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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wild Fish Conservancy Press Release - Victory for Wild Puget Sound Steelhead


Lawsuit Settlement Big Advance For Wild Steelhead Recovery
Wild Fish Conservancy and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have settled the lawsuit filed by the Conservancy March 31, 2014.
Apr 25, 2014
PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 • Tel 425-788-1167 • Fax 425-788-9634

Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167
Brian Knutsen, Smith and Lowney, PLLC, 971-373-8692

Friday April 25, 2014

Lawsuit Settlement Big Advance For Wild Steelhead Recovery

Wild Fish Conservancy and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have settled the lawsuit filed by the Conservancy March 31, 2014 seeking Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance for WDFW’s “Chambers Creek” hatchery winter steelhead programs. Since the first listing of Puget Sound salmon under the ESA in 1999, almost all of WDFW’s hatchery programs in the region have continued to produce and release hatchery salmonids without the evaluation and legal permission required under the ESA. Under the settlement, WDFW will cease planting Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead in all Puget Sound rivers but one, until NOAA approves each specific hatchery program. The settlement also establishes a twelve-year moratorium of such hatchery plants in the Skagit River system, Puget Sound’s largest tributary and most important wild steelhead river.

“This agreement is a giant win for Puget Sound's wild steelhead and their recovery,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy.

Contrary to popular belief, the Chambers Creek hatchery programs, like many hatchery programs, do not aid wild fish recovery. Recent scientific evidence indicates that this hatchery-origin steelhead adversely affects wild steelhead by causing negative genetic, ecological, and demographic effects. In 2010, scientists from the regional science center of the NOAA Fisheries Service concluded “Chambers Creek steelhead have no role in the recovery of native Puget Sound steelhead.” WDFW is required to develop “hatchery genetic management plans” for each hatchery which must then be reviewed and approved by NOAA to ensure that the proposed programs do not significantly impede the recovery of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. The vast majority of WDFW salmon and steelhead hatcheries have been operating without this approval for more then ten years.

Taxpayers are supporting and funding many important efforts across the region to restore wild salmon and steelhead, but tax dollars are also supporting some state hatchery programs that are working at cross purposes and impeding recovery. WDFW’s data show that the cost to produce a single harvested Skagit River Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead ranged from $160 to $940 in the years from 2001-2012. "Our hope is that the funds supporting these programs will be redirected to more effective, long-term, and sustainable solutions like habitat restoration and preservation," says Beardslee.

In 1969, the steelhead was declared Washington’s official “state fish.” Despite that recognition, wild Puget Sound steelhead populations have steadily declined. Since being listed as threatened under the ESA in 2007, the five-year average of Puget Sound wild steelhead abundance is about 25% of what it was in 2004, and less than 3% of what it was in 1900. NOAA recently rated twelve of twenty Puget Sound populations as having a “high” risk of extinction.

“There are four major causes for the decline of salmon and steelhead,” Beardslee continued. “Loss of habitat is the largest problem facing salmon and steelhead recovery. The public has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in habitat restoration and preservation and we need to continue this important work. But science clearly points to dams, hatcheries, and over-harvest as three additional problems that need to be fixed. Applying science-based hatchery practices is something we can do right now that will have immediate and long-term positive benefits. Fisheries all over the world have collapsed because politics, not science, guided their management. Science remains the best and most reliable compass to guide recovery and to meet our solemn stewardship responsibility to future generations.”

The combination of the Puget Sound and Skagit moratoriums is the largest and most significant effort of its kind on the West Coast. The moratorium will help protect Puget Sound's wild steelhead populations from the negative impacts of the Chambers Creek hatchery programs and will also provide the opportunity to establish the Skagit River system as the largest wild steelhead research project of its kind. The information gained from such a project will help guide and inform future salmon and steelhead recovery efforts.

“This magnificent fish is an icon of our Northwest culture and lifestyle,” Beardslee concluded. “Wild steelhead fed indigenous people for thousands of years and now it is also the sportsman's most prized fish. Today's agreement will help recover wild steelhead so they can again support sustainable fisheries in the future."

