2018 Science and Conservation Report: Issue One

by Bill Bakke, Director of Science and Conservation, The Conservation Angler

The last issue of this report led off with an informative article by Kyle Young about hatcheries and wild salmon called Kicking the Habit.  The following is a comment from an advocate for hatchbox releases of salmon fry and Kyle’s response.

STOCKING The NSA has been stocking fish in the Nepisiguit River in excess of 40 years under the direction of our previous President, Robert Baker, with measurable success. There is a difference, however, the NSA does not stock fish from a hatchery; we take broodstock in the fall and overwinter the fertilized eggs in a hatchery. The eggs are taken to a location adjacent to the Nepisiguit River in the spring and are placed into streamside incubation boxes fed by river water, until they become swim up fry. There is mortality of less than 2% and the operation is not expensive. The fry are then dispersed throughout the river system ready to feed on their natural diet. The NSA is one of only a few organizations who follow this simple model to assist the enhancement of our salmon population. I submit that we can modify and improve habitat for a long time, but when will the fish return? I would like to find out from the author of “Kicking the Habit” (ASJ, Autumn 2017) if he is critical of our model, as our swim up fry never see the confines of a hatchery holding tank. —Wayne Clowater PRESIDENT, NSA

KYLE YOUNG RESPONDS: This letter raises an important issue not addressed in my article. Evidence suggests the degree to which hatchery fish are maladapted to the wild increases not only with the number of generations exposed to artificial selection, but also with the duration of that exposure within each generation. Streamside incubators are popular on both sides of the Atlantic as a way to reduce within generation exposure to artificial selection.

Of course, swim-up fry from incubators are still hatchery fish. In the wild, the number and quality of swim-up fry produced by a female and her mates is determined by natural selection. She must complete her migration in good health, find and secure quality spawning habitat, dig a good redd at the right time, and attract and breed with males that must fight and sneak for access to her eggs. Their eggs and alevins must cope with sediment mediated variation in water temperature and chemistry, resist infection, avoid predation, and struggle through gravel to emerge as wild swim-up fry. Choosing and breeding adults, then rearing their offspring in streamside incubators replaces these and other episodes of natural selection with artificial selection.

It is likely that swim-up fry from incubators are less maladapted than fish reared to the fry, parr or smolt stage in hatchery ponds. Regardless of the relative damage inflicted upon wild population productivity, such systems contravene the clear evidence-based scientific consensus: stocking should only be considered for wild populations facing an immediate risk of extirpation.

Salmon management is not, however, simply a matter of applying the best available science. Stocking engages and inspires those who care passionately about rivers and salmon. Our shared challenge is to find a rational balance between scientific evidence and the desire to help wild salmon by artificially increasing survival rates. For example, instead of stocking hatchery-bred swim-up fry from incubators, we might capture and transfer wild swim-up fry from areas of high to low spawner density. Doing so should increase fry recruitment by relaxing early density-dependent mortality, expose fish to mere hours of artificial selection, and satisfy our desire to help wild salmon populations through stocking. I would welcome the opportunity to work with any group striving to help wild salmon.

Atlantic Salmon Journal, Winter, Vol. 66 No 4 http://viewer.zmags.com/services/DownloadPDF?publicationID=77638869&selectedPages=all&pubVersion=40&print=true

Kyle Young’s evaluation of hatchbox fry stocking is sound and supported by research on hatchbox use to increase salmon production in Pacific Northwest rivers.  Solazzi (1999) said “Results…suggest that the hatchbox program was not effective at increasing rearing density of juvenile coho salmon.”


In their final report Solazzi et al 1999, said, “Social interactions between hatchbox fry and native wild fry generally result in displacement of the hatchbox fry into marginal habitats where survival is low, however, some wild fry are also displaced. Evaluations of salmon fingerling releases (Nickelson et al. 1986) and fry releases (McGie 1980) suggest that the release of large numbers of fingerlings and fry into coastal streams does not result in increased adult production. Nickelson et al. (1986) documented a detrimental impact on wild adult coho salmon production from fingerling releases, partly because of the use of an inappropriate broodstock that spawned too early.”


