Steelhead Failure on the Islands East Coast [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Steelhead Failure on the Islands East Coast

North Island
10-08-2004, 12:33 PM
Very sad news was brought to my attention the other night. I sat and listened while a provincial gov. employee talked to us about the Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection's (MWLAP) view of the state of Steelhead on the Island. Once our Rivers like the Qualicum, Englishman, Puntledge, Campbell, were home to steelhead runs numbering in the hi hundreds for both the summer and winter runs now returns have been reduced between 10 and 20 fish. This is not news on its own it has been well known that since 1997 returns have been crashing at an alarming rate.

MWLAP have been dilligent in trying to rebuild these stocks. The Living Gene Bank program (LGB) was created to preserve fish with correct genetic material for each specific river, They were then captively breed withe the offspring being raised to smolt size and released into the river system which they are native.

THis program has been run for the last 5 years. Unfortunately the steelhead never returned! In fact the runs have contiued to decrease. The numbers of fish have gotten so small that MWLAP feels they are no longer biologically viable. That is to say that there are not enough fish returning to the river to repopulate the run even if return rates were incredibly successful. The point of no return. Ocean conditions have been cited as the cause for this failure.

At this time MWLAP feels that they money spent on steelhead would be better spent on something more productive. The point of our gathering the other evening was to discuss an "exit Stratagy" for the ministry. The one being suggested is that they take all the LGB fish and outplant them in their home rivers and let do their thing whatever that may be. Most likely these fish will spawn and go to sea or residualize . This program will last 3-4 years before the brood stock runs out. In the mean time we can design a limited fishery around them. (somewhat repugnent imo)

In the light of this latest round of bad news I feel the need is mor pressing than ever tto identify the limiting factors in ocean survival and make steps to set them right. Could the situation on the Island be an indicator for the Pueget (sp) sound rivers or the Columbia Tribs?

10-08-2004, 01:17 PM

This is very, very sad news. Thank you for passing it on.


10-08-2004, 01:34 PM
Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Did they explain the rationale in keeping a fishery open when the runs are on the brink? :confused:

North Island
10-08-2004, 03:37 PM
Hey All

To this date there has been no fishery. However the rationale goes something like this (and to some exrent I buy into it) Hatchery fish are produced with public money therefore the public should have access to them and they are man made resource.

Big K1
10-08-2004, 03:50 PM

Very depressing to say the least. :frown: Thanks for the info.

10-08-2004, 04:23 PM
Very sorry to hear this also.

I'm very concerned about the use of ocean conditions. The powers that be for what ever reason find it so easy to use because, "we can't do nothing about ocea conditions". Not saying that ocean conditions don't play a part they certainly do. But we have had good to excellent ocean conditions for close to 6 years now in our part of the world. How are the steelhead doing on the West side of the Island?

We have logging, over developement and many other things making it hard for steelhead to come back or spawn in the numbers needed. But we have always had these problems including ocean conditions, hell logging in past practices were far worse than today. Remember they would scower river bottoms when floating logs down river and there still were fish. Even our bays were more polluted than today. It's time to really find out what is going on and I would like to start with industrial aqua culture. Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't the fish on Vancouver Island really start to decline at about the same time with the increase in aqua culture. Yes I know the numbers were down years ago but they did come back to healthy numbers for years. May be totally wrong on this but I have a funny feeling on this one when it comes to the last ten years or so of decline of steelhead. I know Howzer has some info on this or knows where to find it. Anyone else.

Ocean conditions are an easy excuse, don't allow yourself to fall into that belief. It is the easy way out!

10-08-2004, 04:52 PM
This is sad. I feel that this is an Omen. I think it will take the resources of both the US and Canada to stop the inevitable. If it can be stopped.

10-08-2004, 05:06 PM
Very sad indeed. Especially the Fisheries Ministry wanting to simply walk away from the problem and let the fish become extinct. It wasn't very few years ago that these rivers had good runs and it sounds like the "protectors of the fish" don't really care what happens to them.

I also find myself having a hard time accepting ocean conditions as the major or sole cause of this alarming decline. Like OC, I strongly suspect the fish farming operations in Georgia Strait, and I highly doubt the BC Fisheries Ministry will even mention fish farms because afterall, they provide "living wage" jobs to small towns. Seems to me I'e read that Ireland, Scottland, and Norway experienced similar declines in salmon after aqua culture was instituted.

10-08-2004, 07:22 PM
If it looks like a duck, walks like duck....

south island
10-08-2004, 10:04 PM
I agree this is sad news. I myself whom detest the salmon farms have spoken to the boys at steelhead recovery and they feel that the farms are not a major problem in that the age and size of the outgoing smolts, and the incredible speed that they leave the straight on there way to the pacific. Something like 1 week from leaving the river to be in the charlottes. How can ocean conditions be to blame when some steelhead runs and salmon runs are doing so well? Some thought is that steelhead from each individual river have a unique migration route and reside in a certain part of the open ocean. Some thought is that steelhead from rivers in proximity to each other may share a common feeding ground in the open ocean thus explaining the common link to the east coast van isle's decline.Radio tagging is currently being done to help understand these things. However I heard an unconfirmed rumour that the U.S. navy was wanting to stop the use of the tacking bouys in the open ocean because of security concerns? Also I guess the failure of the living gene bank program while it's interest 's were genuine is just another example of the failure of hatchery raised fish. It is to bad that those few remaining wild fish had to be taken out of the gene pool.

North Island
10-08-2004, 10:29 PM

STeelhead populations on the west side were doing OK until this year. The Gold, Gordon, Megin were all dramatically down. It's hard to get a straight answer on the Stamp. There is alot of vested interests in good news reporting on that system and I don't spend enough time on ot to be "in the Know"

I would think that aqua culture would be included in the term "ocean conditions" When asked about aqua culture and its effects MWLAP employees will not say anything that can be construed as a liability or condemnation

Some won't let the issue be glossed over, but apathy is growing.