The unpermitted Chambers Creek steelhead hatchery programs in Puget Sound were the sole subject of the suit, filed in the US District Court for western Washington in Seattle. The group is represented by Smith and Lowney, PLLC, of Seattle.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wild Reverence


View the Wild Reverence trailer and check into movie showings in your area at the site below:

Bill McMillan reported to me via email today that the first showing of Wild Reverence in Olympia this past Saturday was attended by a large audience of 500-600 people, including several folks from the pro-hatchery crowd.   According to Bill:  "The movie touched the emotions of virtually all present with enthused bravos and clapping at the end.  In the Q&A after the movie it was apparent that the audience had largely come to identify with the cause for wild steelhead and its relationship to the future for all of us in the Northwest.  Quite remarkably, one of those from the (pro-hatchery) group stood up and indicated he had come in a pro-hatchery advocate, but that the movie had resulted in his change in opinion.  For a person to stand up and say that in front of 500-600 people was quite remarkable."  Apparently there were several other pro-hatchery folks who afterward also indicated that the movie had changed their view on hatchery steelhead, their harmful effects, and the need to better protect wild steelhead.

I encourage all of us to watch the movie when a showing comes near you or the movie can be purchased in DVD form for viewing at home:

Thanks to Shane Anderson in completing this monumental work in the name of protecting wild steelhead.  Congratulations Shane,  Wild Reverence is making a great impact!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Low Water Surface Steelhead

I keep a fishing journal and a good thing about keeping a journal is being able to reflect back on special days on the river, whether or not fish were caught.  With the slow winter steelhead season I've been having, I got to reminiscing about a day I spent on a summer river during low water conditions in mid-summer, 2010.

August 1, 2010:
My alarm went off at 3am, left my house by 3:30am (I am a fanatic afterall).  I arrive at the first stretch I wanted try by about 5:30am, I proceed to drive up looking for the landmarks described by a friend.  I noted other landmarks to give myself a frame of reference on the new location I was fishing this day.  I locate the river access I was looking for so I figured I'd just start my day there.  I am elated that it is an overcast morning.  I fish all the likely looking pockets and head ins at that area with nothing but some small trout to show for my efforts, so I figured since I was in new to me territory, I'd just continue to explore.  I continued upstream and found another pulloff that looked promising.  I walked down the trail to see what was in store below.

I dragged two rods down there with me, my light spey rod (12'6', 6/7 wt) and my old Sage RPL 9' 4wt.  This is pretty small water so I opted to use my 9' 4wt.  I also chose to use this rod because I did not pack my 9' 7wt and my 9.5' 8wt when I moved over from HI and because I read about Frank Amato using 4wt single hand rods for Deschutes steelhead in the early 90's.  I hooked and landed my only other steelhead on this rod in 1996 at another location further downstream on this same river on a riffle hitched steelhead caddis and I landed that fish with no problems.

During low summer flows in this river, much of the water that steelhead may be holding in are small pockets.  When I explored this water back in the mid 90's, I realized that the condtions on this river in late summer is similar to what Bill McMillan described in the chapters of Dry Line Steelhead when he was fishing SW Washington rivers.  I remember reading about how Bill describes simply hanging a surface fly, such as a riffle hitched steelhead caddis with just the leader and a few feet of fly line out the rod tip in white water pockets.  These pockets can be present in the middle of rapids where large rocks provide a soft cushion, at the heads of small pools, and the seams alongside and behind large boulders that break the flow.  It's a whole different game than using a swinging presentation and is almost like Tenkra fishing for steelhead.

So, back to that day of fishing.. As I work my way back down stream and fish every likely looking pocket,  I am enjoying the light weight and efficiency of the little trout rod for fishing pocket water.  When I am about two pockets away from where the trail comes down, I am fishing this little bucket that runs along the far bank.  I have some trout coming up for the #6 steelhead caddis as is typical with this kind of fishing.  As I reach the very bottom of this piece of water just before it spills over to the next pocket, this steelhead comes up and attacks the caddis with a sudden explosive rise!  It is instantly hooked and I briefly see it turn around and mayhem breaks out... It goes out of the little pool, stairsteps down though the next couple sets of pockets, and then it goes between these two very large boulders.  All I can do is hold my rod as high as possible as my fly line and backing are down and around the corner somewhere.  When I get my wits about me, I start reeling and simultaneously flounder down through slippery rocks, trying to catch up with the fish.  Surprisingly, the hook didn't pull out and the leader held.  Thankfully, the fish stopped in the pool out from where the trail comes down.  I put the wood to the steelhead with the little trout rod, using side pressure, and after several back and forth runs up and down the pool, I had it on the bank.  It was a hatchery female, 31" long.  Luckily I had decided to keep a cooler with ice in my car, so I bled the fish and hung on a tree until it was time to slog it back up the hill.

I fished another few spots but these efforts proved uneventful.  Lightning would not strike twice that day, but it would have been a great day even if I had not hooked even the one steelhead.  I saw several groups of deer and I enjoyed relative solitude on a mostly overcast and pleasant summer day. 

