On Friday, April 22 the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-3 to terminate the North Umpqua summer steelhead hatchery program. The vote conflicts with the findings and recommendations of ODFW scientists and staff, the wishes of local elected officials and residents, the views of local Native American Tribes, and the weight of scientific evidence and best hatchery management practices. If this arbitrary decision is left to stand, dozens of other salmon and steelhead hatchery programs could be next.
Click here to send a pre-drafted email to the Commission and Governor Brown urging them to reverse this decision before it is too late! You can also catch CCA Oregon’s Bruce Polley discussing this issue with Owin Hayes of Outdoor GPS on KPTV Fox 12/12+ – this Saturday (4/30) at 9AM.
Anglers, tribes, and other concerned citizens are alarmed about the implications of the Commission’s decision. Douglas County has also filed a lawsuit seeking to block ODFW from terminating this hatchery program. We have a limited window to urge the Commission to reverse this decision before these hatchery steelhead smolts are diverted to an inland lake fishery, which will be the end of this hatchery program and the fishery it supports.
The Commissioners who voted to terminate the hatchery program claimed their desire was to protect wild North Umpqua summer steelhead – a goal we all share! However, the facts just don’t support the decision to terminate the program. In fact, based on decades of empirical, river-specific data, ODFW scientists (1) found “no evidence that the hatchery summer steelhead program negatively affected naturally produced [i.e., “wild”] summer steelhead”; (2) “did not identify hatchery origin summer steelhead as a limiting factor to wild populations”; (3) “found no evidence that the hatchery program contributed to the current decline or was impacting the long-term viability of the wild fish”; and (4) concluded “there will likely be minimal benefits [to wild fish] from changes in hatchery management.”
The recreational fisheries supported by the summer steelhead hatchery program also pose little risk to wild summer steelhead populations. In fact, catch-and-release mortalities to wild summer steelhead are minor (~2%) and ODFW employs temporary angling closure regulations during times of poor returns or warm water temperatures. There is no data to suggest that North Umpqua hatchery summer steelhead fisheries pose a threat to the survival of wild steelhead.
Instead, the evidence suggests that poor ocean conditions have been the primary contributor to reductions in wild AND hatchery summer steelhead populations in the North Umpqua – similar to the trends for steelhead populations all along the Pacific coast.
While there is no evidence that the hatchery program threatens the genetic integrity of wild steelhead, ODFW has not operated an existing trap to reduce the number of returning hatchery steelhead reaching the spawning grounds – despite a directive to do so as part of the Coastal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan (CMP) and additional revenues available to the agency as license sales increased thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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