It was not until Oregon coastal coho salmon were listed as a threatened species through the Endangered Species Act that harvest was decreased by 85% and hatchery releases by 95% that wild coho began to rebound.  Even though habitat was routinely the established problem by the fishery agency, rather than harvest or hatchery impacts on wild coho salmon, the reduction in those impacts resulted in substantial increases in wild coho salmon.  BMB

Reduced fitness in hatchery-reared salmon due to epigenetic changes

Le Luyera, Jérémy, Martin Laportea, Terry D. Beacham, Karia H. Kaukinen, Ruth E. Withler, Jong S. Leongd, Eric B. Rondeaud, Ben F. Koopd, and Louis Bernatchez. 2017. Parallel epigenetic modifications induced by hatchery rearing in a Pacific salmon. PNAS | December 5, 2017 | vol. 114 | no. 49 | 12965-12969.                                                            www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1711229114

“Wild stocks of Pacific salmonids have experienced sharp declines in abundance over the past century. Consequently, billions of fish are released each year for enhancing abundance and sustaining fisheries.

“However, the beneficial role of this widely used management practice is highly debated since fitness decrease of hatchery-origin fish in the wild has been documented. Artificial selection in hatcheries has often been invoked as the most likely explanation for reduced fitness, and most studies to date have focused on finding signatures of hatchery-induced selection at the DNA level.

“We tested an alternative hypothesis, that captive rearing induces epigenetic reprogramming, by comparing genome-wide patterns of methylation and variation at the DNA level in hatchery-reared coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) with those of their wild counterparts in two geographically distant rivers. We found a highly significant proportion of epigenetic variation explained by the rearing environment that was as high as the one explained by the river of origin. The differentially methylated regions show enrichment for biological functions that may affect the capacity of hatchery born smolts to migrate successfully in the ocean.

“Shared epigenetic variation between hatchery-reared salmon provides evidence for parallel epigenetic modifications induced by hatchery rearing in the absence of genetic differentiation between hatchery and natural origin fish for each river.

“This study highlights epigenetic modifications induced by captive rearing as a potential explanatory mechanism for reduced fitness in hatchery-reared salmon.

“Epigenetics: The study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

“…our results are in line with accumulating evidence for epigenetic reprogramming caused by environmental conditions at a specific time that may induce phenotypic changes which may persist in subsequent life stages.

“…our results revealed highly significant epigenetic differences between hatchery origin and natural origin salmon that were as pronounced as those observed between populations from different rivers.

“Clearly, improving our understanding of the dual role of genetic and nongenetic variation induced by captive rearing will contribute to the development of the best practices for the management and conservation of salmonids and numerous other species that are managed through supplementation worldwide.”

Phenotypic Differences Between Hatchery And

Wild Steelhead From The Same Gene Pool And The

Effect On Fitness


Kostow, Kathryn. 2004. Differences in juvenile phenotypes and survival between hatchery stocks and a natural population provide evidence for modified selection due to captive breeding. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 61: 577–589

Abstract: Juvenile phenotypes and fitness as indicated by survival were compared for naturally produced steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), a new local hatchery stock, and an old nonlocal hatchery stock on the Hood River, Oregon, U.S.A. Although the new hatchery stock and the naturally produced fish came from the same parent gene pool, they differed significantly at every phenotype measured except saltwater age. The characteristics of the new hatchery stock were similar to those of the old hatchery stock. Most of the phenotypic differences were probably environmentally caused. Although such character changes would not be inherited, they may influence the relative fitness of the hatchery and natural fish when they are in the same environment, as selection responds to phenotypic distributions. A difference in fitness between the new hatchery stock and naturally produced fish was indicated by significant survival differences.  Acclimation of the new hatchery stock in a “semi-natural” pond before release was associated with a further decrease in relative smolt-to-adult survival with little increase in phenotypic similarity between the natural and hatchery fish. These results suggest that modified selection begins immediately in the first generation of a new hatchery stock and may provide a mechanism for genetic change.