When I hooked that fish that day, it grabbed right in the midst of trout also going after the caddis.  I have wondered if when a steelhead occupies a piece of water, do they "establish dominance" - where trout would vacate the pool for fear of being attacked/harrassed by the steelhead?  Evidently, the trout in that pocket weren't bothered that the steelhead I hooked was there with them.

As for purposely using the little trout rod for steelhead fishing, Frank Amato was right, if a fish is fought aggressively, it can be brought in reasonably quickly, as was the case with my fish that day.  Using side pressure, a tight drag, and a strong tippet (my typical 8lb Maxima Ultra Green) are key, along with playing the fish aggressively.  I had the drag knob on my little Scientific Anglers 5/6L turned about 3/4s the way around.  (Times have changed and I presently only use click/pawl reels today).

This was only the second steelhead I've ever hooked and landed on the hanging surface fly technique that Bill described in Dry Line Steelhead.  Seeing a steelhead come up for a surface fly at such close range is a real thrill!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Good News for Puget Sound Steelhead thanks to the Wild Fish Conservancy

April 01, 2014
Contact: Jim Scott, 360-902-2736
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WDFW will not release 'early winter' hatchery steelhead
this spring unless legal issues are resolved

OLYMPIA –The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will not release early winter hatchery steelhead into rivers around Puget Sound as planned this spring unless it can resolve issues raised in January by the Wild Fish Conservancy and restated in a lawsuit the group filed this week.
Phil Anderson said WDFW leaders made the “very difficult” decision last week under the threat of litigation by the Conservancy, a non-profit group based in Duvall, Wash. In late January, the group filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the department over its management of early winter (Chambers Creek) steelhead hatchery programs.
On Monday, March 31, as the 60-day period ended, the group filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Seattle against the department and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, alleging WDFW has violated the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). The group contends WDFW’s planting of Chambers Creek steelhead undermines the recovery of wild Puget Sound steelhead, salmon and bull trout, which are listed as “threatened” under the ESA.
Anderson said the department planned to releases about 900,000 juvenile steelhead this spring into rivers that flow into Puget Sound. Those fish are produced at nine hatcheries and represent about two-thirds of all hatchery steelhead produced by WDFW hatcheries in the Puget Sound region. Steelhead planted this spring would return to the rivers in 2016 and 2017.
He said WDFW is vulnerable to lawsuits over its hatchery steelhead operations because they were not approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) following the ESA listing of Puget Sound steelhead in 2007. WDFW submitted Hatchery Genetic Management Plans to NMFS in 2005 for its steelhead programs, relative to their potential impacts on Puget Sound wild chinook salmon.
However, NMFS’ review of those plans was not completed. WDFW is nearing completion of updates to its steelhead plans to reflect recent hatchery improvements based on the most current science.
“We believe strongly that we are operating safe and responsible hatchery programs that meet exacting, science-based standards,” he said. “But without NMFS certification that our hatchery programs comply with the Endangered Species Act, we remain at risk of litigation. We are working hard to complete that process.”
Jim Scott, who heads the WDFW Fish Program, said the department and the Conservancy were not able to reach an agreement on WDFW’s steelhead hatchery management practices during the 60-day period, but he said discussions will continue in the hope of reaching a settlement by early May so that the 2014 plantings can take place.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to quickly reach an agreement that will promote the recovery of Puget Sound steelhead and provide for tribal and recreational fisheries,” Scott said. “Going to court would force us to redirect our staff to defend our programs in litigation, rather than focusing on conservation and restoration of Puget Sound steelhead.”
Scott said the department acknowledges that scientific findings indicate certain hatchery practices may pose an impediment to wild fish productivity and recovery.  But he noted state managers have worked hard to reform hatchery programs and have taken significant steps to protect ESA-listed wild steelhead.  Actions since 2004 include:
  • Reducing the number of early winter steelhead released in the Puget Sound watershed by more than 50 percent to minimize interactions between hatchery fish and wild steelhead.
  • Reducing the number of release locations from 27 to nine.
  • Collecting eggs from early-returning hatchery fish to maintain separation in the spawning times of hatchery and wild fish.
  • Using genetic monitoring to guard against hatchery steelhead interacting with wild stocks.
“We want to continue discussions with the Wild Fish Conservancy in an attempt to address its issues,” Anderson said. “I’m hopeful that our decision last week to hold off on releasing hatchery fish will keep us from having to spend our time in a courtroom, arguing about injunctions, and instead let us find real solutions that promote wild steelhead recovery.”