Recently the WDFW made a hard social and biological decision to move the Snider Creek hatchery to the Bogachiel River, freeing up the Sol Duc River for classification as a Wild Steelhead Management Area (WSMZ). This was the result of many organizations and hundreds of interested steelheaders sending in comments to WDFW related to hatchery impacts. The Wild Steelhead Coalition, along with the Native Fish Society, led this charge, providing two white papers and comments on the science of hatchery impacts and the need for a quality Wild Steelhead Management Zone (WDMZ) on the Washington Coast. The first comments by the WSC detailed:
1) the need to eliminate a mixed stock fishery where additional fishing pressure is created by early hatchery fish that depletes the early wild run
2) a review of the recent research showing major impacts form hatchery smolts and adults on the production of wild fish.
A second set of comments by Richard Burge and John McMillan modeled the actual impacts of the Snider Creek hatchery on the Sol Duc wild run size, showing it was reduced at approximately 20% by hatchery fish (Snider Creek, summer Skamania stocks and straying Bogachiel hatchery fish) spawning in that river with wild fish. Both sets of comments spoke strongly for making the Sol Duc a WSMZ. The only other candidate, the Clearwater, was far inferior for this purpose due to it’s damaged habitat, smaller runs and lost diversity
The WDFW and the Olympic Peninsula Guides Association plan to move the hatchery to the Bogachiel River and are presently looking for a site to build rearing and acclimation ponds. Where-as this at first looks like a simple trade of rivers, the impacts to the Bogachiel will be fewer and the value to the Sol Duc will be much larger. The Bogachiel is already heavily planted with Chambers Creek hatchery fish which attracts a large crowd every December and January. The new wild brood stock hatchery on the Bogachiel will add fish that return during the early run time but slighter later in January and February. The smolt release will be reduced from 100,000 annual smolts to 50,000. The Bogachiel offers more effort and improved access to catch these fish, meaning fewer will escape and spawn.
This change was not a perfect win for wild steelhead but probably the best and only one we could achieve. It frees up the Sol Duc from hatchery fish (a few Bogachiel hatchery and summer Skamania hatchery fish may still stray there) to recover from 25 years of hatchery impacts and inadequate management. This change offers the following good points for wild steelhead:
- The Wild Steelhead Management Zone on the Sol Duc River that will allow for normal fishing times, gear use and harvest limits unless altered
- The Sol Duc River will become a wild steelhead gene bank to preserve all of the wild steelhead genetic values of a major wild run on the Washington Coast
- This change and the no harvest rule from December through February 15 will provide the first realistic chance for the early wild run to recover. That run was originally about ½ of the total run, was depleted by the increased pressure for larger numbers of hatchery fish, and will add significantly to the total abundance when recovered
- Other management changes such as further protection of the early run for rebuilding and protection of resident steelhead (normally called rainbow trout) which are major contributors to the spawning population
- A management model that should be very successful and show others the values to sport fishers of managing rivers without hatcheries: values that will include improved fishing, larger runs, and full season wild fish abundances