10-09-2004, 08:34 AM
This is an issue that I feel very strongly about and it is not nearly as complex as it is made out to be. The farms provide year round hosts for the lice in an inshore area that juvenile Salmon and Steelhead must travel through. Lice are naturally occuring and are normally brought in from the high seas by returning fish.Luckily their life span is such that without a host they die within 4-20 days depending on water temp. The farm issue is not understood too well by the general public-most people think the biggest threat they pose is escapees colonizing. Here's a scary thought in a discussion on another board a profarm guy referred me to a site with a variety of pro farm propaganda. Among this was a news release put out by the BC Provincial Ministry of Fisheries(can't recall exact title) saying what a good job the farms in the Broughton were doing as their lice average was VERY LOW at just 4 mobile lice per fish during a sample taken in April. Now if this is a LOW I am scared to know how bad it can be at it's worst. The pro farming camp is quick to point out that there is "no proven link between the farms and the lice" and that they are naturally occurring. What most people don't understand is that without the farms there would be no inshore host for these fish on a year round basis. The fact that such lice counts exist on the farms is clear proof that these potential hosts(farmed Atlantics) are being utilized. The newly hatched lice form clouds near the surface looking for a host to attach themselves to. Steelhead are particularily at risk fdue to their preference for top water travel, Pinks are succeptable due to their small size at outmigration. This is a fairly new industry for us here in BC and I think it is no coincidence that the collapse of our east coast Vancouver Island and southcoast mainland Steelhead stocks has followed shortly after the introduction of fish farms. As well most systems north of the farms(ie-Skeena) have not experienced this collapse. If ocean conditions were to blame shouldn't it be even across the board? This is a topic I have been very passionate about for a few years now and I have had many discussions with people from DFO and BC Environment. Off the record you can have a regular discussion-on the record or in front of a group not a chance. These fellows know what is at stake-their jobs(seriously I have been told this!). DFO is for the farming as is our provincial government. Biologists have been warned that since there is "no proven link to the farms and Steelhead declines" fear mongering as such will not be tolerated. I know an activist who was fairly high profile early on who claims corruption on this issue runs down from the highest level. While this is not my view I can say that this guy is laying low ever since he was threatened. Point being this is an issue that is going to take ALL of our efforts from both sides of the border if there is to be any type of reform. Personally I would love to see a 5 year moratorium on new farms until more research can be done. I think this is a very reasonable goal. As well there are very simple steps that can be undertaken to make the existing farms more environmentally friendly. Laying fallow, for example, during the period up to and including Steelhead outmigration would one proven example. Of course the farmers don't think too much of this option due to it's expense.This is an issue that sports,commercial and First Nations can all work together on. I am particularily freaked out now that large scale aquaculture has come to the mouth of the Skeena. Please do all that you can to educate yourselves on what is going on and pass it on to whoever will listen. I strongly believe this is the biggest threat that all of our wild Steelhead stocks have. As mentioned, while the lice issue isn't that complex, it is largely misunderstood-especially amongst the general public who doesn't fish. This really sucks and will get worse as many more farms are planned. Hopefully we can do something.


10-09-2004, 10:09 AM
Another distressing report in a long string of bad news for the lower BC and Puget Sound steelhead populations.

While it seems popular to view the pointing to poor "ocean conditions" as a cop-out the reality is that steelhead smolt to adult survival in this region have been at all time lows since the late 1990s. Clearly the mortality is occurring outside of the river (the ocean).

OC - I have to disagree with your statement that we are having good to excellent ocean conditions; at least in my part of the steelhead world. Any look at the long term survival trends in the pacific it is clear that survival conditions go through cycles and those cycles are different in different part of the coast and between species. For example typically when we see good survival of steelhead, chinook and coho we see poor survival of pinks and chums. When conditions are good in Alaska for a species it is often poor further to the South. Here in my part of the world (North Puget Sound) recent steelhead survivals have been a fraction (10 to 20%) of that seen in the 1980s. The research on Keogh River shows the same (survival declining from 15% in the '80s to 3% or less). Chinook survival continues to well below the long term average and coho returns have been at below average levels. On the flip side chum and pink survivals have been exceptionally high.

While I feel it is clear that the ocean survival is what has triggered the crash of our steelhead freshwater conditions (habitat) have made it much more severe. When folks talk about salmon recovery and restoration the key factors are habitat capacity and productivity. It should be clear to all that with the exception of our wilderness systems our rivers aren't what they once were; that is they can not support the same numbers of fish they once did (lower capacity).

In this discussion the reduced productivity is likely even more important. Productivity is often measured at the number of returning adults a pair of spawners can produce at low populations levels. I don't have any figures at my finger tips for steelhead but for chinook in North Puget Sound modeling has estimated that typically our chinook populations historically had productivity of 15 to 20. Today dependent on the system that productivity is from barely 1 to only 4 or 5. What that means is that under poor conditions populations will fall faster, fall to lower levels, and take much long to recovery if conditions improve. In sure that the same mechanism applies to steelhead.

The result is that because what we have done to the habitat in our rivers that when we enter a down cycle of survival (naturally occurring) the effect on the population is magnified. The population crash will be more precipitous, will likely bottom out at a lower level, and may require an extended period of improved survival conditiosn for them to rebound.

While it should be clear to all that under such conditions any additional mortality from fishing would be a determent to the populations it is just as true that we can't stockpile fish from the good times. Bottom line is that we need to become better keepers of our rivers.

Tight lines
S malma

10-09-2004, 10:29 AM
Hmmmm, anyone care to take a guess as to when the fish farms went in(hint:Loverboy was a pretty popular band). Oh what a coincidence just before the north Puget sound and southern BC Steelhead runs began to decline. Smalma, while I agree that we need to be better keepers of our rivers I suspect that the clear cut logging of days gone by aren't to blame for this sudden decline in Steelhead productivity. It is interesting to note though how habitat destruction has magnified this problem though I still think that aquaculture is mostly to blame for low Steelhead returns on both sides of the border. One thing else-it does seem that the rivers in closest proximity to the area with the highest density of farms(Broughton) are the hardest hit. Considering the decline since the 80's makes you wonder how many more years these runs can hang on for. Perhaps it won't be that long until we are all taking our Steelhead vacations in Ontario and New York?

Brian Niska

10-09-2004, 11:41 AM
While Iím sure that the net pens have significant impacts on local fish populations and environment I believe that those impacts are largely (all?) local. The research I have seen has established that the sea-lice associated with the nets has had large impacts on pink salmon fry. The theory being that they are the smallest and less able to tolerate more than louse or two. It is also clear that pink populations near net pen sites have been impacted. However the data I have seen doesnít seem to support your contention that they are responsible for the decline of everything in the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound. The pink escapements on the Snohomish River system (central Puget Sound) show a different story. The MSY escapement goal for the system is 120,000 pinks and the escapements from the mid 1950s until 1999 never exceeded 200,000 spawners. The 1999 escapement was 240,000, the 2001 was 1.1 million, and the 2003 was 1.4 million. With modern day record runs I find it difficult to believe that net pen fish are significantly impacting their survival; certainly the population is not in decline. Rather as I pointed in my previous posting it is now their time (good conditions) just as it is not our steelheadís time.

Regarding potential impacts from net pens on steelhead (particularly Puget Sound steelhead). It is my understanding that the sea-lice infestations are pretty much confined to the local area of the net pens (that is the near shore areas). I have seen little evidence that steelhead smolts migrate or spend any significant time along our marine shorelines. A question for our sea-run cutthroat beach fishermen Ė how steelhead smolts do you catch incidental to the cutts? In my experience Ė hardly ever. In addition steelhead smolts are the largest of our anadromous smolts and thus would seem to be the least likely to be affected by sea lice.

Further evidence that the factor affecting our steelhead is off shore is the differential survival of summer and winter steelhead in Puget Sound. While the winter fish (both hatchery and wild) survivals since the late 1990s have been extremely poor the survival of the summers had remained constant. In fact in the case of at least one wild population (North Fork Stillaguamish Deer Creek summers) actual increased during that period. Both groups of fish leave the rivers at the same time and at about the same size. The limited information that is available indicates that they diverge in their migrations off-shore. It seem unlikely that a near-shore survival factor (in this case the net pens) would affect only one of the two groups of steelhead. The spawning counts in the spring 2004 further support this. We saw a nice jump in the numbers of winters (both hatchery and wild) and significant drop in the number of summers with their numbers being only 1/3 to Ĺ of recent counts.

In short it is my belief that blaming past wild fish harvest and net pen impacts for the crash of our steelhead are red herrings that only serve to divert attention and energy from the real issues.

