Several areas identified where additional steelhead research would greatly improve recovery efforts.
By Luke Kelly
In early June, 2011 the Wild Steelhead Coalition submitted comments on Snohomish County’s Steelhead Foundations Project, which seeks to develop baseline information that would be used in recovery planning of the Snohomish River Basin’s wild steelhead.
The WSC appreciates the invitation from the WDFW to comment on this critical phase of Snohomish Basin wild steelhead recovery. In the preparation of the WSC’s comments, WSC stakeholders reviewed the Snohomish Basin Steelhead State of Knowledge Report (2008), a Puget Sound Habitat Stressors Document, and a Snohomish Watershed Profiles document. Within these reports the WSC identified several areas where additional steelhead research and a better understanding would greatly improve recovery efforts. In order to further develop baseline information for Snohomish Steelhead, the WSC recommend the following:
1) As stated in the Puget Sound Habitat Stressors Document: “steelhead life history can be viewed in 5 discrete stages 1) Adult Migration, 2) Spawning, 3) Incubation and emergence, 4) Juvenile Rearing, and 5) Juvenile Migration”. The WSC strongly suggested including resident rainbow trout as a 6th stage in steelhead life history. Thanks to significant research and overwhelming evidence, it is now clear that resident rainbow trout are a critical aspect in maintaining diverse life histories in sustainable, wild steelhead populations. The WSC feels that resident rainbow trout need to be included in this developing plan, and their study and protection is crucial to the recovery of wild steelhead of the Snohomish Basin.
2) There is little data and information available regarding the incubation and emergence of steelhead in the Snohomish Basin. The WSC highly suggested that more data be collected regarding this vulnerable stage and limiting factors identified.
3) The WSC believes there needs to be significant studies related to steelhead habitats in the basin.
3a) “Little information is available on quality and quantity of rearing habitats in the basin”, as noted in the Snohomish Basin Steelhead State of Knowledge Report (section 3.4, page 24). It is known that there has been significant loss of rearing habitat within the basin, and gaining a better understanding via increased rearing habitat data would help identify high priority areas for protection and others for restoration.
3b) The State of Knowledge Report states: “Ecosystems, Diagnostic and Treatment (EDT) reaches have been established in the basin for assessing other species (Mobrand Biometrics 2002), but no effort has been extended to estimate their relative value for steelhead trout rearing capacity or productivity”. While some of these ratings are based on specific data, others are based on similar conditions and subjective opinions. The WSC believes that this lack of data along with the fact that the available data pertains to other species should be a major concern during this planning process. The WSC agrees that “The level 2 EDT ratings for each reach could be used in the future as a rank measure of importance for steelhead rearing”, however the WSC feels these ratings would be based on a lack of data related specifically to steelhead.
4) The WSC believes genetics studies are needed to further identify and understand native winter stocks in the Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie, and Pilchuck Rivers. A better understanding of genetics will further identify individual stocks, identify the rate of introgression in each stock, and help identify hatcheries that are in need of closure to aid recovery and wild steelhead management.
5) The WSC also believes there is a need for more detailed data as to the historical abundance, run timing, escapement, spawn timing, and critical spawning areas for both wild summer steelhead and the early and late wild winter steelhead within the basin. The WSC suggested this information be researched from historical data in terms of the Viable Salmonid Population characteristics (VSP’s) for each river drainage. Per drainage suggested studies include:
North Fork Skykomish River:
Need escapement data for wild summer steelhead (critical).
Need spawn timing data for wild summer stock upstream of Bear Falls.
South Fork Skykomish River:
Need spawn timing data for wild summer steelhead in Money Creek (tributary upstream of Sunset Falls).
Need to develop more detailed data on historical abundance, run timing, spawn timing, and size distribution.
We suggest further data collection and monitoring related to this wild winter stock. Identify limiting factors and develop further protection of this stock as it is unique in the watershed (spends three years at sea rather than two, and has limited interaction with hatchery steelhead).
A lot of information has already been compiled regarding the wild steelhead of the Snohomish Basin, and the WSC commends the WDFW and all of the other stakeholders and organizations who have contributed to this wealth of knowledge. As further studies and management plans develop, the WSC reiterates the need to protect and restore the wild steelhead stocks and minimize their interaction with hatchery steelhead.
The WSC looks forward to contributing further in the collaborative effort to restore wild steelhead populations in the Snohomish River Basin. With further study will come a better understanding of these impressive wild steelhead populations, and integrating this knowledge with adaptive management practices will promote recovery and healthy runs for generations to come.