By Dick Burge
Rebuilding the wild steelhead run on the Sol Duc River to its maximum capacity means we must develop a plan to recover the early run and all other depleted components of the total run. This is possible only if we eliminate hatchery plantings stocks and concentrate on improving the total abundance, diversity, distribution and productivity (Viable Salmonid Population (VSP) Characteristics) of the natural stock. The best and only feasible healthy river in which to do this is the Sol Duc River which still has a run of early and late run fish and good habitat.
We find from the literature that the reproductive performance of the Sol Duc mixed hatchery/wild population will continue to decline under all hatchery supplementation scenarios. Even a mixture with fewer numbers of hatchery fish in the spawning population, the early run will remain in its present status and not naturally rebuild until the hatchery fish are removed. The change in genetics is cumulative, carrying over from year to year and diluting into the wild population. As example, the Hood River lost 8% of the natural population productivity after only 2 generations. Before starting the first section of this paper, we want to describe the WSC visions for a healthier, more abundant and more secured future for wild fish and fishing on the Sol Duc River.
Vision 1. Improved management for the Sol Duc River that will provide the opportunity of wild runs to increase in abundance and provide for a good sport fishery similar to the late run. This change will also provide all of us the opportunity to see how other wild stocks can be managed to provide similar results and prevent depletion from future increases in fishing effort, hatchery impacts and climate change.
Vision 2. The Bogachiel seems well rooted as the primary steelhead supplementation hatchery for the Quillayute River system. If WDFW finds the politics overwhelming to maintain additional hatchery production, regardless of all the recent biological information that shows hatchery fish are reducing wild steelhead runs, we recommend minor changes in the Bogachile Hatchery that will provide timed hatchery fish returning in both the late November/December period and during a late December/January period.
The Statewide WDFW Steelhead Management Plan
The recent Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Statewide Steelhead Management Plan (SSMP) placed the highest policy priority on the “protection of wild steelhead stocks to maintain and restore stocks to healthy levels”. The policy continued with the strategy to “Protect and Restore the Diversity of Wild Stocks” and to “Evaluate and modify management actions to promote local adaption, increase and maintain the diversity within and among stocks, and sustain and maximize the long-term productivity of wild stocks”. The SSMP further discusses managing for all Viable Salmonid Population (VSP) characteristics including abundance, productivity, diversity and spatial structure to be resilient through environmental fluctuations, to perform natural ecological functions in freshwater and marine systems and provide related cultural values to society, and sustain tribal and recreational fisheries.
The Historical Evidence of the Early Wild Steelhead Run on the Olympic Peninsula
This section was prepared to discuss the declining abundances of the wild steelhead runs on the west side Olympic Peninsula Rivers. It will highlight the loss of the early season run diversity as integral component of the total run due in part to a mixed stock fishery for wild and hatchery fish as a major factor for this decline. Clearly the wild runs would be healthier, more diverse and resilient, if the early run was rebuilt to a level approaching its historical abundances in Olympic Peninsula Rivers. Recovering the early run will also recreate a valuable wild steelhead fishery for wild steelhead during December, January and February that will compare to the late run fishery.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s the estimate of the average winter run size for the Quillayute River system was about 17,600 wild fish (McMillan, 2006) . That average dropped to 14,300 fish in the 1980’s and then to about 10, 700 fish during the last 5 years (WDFW run reconstruction run data). We see this trend on all Olympic Peninsula West Side Rivers today. The Hoh River run, as example, has dropped from a 1950’s estimated range of 8,000 to 13,000 (McMillan, 2006) fish to only 2,900 the last 5 years. And due to aggressive harvest management, it has missed its escapement goal of 2,400 fish in 5 of the last 8 years. Whether this trend of declines will continue is unknown but it’s a large risk to the sport and tribal fisheries and the economy of the Olympic Peninsula to ignore the present run conditions. Increasing fishing pressure, hatchery impacts on wild fish productivity and climate change indicate that wild fish will be much more stressed in the future than in the past.
