Upper Columbia Steelhead FYI [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Upper Columbia Steelhead FYI

10-11-2003, 07:43 PM
The following is courtesy of the Columbia Basin Bulletin and provides some insight into the management of some of the Upper Columbia Steelhead stocks.


By Barry Espenson

Negotiations focused on steelhead recovery among two Mid-Columbia public utility districts, area tribes and the state of Washington have resulted in an unusual agreement that meshes hatchery and harvest management, as well as recovery monitoring and evaluation, on the upper Columbia River.

"It takes hatchery and harvest management to a new level," according to Rob Walton, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries' new Salmon Recovery Division. "This agreement is the culmination of a lot of hard work and cooperation by a lot of people and is tailored to factors unique to different areas of the upper Columbia River basin."

Parties to the agreement include NOAA Fisheries, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Colville Tribes, Chelan Public Utility District, Douglas Public Utility District, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agreement is actually a set of documents that includes a NOAA Fisheries biological opinion and related incidental take permits issued to the various entities regarding mortality exacted on the steelhead by proposed hatchery and research activities. It also provides a mechanism through which sport fisheries would be allowed on the federally protected stock if a particular year's return is above certain levels.

The opinion and permits are necessary because the Upper Columbia River steelhead "evolutionarily significant unit" was listed under the Endangered Species Act by NOAA in 1997. The Upper Columbia steelhead ESU -- one of three Columbia Basin salmonid stocks listed as endangered -- includes all naturally spawned populations and their progeny in the basin streams above the Yakima's confluence with the Columbia. Steelhead from Wells Hatchery stock are also included in the ESU. The other two endangered basin stocks are the Snake River sockeye and the Upper Columbia spring chinook salmon. There are nine other basin stocks with the less restrictive threatened listing.

The three permits -- one issued jointly to the WDFW and PUDS and the others issued to the tribes and to the USFWS -- authorize the incidental take of listed upper Columbia chinook as well as steelhead during the operation of hatchery programs and associated research.

Douglas PUD will pay for the production of 349,000 juvenile steelhead that will be released annually by WDFW into the Methow and Okanogan River basins. Chelan PUD funding covers the annual production of 400,000 juvenile steelhead that will be released into the Wenatchee River basin. That permit also authorizes the release of 180,000 juvenile steelhead into the Columbia River at Ringold Springs Rearing Facility near the Tri-Cities, Wash.

The authorized take includes the collection of broodstock from the returning steelhead at Wells Dam on the Columbia for the Well Fish Hatchery Complex and at Dryden and Tumwater Dams on the Wenatchee River for use in the Eastbank Fish Hatchery Complex.

The fish released into the Methow, Okanogan and Wenatchee are produced for the most part from natural origin or wild/hatchery crosses, as well as some wild/wild and hatchery/hatchery crosses. The monitoring will help establish what blend of genes fares best in the effort to rebuild the naturally spawning population, according to Kris Petersen, NOAA Fisheries lead on the Upper Columbia project.

"Our hatchery fish up here are all still pretty genetically clean," said Joe Foster, the WDFW's regional fish program manager. He said that while there might have been a small amount of transfer of stock between local subbasins, none of the hatchery stock came from outside the Upper Columbia region

The WDFW/PUD permit covers one facet of the PUDs' 50-year Habitat Conservation Plans, which were signed in April 2003. The HCPs commit Chelan County PUD and Douglas County PUD to a 50-year program to ensure their three hydroelectric projects on the Mid-Columbia River have "no net impact" on salmon and steelhead runs. The no-net-impact goal would be accomplished through a combination of project survival, hatchery programs and habitat restoration work in the Mid-Columbia tributary streams.

The permit sets a framework that will streamline decisions to set fishing seasons in the Upper Columbia basin based on the performance of steelhead on a subbasin level, allowing steelhead to be harvested without interrupting progress toward steelhead recovery. It also requires redd counts in tributary basins and monitoring of stray rates and includes smolt monitoring to determine the extent of hatchery origin steelhead natural reproduction.