Quotes for the text: “The primary question for this paper was how hatchery juveniles from the new hatchery stock compared with naturally produced juveniles that had never been in captivity but came from the same parent gene pool as the hatchery fish.  Fish from the new hatchery stock were also compared with fish from the old hatchery stock.

“Comparisons of age at capture and dates of capture in the mainstem and tributary smolt traps and comparisons of age at capture in smolt traps and age at smolting determined from adult scales revealed life history complexity among the naturally produced fish that was not present among any hatchery treatments.  The only comparison that could be made was that the life history complexity was present in the naturally produced fish but absent in the hatchery fish.

“The hatchery fish were also nearly uniform in age, whereas the naturally produced fish were highly variable.  Another consequence of a younger total age was that the average generation time of the hatchery fish was shortened by 1 year, from 4 years for the naturally produced fish to three years for both hatchery stocks.  The new and old hatchery stocks had nearly identical age distributions.  Both hatchery stocks showed similar characteristics and diversity in saltwater age and were similar to wild fish in this trait.

“Juveniles from both hatchery stocks out-migrated significantly earlier than naturally produced juveniles based on mean date of out-migration. However, the primary difference between the groups was that the out-migration time distribution for natural fish was highly variable, whereas the out-migration time for hatchery fish was very narrow.  A large number of naturally produced fish out-migrated during the spring and the new hatchery stock matched this peak time reasonably well.  But less than 1% of either hatchery stock was captured in any smolt trap after the end of June.  In contrast, naturally produced fish were captured throughout the season.

“Among the naturally produced fish, small age-0 and age-1 fish were common in the tributary traps.  These results indicate that young presmolting fish were moving for several years among different rearing environments within the Hood River Basin as they grew.

“Very young fish were also seen migrating past the mainstem trap, indicating that some of them were leaving the Hood Basin.  However, age-0 smolts were absent, whereas age-1 smolts were rare among naturally produced fish based on the age at saltwater entry mark identified on adult scales.  This result indicates that about 25% of the naturally produced fish out-migrated from the Hood Basin as presmolts.

“…all ages of naturally produced fish, with highly variable sizes and both smolts and presmolts, were moving within the Hood Basin and out of the Hood Basin at all times that sampling occurred.  These behavior patterns were absent among the hatchery fish.  They entered the mainstem trap from a few days to a few weeks after release and were large and relatively uniform sized.

“Both hatchery stocks had average egg-to-smolt survival rates over 60% compared with less than 2% for the naturally produced winter steelhead and less than 1% for the naturally produced summer steelhead. Both hatchery stocks therefore produced significantly more smolt offspring per parent than did the naturally spawning parents.

“The survival superiority was reversed between the natural and hatchery groups for smolt-to-adult survivals, which occurred while all of the fish were in the same environment. Naturally produced smolts had average smolt-to-adult survivals of 5-6% whereas both hatchery stocks had average survivals over the 5 years of about 1%.  However, the survival superiority given the hatchery fish while they were captive continued through to return adults, as they had higher overall egg-adult survivals and produced many more adult offspring per parent than the naturally produced fish.

“The naturally produced winter steelhead had significantly higher egg-to-smolt survivals, smolt offspring produced per parent, egg-to-adult survivals, and adult offspring produced per parent than the naturally produced summer steelhead.  For example, egg-to-smolt survivals were 10 times higher among the winter steelhead than among the summer steelhead. This difference in survivals was probably related to a difference in the proportion of hatchery parents and the origin of hatchery parents between the two naturally spawning populations.  The winter steelhead populations included 2-51% hatchery fish, primarily first generation returns from the local broodstock included among the natural spawners in the last 2 years of the study, whereas the summer steelhead population included 78-88% hatchery fish each year of the study, all from the old hatchery stock.  The two natural populations had similar smolt-to-adult survivals.