Tight lines
S malma

10-09-2004, 04:07 PM
As always S malma, well written and very informative. Correct me if Iím wrong, but let me paraphrase. Under normal cyclic events, the rise and fall of Salmonids are a common occurrence in the order of things. But when you add in factors that almost never occur all at once like loss of habitat, changing oceanic conditions, pollution, etc. numbers of fish decline even faster when they are at their lowest ebb in the cycle. So fast, as in what has happened on the Vancouver Island rivers, that there can be little or no warning to an event where we drop below the genetic threshold necessary to sustain the runs. Hence, a dead river. In other words, we could just be tooting along at an escapement of 50,000 fish one year, then 10,000, then 1,000 and then nothing. The fisheries could disappear before the laws are changed to prevent such cataclysmic event. Kind of like the movie, ďThe Day After TomorrowĒ. Not to make light of this situation.

10-09-2004, 05:44 PM
Matt -
Thanks for the kind words!

The recent steelhead population collapses does not necessarily mean that the population has fallen below the genetic threshold of viability. A third aspect of salmonid recovery besides capacity and productivity is diversity. What we call steelhead is really no more than one of several life histories expressed by O. mykiss - the rainbow complex. In the case of our rivers the other life history of potential importance is the fluvial or resident form. There is a growing body of genetic evidence that there can be great fluidity between the anadromous and resident life forms. The two can spawn together (typcially resident males and anadromous females), the offspring of the resident fish can become smolts and steelhead, and some of the offspring of steelhead may remain in the river becoming resident rainbows. Clearly this diversity of life histories is a survival hedge for the variable conditions - the rainbows can be a safety net for the species when the marine survival conditions are as poor as they currently are on some of our rivers.

It is interesting that with the species diversity that we have in our rivers that when one species is experiencing poor marine conditions and other does well. In this case if the steelhead survival is down then generally chum survival is up. This becomes another factor in favor of the resident rainbows - they are prefectly posed to take advantage of the increased resources that the chums bring to the system (eggs, flesh and fry). It can be interesting if we open our minds to see how our rivers and the fish resources that they support respond to changing conditions; another example of how the systems are dynamic rather than static. It is naturally for the relative abundances of species to wax and wan in any system.

Of course the rainbows suffer from same freshwater habitat problems that the anadromous fish do. In addition in with our tunnel vision focus squarely on steelhead we have ignored the rainbows and their potential importance. This lack attention to the keeping health resident populations in our rivers means in cases such we are discussing we don't have the resident populations to fill the vacant habitats and thus the survival for the species is at a greater risk then need be.

Tight lines
S malma

10-09-2004, 08:15 PM

I feel the need to play Devil's advocate here.

If chum are expected to have increased numbers, why is the Skagit/Sauk chum run down this year? Is the decline in the Skagit chum this year due to the dewatering that occurred when PSE pretty much shut off the flow from the Baker dams? I ask because the relatively low number of chum forecast for the Skagit this year has me wondering if the dewatering or overharvest is at work, since the chum on other nearby rivers is fairly high.

10-09-2004, 09:07 PM
Flytyer -
No sure what this has to do with the topic. However I'll attempt to shed some light on your question. Take any numbers with a grain of salt as I'm operating from memory which isn't what it once was.

As you probably know the forecast for the Skagit chum return this year is 117,000. Typically chums return as 3, 4, and 5 year old fish with the 4 year fish dominating. Thus the spawning escapment in 2000 is expected to contribute the majority of the production for this years returns. In addition chum have been managed with different escapement goals on odd and even years - some thought that there is competition between pink and chums. The goal on even years is higher than on odd years. For the Skagit as I recall the escapement goal for even years is 116,500. As you can see the forecasted run size is such that there aren't any harvestable fish available.

The escapement in 2000 was only 23,000 which accounts for much of the short fall in this year's run. In 2000 there were both sport and commerical season so cleary over-harvest was a factor in the low escapement. At least 3 factors were involved in the over-harvest 1) a poor pre-season forecast, 2) In season updates that were dependent on commerical fishing, and 3) all parties wanting a share of any catch. In the last several years several changes have been made in management of Skagit Chums 1) Forecasts are now based on fry abundance in the Spring rather than the adult escapement (takes into account the survival of the eggs), 2) in-season updates include both information from Canada as well as test fisheries in the terminal area - the terminal test fisheries are now a limited number of nets one day a week rather than a full fleet fishery, and finally as evidenced by the lack of a planned sport season on the river a more rigor placing of meeting escapement needs prior to fishing.

Hope that helps.

Tight lines
S malma

10-09-2004, 11:48 PM

It helps greatly, thanks. It is also nice to see that a more rigorous approach to management of fisheries by placing a priority on accurate escapement on the has occured. And both yourself and the fishery managers of the three Skagit tribes are to be commended for this.

North Island
10-10-2004, 11:11 AM

Clearly you have a great deal of knowledge on this subject. To the best of my knowledge the farm/lice research has been specific to the decline in Pink populations in the Broughton archipelago. DR. Welches POST program is still in its beginning stages. This is a sonic tracking experiment specific to steelhead smolts. At this time there doesn,t seem to be any data regarding farms and the impacts on steelhead returns. Other than the anecdotal evidence which appears to be over whelming.

As sea lice are carried by ocean currents and with the numbers of farms along the inside passage, how can the smolt avoid the lice?

I do not beleive that the farms aare the sole reason for the decrease but down playing their effects serves only their protection. Considering the situation any limiting factor identifiable should be brought to the forefront of public awareness.

10-10-2004, 12:02 PM
Smalma, I did not write that the pens were responsible for the decline of all species in the Puget Sound and Georgia Basin. I did suggest that both Pinks and Steelhead were particularily at risk from the farms. I think we are both in agreement that in areas close to the farms there has been documented impact from sea lice. In fact the farms don't dispute this. Instead they argue that the lice are naturally occurring and that it was wild fish that brought the lice to the farms in the first place.While both points are true they neglect the fact that they have added thousands of potential hosts in an area where they 'naturally' wouldn't be. The lice are brought to the inshore area by returning fish but normally they wouldn't have all of this unatural biomass to utilize. The farms are quick to suggest that their lice counts per fish are similar to the naturals. It is however the overall density of the lice within the area surrounding the farm that ias the real problem. As for your Snohomish Pink Salmon, I am very glad that the run is so strong. It would seem that natural ocean conditions are fairly good for Pinks right now. Since I am not familiar with this system I do have a few questions about the Pink Salmon:

-has commercial harvest effort changed since the 50's?
-is this the product of a large scale hatchery program?
-is it known for sure that these fish always migrate up the Strait of Georgia?
-what size would you suspect them to be by the time they reach the bottleneck at the top of the Island?
-if naturally spawned has there been a considerable increase in avalaible
spawning habitat?

As well I am curious as to why Pinks and Steelhead seem to do well at opposite times?

How do you feel about hatchery Steelhead?

I do have to agree that the impact on the Pinks is largely due to their size and thus it would reason that the impact is greater for fish local to the farms.

In the case of the Steelhead any impact is largely unproven. I refer back to my original statement about the Duck. To me however, the following points are of concern and make this issue worthy of a closer look:

-Steelhead runs have collapsed from high numbers in the 80's since the introduction of the farms(mid 80's)

-the rivers closest to the farms have been hardest hit

-for the most part all runs north of Vancouver island are doing well(consistant)

-sea lice exist in unnaturally high numbers on a yearound basis in areas near the farms

-sea lice HAVE had a proven impact on juvenile fish(Pinks)

-sea lice are blamed for a decline in wild Sea Trout and Atlantic salmon in Norway and Scotland

The impact of the lice on the pinks is proven due to the finding of carcasses in the immediate area(of course the farms argue that since the lice is naturally occurring and their louse per fish counts are very similar to wild fish)REMEMBER THESE LICE WOULD NATURALLY DIE SHORTLY UPON THE SALMONS' RETURN TO FRESH WATER. NEWLY HATCHED LICE HAVE A VERY SMALL WINDOW TO ATTACH THEMSELVES TO A HOST BEFORE MEETING THE SAME FATE.