A separate five-year permit authorizes the USFWS to release 100,000 juvenile steelhead into the Methow River. The third permit authorizes a Colville tribal effort to re-establish natural steelhead spawning in Omak Creek, a tributary to the Okanogan. The tribes have an ongoing effort to restore habitat and enhance stream flows via agreements with water rights holders, Petersen said. The tribes will release 40,000 juvenile steelhead into the creek annually.

The documents are part of an integrated strategy which considers all Upper Columbia River steelhead artificial propagation programs comprehensively.

The agreement synthesizes natural environment research and monitoring with the artificial propagation programs and allows managers to make hatchery operation adjustments based on the research and monitoring results. It also gives PUDs, WDFW, the tribes and USFWS long-term assurances that there activities have ESA coverage.

A public meeting was held in Wenatchee last August to help build a plan concurrent with a public comment period on the draft plan. Under terms of the agreement, four steelhead propagation programs will experiment with different techniques to boost steelhead abundance, population growth rate, spatial distribution, and population diversity in the Wenatchee, Methow, and Okanogan subbasins.

Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the new management agreement builds on the success of cooperative efforts in recent years to achieve those goals in the upper Columbia River basin.

"This plan reflects a shared commitment to promote recovery of wild steelhead while allowing anglers to harvest surplus hatchery fish," Koenings said. "As demonstrated on the upper Columbia and elsewhere in the state, we can achieve both of these goals under a plan based on sound science, selective fisheries, and careful monitoring. This is an important step forward for steelhead recovery, outdoor recreation, and communities throughout the region that realize substantial economic benefits from these fisheries."

Link information:
NOAA Fisheries: www.nwr.noaa.gov
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: www.wa.gov/wdfw.



With steelhead returns to the upper Columbia River expected to reach the second-highest level in 15 years, central Washington anglers can now catch hatchery fish with clipped adipose fins in the upper Columbia, Methow and Okanogan rivers.

Those fisheries -- plus another one set to begin Nov. 15 on the Similkameen River -- were announced Wednesday by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife WDFW in conjunction with a 10-year agreement on steelhead management in the upper Columbia River and its tributaries.

Under the agreement, the NOAA Fisheries approved a 10-year permit authorizing WDFW fish-management activities on the upper Columbia River and its tributaries, provided they do not conflict with ongoing efforts to recover wild steelhead populations listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Upper Columbia River steelhead "evolutionarily significant unit" was listed by NOAA as endangered in 1997. The Upper Columbia steelhead ESU includes all naturally spawned populations and their progeny in the basin streams above the Yakima's confluence with the Columbia. Steelhead from Wells Hatchery stock are also included in the ESU.

Consistent with that permit, anglers must release any wild steelhead -- identified by an intact adipose fin -- they catch on the Columbia River above Rocky Reach Dam, or in the Methow, Okanogan or Similkameen rivers. Any fish with a disk tag also must be released unharmed in those areas. Those fish without a fin clip are either natural origin "wild" fish or hatchery fish released into the streams to supplement the wild population.

Under the agreement, fisheries are allowed when the return for that year is judged to be above particular levels.

The forecast this year is for a total run of slightly less than 19,000. Through Tuesday, the count at Priest Rapids Dam was 16,728 fish. Fisheries officials at the dam sample about 10 percent of the passing steelhead, judging by the fin clips, tags and other markings, or lack thereof, the strength of the wild portion of the run. It is estimated that about 16 percent of the fish passing the dam so far are of natural origin, said Joe Foster, the WDFW's regional fish program manager.

"These are extremely good runs," said Foster, who said that about 8,000 to 9,000 fish are needed to both seed the spawning grounds, and provide the eggs needed to restock hatcheries. He estimated that about 60 percent of the hatchery return will be "surplus" and this available for harvest.