“The new hatchery stock (native brood stock from the same gene pool as the natural population) over the 5 years of the study had significantly fewer smolts and adult offspring per parent and lower smolt-to-adult survivals than the old hatchery stock.  For example, over the 5 years, the new hatchery stock produced 35% fewer smolts and 60% fewer adult offspring per parent compared with the old hatchery stock. Comparisons of the direct-released new hatchery stock, the acclimated-releases new hatchery stock, and the old hatchery stock demonstrated that the acclimated new hatchery stock had significantly lower smolt-to-adult, egg-to-adult, and adult offspring per parent than either of the other hatchery treatments.

“…the average smolt-to-adult survival for the acclimated fish was only about half of what was observed for the direct-released fish and for the old hatchery stock.  The direct-released fish and old hatchery stock had similar smolt-to-adult survivals.

“The new hatchery stock juveniles differed significantly from the naturally produced juveniles in every phenotypic trait that was measured in this study, except salt water age. The fish from the new hatchery stock more closely resembled the fish from the old hatchery stock, particularly by the time they reached the mainstem trap. The phenotypic differences were probably environmentally caused, since both the hatchery and naturally produced fish were from the same gene pool.  However, large phenotypic responses by fish from the same parent gene pool to the differences between the captive and natural environments are consistent with the process of domestication.

“…over the 5 years, the elevated egg-to-smolt survivals of the (native brood stock) hatchery fish in captivity ranged from only 45% to 80%, which was lower than the 90% to 95% that is often reported for hatchery programs. Average smolt-to-adult survivals for the naturally produced winter and summer steelhead were five to six times higher than for the new hatchery stock.

“…the new hatchery stock had very low smolt-to-adult survival relative to the naturally produced fish while the two groups were in the same (natural) environment. The new hatchery stock had very similar phenotypes and survivals when compared with the old hatchery stock, particularly when it was released directly into the Hood River without acclimation.

“It appears that the most successful fish in the new hatchery stock generally resembled the old hatchery stock, following the homogenous life history strategy of being large yearling smolts that promptly entered the ocean during a narrow window after release.

“…as demonstrated by the apparent consequences for the smaller acclimated hatchery fish released in this study, hatchery fish may be made to ‘look more like’ wild fish without behaving like them or surviving like them.

“In conclusion, this study demonstrated large average phenotype and survival differences between hatchery-produced and naturally produced fish from the same parent gene pool.  These results indicate that a different selection regime was affecting each of the groups.  The processes indicated by these results can be expected to lead to eventual genetic divergence between the new hatchery stock and its wild source population, thus limiting the usefulness of the stock for conservation purposes to only the first few generations.

Fine scale adaption to variable environments of their home streams and ocean environments is constant and promotes life history diversity and reproductive success that cannot be adequately addressed in artificial propagation.  The purpose of natural production of wild salmonids is survival within variable environments over time as conditions constantly change.  The purpose of artificial propagation is to replace wild salmonids degraded by harvest and habitat conditions, using an economic rather than an ecological model to produce a product for market driven fisheries and management.  Naturally produced salmon and steelhead are shaped by their diverse environments while artificially produced salmon are the outcome of social, political and economic constraints.  It is recognized by 40 years of scientific evaluation that these two production paradigms are incompatible.  The obvious indicator that a problem is operating in salmon and steelhead management is the historic record of decline and extinction of wild salmonids.  The protection of wild salmon and steelhead through the Endangered Species Act should ring our bell that something is fundamentally wrong.  The management of salmon harvest, artificial production and habitat degradation is based on an economic framework that fish are fundamentally the same and they can be mass produced to make way for development of the salmon ecosystem.  Wild salmon and steelhead recovery through the Endangered Species Act is based on the same assumptions.  An ecological coherent framework for management is needed but appears to be out of reach because it is incompatible with the economic model of salmonid management enforced by state, federal and tribal governments. BMB

