A study titled “A natural-origin steelhead population’s response to exclusion of hatchery fish” conducted by Ian Courter of Mount Hood Environmental and coauthors from Portland General Electric, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission was recently published by the American Fisheries Society. The study concluded that “hatchery summer steelhead spawners (1958-2017) did not have a negative effect on winter steelhead recruitment. However, spill at North Fork Dam, the gateway to the upper Clackamas Basin, and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (an index of ocean conditions) were both negatively associated with winter steelhead recruitment.” The study further noted “winter steelhead abundance in the upper Clackamas Basin failed to rebound to abundances observed in years prior to the hatchery program, and fluctuations in winter steelhead abundance were correlated with other regional steelhead stocks.”
Regarding the study Jack Smith, Professional Fishing Guide and President of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Oregon , said, “Anecdotally we've known for years that policy advocates have exaggerated negative effects of hatchery fish on wild fish at the population level.”
Courter's peer reviewed study signals the need for clear demonstration that hatchery operation is causing a conservation problem before planting rates are reduced. Prior to making reductions in hatchery plantings, it must also be demonstrated that the problem can not be addressed by improved broodstock standards, stocking regimes, increased selective harvest and angling opportunities or other regulatory actions less likely to reduce opportunity.
Smith went on to say, “The study confirms that when hatchery reductions or removals occur they should be monitored and periodically reviewed for effectiveness at the population level so that consistent with native fish conservation, opportunities for consumptive fisheries are not unnecessarily constrained.”
On the Clackamas River, Oregon, hatchery Summer steelhead were providing a robust and very popular steelhead fishery. In 1999, ODFW curtailed hatchery summer steelhead plantings in an effort to protect and enhance naturally spawning winter steelhead populations.
According to Smith, and substantiated by Courter's study, “The only thing removing hatchery summer steelhead accomplished was ending an incredible steelhead fishery. It did absolutely nothing to improve the health of naturally spawning fish.”
The Oregon Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (Oregon CCA) was established in 2007 and since that time has been actively involved in protecting wild fish and advocating for robust selective fisheries.