It’s the only word that comes to mind in the wake of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s vote just now to eliminate the Rock Creek Hatchery summer steelhead release program on the North Umpqua on a 4-3 margin.
The decision came at midevening Friday after hours of staff presentations and stakeholder testimony that highlighted how important the river’s summer-runs and fishery were across the board.
Amounting to what one observer described as the “nuclear option,” it was made even more bitter given that ODFW staffers found the hatchery program had no effect on wild steelhead numbers in the fabled basin, where both native and clipped fish have struggled in recent years, just like summer-runs up and down the West Coast due to poor ocean conditions and on-land heat waves turning streams too warm.
“Literally just blown away by what just happened! Blown! Away!” said Sara Ichtertz, a huge fan of the North Umpqua and a columnist in this magazine.
The motion to eliminate production was made by Vice Chair Jill Zarnowitz of Yamhill and seconded by Commissioner Kathayoon Khalil of Portland.
It was supported by Chair Mary Wahl of Langlois and Leslie King, also of Portland.
Against it were Commissioners Mark Labhart of Sisters, Bob Spelbrink of Siletz and Becky Hatfield-Hyde of the Summer Lake area.
Labhart said the vote would be in “direct opposition” to an overarching coastal stocks management plan.
Spelbrink said the decision would “alienate a huge proportion of who this commission represents” – not only anglers but tribes.
John Ogan, representing the Coquille Tribe but also two others in an unusual agreement, gave perhaps the most inspired argument against cutting even any production. Ogan issued a dire warning that this was but one in a series of hatchery programs that will be targeted. The vote was taken in Astoria, the town at the mouth of the Columbia where fisheries tend to be powered by hatchery stocks.
It was also strongly defended by local guide Scott Worsley – among the organizers of a letter that collected over 3,000 signatures – and so many others, including a science panel of retired biologists and others who spoke to, among other things, the potential for using the hatchery stock as a “lifeboat,” per se, for struggling native runs.
They were backed by state Reps. David Brock Smith and Boomer Wright, both Republicans, as well as Douglas County Commissioner Tom Kress, officially nonpartisan.
ODFW has been releasing an average of 78,000 summer-runs from the North Umpqua tributary in recent years, but to reduce pHOS, or the percentage of hatchery-origin steelhead on wild spawning grounds from 17 percent in the watershed to 10 percent under the coastal plan adopted in 2014, had proposed dropping it to 30,000 and improving infrastructure on Rock Creek to intercept more clipped fish.
The hatchery there was severely burned in 2020’s Archie Fire but was somewhat operable though no smolts were released last year. The decision was not only far beyond staff recommendations but taken despite public offers of help to figure out how to siphon off clipped summer-runs so they didn’t stray on Rock Creek and elsewhere.