During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s NOAA listed four major steelhead areas (Distinct Population Units, (DPS’s)) in Washington that were major watersheds to the Columbia River under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At the same time, steelhead in Puget Sound were in steep decline but WDFW administrators were too complacent with these conditions, always stating that the runs would soon improve following a change in ocean conditions. However, these stocks continued to decline and were ESA listed in May, 2007. Today the Puget Sound stocks continue their declines at alarming rates that may preclude any chance of recovery in some rivers. The Puget Sound ESA Steelhead Listing and the condition of those stocks should prompt us to initiate improved fisheries management on the Olympic Peninsula of all the Viable Salmonid Population (VSP) parameters, be much more conservative with hatchery operations that impact the VSP’s and consider wild stock conservation and rebuilding on all rivers as paramount to future fisheries.
One of the major reasons for steelhead declines on the coast (as well as many other rivers in Washington) is the loss of the early run (December and January) which once was a major component of the winter total run (see the Annotated Bibliography in the next section for references). Historical records of both sport and tribal fisheries from the 1940’s and 1950’s show that the historical early run was as large as or even larger than the late runs (WDG, 1956. 1957). We will never know the exact percentage or size of the early run as there were different fishing seasons, variations in fishing effort and other factors that controlled the seasonal harvests; and the existing estimates are built on landings. But what is important to know is that the literature from both Southern British Columbia and Western Washington show that the winter run was diverse and that the early run was large and probably half or even more of the total run. The depletion of the early run and its diversity and productivity is in part responsible for the long term declines in the total winter runs of the Olympic Peninsula Rivers.
Increased fisheries for hatchery steelhead during the early winter months after 1960 slowly decreased the wild abundances of wild steelhead, both by season and total run size, in the Olympic Peninsula Rivers. Segregated hatchery fish (as those used in the Bogachiel Hatchery) were timed for return during the early winter months. The fishery in December and January increased quickly (WDFW publications indicate over 60%) for the combined hatchery and wild fish runs. WDFW managers aimed for a high harvest rate of the hatchery returns but and did not apply any measures to prevent overharvest of the early season wild fish run.
What is typical in mixed stock fisheries (in this case hatchery and wild stocks available at the same time) is that the stock that has fewer fish for harvest is depleted or even eliminated over time. And so this inactive management allowed heavy catches of early wild steelhead well above sustainability and that run slowly declined to the lower numbers that remain today.
We know today that the different wild runs (as early winter, late winter, summer) are distinct; they do not generally spawn together and can be individually depleted. Research has shown there are significant genetic differences in seasonal runs in other rivers. This means that fish from the late winter run are genetically programmed to return in April and May and do not have the genetic timing capacity to return earlier to help increase the early run
Fortunately in most coastal rivers we have a population of early wild fish remaining that can be managed in new ways to rebuild that early component of the run. It will take saving as many of the early fish as possible including fish saved from catch and release fishing and fish previously taken for brood stock for the Snider Creek Hatchery.
The natural productivity of the early wild fish, if well protected, should exceed the Snider Creek hatchery production for the early months in just a few generations and has the biological probability to greatly increase the rivers total wild production. The biological probability is high that we can rebuild the early run to an abundance level approaching the historical levels that will attract as much sport interest for wild fish during December and January as the late run does in March and April.
We need to think of wild steelhead as a wild trout that is very different from salmon as they are genetically, morphologically and physiologically connected to their natal rivers throughout their life cycle. Individuals from a typical brood will spend one to three years or more growing in the river. A few individuals from each brood will residualize and become resident rainbow trout that carry the same wild genes (but a different phenotype) as the anadromous steelhead. Rainbow trout spawn with each other and with steelhead, and add their special adaptive traits to about 40% (Christie, et. al., 2011) of the genetic pool of the migrating steelhead. This cycle maintains the steelhead river adaption traits and a reservoir of spawners when the anadromous numbers are depleted.
The other half of the steelhead trout cycle is spent in the ocean feeding, growing and maturing to return and spawn.
Steelhead spend one to three years (or more) in the ocean, have at least three major return seasons (summer, early winter and late winter), return to in their natal river to spawn, and have the genetic capability to live and spawn again. Abundant and healthy sustaining runs of Steelhead are dependent on all these life history traits.
Unlike salmon, we attempt to box the 3 or more year steelhead riverine life cycle into one year in the hatchery which eliminates much of their genetic diversity and capability to sustain. Salmon are raised through their full riverine life cycles and then released as they smolt and can migrate quickly to sea.
