Willamette Valley steelheaders can look forward to lost opportunities instead of recovered wild populations if a threatened lawsuit comes to pass.
So forecasts the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association in reaction to last week’s news that two groups plan to sue the Army Corps of Engineers to zero out McKenzie and Santiam Rivers hatchery production.
“We would all like to see endangered stocks of wild steelhead improve to healthy levels, but eliminating this summer steelhead hatchery program isn’t the silver bullet they’re looking for,” says Liz Hamilton, NSIA executive director. “You can easily point to examples such as the upper Clackamas, which had its summer hatchery program eliminated, but instead of revitalizing wild winter runs, all that happened was the Willamette Valley lost one of its best summer fishing opportunities.”
The notice of intent to sue was filed by Willamette Riverkeeper and The Conservation Angler, the latter of which was also in the news last week when it decried the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch rating of gillnetted Olympic Peninsula steelhead as a “good alternative.”
The two organizations say hatchery summer-runs “compete with, prey upon and interbreed with” Endangered Species Act-listed wild winter steelhead, according to a Salem Statesman Journal article.
If the lawsuit moves forward it would be the latest in a series targeting hatchery production of steelhead and salmon in the Northwest, which provide the backbone of consumptive tribal and nontribal fisheries.
Others have been directed at the Sandy, Puget Sound and Columbia Basin facilities.
NSIA worries that if the latest lawsuit is successful, it would just put more anglers on the bank.
“Currently, the upper Willamette and Santiam summer hatchery programs provide the valley with almost year-round opportunity, and that means jobs and quality fishing experiences,” says Hamilton. “It just seems ridiculous to demonize hatchery fish when the real limiting factor for winter steelhead is the Army Corps of Engineers dams in the basin. Meanwhile, sea lions at Willamette Falls are killing between 10-15 percent of that endangered wild run every year.”