides no timetable for ceasing the hatchery production, and that ultimately, wild fish recovery is going to be hampered by the hatchery fish. A review released this week by the independent Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), which was organized and funded by Congress, has echoed these concerns.

“While the Tribe played an essential role in removing the dams,” said Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy, “their intent to now plant millions of hatchery fish in disregard of the scientific evidence undermines salmon recovery in the Northwest and the goals of the ESA. However you look at it, it’s a horrible precedent if left to stand.”

Will Atlas, chair of the FFF Steelhead Committee, stated “The science does not support planting of hatchery fish into this productive, pristine habitat.”

“This action is necessary,” said Rich Simms, president of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “so that wild, not hatchery, steelhead will be restored to the Elwha and the Olympic Wilderness."

“Their plan is vague and uncertain about how and when these hatchery interventions will end,” said Pete Soverel, president of The Conservation Angler. “The Elwha deserves far better but will end up compromised like most of our other rivers if this plan is implemented.”

The groups believe that spending $325 million to open a wilderness watershed but then stocking it with hatchery fish is poor public policy and will likely provoke taxpayer skepticism toward salmon recovery and future efforts at dam removal. The groups support the right of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe to harvest salmon and steelhead, but argue that intensive hatchery production throughout the recovery will reduce the capacity of wild salmon and steelhead to recolonize the newly available habitat, harming ESA listed Puget Sound steelhead, Chinook salmon, and southern resident killer whales that depend on Chinook salmon for their survival.

The groups are represented by Smith and Lowney, PLLC, of Seattle.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Major Research Proposal Seeks to Quantify Fish Farm Impact on Sockeye Survival

A proposal by a group of biologists led by high seas salmon researcher David Welch is seeking major funding to conduct a comprehensive experimental study on the impact of salmon aquaculture on the survival of Fraser Sockeye Salmon. The proposal which calls for a pilot study in the spring of 2012 and full scale implementation 2013-2015 would tag juvenile sockeye salmon, expose them to fish farms and release them at the mouth of the Fraser where they would presumably migrate to sea with the rest of the juvenile sockeye outmigration. Differences in the survival of exposed and control groups to various acoustic tag readers in the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking network (POST) would be used to infer the impact of fish farm exposure on sockeye survival. Researchers would also test experimentally exposed fish for a suite of diseases thought to affect juvenile salmonid survival.

While a study of this magnitude is costly and must overcome a multitude of logistical challenges it offers a rare opportunity to experimentally quantify the impact of salmon farms on juvenile salmon survival. Salmon farming is a multimillion dollar industry in British Columbia which is largely controlled by foreign multinational companies. Concurrent with the expansion of the fish farming industry in British Columbia, wild salmon populations throughout the Georgia Basin have seen precipitous declines in productivity, and several studies have documented severe negative impacts of salmon farms on the survival of outmigrating juvenile salmon. Given these concerns, the burden of proof that salmon farms are not causing harm should be placed squarely on the industry and they should be compelled to fund research into the impacts of salmon aquaculture and cooperate with researchers hoping to understand the role of aquaculture in the decline of wild salmon. Unfortunately the industry and government agencies have obstructed scientific inquiry into salmon farming impacts, however there is hope that with growing public scrutiny they will feel compelled to address the issue honestly.

more information in the Globe and Mail:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Elwha Science Talk next week in Kirkland, WA

Dr. George Pess a researcher with NOAA's watershed program and one of the leaders of the research team on the Elwha River will be giving a talk next week at the Wilde Rover Cafe in Kirkland. The talk is the latest installment of the Pacific Science Center's Science Cafe lectures which bring leading researchers to the public do discuss the pressing scientific issues of the day. Dr. Pess is among the leading experts in the Pacific Northwest on river processes and has spent nearly two decades studying the dynamic interactions between river habitats and fish populations and the talk should be well worth attending. The event is free to the public and will be held at 7PM on Monday February 13th. The address for Wilde Rover is 111 Central Way, Kirkland WA.

More information:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Snider Creek Hatchery Program Discontinued

Thanks in part to an outpouring of comments from the angling community asking that the Snider Creek hatchery program be discontinued on the Sol Duc, WDFW announced recently that beginning in 2014 the Snider Program will be moved to the Bogachiel and smolt releases will also be reduced from a goal of 100,000 to 50,000. WDFW will also be discontinuing other releases of hatchery steelhead in the Sol Duc, protecting one of Washington state's most productive wild steelhead rivers from the detrimental impact of hatchery introgression. In a perfect world the department would have simply discontinued the Snider program and not moved it to the Bogachiel, but faced with a challenging situation politically WDFW made the decision that minimized the impact of the program. The Bogey is already heavily supplemented with Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead and consequently is heavily pressured during the early season.