River specific management for salmon and steelhead is being tested with positive results in Europe for Atlantic salmon.  I have provided a summary of that ecological approach:

River specific management for wild salmon and steelhead is recommended as a long-term goal for the state.  This approach is more consistent with the ecology of wild salmon and steelhead than the current management paradigm. This improvement would begin by designating several streams of at least moderate size to be managed under river specific criteria.  This approach his already in place for many Atlantic salmon populations and rivers.  The basic elements of river specific management are: 1) Develop escapement targets for each species to achieve egg deposition and parr production goals, 2) Develop habitat protection and restoration criteria that support spawning and juvenile rearing, 3) Describe and maintain the biological diversity of each species/population, 4) Prevent interbreeding between hatchery and wild fish, 4) The region supervisor will be required to submit a biennial report that discusses the implementation of river specific management project especially compliance with the criteria.  If, for example, the escapement target is not met the region should explain what can be done to correct the deficit.  The regional supervisor is responsible for approving the report.

River Specific Management will assist the agency to achieve its mission “To prevent serious depletion of any indigenous species and to provide the optimum recreational and aesthetic benefits for present and future generations of the citizens of this state.” (ORS 496.012). This action will also assist in ongoing efforts to recover listed salmon and steelhead populations.  (Bill Bakke, Jim Lichatowich and Jim Myron)

On the Edge: Wild Clearwater B-run Steelhead

Linwood Laughy ,  Moscow, Idaho


January 24, 2018

In the mid-1950s, I often watched Clearwater River B-run steelhead leap from pool to pool ascending the fish ladder on the north end of the Washington Water Power Dam three miles upstream from the river’s mouth. According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), in the 1950s and early ‘60s, 40,000 wild B-run steelhead crossed that dam each year. Now 2018, 98% of the once famous Clearwater B-run steelhead are gone.

The destruction of this magnificent steelhead run began officially on March 14, 1947, as noted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Special Report on Selection of Sites, Lower Snake River, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

“The problem of passing migratory fish over dams on lower Snake River was discussed with representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State of Washington Department of Fisheries, Fish Commission of Oregon, Oregon State Game Commission, and the State of Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The consensus of opinion of these agencies was that any series of dams on lower Snake River would be hazardous and might entirely eliminate the runs of migratory fish in that stream. [Emphasis added.]  In view of the experience at Bonneville Dam, this office does not concur with this unfounded opinion.”

The actual destruction of the Clearwater’s B-run steelhead began in 1956.  The U.S. Corps of Engineers constructed Ice Harbor Dam 1956-1961; Lower Monumental Dam, 1961-1969; Little Goose Dam, 1963-1970; Lower Granite Dam, 1965-1973.  In 1973 the completion of Dworshak Dam on the Clearwater’s North Fork struck another blow.

The early 1960s saw more than 100,000 wild A-run and B-run steelhead* enter the Snake River each year. By the 1974-75 season that number had dropped to 12,200—with only 3,000 fish returning to Idaho rivers and streams. In 1997 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed all Snake River steelhead as threatened of extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

Fast forward 20 years. In 2017 fish managers predicted as few as 770 wild B-run steelhead would cross Lower Granite dam during the 2017-2018 season, later raising this figure to 1100. Pinning down accurate fish numbers is complicated. Not all B-run steelhead are over 78 centimeters in length, cross Bonneville between August 25 and November 1, or spend two years in the ocean. Further, up to a third of the B-run over Lower Granite Dam are bound for the Middle Fork and South Fork of the Salmon River rather than the Clearwater. Yet slice the figures any way you wish, since the late 1950s around 98% of the Clearwater River wild B-run steelhead have disappeared.