Reproductive Productivity of Hatchery Steelhead
Recent research has shown very serious impacts to wild steelhead from the two types of hatcheries in use in the Pacific Northwest. Both segregated (brood stock that is taken from the hatchery run) and integrated (wild brood stock taken from the wild run) hatcheries have now been well studied and shown to cause rapid and large declines in hatchery bred steelhead productivity after they have been returned to the wild. Recent research showing genetic change in steelhead has revealed that steelhead integrated hatcheries cannot meet the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) goals of: a) “a principle management goal is to minimize genetic divergence between the hatchery brood stock and a natural spawning population; and b) natural-origin fish are regularly included in the hatchery brood stock at a level sufficient to prevent such genetic divergence.” (HSRG, 2004). Clearly, integrated hatcheries for steelhead cannot meet these requirements: even when they use 100% wild steelhead for brood stock each year they maximize rather than minimize genetic divergence and stock declines.
Segregated hatcheries, such as the one on the Bogachiel River that uses out-of basin Chambers Creek stocks, have been well studied on several Washington Rivers. Steelhead from these hatcheries that spawn in the wild have lost between 67 and 98% of their productivity after 6 to 10 generations when compared to the local wild stock (Araki et. al., 2008).
A major improvement in our understanding of integrated hatcheries became available just 4 years ago from the results of the Oregon State wild brood stock hatchery research on the Hood River, Oregon. A definitive study using a pedigree analysis, or basically genetic sampling of every steelhead—hatchery, wild, wild-hatchery adults and smolts that passed a dam, was conducted to identify the origin of every migrating fish up and down the river. The productivity of three generations of hatchery fish were compared to wild fish in that river (Araki, et. al. 2007a; Araki et. al., 2007b, Araki et.al., 2009).
Scientists found that returning fish from this hatchery rapidly lost productivity when they spawned in the wild. The progeny of hatchery fish lost 37% of their productivity following one hatchery generation. When hatchery raised fish were again spawned in the hatchery or allowed to spawn in the wild, their progeny lost 67% of their productivity if they spawned with another hatchery fish and 13% if they spawned with a wild fish (Araki et. al., 2007b, 2009).
It was shown from this study that the reproductive loss is not reversed in successive generations but rather remains a permanent productivity loss as it mixes into the river population when hatchery and wild steelhead spawn together. On the Hood River, this carry-over of mal-adapted genetic traits reduced the total population productivity by 8 % in just 2 generations (Araki et. al., 2009).
The reasons for rapid productivity loss has been attributed to a number of potential genetic factors including mutation accumulation, inbreeding depression, and domestication selection (genetic change due to some type of hatchery selection) (Araki, 2008). The authors of this review found that domestication selection was the most plausible explanation for such large and rapid declines. They suggested that selection for high growth rate and associated consequences for productivity are likely most severe for steelhead which normally spend 2 or 3 years in freshwater before migration. Hatcheries have difficulty rearing juveniles from wild brood stock to a threshold smolt size in one year. However they still release all fish regardless of size at one time in the spring, providing the opportunity for intense selection (removal of the unfit fish) against the slower growing individuals (Araki, et. al., 2008)
Juvenile River Cycles
When hatcheries release Chinook salmon after 3 months and Coho after two years it parallels their natural juvenile river cycle. But with steelhead, releasing their fry after one year in the hatchery matches up with only a small portion of their natural phenotypes for river time and migration. The larger fry are mostly those genetically adapted to migrate and leave the river that year (the one river year phenotype). The 2 year (the largest group) and three year migrants that need extra time for growth and physiological (smolting) change are far too small to migrate.
Residualization of these smolts is common and they are abundant is some reaches of the Sol Duc River. They are most abundant in the summer and decline in abundance through early fall, and during the winter they are essentially absent. Some of these smolts are surviving, based on the WDFW data, but survey results suggest most die during the winter. While most die or migrate after residualization, some Snider Creek smolts residualize in the Sol Duc River for up to 4-5 years based on the number of large (13-15”) residual hatchery rainbow with left pelvic clip that are observed (McMillan, 2011).
Because most of the two and three year fry probably do not survive to return, their set of phenotypes is largely lost from each hatchery planting. As one year and a few two year returning hatchery steelhead spawners mix into the hatchery/wild spawning population, they impart genetic changes into the natural population phenotypic array and begin moving the population towards phenotypes of fewer fry river years. This results in a rapid loss of the population’s productivity, because the river food supplies may not support the same number of faster growing fry.