I have done a fair amount of sea run Cutthroat fishing but I fail to see the relevance of the point you made as Steelhead migrating up the west side of the Island are forced within fairly close proximity to the farms as the area at the north end of the Strait is full of both islands and farms.

If the juvenile Steelhead were turning up dead on the surface it might be easier to get scientific types like yourself to be a little more outspoken about the threat the farms potentially pose. Due to their larger size it begs to reason that it would take sea lice longer to kill the Steelhead than the Pinks. Since we agree that the Steelhead don't dally it begs to reason that they could be many miles north of the farms before succombing to the lice. I do not know this but I think that all factors suggest that such a thing MIGHT be possible. I sure hope that you are right and the impact of the farms is minimal. However if you are wrong the stakes are very high and we will have 'ocean conditions' to excuse the farms. Unfortunately for us our premier, Gordon Campbell, has already announced that "BC is open for business"(his words) and the farms are expanding with approval from both Provincial and Federal Governments.

Will it be proof enough if the Skeena stocks take a plunge now that aquaculture is taking place up there? Meanwhile many biologists sit idley by as there is no proof and they are concerned about their government funded jobs. For biologist types to suggest that the natural cycle of changing ocean conditions is to blame helps facilitate the growth of the aquaculture industry. In fact it gives the government a nice excuse for why there are no wild Steelhead left. When Steelhead numbers get low enough the government can close everything and publicly give up and not have to worry about Steelhead anymore. At that time we will be able to walk across the hatchery raised Pink and Chum in our favourite rivers and thank 'ocean conditions'.

One more question for you..

you said:

"In short it is my belief that blaming past wild fish harvest and net pen impacts for the crash of our Steelhead are red herrings that only serve to divert attention and energy from the real issues."

What are the real issues?

thank you,

Brian Niska

Willie Gunn
10-10-2004, 01:08 PM
We have had these problems in Scotland for a while here are a couple of articles if it helps
Warning of 'dramatic decline' in Scottish sea trout

THEY are one of the most coveted prizes of the Scottish angler, their guile and intelligence making them a catch to boast about.

But wild sea trout stocks in some of the countryís most famous rivers are at risk of being wiped out unless the government acts quickly to improve understanding and management, experts warn.

Delegates at the first International Sea Trout Symposium have urged the government, estates owning fishing beats and angling clubs to stop "taking the species for granted" and to act to preserve existing stocks and prevent further declines.

Conveners at the symposium, held in Wales, stated: "Continued neglect of the science and management of this species ... could threaten yet another valuable natural resource."

Sea trout fisheries may offer even greater socio-economic benefits than those based on wild salmon, according to delegates.

The species also represents a "biological barometer" second to none in terms of monitoring the health of our river ecosystems, scientists claim. But the symposium lambasted current management of sea trout fisheries as "poorly formulated and inadequately protected".

The experts maintain existing stocks are at risk from illegal fishing and incorrect stocking measures, and the adverse impacts of marine aquaculture.

Fiona Cameron, for the Sea Trout Group, said: "These fish live in our coastal waters rather than travelling to the northern ocean to feed as the salmon do. Yet there are enormous gaps in our knowledge about exactly where they feed and their territorial ranges".

Many of the formerly abundant fisheries on the north-west coast of Scotland and in the Northern Isles have seen dramatic declines in recent years, claims Professor David Mackay, president of the Scottish Anglers National Association.

He is in agreement with the symposium findings that increased infestation of the fish by sea lice from salmon farms is still a major problem - but one which can be controlled through proper regulation.

Currently no official body has responsibility for monitoring sea lice management, and the symposium concluded that the record of governments and agencies in protecting sea trout stocks has been "lamentable".

Prof Mackay said: "It is quite right of this symposium to point out that sea trout stocks are in decline, particularly on the west coast of Scotland where marine aquaculture is most prevalent."

"There is scope for a lot more co-ordination and perhaps government control of that aspect of aquaculture."

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "Latest figures show that there has been an increase in wild salmon and trout in Scotland.

"A total number of 35,469 salmon and sea trout were taken by rod and line in 2002, an increase of 11 per cent on previous years."

And from the BBC

The strongest evidence so far that wild fish are being infected by farmed salmon is to be presented to a conference in Denmark on Thursday.
Scottish Executive scientists found large numbers of sea lice near the mouth of the River Shieldaig in the Western Highlands, where young trout emerge into the sea.
And their research indicates the devastating parasites came from nearby salmon cages.

But farmers say the sharp decline in wild salmon and sea trout along the Scottish coastline began long before they were there, and they are developing better techniques to control disease.
Conservation groups say wild salmon have declined by two thirds in the past 30 years, and are increasingly susceptible to impacts from industry.
And, they claim, the rapid growth of salmon farming is one of the main threats to the wild fish.
'Working together'
The research suggested that every second year, when farms are at an early stage of breeding, numbers of sea lice fell.
Samples taken offshore also showed sea lice moving from cages to the shore - not the other way around.

But John Russell, from trade body Scottish Quality Salmon, said: "This report may be new but the information it contains is old.
"Fish farmers have learnt a lot. Under area management agreements we have worked with the government and anglers to tackle these issues.
"An extremely effective treatment for sea lice as well as improved farming techniques have made a dramatic difference."
Mr Russell added: "Our aim is to minimalise the burden of sea lice on farm salmon and wild fish, and we have to work positively together to do that.
"We are doing that in this area."
Salmon farmers around the North Atlantic produced 4,783 tonnes in 1980, and 658,735 tonnes in 2000.
Sale ban
The Atlantic Salmon Federation, Greenpeace and the global environment campaign, WWF, are calling for "fish-farming free zones" to protect rivers and bays.
They also want commercial wild salmon fisheries on migratory feeding grounds in the Faroes and West Greenland to close.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Executive has banned the sale of salmon and sea trout caught by rod and line in an attempt to conserve wild fish stocks.
Deputy rural development minister Allan Wilson said the ban had "overwhelming" support from the individuals and organisations consulted.
"In many of our rivers, anglers are being encouraged to release salmon and sea trout they have caught.
"And increasing numbers of them are doing this.
"It is unacceptable that sport fishermen try to catch as many as possible so they can sell them."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said the research provided "further useful information about sea lice interactions which we will be considering".
It reinforces the need for an "area management" based approach and close co-operation between farmed and wild fishery interests, he added.

