Historically, the Klickitat River has been highly revered as a very productive wild fishery, but steady declines over the twentieth century followed by significant drop in escapement numbers in the past decade have raised serious concerns. Wild Klickitat River steelhead are currently estimated at less than 10 % of their historical abundance! An increase in hatchery operations, as proposed in a new Draft Environmental Impact Statement, is likely influenced by this trend; but an overwhelming amount of recent studies have proven that an increase in hatchery fish will further imperil the survival, let alone recovery, of wild salmon and steelhead of the Klickitat Basin.
The Wild Steelhead Coalition (WSC) has teamed up with the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC), the Native Fish Society (NFS), the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF), the Washington Fly Fishing Club (WFFC), and the Wise Use Movement (WUM) to provide comments on a proposed Klickitat Hatchery plan that threatens ESA listed Chinook Salmon and Steelhead within the Klickitat Basin. In July 2011 the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Yakama Klickitat Fisheries Project (YKFP) released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) outlining their revised hatchery operations plan in the Klickitat River Basin. During this DEIS process the BPA and YKFP are required to solicit details of the proposed plans and receive public comments.
For several months, the WFC, NFS, FFF, WFFC, WUM, and WSC have collaborated to produce an impressive comments document that was sent to BPA on October 10, 2011. The comments outlined specific concerns about the DEIS plan, and all of the concerns were backed by historical accounts and up-to-date best available science and data. The comments also provided suggestions to the DEIS plan; all intended to promote increased returns and long-term recovery of the wild fish populations within the drainage.
Specific recommendations for the DEIS include (WFC, NFS, FFF, WUM, and WSC Comments 2011):
- Comply with the Federal Columbia River Power System’s (FCRPS) Biological Opinion to ensure that hatchery programs funded by the action agencies as mitigation for the FCRPS are not impeding recovery of listed anadromous fish.
- Approve actions that provide the conservation of mid‐Columbia River steelhead listed as a species threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act.
- Develop a No Hatchery Alternative for the DEIS that would confine hatchery releases below Lyle Falls and rely on transportation of adult fish or fertilized eggs to Klickitat Hatchery for rearing; this would include improvements in the design and function of the trapping system at Lyle Falls to take hatchery broodstock and to curtail as much as possible hatchery escapement of all species beyond.
- Assemble and fund an independent science team to develop a short term action plan for recovery of ESA‐listed steelhead and wild spring chinook that includes monitoring and evaluation, development of a historical baseline for each species, and management objectives including minimum spawner abundance objectives by spawning stream for steelhead and spring Chinook.
- Create and fund a watershed policy group that develops and agrees to implement a plan with a long‐term perspective that restores watershed functions important to the recovery of steelhead, spring chinook, bull trout and resident trout (examples including purchase of existing water rights and permits when they become available to restore historic tributary flows).
- Work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to establish a catch and release steelhead and chinook sport fishery using single barbless hooks and lures flies, providing that the hooking mortality is not impeding recovery of ESA‐listed steelhead and wild spring chinook and further encourage the YN fishermen to adapt selective harvest tools that can include effective release of these wild populations.
- Fund the Yakama Nation or a third party to petition for ESA protection of Klickitat wild spring chinook.
Native Fish Society, Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, the Wise Use Movement, and Washington Fly Fishing Club Wild Conservation Committee. 2011. Klickitat Hatchery Program DEIS Public Comments 2011, pages: 69-71.