Chilcote et. al. (2011) studied the productivity of 34 populations of steelhead that contained both wild and winter fish, including 5 winter steelhead populations from the Washington coast. There were no differences found between segregated and integrated hatcheries relative to changes in productivity within these the mixed hatchery and wild populations. This finding seems to follows Araki et. al. (2008), which suggests that genetic changes from domestication affect both types of brood stocks.
Chilcote et. al. (2011) found a negative relationship between the reproductive performance in wild anadromous populations of steelhead and the proportion of hatchery fish in the spawning population. Viewing the graphs presented in this paper, one can see that the proportion of wild fish declines in a negative curvilinear expression as the proportion of hatchery fish increases. A reasonable point to compare the Snider Creek population to the Chilcote graph is at week 5 when most of the early wild run and the Snider Creek hatchery spawners have entered the Sol Duc River. At this point in the run (early February), the spawning population is composed of 12.5% hatchery fish with a range of 2.3 to 34.23%. This would produce a graphically observed productivity loss of about 20 to 25% with a range of about 2% upwards towards 50%. WDFW is encouraged to calculate the productivity loss for week 5 from the model presented in Chilcote et. al. (2011).
The impacts of competition, often called ecological impacts, on the production of wild natural smolts should also be considered. Competition has been shown to be a major limiting factor for wild fish in rivers where returning (introduced) steelhead hatchery adults have spawned. Kostow and Zhou (2006) found that summer steelhead adults (introduced and annually planted since 1971) and their progeny significantly decreased the natural wild winter steelhead run in the Clackamas River, Oregon. When large numbers of fry from the introduced summer stock were present they (collectively with the wild fry) often exceeded the rivers carrying capacity and the winter steelhead production was reduced by 50%. When all foreign fry and smolts were excluded from the system beginning in 2000, the production of wild winter smolts in brood years 2000 and 2001 was the highest observed since 1984 and the adult return in 2004 was the highest since 1971.
As discussed earlier, the Snider Creek Hatchery produces large numbers of fry that do not go to sea (mostly 2 and 3 year river timed fry) but do survive in the river until the winter months (McMillan, 2011). These fry are in direct competition with wild fry until they die or migrate and utilize a portion of the rivers capacity that normally would support wild fry. These mal adapted hatchery fry must be considered competition and a negative impact to the production of wild winter steelhead in the system. Eliminating these hatchery fry from the river will result in increased wild steelhead production.
The Percent Natural Influence (PNI) calculations used in the WDFW Review of the Snider Creek Steelhead Program (2011) need further review. First, wild brood stock spawned in the hatchery are missing the genetic contributions from resident trout which is about 20% in a natural spawning population (Christie, et. al., 2011). A second concern is the status of the fish taken into the hatchery. Progeny from the previous generation hatchery fish that spawned in the wild will are not marked. Using the 5 week ratio of wild to hatchery fish, or 12.5%, it would suggest a figure of about 3 to 6 fish from the progeny of the recent hatchery spawn that are believed to be wild but are actually unmarked second generation from hatchery fish that spawned naturally. A third concern should be that the Sol Duc natural population has been diluted by genetically inferior Snider Creek hatchery return spawners for 25 years. That dilution rate should be calculated to understand what percent of the wild population are now impacted by past hatchery spawners. It seems reasonable that 25% to 50% (this is only 1 to 2% per year) of the population has been impacted over the time of the hatchery releases as the impacts are cumulative (Araki, et. al., 2009). All of these percentages I have mention should be determined by WDFW to understand the short and long term hatchery fish contributions to the wild stock for calculating the PNI.
WDFW also should consider the probable and recorded impacts on the Sol Duc steelhead stock from the early season mixed stock fishery that is growing on Olympic Peninsula Rivers. Even with catch and release fishing on wild steelhead while fishers pursue hatchery fish, the mortality of wild fish will be important to reduce until the early stock is rebuilt.
Summary of the Findings of the WSC Review of the Snider Creek Hatchery
1. Washington has experienced large declines in the statewide steelhead runs in the last 60 years. Five major steelhead populations (Distinct Population Segments) have been ESA listed and most of the remaining rivers are depleted or showing run declines.