In the upper Columbia River, unmarked hatchery steelhead are being used in an experimental program to supplement wild production in an attempt to boost recovery. In addition, adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead are also released each year as a reserve population, in case only small numbers of fish return from the ocean.

This year, with the relatively large returns of the third straight year, all the goals for spawning fish will be exceeded by naturally-spawned fish together with the unmarked hatchery fish.

The anticipated return would be the second highest since 1986. A total of 28,037 steelhead had been counted at Priest Rapids through Oct. 7 in 2001 on the way to a total return of more than 30,000. The count through Oct. 7 in 2002 was 15,312.

"The last three years have been pretty good so it's jacked up the average," Foster said. The 1993-2002 average return to Priest Rapids through Oct. 7 is 9,900 fish. As recently as 1998 the count through that date was only 2,573.

"If we don't have minimum run sizes, there's no fishing," said Bob Leland, WDFW's steelhead program manager. When the run sizes hit certain levels, the fisheries will be a useful tool to remove hatchery-origin supplementation fish that might otherwise crowd limited available spawning areas.

According to the ESA "incidental take permit" issued to the WDFW and the Chelan and Douglas public utility district, WDFW can reduce the number of artificially propagated steelhead in the areas in excess of full tributary seeding levels and to increase the proportion of natural-origin steelhead in the tributary spawning populations. The state agency can accomplish the task either by trapping the fish, or through its chosen path this year -- recreational fisheries.

The PUDs pay for operation of hatcheries that are intended to mitigate for the impacts to steelhead caused by the operation of Wells, Rock Island and Rocky Reach Dams. WDFW operated the hatcheries -- Wells Fish Hatchery Complex and Eastbank Fish Hatchery Complex.

"It's good for the fish and good for the fishermen," Kris Petersen of NOAA said of the agreement. The returns required to allow fisheries is further broken down by tributary. The mortality attributed to wild fish hooked and released is 5 percent.

General freshwater rules will be in effect for all species on the mainstem Columbia, but selective gear rules will apply on the Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers. Night fishing closures will also be in effect on all three tributaries and on the mainstem Columbia River from Rocky Reach Dam to Chief Joseph Dam.

Anglers are allowed to keep two marked, hatchery steelhead a day. Only hatchery fish missing an adipose fin and a healed scar at the location of the missing fin may be retained.

These restrictions are similar to those in effect during the past two years, when NOAA Fisheries approved selective fisheries on a trial basis. WDFW Director Jeff Koenings said careful monitoring has shown that the fishery has not interfered with the substantial increase in the number of steelhead returning to the spawning grounds.

As part of the overall plan, unmarked hatchery fish in the upper Columbia River are being used in an experimental program to jump-start steelhead recovery. Given the large return of steelhead to the upper Columbia River and its tributaries for the third straight year, Koenings said marked hatchery steelhead can be safely harvested without interfering with the recovery effort.

Parties to the agreement include NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WDFW, the Colville Tribes and the two PUDS.

Areas that will open to fishing for hatchery steelhead under WDFW emergency regulation include:
-- The mainstem Columbia River, which will be open from Oct. 8 until further notice from Rocky Reach Dam upriver to Chief Joseph Dam. General freshwater rules will be in effect, including the requirement that all steelhead with an intact adipose fin be released. -- The Methow River, which will be open from Oct. 8 until further notice from the Highway 97 bridge at the river mouth to the confluence with the Chewuch River in the town of Winthrop.
-- The Okanogan River, which will be open from Oct. 8 until further notice from the mouth upriver to one quarter-mile below the railway trestle below Zosel Dam. Selective gear rules for all species will be in effect, except that motorized vessels will be allowed.
--The Similkameen River, which will be open from Nov. 15 until further notice from the river mouth to a line 400 feet below Enloe Dam.

Link information:
NOAA Fisheries: www.nwr.noaa.gov
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: www.wa.gov/wdfw.