More Drivel about Hatchery and Wild Salmonids

I found this on my desktop this morning. Almost deleted it. Decided to post it. Imperfect as heck. Here goes.

I usually refrain from saying much when I find people arguing about hatchery and wild salmon and steelhead because the issue is so complex. I believe people should consider the details of each river, fish species,  brood stock hatchery program, predator assemblage, in-river fishery, presence or absence of gill net fishery in the river, the possibility of ocean or estuary interceptions (intentional and unintentional), summer flows, winter flows, river and estuary habitat condition, and on and on. Right or wrong, I believe the most useful conversations occur when people are willing to consider all of these factors and figure out what factors are most affecting the wild steelhead.

I believe that hatchery programs always represent a risk to wild fish. But I’m not at all able to predict whether the risk will translate into a large of small adverse impact to wild fish, but I am pretty skeptical when someone says that the hatchery fish will “benefit” the wild steelhead.

It seems too often that people live in hardened silos where hatchery fish are wicked, benign, or beneficial to wild steelhead. I don’t know any of the details about Washington hatchery programs so I can’t begin to guess what was going on or what the impacts were/are.

I do know quite a bit about Oregon steelhead hatchery programs and I know quite a bit about our Oregon coastal rivers. At least I think I do, but it might be fair to challenge my assumption that I know much of anything these days. I’m sure there is as much that I don’t know as what I do know. It is clear that the coastal river hatchery programs provide fish to harvest. It is clear that wild steelhead in a few rivers (not to be mentioned, but we know where these are) are doing quite well (there are enough to catch (even on swung flies) entirely without the presence of a hatchery program. These rivers also produced wild steelhead during periods when hatchery steelhead were stocked and the fishery operated under a 3-daily and 40 per season regulation.

Metolius trout certainly made a fantastic increase when the hatchery program was ceased. Clackamas wild steelhead do not seem to have made a big run-increase like the biologists thought they would when hatchery summers were removed above the dam. (My friends tell me this Clackamas statement is off-target for various reasons.) Elk river gets a ton of hatchery fish but the number of wild Chinook has been “stable” (with cycles up and down) for over four decades. It is complicated. I have not seen examples where hatchery fish “helped” wild fish.

We focus on land use practices but often ignore the cormorants and seals. The predators are not the only problem but they sure could be a huge problem in some river basins. And then there is the recreational fishery. Hummmm. When some of my friends are hooking and releasing double digits every day – how good can that be for wild fish? We want to have our fun (me too) but if every wild fish is getting handled one or more times, there could indeed be an adverse impact that has nothing to do with competition or interbreeding with hatchery fish.

I do get discouraged with some people put me in the “fly guy” category and make all sorts of assumptions about me. Same goes when people lump “gear guys” in one batch and make assumptions about them. I’ve fished gear more years for winter steelhead than I’ve fished flies. What does that make me?

I guarantee that the people who want our coastal rivers for development or water rights, or whatever are smiling while we anglers are spitting at each other. I think there are places where hatchery fish make sense by tradition or by the nature of the river. I think there are some places where hatchery programs should be reduced or phased out. I do not support an all or nothing mentality. I do support anglers of different perspectives working together to figure out the most significant limiting factors and seeing what can be done to increase survival of hatchery and wild fish, together in the same river or in separate rivers.

Now I’ve gone and done it. Droned on way too long and still not solved the riddle. Point is, no one can solve the riddle without working in a diverse coalition and paying attention to the details. Everyone is an expert these days.

OK, I’m done. Not going to say anything more. Movin’ on.

Jay Nicholas May/June 2017


One thought on “More Drivel about Hatchery and Wild Salmonids

  1. You point out how many factors are involved and wisely state the obvious. People who care can’t be all or nothing about such a complex issue, with so many competing goals. Uniting for ANY part of fish recovery is the only way to win even a small benefit. SMALL BENEFITS CAN be huge differences to the fish!
    Great post!

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