10-10-2004, 02:06 PM
I just donít know about laying blame on the fish farms and the sea lice they produce. I just donít think it is any one event producing current declines in fish populations around the world. A thousand years ago when there were billions of fish swimming back and forth between Alaska and California, there must have been a proportional amount of parasites on these fish back then as there are now. Either way, both have survived thousands of years. I would be more concerned that out of the millions and millions of farmed Atlantics, some will escape and over time, one pair will make it up stream. If it can happen, it will happen eventually. I know of people who are already catching Atlantics at the mouths of some of our rivers. I know of studies that clearly show farmed Atlantics making it up stream on the east coast. I donít know of any documentation showing that sea lice are responsible for the decline of our fish and nobody has cited any documentation on this thread. Which isnít to say that there is not a problem. I believe that without international cooperation with lots of research and study, there will be no conclusive evidence. If I look at this problem from a nursing point of view, I am reminded of patients that have had several medications changed at once. Some adverse reactions have come up and there is no way to tell which increased med caused the problem. With all of the events that seem to be plaguing fish these days, I would think it impossible to tell which is to blame for their decline. From a practical point of view, if we get rid of 75% of most patients meds, they will improve in health. Take away what man has done and things turn out OK. Now if we could just move all of humanity off the planet, it would be a great place for fishing. Seriously, there is a lot of research to be done and there just isnít enough concern by civilians to help provide funding. I donít know what the solution is and if we did know, would anybody do anything about it. Bushís teams of scientist have determined that Dams have no effect on Salmon runs. How does one deal with stupidity like that? The only way I can, I'm not voting for George Bush.

10-10-2004, 03:01 PM
Matt I don't think you comprehend the problem.

Sea lice are anaturally occurring and thus they have been around for a very long time. There is nothing to suggest that the plentiful runs of days gone by never had to deal with this parasite. Most returning adult salmonids have some on them when they return to fresh water. As these fish enter fresh water the lice begin to die. By the time young Salmonids are on their outward migration the lice are no longer in the area of the estuary of their natal stream. In nature you would not have the many hosts in inland waters that the farms provide. Remember for the most part lice are brought in from some distance on returning Salmon and their density per mile is much less than what is found near the farms. Without the presence of the farms the juvenile fish will still be suvjected to lice, but usually by the time that they do they are on the high seas and the fish are larger and are not seriously affected by them.
How the fish farms change things is the fact that pens are in a given area for generally more than a season. Thus there are potential hosts(Atlantic Salmon) in a given location to sustain the lice population on a year round basis. The damage potential damage lies in the clouds of lice that await outmigrating fish as they pass near the farms.

10-10-2004, 03:01 PM
Whistler -
First let me say I have never said that the net pens are not a problem to pinks or even other species at the local area. As Willie points out there is ample evidence that they can be a serious problem from Europe. Rather my position is that it is a huge reach to blame the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound steelhead collapse on those same nets pens.

As you questions indicate the information that is available is that most Puget Sound fish exit the Sound via the Strait of Juan de Fuca (execptions are the most northern rivers where chinook especailly tend to go north into Georgia Strait). with the Puget Sound steelhead, those from the West coast of Vancouver Island as well as those on the East Coast of the Island it is hard to imagine that the net pens would be the source as many of those fish (south Puget Sound for example) never even come close to those rearing sites. The only thing all those stocks share is the ocean so that seems the only logical explaination.

As far as your argument that it was only after the net pens when into place that the steelhead survival fell so they must be the cause. In the same time period we have seem a tremendous increase in CnR of steelhead. Would anyone accpet the argue that the cause of the steelhead decline is because of CnR management - of course not. Though I must say there are areas where CnR is a likely problem.

Regarding different survival of pinks and steelhead. They both feed primarily on the high seas. However they feed on very different food items with the pinks feeding much lower on the food chain (krill etc) while the steelhead feed on larger food items (capelan? - a fatty smelt like fish). In addition they seem to have difference temperature perferences with steelhead likely (and seeking) colder water. Given the dynamic nature of the ocean we should be shocked if their survival didn't vary with different conditions.

While the net pens and over harvest can be very real and significant problems there are very much local in nature. Rather I feel that we are currently in a period of very low marine survival for those stocks orginating from Vancouver Island and Puget Sound. The degradation of the freshwater habitats has exacerbating that poor survival by reducing both the capacity and productivity of most of our rivers. In addition the reduction in life history divesity with the near elimination of the resident rainbows in many of our rivers has removed the population "safety net" for the species.

Regarding your Snohomish Pink questions -
They are all wild fish.
Commerical fishing varies dependent on price and is currently at below average levels (though certainly not 10 times lower).
The amount of spawning habitat is being slowly eroded away with the spawning much more restricted than 50 years ago.
As referred to above indications are they fry/smolts likely leave via the Straits.

I mentioned steelhead smolts in the context of the cutthroat fish to illustrate that they behave differently than cutthroat. At least in my part of the world once they leave the area of the river mouth they are found much in the near shore but rather off shore. That would seem to put migrating steelhead away from the net pens - of course any steelhead produce from streams near (in the same inlet) the pens could be expect to be exposed to the lice etc.

Regarding hatchery steelhead - probably not surprising I have some define obseravtions and opinions regarding hatchery steelhead but suspect that topic might better be reserved for a separate discussion (have talked about them in other threads).

Wheee!! Think I cover most of your questions; hope that helps.

Tight lines
S malma

10-10-2004, 07:25 PM

The Columbia and Snake dams don't have much to do with this discussion; but it was a federal district court judge in Spokane who said in a ruling, which was recently upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, that the Columbia and Snake river dams have minimal impact on the fish, not NOAA-Fisheries.

10-10-2004, 09:34 PM

That is why I should stay out of threads like this. I just don't know enough of the facts to make a reasonable contribution.

10-11-2004, 01:44 AM

I disagree, you know some of the issues and ask valuable questions and make comments that cause others to think.

10-11-2004, 09:27 AM

Can you show any of us the studies that our Puget Sound Steelhead smolts migrate out the strait? I have herd that there were some studies done years ago with no success in tracking because the smolts had a hard time recovering from their capture.

There are now studies being done on Vancouver Island with radio tagging of smolts that show that Steelhead smolts do follow shore lines from one estuary to another even at times swimnig back many miles to their original estuary before leaving again. What is begininging to show is that steelhead smolts take their sweet time heading for open ocean once they have made the transition to salt. We need serious tracking studies on our Puget Sound smolts. If they migrate out the strait then we know that fish farms are not a problem to our fish, one more mystery gone.

I will try and find the information on the radio tracking and post it here.

North Island
10-11-2004, 12:35 PM

I think the programm you refer to is the P>O>S>T program I've forgotten what the first 2 letters stand for but the last 2 are . . . sonic tracking. Where a rather large sonic frequency emitter is surgically implanted into smolts which are then released. The fish are then tracked by receivers on strategically placed bouys.

It is also my understanding that there are some very green biologists somewhere around Malcolm island doing research on sealice. From what I've have been told their findings are very damming to the farms. As I understand it this group is mostly self funded.

The above statements about the sealice research are pure rumour but do come from a source I respect and trust.

10-11-2004, 02:12 PM

Thanks That very well may be the tracking program.

One more thought on this. If you have ever snorkeled around one of these pens and watch the clouds of sealice flowing with the current you will notice Pile Perch or Poggies feeding I think on the lice. I wonder if our smolts do the the same before moving on? That would be the death sentence, too much time in the wrong place.

Also what about your East side sea run, have they declined?

10-11-2004, 09:20 PM
OC -
Don't know of any direct studies on steelhead smolt out migration tracking in Puget Sound. There are some plans for a potential tracking efforts next spring (an extension of some South Sound coho tracking). However let's review some of what we do know:

1) My experience and that of those I have talked with encounter very few if any steelhead smolts while fishing sea-run cutthroat along the beaches. That would seem to indicate that the steelhead if they are spending time in the inland waters they are doing so away from the beaches (away from the net pens?).