2. The 4 major river systems on the Olympic Peninsula are the last stronghold for wild fish in Washington and the last area where stocks are stated healthy each year and managed to allow harvest.
3. There are indications from recent run declines (since 1985) that the Olympic Peninsula Rivers may follow the same path and Puget Sound rivers unless managed for healthy wild runs based on maximizing all the Viable Salmonid Population Characteristics (abundance, diversity, distribution and productivity). One example of this decline is:
4. A 1950’s estimate of the average run size in the Quillayute River system was 17,600 wild fish. That average dropped to 14,300 in the 1980’s and to about 10,700 during the recent 5 year period. The other major rivers on the Olympic Peninsula show similar declines.
5. The WDFW Statewide Steelhead Management Plan placed the highest priority on the protection of wild steelhead stocks. The primary goal is to: “restore the abundance, distribution, diversity, and long term productivity of Washington’s wild steelhead and their habitats to assure healthy stocks”. Given that the abundance, productivity and diversity, including the genetics, of the Sol Duc stocks have been largely compromised by hatcheries, we recommend applying this goal to rebuild the VSP’s in this river. This goal can only be realized if the Snider Creek Hatchery and the summer steelhead hatchery plantings are eliminated.
6. Historical sport and tribal records show an early wild steelhead run as large as, or larger than, the late run before hatcheries were built on Washington Rivers. That early run has been, in part, depleted by sport and tribal fishing that targeted the early timed hatchery steelhead without any restrictions on the wild steelhead catch. This depletion, along with hatchery impacts described below are the main cause for the lower early run and total run sizes that we have today.
7. Recent research has show conclusively that a mixed spawning population of hatchery and wild steelhead will decline due to changes in its reproductive performance. Under no scenario can a wild population maintain its natural abundance when hatchery fish are planted and spawn in the river.
8. Research on the Hood River has shown that hatchery stocks will lose about 37 ½ % of their productivity as compared to wild stocks when they return and spawn in the wild. If returning hatchery stocks are used a second time in the hatchery, their progeny will then lose about 70% of their productivity. When first time hatchery stocks spawn together in the wild their progeny will also lose the same amount of productivity as second generation hatchery fish, or 70%. If they spawn with a wild fish they will lose about 15% but they are now diluting their genetic loss with wild fish.
9. Stocks do not recover from the impacts of hatchery stocks. Research on the Hood River shows that lost productivity carries over to the succeeding generations and continues to decline as hatchery returning fish spawn together or with wild fish in the river.
10. Wild steelhead fry normally spend one to three years or more in the river to grow to migration size. The two year river fry normally dominate each brood.
11. Productivity loss in hatchery steelhead has been attributed to domestication selection which results in genetic loss in their normal expression (s) of the number of years fry spend in the river.
12. Wild steelhead are hard to raise and most grow slower than desired in the hatchery; hence most fry in a brood year do not reach migration size in one year. When hatchery fish are released into the river after one year, the fry needing 2 and 3 years for growth and smolting are poorly adapted for river life and many do not survive. This means that the fish genetically programmed to migrate the first year begin to gain dominance in the hatchery returning fish, the original component that was only about 15% of a natural wild stock.
13. While in the river, the 2 and 3 year timed hatchery fry compete with the wild fry. This reduces the survival of wild fry and the number that smolt and go to sea. Research has shown that this competition with hatchery fry in the river reduces the number of adults that return.
14. Another recent study analyzed the productivity of 34 mixed wild and hatchery runs, including 5 from coastal Washington. The scientists found no differences between segregated (recycled stock) and integrated (wild stock) hatcheries in their impacts to productivity.
15. We suggest that WDFW apply the model from this research paper (Chilcote et. al., 2011) and calculate the impact of the loss of productivity at week 5 when most of the early run spawners are in the river. Our visual observations from the graphs presented in the research paper indicate that when the population is at week 5 and composed of 12.5% hatchery spawners, the loss of productivity of the mixed population is in the order of 20 to 25%. At 25% hatchery spawners the loss of productivity is in the order of 40%.
