Wild McKenzie River Rainbow
This is a very short piece about a very complex topic. My intention is to put a few ideas out there for people to consider, and present a little information that will keep people’s brains wrapped around the challenge of managing wild fish in a world where hatchery fish are still very popular, and are, at the very least, part of the psyche of the modern industrialized world.
Here is an example of the sort of statement I have often heard.
“There’s no such thing as a wild rainbow in the McKenzie anymore.”
Let me try to answer this one.
Here are some key definitions central to this discussion, quoted from the ODFW 2005 Native Fish Status Report. I have added a short comment behind each definition
Hatchery-Produced Fish: a fish incubated or reared under artificial conditions for at least a portion of its life. (Jay’s note: hatch box fish, fish produced by placing fertilized eggs in a gravel spawning channel, and unfed fry released into streams are all classified as hatchery fish.)
Naturally Produced: fish that reproduce and complete their full life cycle in natural habitats. (Jay’s note: ODFW does not formally use the term wild fish anymore. I think this was a word-choice intended to avoid the ambiguity and acrimony associated with the wild-fish versus hatchery-fish advocates. Solution? Avoid use of the word “wild.”
Native Fish: indigenous to Oregon, not introduced. This includes both naturally-produced and hatchery-produced fish. (Jay’s note: brook, brown, and lake trout are not native to Oregon. Bull trout, rainbow, cutthroat, Chinook salmon, and so on, are native.
Indigenous: means descended from a population believed to have been present in the same geographical area prior to the year 1800 or from a natural colonization of another indigenous population. (Jay’s note: in order to be considered indigenous, a McKenzie trout must be descended from the stock of rainbow present before non-indigenous peoples started messing around with fish by moving them around and culturing them in hatcheries, or by a natural colonization by another un-messed-with population
Population: a group of fish originating and reproducing in a particular time which do not interbreed to any substantial degree with any other group reproducing in a different area, or in the same area at a different time. (Jay’s note: some formal definitions of salmon, steelhead, and trout populations used by ODFW probably reflect lack of information, rather than genetic analyses that demonstrate reproductive isolation.)
In the vast majority of situations, the terms native and indigenous may be used in the same sentence when referring to a naturally produced fish. Here’s an example: native, indigenous Rogue River spring Chinook salmon.
Rarely, a native salmonid population could be non-indigenous. Here’s an example: Cascade lakes rainbow. These rainbow are native to Oregon, may be naturally produced, but may not be indigenous to the lakes where they are present, as the lakes were barren of trout before rainbow were originally introduced by back- and horse-packing. At the moment, I cannot recall other instances of native salmonids that are not indigenous in Oregon, especially in rivers. Anyone want to help out here?
Here’s a really interesting twist: a trout could be a native, indigenous, naturally produced fish, or it could be a native, indigenous, hatchery-produced fish.
Huh? Yep. An Elk River hatchery Chinook is native, indigenous (derived from Elk River Chinook, and raised in a hatchery. So here in one river we have naturally- and hatchery-produced, native, indigenous Chinook.
Now let’s get back tour topic question.
Are native, indigenous, naturally produced rainbow trout still present in the McKenzie? In my opinion, the answer is – absolutely – yes. Genetic studies of upper Willamette basin rainbow trout indicate that rainbow in the McKenzie, Middle fork Willamette, and areas above the Calapooya are very different from the domesticated trout that have been stocked here for many decades. These naturally produced, native, indigenous trout are also very different from O. mykiss we find today in Cascade tributaries downstream from Harrisburg (i.e., Calapooya, Santiam, Molalla, and so on) where native, indigenous winter steelhead populations are present. Remember, the McKenzie does not support native anadromous winter or summer steelhead populations.
The good news in all this is that there are indeed naturally produced, native, indigenous rainbow trout in the upper Willamette basin, including the McKenzie. To me, this translates to: “like dude, there really are wild rainbow in the McKenzie!”