2) Code wire tag recoveries from chinook and coho salmon from Puget Sound show that from the Snohomish system south most recoveries were from the Sound, straits, and Pacific coast line (not Georgia Straits). Most of the Nooksack fish seem to go north on the inside of Vancouver Island, while the Skagit fish seem to go both ways. If the steelhead migrate the same as most of the same then many of the Puget Sound steelhead would be by-passing the net pens.

3) Over the last decade the Samish (the northern most river whose escapement is monitored annual) has met its wild steelhead escapement goal every year. The Skagit the next system to the south recently has met its goal about 1/2 the time. The Stillaguamish and Snohomish system (next to the South) have not met their goals in 5 or 6 years. If your theory is correct one would expect that the closer to the pens the river is the greater the impact - the numbers seem to indicate the opposite.

4) For the Puget Sound stocks until last year the survival of summer steelhead (both hatchery and wild) remained relatively constant while the winters when into the toliet. This past year the survivals flip-flaped. Since both fish leave the rivers at the same time one would that if a near shore mortality factor (net pens) was getting them it would get them the equally - clearly they are experiencing differential mortalities.

5) The steelhead smolts are the largest of the anadromous fish and one would think that if they were being killed by the sea-lice that we would see impacts on coho and chinook as well. To my knowledge the impacts have been pretty much confined to pinks. When looking at sea-lice on adult fish I have always been struck how they seem to "irritrate" the skin of the pinks more so than the other salmon. Steelhead rarely see the area near the anal showing the "soreness" seen on salmon indicating that prehaps they are more tolerant of lice infestations.

While none of the above individually would absolutely rule the net pens/sea-lice as the cause of the region's steelhead decline I believe when considered as a whole it makes them very unlikely to be the cause. Rather some larger goblal factor is at work.

A side note. The sea-lice are external parasites and if the fish were feeding on the lice they would not be a problem - rather they would just be so much protein. Rather like trout eating leeches.

Tight lines
S malma

10-11-2004, 10:01 PM
Smalma, I am not sure what your point is. Are you suggesting that the poor returns of Steelhead to our East Coast Van Island streams have nothing to do with the net pens or are you saying that the negative effect of the farms(lice) is limited to BC?

o mykiss
10-11-2004, 10:05 PM

The Columbia and Snake dams don't have much to do with this discussion; but it was a federal district court judge in Spokane who said in a ruling, which was recently upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, that the Columbia and Snake river dams have minimal impact on the fish, not NOAA-Fisheries.
Flytyer, I realize this is off topic but I am not aware of any judge in Spokane or elsewhere that has ruled that the Snake River dams do not impact salmon and steelhead from that system (but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - I'd love to see a case name or citation). The judge who is monitoring the feds' recovery efforts on the Snake (Judge Redden of the Federal District Court in Oregon) ruled in 2003 that the government's recovery plan for the endangered and threatened runs on the Snake River did not pass muster and ordered the feds to revise the plan. NOAA just came out with a draft revised plan (called a biological opinion) that, among other things, asserts that the Snake River dams do not jeopardize the anadramous runs on that river. In addition, NOAA seems to have said in the draft biological opinion, in effect, that the dams are part of the "environment" that existed before runs became threatened or endangered, and therefore (for reasons I do not follow, as I'm not well-versed in the Endangered Species Act law) that the feds lack the power under the ESA to do anything about the dams. Bottom line is that the draft opinion rules out dam breaching as a means of recovery. I think you may be confusing this with the 2001 Alsea Valley Alliance federal district court decision by Judge Hogan that found that certain aspects of the NOAA's distinctions under the ESA between hatchery and natural populations that are part of the same "evolutionarily significant unit" were illegal. (Basically, the judge said that if NOAA concluded hatchery poplulations were part of the same ESU, NOAA couldn't protect the natural populations and leave the hatchery populations unprotected. Sounds innocuous, but the real bottom line is that in those cases where NOAA decides to include hatchery populations in the same ESU as wild populations, ESA protection can be denied or removed). NOAA is points to the Alsea Valley Alliance decision as the raison d'etre of its newly proposed policy to count hatchery fish with wild fish under certain circumstances when making ESA listing decisions.

10-11-2004, 10:27 PM
A logical follow-up question to all of this debate regarding ocean conditions:

what are the hypotheses about ocean conditions and their impacts on our steelhead- temperature, food source abundance (related to temp).....where do our fish go compared to others, and what would explain differential ocean survival rates between different populations........what is the hypothesis regarding differential survival between winter and summer are these questions being studied..........whoever started this thread mentioned returning #'s of fish in the 10's and 20's.....were anadromous runs ever that small in other periods of bad ocean conditions.......sorry...lots of questions.

10-11-2004, 10:27 PM
Whistler -
What I'm attempting to get at (apparently badly) is that we are looking at widescale collapse of steelhead populations - East coast of Vancouver Island, lower BC mainland, and Puget Sound. In all cases we are seeing exceptionally low smolt to adult (smolt) survival. In those kinds of cases generally one would expect the be a link between the areas. It seems to me that the sea lice from the net pens to be a reach for that causative agent across that area.

Tight lines
S malma

10-11-2004, 10:39 PM
3) Over the last decade the Samish (the northern most river whose escapement is monitored annual) has met its wild steelhead escapement goal every year. The Skagit the next system to the south recently has met its goal about 1/2 the time. The Stillaguamish and Snohomish system (next to the South) have not met their goals in 5 or 6 years. If your theory is correct one would expect that the closer to the pens the river is the greater the impact - the numbers seem to indicate the opposite.

That is a very interesting comment because it seems as if you continue down through Puget Sound, the farther south you get, the more dramatic the declines you do see. Take for example the Puyallup and the Nisqually, both of which have experienced declines more dramatic then those of the Skagit, Stilly and Snohomish systems.

Maybe we need to look at both populations (Vancouver Is. vs. Puget Sound) completely seperate and think both population's declines during a similar time period is more coincendce then anything. Plus, it seems that Vancouver Is.'s decline seems to be much more dramatic then that of Puget Sound's.

Although I can't blame Whistler for his thoughts regarding fish farms. I tend to think they are not perfect and they very well could be doing some harm. History has shown that man playing with Nature is rarely good....

10-12-2004, 12:26 AM
All I have to say is this is one of the better discussions I have seen in a while, full of compelling thought.

10-12-2004, 12:45 AM
O mykiss,

It was reported in the local newspaper (the Skagit Valley Herald) last Monday (Nov. 4th) that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Spokane federal district court ruling that found the U.S Army Corp of Engineers was correct in its assertion that the Snake and Columbia river dams were operating within the parameters of the Clean Water Act and that the Corp of Engineers was also correct in its assertion that the dams could not be identified with certainty to be the cause of the decline in salmon and steelhead.

And Judge Redden ordered NOAA-Fisheries to consider the Army Corp of Engineers, the tribes, the power producers, the irrigators, the timber interests, the farmers, the orchardist, and shippers needs and concerns in the Columbia Basin Salmon Recovery Plan. Since the federal judge in Spokane ruled the dams could be identified with certainty to be the cause of the decline in salmon and steelhead and that the Corp of Engineers was in compliance with the Clean Water Act, thus NOAA-Fisheries had to follow that ruling in its plan for Judge Redden (even though the ruling was awaiting a hearing by the 9th circuit) and take the dams off the table as a factor.