16. In reference to the WDFW Review of the Snider Creek Program and the options on p. 13 we recommend the following: 1) Create a wild gene bank in the Sol Duc River, 2) Eliminate the Snider Creek project, 3) manage the Sol Duc as a Wild Steelhead Management Area by managing to maximizing the Viable Salmonid Population characteristics. This will allow the population to reach peak abundance and diversity and provide new information on the best ways to manage wild steelhead. . We recommend that fishing continue during the full season on the Sol Duc.
17. If WDFW finds that it must produce hatchery fish for January fishing, we recommend splitting the Bogachiel River segregated hatchery production into two groups. Time a first group of 75,000 smolts to return in December and a second group of 75,000 smolts to return in January. We recommend against using the Calawah River to replace the Snider Creek Hatchery and the habitat poor Clearwater as the primary gene bank on the Olympic Peninsula.
Bibliography of Recent Hatchery Research
For the article:
The Snider Creek Hatchery: the impacts of the hatchery and increased wild stock harvest on the early Sol Duc River winter wild steelhead run with recommendations for recovery. By Dick Burge June 2011
- Araki, H., W.R. Arden, E. Olsen, B. Cooper and M.S. Blouin. 2007a. Reproductive Success of Captive-Bred Steelhead Trout in the Wild: Evaluation of Three Hatchery Programs in the Hood River. Conservation Biology 21(1). 185-190.
- Araki, H., B. Cooper and M.S Blouin. 2007b. Genetic Effects of Captive Breeding Cause a Rapid, Cumulative Fitness Decline in the Wild. Science 318 5 October 2007. 100-103.
- Araki, H., B.A. Berejikian, M.J. Ford and M.S. Blouin. 2008. Fitness of hatchery-reared salmonids in the wild. Evolution Applications ISSN 1752-4571.
- Araki, H., B. Cooper and M. S. Blouin. 2009. Cary-over effect of captive breeding reduces reproductive fitness of wild-born descendants in the wild. Biology letters: Conservation Biology. J. Royal Society. 1-4.
- Chilcote, M.W., K. W. Goodson, and M. R. Falcy. 2011. Reduced recruitment performance in natural populations of anadromous salmonids associated with hatchery-reared fish. Can. J. Aquatic Science. 68: 511-522
- Kostow, K. E., A. R. Marshall and S. R. Phelps. 2003. Natural Spawning Hatchery Steelhead Contribute to Smolt Production but Experience Low Reproductive Success. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 132: 780-790.
- Kostow, K. E. and S. Zhou. 2006. The Effect of an Introduced Steelhead Hatchery Stock on the Productivity of a Wild Winter Steelhead Population. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 135: 825-841.
- McMillan, J. 2011. Unpublished data from observation made while conducting diving surveys in the Sol Duc River.
- Hatchery Scientific Review Group. 2004. Hatchery Reform: Principles and Recommendations of the Hatchery Scientific Review Group. April 2004.
- Washington Department Fish and Game. 2011. Review of the Snider Creek Steelhead Program. This review can be found on line at: http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/snider_creek.
An Annotated Bibliography of the Literature Documenting the Historical Early Steelhead Run
Deshazo, L.A. 1985. Thirty Years of Hatchery Steelhead in Washington Harvest Management. Problems with Commingled Wild Stocks. WDG. (Text of a presentation to the North Pacific Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, March 27, 1985).
Deshazo described rivers in Puget Sound already depressed in relation to their respective escapement goals, including the Skagit, the Snohomish, and the Green River Systems. He stated the most probable cause of this condition to be the over harvest of early wild steelhead while attempting to harvest hatchery fish.
Hendry, M.A., J.K. Wenburg, K.W. Myers, and A.P. Hendry. 2002. Genetic and Phenotypic Variation through the Migratory Season Provides Evidence for Multiple Populations of Wild Steelhead in the Dean River, British Columbia. American Fisheries Society 131: 418-434. 2002.
The authors found that the early and late summer runs to the Dean River showed highly significant genetic differences. These results suggest at least two populations migrate at different times (summer) to the Dean River system.
Hooton, R.S. 1983. Steelhead Management on Vancouver Island. J.M. Walton and D. B. Houston, Editors. In, Proceedings of the Olympic Wild Fish Conference.
