Thompson River Action Alert

The Native Fish Society is partnering with the Steelhead Society of British Columbia to raise awareness of a plan to loosen the rules in place surrounding the salmon net fisheries, which currently limit the bycatch of Thompson steelhead.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is suggesting a change to current regulations that protect steelhead in their new Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) for 2014-2015.

Read more and sign the NFS petition here.

Handle wild fish with care

When you bring a wild steelhead to hand, it’s up to you to take care of that fish until it’s rested and ready to continue on its long journey. There are dos and don’ts to make sure fish are treated properly.

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Don’t:

  • Haul the fish into your boat with a net and set it down in the bottom of the boat. Fish flopping against hard surfaces beat themselves up just like they do on land.
  • Beach a wild fish for the same reason you don’t lay it in the boat. A flailing fish is in trouble.
  • Stick your fingers in its gills. Don’t lip steelhead; they’re not bass.

Do:

  • Get into knee-deep water and tail the fish when it comes near. It may take a couple of tries and you don’t need a glove, which removes protective slime from the fish’s skin.
  • Support a fish’s body (not in its gills) and hold the tail while you rest it before releasing. If you’re taking a photo, keep the fish in the water and only lift for a few seconds if you must.
  • Handle them carefully and let them go when they show signs that they’ve regained their strength.

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For more detail on what to do with beautiful wild steelhead once you’ve brought them close, check out our post on landing big fish.

What’s up with the steelhead stalkers?

The crew of the research vessel Chasina gets ready to drop an acoustic telemetry receiver 300 feet down into Puget Sound. The device will record tagged steelhead as they swim out of their spawning rivers. Credit: Ashley Ahearn

OPB radio recently provided a look into the research conducted by Megan Moore (NWFSC – NOAA) and colleagues on an early marine survival project. If you didn’t catch the program, it describes the sources and locations of steelhead smolt mortality upon leaving their natal river. The researchers are tagging wild and hatchery smolts, then tracking their movements (and survival) through Hood Canal in Washington to study where mortality is occurring and if differences between hatchery and wild fish are present.

Their most recent steelhead stalker project had the following 4 objectives:

  1. Get a baseline survival estimate for two wild populations;
  2. determine if conservation hatchery smolts had similar survival rates compared to wild smolts;
  3. evaluate if wild and conservation hatchery smolts from the same population have similar behavioral traits, and;
  4. locate hot spots of mortality during smolt migration.

The study was repeated over three years (2008-2010). Wild smolts were captured from two Hood Canal rivers and tagged with VEMCO acoustic tags. These tags emit an active signal (think along the lines of sonar) that is picked up by receivers positioned in migration corridors. Each tag has a unique ID code so individual fish can be tracked through their path of migration. The conservation hatchery fish were offspring of wild spawners and collected as recently fertilized embryos from the river (no artificial spawning involved).

Two different hatcheries were used to rear the fish. One hatchery (Duckabush population), was low-density with circular tanks and the second (Skokomish population), was higher-density (within conservation program guidelines) using raceways for rearing. The same tags were implanted in the hatchery fish and wild fish so there wasn’t a difference in tag effects.

To track the fish, four lines of receivers were deployed during the study. The first was at the river mouth of each river smolts were tagged in. The second was at the Hood Canal bridge, a third was made across Admiralty Inlet and the final array was spanning the Juan De Fuca Strait.

Program MARK, using a Cormack Jolly Seber survival model, was used to determine if any of the following five factors influenced survival;

  1. population (river differences);
  2. rearing type (hatchery vs wild);
  3. hatchery (differences between two hatcheries used);
  4. Skokomish (combined Duckabush wild and hatchery vs Skokomish hatchery), and;
  5. Duckabush (combined Skokomish wild and hatchery vs Duckabush).

Three covariates (length, condition factor and release date) were included in all models as well. If you want more details on the analysis check out the pdf (I dare you…).

For survival probabilities of each population in each section of the migration click here. Wild fish had the highest survival probability, but the Duckabush hatchery smolts were not statistically different from wild fish. The Skokomish hatchery fish had lower survival in every migration segment except from the Hood Canal bridge to Admiralty Inlet. The Hood Canal bridge to Admiralty Inlet segment was the area of highest mortality for all populations. Release date has a slight positive effect on survival, meaning hatchery fish released later in the season had a slightly higher probability of survival. There were no differences between wild and hatchery populations in freshwater or saltwater migration behavior.

Let’s put this one in perspective. Some hatchery fish had indistinguishable survival rates from wild fish…score one for the conservation hatchery program! The other hatchery population (the Skokomish) had lower survival probabilities, but they were raised at higher densities in a raceway environment. Potentially higher-rearing density, or something unique to the raceway, had an effect on post-release survival.