Citing present ocean conditions as a major contributor to the extremely low 2017 Snake River steelhead returns, IDFG fish biologist Joe Dupont recently wrote: “If we had better spawning, rearing and migratory conditions, it would buffer the poor ocean conditions to the point that we could still provide harvest fisheries in Idaho, and wild fish would not be threatened of going extinct.” [Emphasis added] This may be as bold a statement as an IDFG staff member dare make with its reference to “migratory conditions.” In 1999 the Idaho legislature whisked management of ESA-listed fish species away from IDFG with the creation of the Office of Species Conservation in the Governor’s office. The State of Idaho, a defendant in the current Bi-Op case before Judge Michael H. Simon, is aligned with the federal agencies and special interest groups trying to maintain the status quo on the lower Snake River—fish be damned as well as dammed.

In its 2002 Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study, the Corps of Engineers identified three action alternatives to address the issue of threatened and endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead: the maximum transport (barging) of juvenile fish around the dams, major dam passage system improvements, and dam breaching.  The biological analysis concluded the third alternative, breaching, presented the highest probability of recovering endangered and threatened Snake River salmon and steelhead.

The Corps and Bonneville Power Administration have since spent billions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars implementing the first two alternatives. These least-likely-to-succeed alternatives have failed. No Snake River threatened or endangered fish species is on its way to recovery.  In November 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries released its new “Recovery Plan” for threatened Snake River steelhead.  The plan includes an extensive list of actions continuing over the next 50-100 years projected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Two points of particular note in the report: first, the plan keeps the lower Snake River dams in place, and second, astonishingly, NOAA Fisheries acknowledges that “the actions will not get us to recovery.”

The public is thus now asked to invest more millions of dollars in a fish recovery plan designed to fail while ignoring the one action fish scientists have consistently identified as having the greatest potential for successful recovery: dam breaching. And all this while the four lower Snake River dams continue to produce electricity we no longer need, while we subsidize the Snake River shipment of wheat to Asia, and while we watch our once plentiful and thriving wild salmon and steelhead disappear.

By NOAA’s own admission, the federal government’s recovery plan for threatened Snake River steelhead is a sham deserving of public outrage. The special interest groups that support the status quo on the lower Snake River—including government agencies like the Corps of Engineers and NOAA Fisheries—deserve the public’s disdain.  Politicians who do the bidding of these organizations and who willfully deceive the public with misinformation and false statements regarding Snake River steelhead and salmon must be held accountable.

Based on Jared Diamond’s award winning book Collapse, the only remaining hope for avoiding the extinction of Snake River wild salmon and steelhead rests with an aggressive mass movement of individuals who refuse to see these iconic species disappear. Individual anger without collective action is a sure path to species extinction.

* A-run steelhead generally pass Bonneville Dam between July 1 and August 25. These are primarily one-year-in-ocean fish less than 78 centimeters in length. B-run steelhead pass Bonneville mostly after August 25 and before November 1. These fish typically spend two years in the ocean and are headed for Idaho’s Clearwater and Salmon Rivers.

Fall spawning steelhead

Wed, May 25, 2011


From:   Bill McMillan

To:       Bill Bakke


Okay, here is the data I have been looking for 20 years.  I first came across the split between early maturing steelhead and late maturing steelhead passing Celilo Falls in Jordan and Evermann’s book, Food & Game Fish of North America in the 1902-1934 publications.  But I did not know from what it was based.  Here it is in Evermann and Meek (1898):

The steelhead varied in length from 25 to 42 inches, the average weight of those taken at Celilo being 18 pounds.  A few weighed from 35 to 37 pounds.  On first coming from the water the steelhead is very bright-colored, the large specimens having a bright stripe extending along the sides the whole length of the body, varying from a light pink to a deep bronze.  The colors are very pronounced when the fish is first caught, but grow dim on being exposed to the air…

