Monday, January 21, 2013
Hatchery Area Closures: A Symptom of a Broken System
If you subscribe to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's email list you were probably notified last week that part of the North Fork Nooksack would be closing from now until January 31st to fishing. The hatchery like many in Puget Sound is seeing dismal returns and closing the area where most of the fishing for hatchery fish occurs in the Nooksack is a last ditch effort by the state to meet their egg take goal. Keep in mind, the number of females they need to meet their egg take goals tends to be pretty low, probably in the neighborhood of 50 fish. To date only 61 adult steelhead have returned to Kendall Creek hatchery. Assuming something like a 50:50 sex ratio, thats right around 30 females. Barely enough to keep the hatchery program running much less meet their smolt release goals.
The point of this ramble is to highlight the insanity of the current management paradigm guiding sport fishery management in Washington State, particularly in Puget Sound. Hatchery programs intended to bolster harvest opportunities at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year are producing such dismal returns that the state is forced to close the river to ensure these money wasting ventures can continue to sustain themselves. We are living in the era of emergency sport fishing closures on hatchery fish, to ensure we can continue throwing good money after bad, flushing money down the toilet for 2 month fisheries and a few hundred dead chambers creek fish in somebody's cooler.
Meanwhile fisheries for Wild Steelhead that cost the state absolutely nothing to sustain and could and should be supporting catch and release fisheries lasting 4 months every year, have been closed for the last 4 years in large part due to the complete absence of credible data on the abundance of most populations in Puget Sound. WDFW can and must do better, but it is a matter of shifting priorities in the department, we need laser like focus on what really matters: our collective obligation to do whatever we can to recover wild steelhead populations and the vibrant fisheries they support. Fighting to keep a struggling to keep the state hatchery system out of atrophy is a battle in which everyone loses, especially wild fish.