Hooton found the sport catch on the popular rivers on Vancouver Island to be in a steep decline in the 1970’s and early 1980’s with the declines during the first half of the winter season the most noticeable. He attributed this condition to increasing annual fishing effort with anglers harvesting rather than releasing a higher portion of their early versus late season catch. To protect wild steelhead stocks, the BC regulations for Vancouver Island restricted fishing to selective gear and catch and release of summer steelhead in 1978; and winter steelhead regulations further changed to a December 1 to March 1 catch and release basis in 1981.
McMillan, B. 2006. Historic Steelhead Abundances: Washington N.W. Coast and Puget Sound. Wild Salmon Center. pp 1-234. Report is on line at: http//www. wildsalmoncenter.org (Publications: Articles and Reports).
Sport and tribal catches are reviewed from the earliest records available and estimates are made of the historical abundances. Catches by month are presented for coastal rivers.
Sport catches for the Bogachiel River (comparing the period’s 1955 to 1956 and 2000 to 2002) show a major shift in the seasonal timing of the catches of wild steelhead. The historical data shows strong runs in December, January and February which have all significantly declined while the runs in March and April have remained similar over the time frame.
The Sol Duc sport catch shown the largest historical (1950’s) runs occurred in December and January and then slowly declined through April. The early run has declined following the operation of the Bogachiel hatchery and the advent of the mixed stock fishery and has shifted to peaking during the later months (2000 to 2002 comparison) with March being the highest.
The historical catches from the Calawah River show January as the peak month, followed by April and then December. The Dickey River shows no apparent seasonal shift as historical catches were too low to discern any change.
The tribal fishery has operated only on the lower Quillayute over time. Their historical catches of wild fish (1946 to 1958) were large during the early season, peaking in January, with an average annual take of 168 fish (10.4 %) in November; 415 fish (25.8%) in December; 1026 fish (63.8%) in January; 496 fish (30.8%) in February; and 40 fish (2.4%) in March. Where-as these numbers do not reflect a full season fishery (apparently the tribe did not fish in much of March or in April), the catch numbers depict the same large early run as the sport catches did from individual tributary rivers (Bogachiel, Sol Duc and Calawah Rivers) of the Quillayute system during the early months which have subsequently declined.
WDFW Staff . 1996. An Analysis of the Natural Return Timing of Wild steelhead in the Quillayute River System. A report to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, December, 1996. The appendix contains a report presented to the Washington Wildlife Commission by McLachlan, B. 1994 titled “Historical Evidence Indicating the Natural Return Timing of Quillayute Winter Steelhead with Reference to the Present Return Timing”. Randy Cooper has a copy of this report.
This report stated that, based on a review of early and late season sport harvests that “This analysis of historical and recent harvest patterns does show a significant decline in the December harvest for the Sol Duc and Bogachiel/Quillayute portions of the water shed for the more recent time period”. Also “The April harvest for the Sol Duc shows a statistically significant increase for the post – 1978 period.
WDG. 1956 and 1957. Game Bulletins, 8(1) and 9(1).
The run data in these bulletins is presented by month and total for over 100 rivers. Rivers documented in these Bulletins having large early returning wild steelhead runs include the Chehalis, Cowlitz, Elwha, Green, Hoh, Humptulips, Lewis, Naselle, Puyallup, Queets, Quillayute, Quinault, Satsop, Saulk, Skykomish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Stillaguamish, Toutle, Wenatchee and Yakima
Wild Steelhead Coalition, 2006. The Status of Wild Steelhead and Their Management in Western Washington: Strategies for Conservation and Recreation. This publication can be found on line at httt://www.wildsteelheadcoalition.org (publications).
This publication compared the monthly winter runs for the three major rivers (Bogachiel, Sol Duc and the Calawah Rivers) of the Quillayute River system using the early years 1951–1955 data from WDFW (1996) and current sport catch information (1991-1995) provided by WDFW. The Quillayute River System early sport catch for December and January had declined from 40.8% to 18.8% of the total season catch. Historical catches of the 1953-54 to 1960-61 seasons were well distributed across the winter season with a low in April and a high in March. The Recent catches (1990-91 to 1994-5 seasons) were low in December and peaked in March with the winter run skewed towards March and April which, in combination, increased from 38.7% to 59.1% of the catch. This paper noted that the run timing information was not always complete from past sport harvest records as some rivers, or sections of rivers, were not always open each year through the end of April. Also, the catch does not always reflect the time fish entered the rivers. Fish that enter early may not be caught until later in the season.