Presented “additional information” from local tribes, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted to hold a special meeting regarding their late April decision to terminate a popular hatchery summer steelhead program on the North Umpqua.
The move came at the very end of today’s seven-plus-hour meeting and followed an hour-long executive session. Discussion begins at the 7:12:30 mark.
Commissioner Becky Hatfield-Hyde of Paisley “moved to schedule a timely commission meeting to discuss additional information provided by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua and other tribes regarding recent decisions around the Rock Creek Hatchery,” and she was seconded by Bob Spelbrink of Siletz.
Vice Chair Jill Zarnowitz, who was one of four commissioners who voted to kill the Rock Creek Hatchery program in late April, voted in favor of holding the special meeting.
“They’ve expressed some issues we need to at least hear, and we’ll see what happens,” the Yamhill resident said.
Chair Mary Wahl said she wants to meet with the tribes but nonetheless voted against the motion, calling it “a mistake to reopen this in this way.”
The commission’s decision last month was a stunning one because ODFW fishery biologists had only recommended reducing hatchery production from an average of 78,000 to 29,000 and fixing facility infrastructure to reduce stray spawning in the wild from an average of 17 percent to 10 percent, as called for under a coastal stocks management plan.
Agency scientists found that the summer steelhead program neither affected natural-origin fish nor limited their recovery.
Along with fallout afterwards, before the vote the issue inspired a massive outpouring of comment from local anglers, guides, residents and others, and some of the most powerful testimony came from John Ogan, who was representing the Coquille Tribe and two others and argued against cutting even any production. He also issued a dire warning that this was but one in a series of hatchery programs that will be targeted.
The decision has also been challenged in court by county officials and others.
Along with Zarnowitz, Commissioner Kathayoon Khalil of Portland voted to terminate the hatchery program but for the special meeting.
Also voting in favor of the special meeting was Commissioner Mark Labhart of Sisters, who had voted against ending production at Rock Creek, with Hatfield-Hyde and Spelbrink.
Commissioner Leslie King was not in attendance at that point of the meeting. She was perhaps the decisive fourth vote that halted the program.
Recreational angling interests were buoyed by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s renewed interest in the hatchery program.
“NSIA has been in conversations with Commissioners, ODFW leadership and the Governor’s office for several weeks on this issue. We are hopeful that further Commission discussions provide the space for conversations about compromise. This will help bring the communities back together for the important and much larger discussions about the Rock Creek hatchery, and the future of fisheries in the basin,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
As for when the special Umpqua meeting will be held, ODFW Director Curt Melcher said staff would be looking to identify “an appropriate date.”
“It won’t be immediately, it won’t be first thing Monday. It will be sometime perhaps even the week following next week for this special meeting you have just ordered,” he said.
If ODFW has not disposed of this year’s smolts, they are running up against the biological clock of the young steelhead. At a certain point in the spring, they will residualize instead of follow their instincts to go to sea.
Correction, 9:03 p.m., May 13, 2022: The initial version of this blog reversed Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Kathayoon Khalil’s name. My apologies.