While seals and sea lions at Willamette Falls and Bonneville Dam are a serious concern and warrant action, ODFW is ignoring a multiplicity of other impacts to wild steelhead in Willamette and throughout the lower Columbia River.
The Conservation Angler believes that actions to reduce predation by sea lions and seals at man-made obstacles like the fish ladder at Willamette Falls are warranted given the huge regional investments in salmon and watershed recovery in the Willamette.
However, there are a many other factors that are within the authority of ODFW to address right now, without waiting for Congress to act.
ODFW releases hundreds of thousands of non-native hatchery summer steelhead into Willamette River tributaries. Hatchery smolts are large when released and many thousands never migrate out of the rivers. These residualized river smolt prey heavily on juvenile spring chinook and winter steelhead.
ODFW releases tens of thousands of hatchery trout into reservoirs over which they are also re-introducing spring chinook and winter steelhead to help the native fish access historic spawning and rearing habitat. These “catchable” trout also prey on the outmigrating spring chinook and winter steelhead.
ODFW permits angling on the hatchery summer steelhead and spring salmon using bait and barbed hooks during the time when winter steelhead are staging and spawning. ODFW cannot calculate the catch and release mortality on wild winter fish encountered in the hatchery summer steelhead fishery.
ODFW authorizes winter and spring gillnet seasons that target spring chinook, but which take place without monitors to help evaluate the handle and mortality on winter steelhead in the lower Columbia River. All of the above factors have contributed to the decline and prevented true recovery of these ESA-listed fish.
The Conservation Angler would like ODFW to take Dr. Clements’ statement to heart across the range of responsibility the agency has to protect native and fish and wildlife. He said “We are at a point where any more delays in the Willamette may condemn this run to extinction,” Clements said. “We need to act now or extinction may be our legacy.”
TCA could not agree more.