Yesterday, the non-profit Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced that they had reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the WFC against state hatchery programs ongoing releases of non-native Chambers Creek stock steelhead in rivers around the Puget Sound region. Puget Sound steelhead were listed as Threatened under the US Endangered Species Act in 2007. Under the terms of the settlement WDFW will eliminate Chambers Creek hatchery programs in all but one watershed in Puget Sound pending approvals by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and would place a twelve year moratorium on all Chambers Creek releases in the Skagit River, which supports one of largest and most productive steelhead populations in Puget Sound.
The progress made in this single settlement towards protecting and recovering of wild steelhead in Puget Sound cannot be overstated. The harmful effects of hatchery programs on wild salmon are now well understood, and closing steelhead in hatcheries in Puget Sound is among the only management actions available to state and federal managers as they seek to recover Threatened wild steelhead in the region.
While the outcome of federal approvals for Puget Sound area steelhead hatcheries remains unclear, the settlement moves the needle forward substantially. The willingness of WDFW to reach such an agreement, which charts a new course towards recovery is extremely encouraging. In particular the guaranteed moratorium on Chambers Creek stock hatchery releases in the Skagit is very exciting. Such a closure would provide an opportunity for an unprecedented experiment which would likely benefit wild steelhead benefiting significantly.
Coupled with the progress made in the ongoing effort to designate wild steelhead genebanks around the state, WDFW appears to be taking their responsibility to recover wild steelhead in our state seriously.
More information on the Wild Fish Conservancy website: