Steelheaders have just one week left to comment on a proposed Skykomish River hatchery summer-run program that would utilize natural-origin fish, essentially a do-or-die bid for the future of the important Puget Sound fishery.
Production of Skamania-strain steelhead is being phased out on the system due to a court settlement, so WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes are looking to replace them with fish collected at a fish trap below an impassable falls on the South Fork Sky.
Steelhead have been trucked upstream from there since 1958 to utilize spawning and rearing habitat in the headwaters, and unlike other stocks in the watershed, South Fork summer-runs aren’t actually listed under the Endangered Species Act, making them a good candidate for an integrated broodstock program.
Plans call for annual release of up to 116,000 smolts in support of tribal treaty rights, help recover steelhead elsewhere in the Skykomish and provide for state fisheries.
It is also a key part of WDFW’s so-called QuickSilver Portfolio that has come under preemptive attack from the Wild Fish Conservancy via threatened lawsuit.
Among the groups expressing strong support for proposal is Puget Sound Anglers.
“The Biological Opinion and incidental take permit must be completed before April to ensure we have sufficient time to successfully deal with any anticipated litigation by the WFC before steelhead smolts now being reared at Reiter Ponds must be released to avoid residulization, effectively killing the summer steelhead program,” wrote Ron Garner, state president, to the National Marine Fisheries Service in a Jan. 8 letter.
NMFS’s comment period on this initial proposed evaluation and pending determination, or PPED, of the proposal closes Jan. 21.