A mortality “hot spot” was found in the migration pathway. Between Hood Canal bridge and Admiralty Inlet, all smolts had mortality rates up to 15 times higher than any other migration segment. The authors suggested that the subsurface bridge pontoons could be inhibiting the surface-oriented smolts during their migration. And just in the past year Moore, et al. have published another paper on the effects of the bridge on smolt survival. Stay tuned for that article in my next post.


Neil Thompson is a P.h.D. student at Oregon State University studying the drivers of domestication selection in hatchery culture of Pacific salmon and steelhead.  Find out more info on the lab where I work here.

Sandy River Hatchery Lawsuits ends in Wild Fish Victory

From Judge Haggerty: “It is undisputed that hatchery operations can pose a host of risks to wild fish…it is clear that the Sandy River Basin is of particular importance to the recovery of the four [Endangered Species Act] listed species and is an ecologically critical area.”  He said that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policies Act when it approved the State of Oregon’s management of the Sandy River Hatchery.”

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Wild Steelhead Action Alert

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking public comment on a proposal to eliminate hatchery steelhead plants as early as next year in three Lower Columbia River tributaries (EF Lewis, Green/NF Toutle and Wind Rivers) to support the recovery of wild fish. These three watersheds would join the Sol Duc River as Washington State Wild Steelhead Gene Banks.

The elimination of hatchery plantings in these three watersheds is the recommendation of three stakeholder groups convened by WDFW over the past two years. Gene Banks are part of actions endorsed by the state of Washington’s 2008 Statewide Steelhead Management Plan and were mandated by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to protect wild steelhead in the Lower Columbia.

Wild Steelhead Gene Bank designation does not close a watershed to angling, but does create restrictions placing the priority on the health of the wild populations, not angling opportunity. Establishing Gene Banks would be a solid first step toward limiting the negative impacts of hatchery fish on threatened wild populations in the Lower Columbia.

Comments and suggestions collected during this public process will eventually be submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service who oversee the recovery of threatened salmon and steelhead populations.

We ask that you let WDFW and NMFS know that you support management actions that implement the best-available science and recover threatened wild steelhead populations in Washington. Read and alter the comments below as you wish, but please make your voice heard in support of protections for wild steelhead.

[TAKE ACTION HERE] – it will only take you a minute or two to sign it. 

Take action: Southern Oregon open pit nickel mine proposal, Lower Columbia steelhead gene banks

The Forest Service is currently taking comments a proposed nickel mine in the Red Flat area in the Hunter Creek and Pistol River watersheds. The details on the plan, submitted by U.K.-based Red Flat Nickel Corporation, haven’t been disclosed. However, here’s what an abandoned nickel mine near Riddle looks like 20 years later:

Nickel Mountain Mine near Riddle, Oregon

Google Earth view of the Nickel Mountain Mine near Riddle, Oregon two decades after shutting down.

If you’re so inclined, take action on the Native Fish Society website. The comment period lasts through next Friday, Dec. 13.

Lower Columbia Gene Bank Proposal

While you’re at it, lend your voice to another proposal, this one from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. WDFW is seeking public comment on a proposal to eliminate hatchery steelhead plants as early as next year in three Lower Columbia River tributaries (EF Lewis, Green/NF Toutle and Wind Rivers) to support the recovery of wild fish. These three watersheds would join the Sol Duc River as Washington State Wild Steelhead gene banks.

Tell the haters that gene bank designation doesn’t close a watershed, but it does direct agencies to prioritize wild fish populations rather than angling opportunity. Use the NFS quick reply form to respond.

Step, step, and step again

img_1901.jpgOne thing I have often seen while guiding spey fisherman is that they just wont move. I’m not talking two-stepping here but simply working a run in a methodical and timely manner.  Under most conditions I prefer to move three to four feet between casts which has several benefits.

1) By steadily working your way through a run you will cover more water throughout your day than the person who only moves a couple feet every few casts.  Remember, we are looking for players, the fish who are aggressive enough to eat your fly on the first pass.

2) Constantly fishing new water it is simply more interesting and I tend to stay more focused as I move though a run.

3) We are not trout fishing – you will not find a steelhead river with 2-6 thousand fish per river mile, so covering water is the key to finding fish.

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I do slow down for several reasons.

1) If I know fish are in a certain area and I feel that they are not willing to move far to a fly, I will slow down my pace and work the fly with different presentations.

2) If I feel a grab but don’t hook up I will cast back to the fish, trying a couple of presentations. If this does not work I will mentally note where the fish was holding and make another pass with a new, smaller fly.

DSC_0707By maximizing the amount of water you cover in a day you will swim your flies through more holding lies. When searching for winter steelhead covering water can make the difference, it only takes one fish to turn your day around.