On September 18 and 19 a large number of fish, mostly steelheads, were noticed to ascend the falls, but, as the river was falling rapidly, in a short time they were prevented from taking their natural course and were forced either to enter the channel or remain in the pools or eddies at the foot of the falls.  At this time the wheel at Celilo began to take more fish than it previously had, the daily catch increased during the time Mr. Alexander was there.  The catch of chinook and silver salmon was small as compared with the number of steelheads.  The last-mentioned species is always found in greater numbers at this season, the fall run of chinook being limited in number.  Only a few silver salmon are caught here…

On September 18 the wheel at Celilo took 160 steelheads, 28 chinook, and 6 silver salmon, and 75 steelheads were taken by Indians with spears and dip nets.  Of the steelheads, 111 were males and 124 females; 10 males and 15 females were in an advanced stage of development, and would have been ripe in a comparatively short time; the rest of the catch would not have been ripe until late in the season.  Of the chinooks, 19 were males and 9 females; 10 males and all of the females would have been ripe by about the first week in October.

During the five days spent at Celilo 1,512 steelheads, 119 chinook, and 55 silver salmon were examined.  Of the steelhead, 991 were females and 521 males; 299 females and 120 males showed considerable signs of development, and would have been fully ripe by the first week in October.

From September 25 to the 13th of October 2,667 steelheads, 1,402 chinooks, and 2,213 silver salmon were examined at Celilo.  1,010 of the steelheads were males and 1,677 females; 350 male steelheads and 601 females were in an advanced stage of ripeness…

A large part of the eggs of the chinook on being taken from the fish would immediately separate; this was also true of many of the silver salmon and steelheads.  A number of the latter showed no signs of development, but many were well advanced and some about ready to spawn.  It would seem that the spawning season of the steelhead extends over a greater period of time than that of other species.

In the early part of the fall season the demand for fresh steelheads is large, and there is more profit in shipping fish east than in canning them.

Steelheads swim near the surface and are more easily caught than the chinooks, which swim deep.

It is apparent from this information, that some important life history characteristics of Columbia River steelhead have been eliminated since the mid-1890s, and by then the runs of salmon and steelhead were already greatly depleted from what they were originally with probable losses of other life history characteristics.  One of the places that these fall spawning steelhead occurred was documented in the earliest search for a hatchery racking site on the Wenatchee River as was found in a report last year in the late 1800s or early 1900s there in Tumwater Canyon in October.  And we know we have lost life history characteristics even in my lifetime with the virtual elimination of the early spring run-timing of earliest summer-run steelhead that once returned to SW Washington rivers and the very small sizes that also once occurred.

The fall spawning steelhead likely would have been mainstem spawners because east-side smaller tributaries would have had very little water at that time.  But we do not know where these fall spawning steelhead reproduced or why they disappeared.  A mystery locked in history.


Evermann, Barton, Warren, and Seth Eugene Meek. 1898. A Report upon Salmon Investigations in the Columbia River Basin and Elsewhere on the Pacific Coast in 1896. U.S. Fish Commission Bulletin for 1897. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

With The Conservation Angler I am continuing my obsession for understanding salmon and steelhead life history, the history of salmon management, and about why government treatment of public trust natural resources continues to contribute to their depletion and extinction.  These animals have been evolving and successfully coping with ecological change for 20 million years.  In the last 158 years since Euro-Americans invaded the Northwest and began to reap the bounty of wild salmonids, their trajectory has been downward.  Initially the wild salmon and steelhead were so abundant there were no identifiable runs because they came from the sea to their natal rivers in a continuous swarm.  Only after they were depleted by unregulated harvest did individual populations become recognized and named for their season of river entry – spring, summer, fall and winter runs of fish.  Now there are 217 wild populations of the various species at risk of extinction and many more have left the natural stage we call the Northwest.  These Conservation Reports are distributed to you periodically so that we can learn more about how these unique animals live and persist.  Each river is unique in character and so are the fish that return to them to rear the next generation.   Understanding more about how they live and the problems they face may draw us closer to caring about their future.  As Linwood Laughy says, “Individual anger without collective action is a sure path to species extinction.”



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