In recognition of this important decision, the Wild Steelhead Coalition is asking members of the public to write WDFW to thank them for making the right decision and discontinuing all hatchery steelhead programs on the Sol Duc. Follow this link to send your letter, it takes a few minutes and it will go a long way to ensuring that WDFW knows that they have the full support of the angling community in making tough decisions that aid the conservation and recovery of wild fish.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Managers Forecasting Big Run of Spring Chinook for the Columbia and Snake Rivers

Fisheries managers from Oregon and Washington recently released preseason run forecasts for this year's run of Spring Chinook on the Columbia River and they're predicting the fourth largest run since the construction of Bonneville Dam in 1938. While only a small fraction of the forecasted 314,000 "upriver" chinook - fish which spawn above Bonneville - are wild, returns of stream bred spring chinook are also predicted to see an uptick. Wild Snake River spring Chinook were listed in 1992 as threatened bottomed out at the mid-1990s when fewer than 3500 fish returned to the massive, 107 thousand square mile river basin. Thanks to improvements in downstream passage, court mandated spill and good ocean conditions, this year's wild component for the Snake is forecasted to be 39,000 a significant improvement that would bring this years abundance above NOAA's recovery goal for Snake River spring/summer chinook of 20,382.

While the preseason forecasts is good news for the Columbia River, recent returns have fallen well short of their preseason predictions and the actual run size remains to be seen. Two chinook have already passed Bonneville dam, a trickle which will undoubtedly grow in the coming months. In the meantime managers and anglers are left to cross their fingers and hope the preseason forecast holds true, if it does it will be a banner year for the Columbia and an important step towards recovery.

More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

North Fork Clackamas Update from ODFW Biologist Kathryn Kostow

Since 2000 the North Fork of the Clackamas has been a refugia for wild winter steelhead. No hatchery steelhead are released in the river and all hatchery adults are removed from the spawning population at the North Fork Dam. Recent work by ODFW biologist Kathryn Kostow has demonstrated that since the removal of hatchery fish from the North Fork the productivity of wild winter steelhead has increased significantly. She recently updated her anaylsis to include more recent years and found that the pattern remains, wild fish are doing better in the North Fork thanks to the removal of hatchery fish. Here is an update on her work.


Date: January 27, 2012
From: Kathryn Kostow
Subject: Update on Clackamas Steelhead

I have been hearing rumors that some people are casting doubts on the benefits of ODFW’s removal of hatchery adults above North Fork Dam on the Clackamas River. I’ve been told that this question came up during the recent Senate hearing on hatcheries, for example. The implication is that wild fish sanctuaries are not effective at protecting wild populations. This seems like an unfortunate interpretation that puts proposals like salmon strongholds and other wild fish sanctuaries at jeopardy.

This perspective is not supported by the facts in the Clackamas. Since my research provided the scientific support for this management action, I have been getting questions about it from a number of sources. The purpose of this memo is to provide everyone with the same update of the Clackamas data so that the facts are evenly understood.

The management action: As a refresher on the management action, it was implemented starting in 2000 and involved the removal of all hatchery adults at the dam, as well as the discontinuance of hatchery smolt plants above the dam. The hatchery programs were primarily for summer steelhead along with smaller numbers of hatchery spring Chinook, winter steelhead and coho. Hatchery programs for all species are still being implemented below North Fork Dam. The management decision was based on two studies of winter steelhead conducted by ODFW in the 1990s and ultimately published in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society . A “cliff notes” version was also published in the Osprey in 2006 . All three papers are attached.

What the data says:

The hatchery summer steelhead program started with an initial hatchery smolt release in 1969. The hatchery stock came from Washington (“Skamania” stock). By 1976 an average of 164,000 hatchery steelhead smolts were being released above the dam and an average of 70% of the steelhead adults passed above the dam were hatchery adults (Figure 1). Wild population abundance declined over this period to a low of only 109 fish in 1999.

Figure 1. Number of adult wild winter steelhead (blue, solid) and hatchery summer steelhead (red, dashed) passed above North Fork Dam on the Clackamas River.

A genetics analysis indicated that the hatchery summer steelhead were not interbreeding with the wild winter steelhead, so the hatchery fish were not posing genetic risks to the wild winter steelhead.

