Tag Archives: WILD STEELHEAD COALITION

Feds, Tribe Prevail In Elwha Salmon, Steelhead Hatchery Appeal

Federal and tribal fishery overseers have prevailed in a court case involving Elwha River salmon and steelhead that allows for continued use of hatchery fish in the restoration of runs to the north Olympic Peninsula watershed.

After hearing arguments last month, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court’s ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service had done its homework when approving state and Lower Elwha Klallam production programs for after two dams were removed.

THE ELWHA RIVER ABOVE THE SITE OF THE DAMS. (OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK)

“The Ninth Circuit found our analysis was complete and that both NOAA and the (National) Park Service have thoroughly adequately assessed the impacts involved, from the dam removal process to the efforts to recover salmon and steelhead populations,” explained Michael Milstein, a spokesman¬† for NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Portland.

That analysis was the target of a long-running challenge in U.S. District Court for Western Washington by the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Salmon Rivers.

According to federal court documents, they had argued that NMFS’s approval of hatchery programs violated the National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species Acts, and that the tribe’s facility output represented a taking of ESA-listed fish.

But 9th Circuit Court Judges Susan P. Graber, Sandra S. Ikuta and Andrew D. Hurwitz largely agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle’s earlier ruling, and according to Milstein that “clears the way” for NMFS and its partners to focus on restoring the river, including with hatchery fish per a 2012 environmental assessment that found minimal risk and some benefits from them.

The Elwha restoration is a project on a huge scale, featuring the removal of Elwha Dam in 2012 and Glines Canyon Dam in 2014, freeing up dozens of miles of river and tributaries that flow from the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.

To that end, earlier this spring, WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe extended a fishing moratorium on the Elwha through May 2019.

For its part, WDFW doesn’t appear interested in stocking steelhead into the river, as last summer it declared the Elwha a wild steelhead gene bank. The Wild Steelhead Coalition said that designation was the result of “decades of work,” but the tribe’s hatchery means the sanctuary “still does not exist.”

Contrasting Videos Highlight Plight Of Westside Steelhead, Fisheries

Steelhead videos out in recent days both bemoan the same thing — a lack of fish returning to Western Washington — but come from disparate perspectives.

A slick series produced by the Wild Steelhead Coalition contrasts sharply with a 13-minute preview piece cobbled together by Restore the Cowlitz, but they both recall a great past, focus on the poor present, and call for a better future, but through, literally, different lenses.

I appreciate them both, as they show a fire in the belly that is lacking when it comes to most of Washington’s other stocks, a deep concern for the resource and the real impacts policy decisions have on fish populations and people’s livelihoods.

The former, dubbed “Steelhead Country,” leads off with the downfall of Puget Sound steelheading, listing a number of rivers no longer open for all or part of the seasons due to plummeting native returns, and focuses on the experiences of the iconic Bill Herzog.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM “STEELHEAD COUNTRY, PART I,” SHOWS BILL HERZOG ON THE BANKS OF THE MCMILLAN DRIFT, ON THE PUYALLUP RIVER, AT ONE TIME ONE OF THE BEST SPOTS IN ALL OF PUGETROPOLIS TO CATCH WINTERS, BUT NOW CLOSED. (WILD STEELHEAD COALITION)

He loads some of the downfall on his own back: “We killed too many fish. Again, horrible management, they allowed us to take two fish, wild fish, till the end of April, ad naseum … My little squad, we killed 200 out of the Nisqually alone, just us, just us, 10 guys, killed 200. Easy. Let’s see, if we did that, wouldn’t take much, would it?”

The third video in the six-part series (the back half hasn’t been released at this writing) looks at “The Hatchery Fix,” which highlights the striking success WDFW’s predecessor’s increased stocking had, producing a “ten-fold” leap in the catch between 1947 and 1963, but also how that likely clubbed the heck out of the early part of the wild run, “which historically was the peak of the run.”

DEANNA WILSON HOISTS HER FIRST STEELHEAD, A SKYKOMISH HATCHERY WINTER-RUN. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Fixing the hatchery runs is what “Project Cowlitz” aims for, pointing out the deep economic impacts the end of releases of early-timed winter steelhead into the Cowlitz has caused.

According to another Washington fishing icon, guide Clancy Holt, where in the past he normally would have run four guides and pulled in $300,000 from mid-November to mid-February, yielding some $24,000 in state sales tax, this past winter, his operation ran two trips for $2,000 and collected just $150 in sales tax.

IN THIS SCREENGRAB FROM RESTORE THE COWLITZ’S NEW VIDEO “PROJECT COWLITZ,” LOCAL GUIDE CLANCY HOLT TALKS ABOUT ECONOMIC IMPACTS FROM THE LOSS OF THE EARLY-RETURNING STEELHEAD TO THE RIVER. (RESTORE THE COWLITZ)

He’s echoed by guides Dave Mallahan, Mark Youngblood and others, while Derek Breitenbach of Ethel Market & Sports details the dropoff in winter business at his Lewis County shop.

“This isn’t working,” Holt says, adding, “There has got to be a way to generate another run of fish in the winter from November to the middle of February — steelhead in the Cowlitz River.”

It would take time — a whole lot of time and even some fishery restrictions (not to mention a few more fish) — but I wonder if it isn’t possible to begin creating an early-returning strain out of the basin’s endemic late stock, recovering that temporal span that winters once covered.

I’m not a biologist, so I can’t say how possible that even is, but as a steelheader and someone who’s been writing about the decline for some time now, there’s a lot of good stuff in these videos, and I appreciate the passion both filmmakers put into them.

Is one righter than the other?

I just know that I need fish for all of us to fish for, and while I do see positive signs here and there on the wild front, I also know that today’s rivers have carrying capacities that will never get us back to late 1800s abundances. I do look forward to seeing what sort of solutions “Steelhead Country” proposes in its upcoming releases, but as pared back as hatchery releases have become, they’re essential bridges as habitat work continues and we work to figure out other problems affecting the survival of all of our favorite fish.

Hat tip to all, you rock for Doing Something.