Somehow this seems to mean nothing to people. In general, when an object or living species is recognized as a iconic figure of a country, region or state, it is extremely rare if not never something of human manipulation or recreation. Yet here we are living in a state where the steelhead is quickly becoming just that, known more as a hatchery born and originated brat that the magnificent wild creature it became on its own.
Here is the latest on what might impact next years wild steelhead season here in Puget Sound:
Wild Versus Hatchery
Lawsuit Threatened Over Largest Hatchery Steelhead Program In Puget Sound
The Wild Fish Conservancy last week served notice that it, unless changes are made within the next 60 days, will sue the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for allowing what the conservation groups says are the illegal outplantings of so-called Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead in a variety of western Washington streams.
The Conservancy says that the outplantings of domesticated hatchery fish pose risk to wild stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The hatchery fish are intended for harvest.
Since the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead, WDFW steelhead hatchery programs that employ Chambers Creek stock have continued to operate without permission from the NOAA Fisheries Service, the conservation group says. The Chambers Creek fish are produced at numerous WDFW facilities across Washington.
“The science is definite in that the planting of these domesticated hatchery fish is detrimental to protected wild fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Any release of Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead should be prohibited as incompatible with the recovery of wild Puget Sound steelhead and the perpetuation of their legacy.
“But at the very least any existing hatchery program must operate with an appropriate permit from NOAA Fisheries.”
Recent research in the Skagit River watershed confirms that Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead are mating with wild steelhead, according to the conservation group. The offspring of hatchery steelhead and wild steelhead are substantially less likely to survive in the wild, further depressing the already low numbers of wild steelhead.
The Skagit research is the latest of a growing number of studies that have concluded that the planting of domesticated hatchery steelhead has adverse effects on the health and resilience of wild steelhead, according to the Conservancy. The hatchery steelhead program of the Skagit River watershed is the largest in the Puget Sound region.
The conservation group says that, because juvenile hatchery steelhead are far larger than their wild counterparts, they prey on the juveniles of listed salmonids, compete for food, and attract predators. Hatchery facilities that block habitat and degrade water quality also cause problems for wild fish.
“WDFW has a split mandate between providing fishing opportunities and protecting wild steelhead,” Beardslee said. “Ironically, what one hand of WDFW gives, the other takes away: the publically funded fish hatcheries undermine the publically funded wild fish recovery efforts, such as habitat restoration. Fully recovered wild steelhead populations would fulfill both mandates.
The 60-day notice says that, despite that recognition, wild Puget Sound steelhead populations have declined precipitously over the past 30 years: the average region-wide abundance between 1980 and 2004 was less than 4 percent of what it was in 1900. Since being listed as threatened under the ESA in 2007, Puget Sound wild steelhead abundance has continued to decline.
The recent five-year average is less than 3 percent of what it was in 1900. In 2010, scientists from the regional science center of the NOAA Fisheries Service concluded “in our opinion. Chambers Creek steelhead have no role in the recovery of native Puget Sound steelhead.”
The unpermitted Chambers Creek steelhead hatchery programs are the sole subject of the 60-day notice letter, because rather than aiding wild steelhead, these programs harm wild steelhead and prevent their recovery, the conservation group says.