However, the hatchery summer steelhead adults were breeding among themselves, although at a reduced reproductive success compared to the wild winter steelhead. Since the hatchery adults out-numbered the wild adults, even with depressed reproductive success they were producing about half of the smolts out-migrating from the basin (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Relative proportion of parents, naturally-produced smolts and naturally produced adult offspring that were wild winter steelhead verses hatchery summer steelhead.

The hatchery fish depressed wild steelhead productivity by ecological effects since the hatchery and wild fish were not inter-breeding. This effect was demonstrated by Ricker and Beverton-Holt productivity models. In basic productivity models, the number of offspring produced is determined by the number of parents. Kostow and Zhou (2006) added additional interaction variables to the models to explore whether other factors besides the number of parents might influence the production of offspring. The hatchery variables included the number of hatchery adults passed and the number of hatchery smolts released. Several environmental variables were also explored including several flow scenarios and PDO (ocean productivity). The production of both smolt and adult offspring was measured. Twenty three different models demonstrated significant decreases in wild fish productivity due to the presence of hatchery fish above the dam. The number of winter steelhead offspring produced per parent decreased by an average of 50% while the capacity of the basin decreased by an average of 22% during the years that the hatchery program was implemented.

A simple version of the modeling, updated through 2011 adult returns (brood year 2005) is presented in Figure 3. This update used a similar approach to the discrete ‘‘high’’ and ‘‘low’’ hatchery fraction models used by Kostow and Zhou (2006). Two Ricker models are shown for the production of adult recruits under two observed scenarios. In the first scenario 0 – 12% (“low”) of the adults passed above North Fork Dam were hatchery adults. In the second scenario 31% - 92% (“high”) of the adults passed above the dam were hatchery adults. These simple models graphically demonstrate the reduction in capacity (height of the curves) and recruits/spawner (slope of the curves) that occurred as a result of the hatchery program. The updated data set validates the original results in Kostow and Zhou (2006).

Figure 3. The difference in wild fish productivity in the Clackamas when no to few hatchery fish were present (upper, blue line, square data points, BY 1958-74 and 2000-05) compared to the years when a large number of hatchery fish were present (lower, red line, diamond data points, BY 1975-99) as modeled by Ricker productivity functions.

The Clackamas research demonstrated impacts on population productivity, which is a different metric than population abundance. The abundance of a healthy population may fluctuate, but it does not chronically decline. A healthy population responds to a period of low abundance by increasing the number of offspring produced per parent. This productivity response returns the population to a larger size.

The wild winter steelhead population in the Clackamas appears to cycle under natural conditions (Figure 1, pre-hatchery years 1958-1974). This demographic pattern is likely due to large-scale environmental events. However, after the implementation of the summer steelhead hatchery program, when wild winter steelhead abundance in the Clackamas declined, the fish did not respond by increasing their productivity because the total abundance of steelhead was held artificially high by the presence of the hatchery fish. Kostow and Zhou (2006) determined that the carrying capacity of the river was regularly exceeded during the 25 years that hatchery adults were passed above North Fork Dam.

Thus over the three decades of the hatchery program, the production of both smolt and adult offspring chronically declined (Figure 4a and b). The decline has reversed when the hatchery fish were removed and the population appears to be returning to its typical cyclic pattern.

The population appears to be able to grow again, which should increase the chance for recovery of this ESA-listed species. Two factors, population grow rate and basin carrying capacity, will determine how rapid the population abundance will increase and how big it can become. Recent modeling results (still in progress) suggest that population growth could take as long 5 or 6 generations and will continue to be influenced by external factors that influence smolt-to-adult survival, such as migration survival, ocean productivity cycles, and harvest rates.

The basin should be capable of producing at least 50,000 winter steelhead smolts, based on observed historic (pre-hatchery) production levels. Smolt-to-adult survivals on the Clackamas average 7% (1958-2011 data). Given this survival, the expected maximum Clackamas adult abundance will be about 3,500 fish. In 2004 the run hit 3,100 adults while in 2010 the run hit 2,200 adults. Thus the population has already approached expected abundances since the removal of the hatchery program and is significantly improved over the low of 109 fish.

The Lower Columbia River Recovery Plan (ODFW 2010 ) indicates that adult abundance in the Clackamas should reach 10,655 fish in order for the population to be at “low risk” (ODFW 2010, page 154, Table 6.2). Since the habitat above North Fork Dam is in fairly good condition, the two options that could increase winter steelhead abundance to the “low risk” goal include substantial improvements in smolt-to-adult survival, or an increase in basin capacity which must be achieved by expanding the protected area in the Clackamas to include natural production areas below the dam.