Overview Salmon/Steelhead Hatchery/Harvest Overview [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Overview Salmon/Steelhead Hatchery/Harvest Overview

02-09-2006, 10:06 PM

Situation calls for integrated strategies

Thursday, February 9, 2006


At the "Salmon 2100 Conference" last month in Portland, James Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, gave an important speech on salmon recovery, announcing administration intentions to reduce the impacts from harvest and hatcheries on salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Fishing interests and some of their allies in the conservation community reacted strongly and negatively. They say, as they have always said, that harvest and hatcheries are tiny factors in salmon declines. They accused the administration of diverting attention from what they call the real threats to salmon, most specifically the Columbia River hydroelectric system.

Unfortunately, they are about half right but the full story is much more complex. In fact, harvest and hatchery activities are imposing significant harmful impacts on ESA-listed salmon populations, impacts that are not being adequately addressed.

Connaughton's speech could be paraphrased: "Fixing dams is very expensive. We have spent and spent, and it has worked, if not completely. But before we spend a lot more, let's make changes in harvest and hatcheries instead."

Taken altogether, that's a bad idea. We have not done nearly enough to reform the dam system or protect and recover habitat. We must do more on those fronts, not less. But the big problem is not that the administration is saying anything about harvest and hatcheries; it's that it isn't saying enough.

Connaughton rather overstated the improvements in Columbia Basin dam management. That's just one reason to suspect he may have overstated what the administration intends to do about harvest and hatcheries. A close reading of the speech reveals plenty of qualification and hedging. His model hatchery-reform process has been ongoing in Puget Sound since 1999, and has so far brought very little actual change.

Independent researchers and review panels consistently have issued warnings about current hatchery and harvest management. The Recovery Science Review Panel, convened by NOAA Fisheries to evaluate salmon-recovery management under the ESA, has said current harvest-management "demean(s) scientific common sense," and that current harvest levels on listed populations are "biologically unsustainable." The federally appointed Independent Scientific Advisory Board has reported that hatcheries are "almost certainly" harming listed fish and impeding recovery.

The responsible agencies have dropped that ball. But a vague pledge to do an inadequate job addressing harvest and hatcheries while cutting back on an already inadequate job on habitat and hydro is not the answer.

On the other hand, an either-or choice between dams or harvest is just as inadequate. Why should reforming fisheries management come at the expense of protecting and recovering habitat function? Let's push for much more on dams and habitat, and much more on harvest and hatcheries. The plain and powerful truth is that regarding salmon recovery, the Bush administration isn't doing enough anywhere, about anything.

In January, Washington Trout joined the Salmon Spawning and Recovery Alliance in notifying NOAA Fisheries that we intend to file suit under the ESA over fishing in Puget Sound. Put simply, we allege that too many threatened Puget Sound chinook are being caught. But Washington Trout will never consider better fisheries management a substitute for improved habitat conditions. The region can and must develop integrated strategies to address all the factors limiting salmon productivity, whether those factors are based in harvest, hatcheries, habitat or hydro.


Kurt Beardslee is the executive director at Washington Trout, a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery and conservation of Washington's wild-fish ecosystems.

02-10-2006, 11:55 AM
Great stuff Kurt!

Somehow I can't get myself to believe that additional restrictions are the answer to what is largely a habitat problem however I do welcome harvest (i.e. kill) restrictions as additional measures provided it does not diminish the value of the resource to the people.

I am neither historian nor icthyologist but it's clear that where species have perished (e.g. the american atlantic salmon) it was because the final grip of hope vanished in indifference from the hands of anglers like you and I.

By alienating sportsmen the army of proponents will dissolve into other activities and thus the demand for proper management levied against the administration is relieved.

Hence pacific salmon and steelhead protection measures would become as impotent as the demand to restore atlantic salmon has become here in the northeastern US... a manageable pipedream that can be easily swept under the political rug.

I say beware this measure, like many things concerning the environment from this regime the likelihood that it is based on the good of the species is low to nil.


02-13-2006, 01:17 AM
I am neither historian nor icthyologist but it's clear that where species have perished (e.g. the american atlantic salmon) it was because the final grip of hope vanished in indifference from the hands of anglers like you and I.

Juro, That quote is golden, not to high jack this thread, I have seen it first hand; apathy in anglers is what will kill it for wild steelhead. When the fishing goes south on an anglers home waters they simply move on to the next productive system.

02-13-2006, 08:35 AM
Thanks Rich -

I am no writer either but I feel wild steelhead to the bone. Folks like you who walk the walk with WSC and other initiatives have my utmost respect.

Ken Hunter
02-13-2006, 06:00 PM
This does not seem to be the time be too critical. I know there is plenty of reason not to trust not only this administration and all of those before it who only paid lip service to the problem at election time.

To me it looks as though the door is now wide open to a more business like and scientific approach. They have made some suggestions that do not please everyone but the final agreement won't please everyone either. They have not excluded anything. A lot of people, myself included, think the hatchery is not the answer so I like that part.

The real fight is not with the administration but with the other special interest groups. If we just roll over, those other groups will get whatever they want. This administration looks like they want let the interested groups fight it out and they will be able to bless the will of the those groups.

02-14-2006, 11:27 PM
Coastal Coho comment:

For the next several years running, I think we're in for very diminished runs of salmon and steelhead, at least down here in Oregon. All the more reason to preserve and enhance habitat and moderate harvest. The 900 pound gorilla in this case is the ocean, which has been nutrient poor the last couple of springs during the out-migration of smolts. Maybe things will not be so bad for steelhead and Chinook, which have considerable variation in their life-histories and are thus resilient, but the outlook could be very bleak for Oregon coastal Coho. Whatever Coho do survive poor ocean conditions and the host of hungry predators need every reasonable opportunity to ascend their natal rivers and spawn.

The current administration's push to de-list coastal Coho could result in the extinction of this magnificent race of fish.

The Alsea is a wonderful example of excellent Coho habitat. The river is a branching tree, with small, medium and large tributaries joining the main river at very frequent intervals. The last several years have seen fair to good water levels during late fall and winter, seeming to point to favorable spawning conditions. Rearing areas for the parr are present, from small, shaded creeks to the salt marsh in the estuary. The system should be a factory for Coho.

To say the river is not living up to its potential would be a colossal understatement.

In spite of heavy logging, the habitat is there. Restaint on harvest would seem to be the about the only way we have of ensuring that Coho will continue to survive.

Unless someone can figure out a way to fix the ocean.


02-20-2006, 12:02 AM
Thanks Juro, Let me say it can be a lonely walk at times, but if you truly have a passion for steelhead, you will find time.