We all have to remember that federal judges rule on the basis of law, not biology. Unfortunately, once the federal courts make a ruling, NOAA-Fisheries must comply with the ruling. Since the federal judge in Spokane took the dams and how the corp of engineers operates them off the table as a factor in salmon and steelhead decline, NOAA-Fisheries had to comply and also not consider them to be a factor, regardless of what biologist thought.

And no, I did not confuse this with Judge Hogan's ruling on the Alsea.

10-12-2004, 09:31 AM
We can only hope that the tracking studies will be done and done for at least 3 or 4 years in a row. Reason being that a one year study would only show the migration path for that year. Maybe ocean conditions or yearly tidal flows are factors in which direction Steelhead smolts migrate.

They are very expensive, who will do the study?

Can winter smolts be identified from summer so that both groups can be taged?

As for SRC fishermen not catching them that is not a very scientific study. When we fishermen make that type of observation to bioligists we get our ass chewed out. But I agree with you it is a good observation though over the last few years I have caught Steelhead smolts fishing for SRC's around tribs and near by bays. Never when using larger flys like spiders but using small nymphs like scud patterns being stripped across flooded oyster beds. Coho and mostly chinook smolts same way. But I must admit not as many as one would think. One more thought on this is that adult Steelhead usually caught in the salt are caught right up along the shore by sport fishermen and by Native Americans in their nets when they activly fished for them in the 1970's. It seems that these returning adults follow the shoreline once they leave open ocean more so than silvers or kings. Why not steelhead smolts doing the same thing in reverse order? Maybe the nature of the beast.

Chinook and coho are different creatures, migration routes can be different from Steelhead.

Also if 1/2 the Skagit Steelhead smolts did go north and half of them were effected by net pen sea lice that would be pretty devestating to that years migration. That would be a 25% reduction in smolts making it to the ocean from that river system.

As for what I was saying about watching pile perch feeding on net pen sea lice is that indeed it is great protein. That would be a new man made food source sort of like hatchery feeding that most are used to. Smolts may feed on it as an easy food source and in doing so pick up large amounts of lice on their outer skin. That is what they think happened with Atlantic Salmon on the Irish coast. When those Smolts were captured like 80 miles out to sea they were covered in Sea Lice and almost dead.

There are too many factors going on in our rivers, shore lines and open ocean for much chance of survival as it is. Something like Salmon Aqua Culture could be the final straw that breaks the Camels back here. I would hope that goverment scientists would keep an open mind on every clue that shows up. We have already watched the BC goverment scientist be mandated on what to say and what not to say on this matter of Salmon Aqua Culture. I wonder if it is also happening at great learning centers like Univerity of Washington Marine Fisheries School and others where grant money could be more important than the truth.

To all.
Keep an open mind and investigate around every corner.

10-12-2004, 09:33 AM
I guess I feel that when confronted by an issues as large as this we should never fail to look both locally and goblaly. To my eye at least it would appear that all the populations (some more than others) are being affected by some common survival factor (ocean conditions?). Insight to the widespread issues will likely come from the big picture while looking locally at which streams are affect more or least should provide insight to local conditions - intergrating the two may actually the benefiting.

I was not trying to undercut Whistler's concerns about the net pens. Rather it is a example of what I would consider to be local issue that merits continued investigation.

Tbuehrens -
Interesting questions - I don't have all the information at my fngertips but will give them a shot. Hopefully if my memory fails (and does so more often these days) I'm sure that someone wil help us out.

1) Where do the various fish go. The chinook and coho spend their lives in the inland waters or along the coastline in shallow water (less than 600fm). The pink, chum and sockeye are off shore fish. The steelhead (Washington/BC fish) appear to be the champion travelers with some North America fish found west of the International Dateline. SEa-runs and native char remain along the near-shore areas.

2) Regarding ocean conditions - steelhead prefer cooler water than the other high ocean salmonids. As I recall the steelhead prefer temperatures of less than 9 degrees C. What that means is that during periods of water ocean conditions steelhead are fished further to the north. There ocean foraging area can be reduced to the Gulf of Alaska. Clearly with a reduced forage pasture overall survival will like be lower (a 1,000 acres of pasture will support less cattle than 5,000).

3) Difference between summer and winter survivals in Puget Sound only makes sense to me if there is "patchy survival conditions" in the ocean and as the winter and summers migrate around the Pacific (because of their different return timing once they move off shore they likely are at different places at different time) one or the other may be better conditions. That may also explain why the West and East coast of Vancouver Island survivals don't follow in lockstep. Or why the Quilleyute continues to have excellent survival - its smolts because of the river's mouth location they get first shot at what the ocean maybe providing.

Please be advised much of this "answer" is based on my deductive reasoning based on my very limited knowledge. It is likely that it may be completely or partially wrong - it is for each of you to decide whether it makes sense and seems logically.

4) Have populations rebound from such low levels? It would seem to me that we have not since such conditions for at least 50 years. this points out that manager's career or even a human lifetime is not long enough to see the range of conditions that shape these populations. In short over the long haul the conditions these fish encounter and their populations shaped by those conditions are very dynamic. That contradicts the human nature that likes neatly order things - that is a static conditions. We should expect tomorrow to be different than today.

While there are many good examples of steelhead rebounds - the best I have seen is the Deer Creek summer-run steelhead (NF Stillaguamish) which has bounced back from less to 100 fish in the late 1980s to in some cases more than a 1,000 in the late 1990s. The Cedar River near Seattle offers some additional insight - since the early 1990s the steelhead population has total collapsed with recent escapements being less than 50 fish. Following the river's total closure to angling in 1994 the resident rainbow populations has grown dramatically with one estimate placing the population well above 10,000 (20+ miles of habitat). While the Cedar steelhead population is of great concern O mykiss is doing quite well. I would expect that when ocean survival conditions improve will once again see a shift in O mykiss life histories back towards the anadromous form dominating the population. There several examples these shifts with the bull trout being the best one locally.

An interesting example of another species is the pink salmon in the Green River (flows through the Seattl industrial area). For more than 50 years pink salmon were rarely seen (usually just a small handful at any time). 5 years ago several thousand were seen spawning, 2 years later maybe 20-30,000 returned and 2 years later (last year) as many as 300,000 returned. In this case it maybe that the population rebound is due to a combination of improving freshwater habitat (the start of a clean up of the estuary), healthy nearby population (Snohomish River ?) to recolonize, and very good ocean survival conditions.

Hope the above helps and sorry if it is lacking some of the detail you may have been looking for.

Tight lines
S malma

10-12-2004, 11:34 AM
Smalma- thank you for taking the time to anwser my somewhat muddled handful of questions. A few follow-ups to your reply:

1. So you and many others have mentioned variation in ocean conditions, as well as the possibility of different runs being positioned to capitalize on the various strengths and weaknesses of this variation ocean conditions. You also mentioned some ocean condition characteristics that are favorable for all steelhead such as cold water. You mentioned that steelhead have migrated west of the international dateline. however, that is one pinpoint in the pacific ocean- do we have any greater understanding of the migration routes of specific steelhead runs throughout the pacific ocean? I would assume that given a map of these migration routes with temporal acuity, it might be possible to compare these maps with sattelite data on ocean surface temperatures and correlate survival rates with the specific ocean conditions encountered. Yes there is other variation, but given enough distinct runs from different areas you increase your sample size to the point where a significant pattern may be seen.

