There appear to be developments today on the North Umpqua hatchery steelhead program that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted last month to terminate.
A Marion County judge has apparently ordered the release of this year’s smolts after granting a preliminary injunction to Douglas County Commissioners and others who had asked a local circuit court for an expedited review of the commission’s decision.
That’s according to a press release issued by opponents of the Rock Creek Hatchery summer-run program this evening and court records from this morning, respectively.
The Conservation Angler, which labels the integrated local stock “derelict,” states that Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wren also ordered a “wild fish-safe” plan be in place before the smolts are released.
ODFW has released on average 78,000 of the young steelhead in recent years, but last month proposed reducing that to 30,000 and fixing facility infrastructure to address hatchery stray rates above a coastal management plan’s goals. Instead, the commission voted 4-3 to kill releases, a decision that still beggars belief among some.
That’s because agency scientists found “no evidence that the hatchery summer steelhead program negatively affected naturally produced summer steelhead,” nor was it limiting the wild population’s recovery.
North Umpqua steelhead are hurting, as are summer-run stocks up and down the US and Canadian west coasts in recent years due to environmental conditions in their natal streams and at sea. Last year just 630 were counted at Winchester Dam on the lower river between September 28 and November 20, the fewest by a very long shot.
Other plaintiffs in the case besides Douglas County include the Umpqua Fishery Enhancement Derby, which donates all derby proceeds “to local fish restoration and education projects” in the watershed, and local guide Scott Worsley, who was among those who rounded up 3,000 signatures in support of the program.
The three parties’ attorney is Dominic Carollo of the Carollo Law Group, which bills itself as representing “industries, businesses, landowners and local governments with relationships to the timber, agriculture, water, mining and other natural resource sectors.”
In its press release, TCA lays out a series of “terms and conditions that [it] believes would be consistent with what Judge Wren directed the parties to comply with.”
There is a time imperative with steelhead smolts. At some point in spring if they aren’t released into rivers, they residualize and won’t go to sea.
Meanwhile, late last week, the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 5-1 to hold a special meeting “to discuss additional information” from local tribes regarding their April vote on the hatchery program.