Reposted from the Buster Wants To Fish blog
In a brief nutshell, recent summer steelhead returns (or lackthereof) on the fabled and highly regulated North Umpqua apparently churned up the idea machine down in Douglas County, Oregon and a few folks are fixing to fix things.
Talk from a number of folks—some of which are high-profile guides, others are anglers with much history on the river—has proposed moving the stocking of hatchery fish up into the flywater to both maximize the economic output of the present hatchery effort (currently below the flywater) and to relieve pressure on the wild fish. Given scientific findings behind hatchery fish genetic introgression into the wild fish life history, this idea is strongly opposed by others. Trust me when I say I’ve attempted to write this last paragraph as objectively as possible.
Whether you’re a proponent of hatchery salmonids or an ardent supporter of wild, native fish, I urge you to read and re-read this. Many interesting points made, a few lines that can be read between and at the end, a calm, thoughtful discussion of opinions. Props to the interviewer for calling the interviewee out on his stance, and at the same time, respect to the interviewee for nutting up and answering the tough questions.
That’s a great example of discussion between opposing parties, folks, and we need a lot more of it if we’re going to get anywhere worth going.
-No, not I, nor any of the handsome bastards at Buster were involved with any of this interview. I simply received a copy.
-I’ve removed the names of both the interviewer and the interviewee, as it’s not the people that matter. Its the ideals, motivations and potential for common ground.
Comments on this interview absolutely welcomed and encouraged below.
Q & A with A North Umpqua Guide:
Q: I heard through the grapevine that you are advocating bringing hatchery summers back to the fly water. Is that true, and if so, what is your reasoning?
A: Well, I don’t know how much you know about the North Umpqua, but it’s just the last few years that we’ve stopped seeing hatchery summers in the fly water. The hatchery fish that were up there weren’t a problem, since they were mainstem spawners. I grew up on the Umpqua, and I can tell you that 99% of Umpqua summer steelhead are creek spawners. The hatchery fish spawned in the mainstem, where they were acclimated. Back then you might have seen one or two hatchery fish up at Lee’s pool.
My real issue is I don’t think the wild run can handle all the pressure. I mean, we have more guys coming up here every year. But we only have a couple thousand wild steelhead. Without the hatchery fish, guys are figuring out where the natives hang out and they are pounding on them every single day. Meanwhile, ODFW is planting hatchery summers in places where nobody fishes. I’d say 2/3 of the Umpqua’s hatchery fish aren’t even getting fished for. A third of them are planted below the I-5 bridge. Another third is planted at Whistler’s Bend, and the last third at Rock Creek. But nobody fishes below I-5 bridge. Look at Whistler’s Bend. I drive by there every day, and if you see one guy fishing there it’s a rarity. Two guys I know run down there in the fall. The fly water is the only good summer water, and without some hatchery fish up there, the wild fish take the brunt of the pressure.
Q: So you think that by adding a hatchery program above Rock Creek you’ll be decreasing pressure on the wild fish? I don’t think you could find any examples of that correlation. Hatchery programs result in an increase in angling pressure on wild fish. That’s according to Oregon’s leading biologists and decades of research.
A: I think people are over thinking this whole thing. I mean, do we have a true “wild” run in the Umpqua? With all the hatchery influences over the last century, are these fish really wild?
Q: Umpqua steelhead are wild as they come. Has nobody shared with you the DNA analysis on wild steelhead in Oregon? I can send you the graphs that show the distinct genetic groupings of hatchery and wild fish.
A: Well I haven’t seen what you are talking about, but you just said yourself that the wild fish weren’t harmed by all those decades of hatchery mixing, right? So what’s the problem? Your own data says the wild fish are fine. We had hatchery fish all over up here. All the way up to the dam.
Q: What I’m saying is that there has been very little, if any, genetic introgression from interbreeding. But we know the presence of hatchery adults on the spawning grounds reduces overall numbers of wild fish. So you’re going to have a hard time convincing wild-fish advocates that there is an acceptable risk, at any level.
A: I just don’t see it that way. I don’t think there was much, if any mixing. And if the wild fish are as pure as you say they are, that proves it, right? All I’m saying is if you’re going to have hatchery fish in the Umpqua, put them in the places where people fish! Or get rid of all the hatchery fish, and take the money and use it to repair lost spawning and rearing habitat. One or the other. But it doesn’t make sense to spend all this money and resources on a program that nobody can benefit from.
I’m all for wild fish. But right now we aren’t getting the numbers of wild steelhead we used to see. We’re under 5,000 fish. We need 7,000 to 9,000 fish to handle all the pressure on the fly water. The only way we’re going to get that is if they either let us have some hatchery fish or reclaim the lost habitat. Like Canton Creek. There used to be over a thousand wild fish in there. But it was wiped out when they built that road. It’s never recovered. So if ODFW took all the money from hatcheries and used it to bring back wild fish, I could get behind that.
Now our winter steelhead in the Umpqua really need protection. In the winter we get 10,000 to 14,000 wild fish. And ODFW wants to institute a hatchery program and a kill fishery! All of us guides are against it. ODFW makes no sense. You can’t kill wild fish!
Q: But, you just said you’re against killing wild fish, but hatchery programs kill wild fish. Isn’t that an inconsistency?
A: I hear what you’re saying, and I could get behind a wild-only Umpqua. But it’s got to be one or the other. The way things are going now, I can’t make any money. I’m not ashamed to say it’s a money thing for me. If we’re going to have hatchery fish, let’s acclimate a third of them from Wright Creek down and offer people a little more opportunity in the summer. We don’t even need to increase the numbers. Just put them where they can be used. Or get rid of them altogether.
Q: Do you think you would feel the same way about this if you weren’t guiding?
A: I don’t know. The summer hatchery program, the way they’re running it now, just doesn’t make good economic sense. So I think I would be frustrated even if I wasn’t guiding. I’d still be up here in the canyon. It’s the only part of the river you can consistently get fish on dries throughout the summer.