2. You mentioned local bull trout as an example of of a species that has adapted its lifehistory strategies to a great degree based upon ocean (or in the case of bull trout, estuarine) conditions. I am assuming that you are speaking about the skagit char. I wasn't aware that the proportion of anadromous vs. resident and fluvial has changed that much...could you point me in the way of whatever study or paper suggested this......even if you could just give me a citation, I have access to innumerable journals, so the chances are, i could get it.

3. If ocean conditions are the general problem, then what, in your opinion, should be the over-arhcing strategy for resource management during this period to best protect the fish.

Thank you for answering my questions so thoughtfully and helpfully!
-Thomas Buehrens

south island
10-12-2004, 03:08 PM
It should also be noted that around the same as steelhead populations on the east coast of vancouver island crashed coho stopped residing in Georgia Straight and migrated out of the straight as smolts and only returned to the straight as mature adults. The coho that previously had resided in the straight in summer months only now return in september , october. It is believed that this change in pattern is due to a high salinity due to Fraser river fresh water levels. I also found it intersting that three years ago was a year in which the coho resided in the straight for the first time in a while providing I must add spectacular beach fishing that the steelhead return on some south island rivers was amazing. Perhaps just a coincidence. These thoughts are just part of the puzzle.

10-12-2004, 03:33 PM
I didnít know that each species was temperature specific out on the ocean. As far as the oceanic conditions have been lately, this does seem to make some sense. If we look at the problems the coastal Indians of Alaska are having, we know temperatures have changed dramatically up there. I think globally we are up one degree on average (I donít remember the dates they used, but there is a heck of an article on global warming in National Geographic.) and for the Arctic area, an increase of almost four degrees ( I may be wrong, but check the article). This has allowed permafrost to thaw early and deeper allowing severe erosion of lowlands and barrier islands along the coastline. It is so severe, the appropriations committees are struggling to find money and relocate the Indians. The ice pack is so thin, they can no longer use snow mobiles to traverse it. Ice melt comes a month earlier, reducing the amount of time they have to hunt. Bird and Animal migrations are also off by months. We can only imagine what must be happening in the surrounding saltwater.

Iím sure there must be satellite imaging of water temps up there. NOAA probably has a rolling history where we could more than likely see our Steelheadís favorite temps, or more to the point, the areaís size shrink. It would be interesting to see a time lapsed movie of those water temps over the last 30 years and correlate that with our fish runs. If increasing water temps are to blame, then we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, unless that melted too!

o mykiss
10-12-2004, 05:26 PM
Flytyer, I guess I don't read that 9th Circuit decision as standing for the proposition that as a legal matter the lower Snake Dams are "off the table" in terms of recovery plans for Snake River salmon and steelhead and it certainly doesn't stand for the legal proposition that it can't be proved with certainty that they contributed to the decline of the Snake River salmon and steelhead runs. That decision addressed solely the question of whether the Army Corp's plan for operating the lower Snake dams violated the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to consider other potential operational changes that might have prevented human-caused temperature variances that violate the Clean Water Act. Basically, the court said that the Army Corp's plan for operating the dams was legal because (i) it adopted all of the NOAA's recommendations for the operation of the dams in the 2000 biological opinion (and it was within the Army Corps' agency discretion to view those recommendations as the best science available at the time), and (ii) since the dams were built pursuant to congressional authorization, the court couldn't go as far as requiring removal of the dams because that would conflict with the will of congress in authorizing the dams in the first place. In the course of that case, the Army Corp asserted that it was not the operation of the dams that caused the temperature violations; rather, the Corps admitted it was the existence of the dams themselves that caused the water temperature violations. The Corps asserted (and the court agreed) that its plan for operating the dams was doing all that was scientifically conceivable at the time they adopted the plan to meet the requirements of the CWA. Since that was all that was required for the plan of operation to pass muster under the Administrative Procedures Act, the court found that the plan was legal. The most important aspect of the case (at least for purposes of this conversation) is that the court specifically said that it was about the Clean Water Act, not the Endangered Species Act, and that compliance with one didn't equate to compliance with the other. NOAA is the federal agency charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act as it relates to salmon and steelhead, so I don't see how this opinion lets them off the hook at all in terms of what may have to be done about the lower Snake dams to meet the mandate of the ESA. I have no doubt that somehow NOAA will try to argue that this decision somehow takes dam breaching off the table for ESA-mandated recovery plans (NOAA is, after all, now run by a former lawyer to the hydropower industry, so that argument fits in nicely with his goals). But it simply isn't true. Again, the case you are referring to was a Clean Water Act case against the Army Corps, not an Endangered Species Act case against NOAA.

10-12-2004, 08:52 PM
TBuehrens -
Yes I was referring the Skagit bull trout (native char) in my bull trout reference. Unfortunately I can't refer you to any published reports. The information is from observations by WDFW regional staff and perhaps you best source would be to give the folks at the Mill Creek regional office a call (you know how those Gamies are about not sharing information).

Basically what was seen in the late 1980s on the main spawning ground index -South Fork Sauk - was the vast majority of the spawners were the small (10 inches or so) resident fish. For the 3 years prior to the regulatiion change to the 20 inch minimum size limit the average redd counts for the larger migratory fish was less than 10 redds. Since that time the number redds constructed by migratory spawners (fluvial and anadromous) have increase fairly dramatically. The redd count in 2003 was over 220 at the same time the number of resident fish have remained essentially the same - a small handful per each pool.

The migratory fish are both fluvial (river dwelling) and anadromous (going to the salt). The fluvial fish are found primarily in the large pools of the upper Skagit (above the mouth of the Sauk). They are in those pools through out the year except while on their spawning migrations. The adult anadromous fish drop downstream after spawning (October) with fish moving to the salt from mid-winter to the spring. By the time the CnR steelhead season comes around (March and April) the adult fish (those over 15 or 16 inches) found in the upper river are fluvial fish. In the mid-1990s it seemed that the numbers of fluvial and anadromous fish were more or less equal. Since then the number of fluvial fish seems to have remained relatively constant (based on various angler's experiences and catch rates during the spring - the amount of fish doesn't appear to have increased much). This would seem to imply that much of the population growth in the last 6 or 7 years has been anadromous fish.

What is my opinion about how to manage the resource given the current conditions?

In a thread I laid out what I thought some potential management guidelines might be. I would start by allowing wild steelhead fisheries (either harvest or CnR) only on those populations whose escapements are expected to be consistently above escapement goals. For those populations without established goals or not monitored I would not allow any target fisheries (harvest or CnR). If there are hatchery fish (required marking of all production) the system and the run is not sufficient to allow a target fishery it would be managed with wild steelhead release.

As I mentioned earlier in this thread I have concerns about the lack of management for population diversity including the resident rainbows. To provide some protection for the resident population my opinion would be for all systems where the status of the population doesn't allow a target steelhead fisheries that any seasons (winter or summer) be managed with selective gear restrictions (single barbless hooks with no bait). In addition no retention of any O. mykiss. For systems where the population has collapsed I would closed them to all fishing only to be reopened when population monitoring shows that the either the adult steelhead or resident rainbows could handle some fishing impacts (hooking mortality). Obviously the chances of all of the above flying are quite remote however you asked for my opinion.

Tight lines
S malma