Federal steelhead overseers are now seeking comment on a draft environmental assessment for a proposed new integrated summer-run broodstock program on the Skykomish.
It’s another encouraging development as the current hatchery production program on the popular Puget Sound river is phased out due to a 2019 court settlement.
Plans call for replacing the out-of-basin Skamania-strain steelhead that have been reared and released here for decades with the progeny of natural-origin fish collected at the Sunset Falls trap on the South Fork Sky.
If approved, WDFW would produce up to 116,000 smolts annually at Reiter Ponds near Gold Bar, keeping a proud fishery alive. The proposal also provides for transplanting up to 250 returning adults into the North Fork to supplement a depressed run.
Other alternatives under consideration include releasing 56,000 smolts, using Tolt steelhead instead, or terminating the hatchery summer-run program all together.
The 188-page draft EA released this week by the National Marine Fisheries Service also covers environmental and cumulative impacts of the proposal.
Had NMFS opted for a full-blown environmental impact statement, or EIS, the review process would have taken longer.
While Puget Sound steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act, those that use the South Fork Sky are not covered. Despite past genetic introgression from Skamanias, they’re a more productive summer stock than others in the Snohomish watershed, according to the EA.
“The long-term fitness consequences of the introduction of genetic material from the Columbia basin into the Puget Sound steelhead DPS are unknown, but the successful self-reproduction of Skamania-lineage fish in the Snohomish basin may indicate that they are not a serious concern for long-term viability,” it states.
If you’re scratching your head asking yourself, wait a damn minute, didn’t I just send in my thoughts on this?, it’s because you probably did.
This upcoming Feb. 5-March 8 comment period follows recent public input on the proposed evaluation and pending determination, or PEPD, for WDFW and Tulalip Tribes’ hatchery genetic management plan.
That garnered more than 800 comments, according to Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NMFS’s West Coast Region.
The proposal is supported by a number of organizations, including the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington and Puget Sound Anglers, among others. Wild Fish Conservancy has taken shots at it.
“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,” PSA president Ron Garner wrote to NMFS in support of the PEPD.
NMFS is also seeking comment on the Sunset Falls trap-and-haul program, which for 60 years has transported steelhead, Chinook, coho, pinks and bull trout above the impassable 105-foot falls to access nearly 70 miles of spawning and rearing habitat in the Baring, Grotto and Skykomish areas.
Public input on the EA can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Comments on the Environmental Assessment for the Skykomish River hatchery program and/or Sunset Falls trap and haul program.
Or mailed to:
Emi Melton NMFS, West Coast Regional Office 1201 NE Lloyd Blvd., Suite 1100 Portland, OR 97232