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Carmen Macdonald

A passion for fishing and hunting grew into a career that's included Alaskan guide, media sales, writer and the politics of outdoor recreation. My company, Vaunt Marketing, represents industry-leading brands in the US and Canadian markets.

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February 13, 2015

Who's Killing ODFW?

by Carmen Macdonald

Candidates for the Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were interviewed publicly today in a Commission meeting. In all honesty, it came across as more of a campaign than a hiring process, but more on that later.

Each candidate was offered 15 minutes total to make their stump speech and provide answers to six questions. For more on what transpired, read Bill Monroe's column on Oregonlive.

I want to focus on what wasn't a part of the interview. Namely, what qualifications these potential candidates might have to lead and operate a public agency of 1,400 people. Because the straight scoop is, ODFW is in a massive crisis.
Consider another Oregonlive article by Kelly House. . It covers some of the issue with declining participation while offering some data that illustrates how hunters and anglers are declining as a percent of the population.

Michael Finley, Chair of the Fish and WIldlife Commission makes this comment in the article, "Most of the Western states are dealing with these same types of issues."


Let's have a look. Heres a recent study from 2013: Exploring Recent Increases In Hunting and Fishing Participation. The title alone ought to give you pause.

Tables 1.1 and 1.2 (Pages 15 and 16 of the PDF) look at percentage of growth, or decline. of hunting and fishing license sales from 2005 to 2011. This is just raw license sales. Did the state sell more or less in straight up numbers.

Washington's hunter numbers grew 12%, their angler numbers grew 30%. California's hunter numbers grew 38%, angler numbers were flat (0% change).

In Oregon, hunting participation DECLINED 17%, and angling participation DECLINED 18%. As a state, the results are the 8th WORST in hunting and 6th WORST in fishing.

Houston... we have a problem. To achieve results this bad (in comparison to the rest of the states) you have to work at it.

This problem didn't begin today. The numbers are from 2005 to 2011. This is a systemic issue dating back at least 10 years. Jump another 10 years back and you'll hit the genesis of the decline. Between 1994 and 1998, anglers numbers dropped by 80,000. When El Nino hit in the 1990's, the ocean coho fisheries were closed as well as coho hatcheries. These anglers left over a 4 year period, and the numbers have never recovered.

Then we cut steelhead hatcheries and stream trout programs.

License numbers bumped in the early 2000's on the back of record Columbia River returns and openings of Spring and Summer Chinook that had been closed or severely restricted for the 24 years prior.

But the Columbia is not enough to maintain anglers. The percentage of people that can afford or choose to own a boat that's safe on the big river just isn't that big, certainly not on the state level.

So what's going on? And where is the concern for this by the Governor, the Commission and the hiring process? And maybe more importantly, why is Oregon on this path? While this very political sounding hiring process complete with stump speeches about creating partnerships, funding steams and tapping other users for cash-- all the important people seem okay with the fact that Oregon is sucking wind on providing for the primary constituents of the agency. The paying customers are telling ODFW they don't like the product. They're choosing to spend those dollars elsewhere.

Oregon has been and is a leader in conservation (given they don't manage the actual land or the water).

Who's killing ODFW? A lot of them are quoted in the article by Kelly House. It's the past 20 years of conservation, with a total lack of meaningful results, and the commentators of the type in the article (and employees of ODFW and the Commission), for whom "conservation" will never go far enough. At least not until ODFW is dead and buried, hunting and fishing are gone, and nobody is left to give a rip about it.

This hiring ought to be about reconnecting hunters and anglers to the resource...in a big way.

Worry about the others, who pay nothing, later. What's transpiring in Oregon is tragic.

January 29, 2015

Summer Steelhead and Paradise Lost

by Carmen Macdonald

Last weekend I was invited on a camp trip over on the Deschutes River. Amongst the group there were bird dogs and chucker hunters, trout flies and trout anglers and steelhead flies, gear and steelhead anglers.

I went loaded for bear, which for summer steelhead included about seven Blue Fox Vibrax Bullet spinners in size 4, about six steelhead jigs and four floats. All my gear fit in the pockets of my jacket. I love these fish.

On Saturday, while winter steelhead anglers descended upon west side rivers in droves, I went 2 for 2 on summer steelhead. On Sunday, my buddy and I went 5 for 6. Of 8 fish hooked, five of them chased down the spinner and smashed it.

There was one other truck with three anglers that we saw on the river. It was simply awesome.

The more I think about summer steelhead, the more amazing I recognize them to be. Early anglers on the Deschutes will begin fishing the lower river in mid-July. Here it was late January and I was still on the same fish, fish that still cartwheel across the water, maybe with not the same enthusiasm, but pretty darn close.

Similar fisheries used to be available in many rivers much closer to home in the Willamette Valley. The Sandy, Clackamas and Molalla Rivers used to have summer programs that ascended far into the mountains. There are still summer programs in the Clack and Sandy, but they're a shadow of their former selves and specifically try to limit the presence of the fish in the basins. The Molalla program was eliminated in total.

Much of the driving force behind the downsizing or elimination of these programs was a study authored by Kathryn Kostow of ODFW. The study called out summer steelhead as having a negative impact on wild winter steelhead due to a "density dependent" effect. The summers, it was surmised, out competed the winters.

Programs fell like dominoes in the 1990's. License sales dropped by 80,000 between 1993 and 1998 (silver salmon were a big part of this).

Oddly enough, last week the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society held a Hatchery and Wild Symposium in downtown Portland. I would have loved to have been there, but could not attend. A few friends of mine were in the audience.

Kostow was one of the speakers. She spoke to some of the density dependent relationships that were part of the original work on the Clackamas. However, this time it ended differently. My friends in the audience said you might have needed to know in advance exactly to what she was referring, but she offered a sentence. I won't quote because I wasn't there, but it amounted to-- it didn't work out on the Clackamas.

This after 15 years of destruction of fisheries. This after many citations of the Clackamas study to bolster arguments against hatchery fish in so many places. This after a very defensive 2012 memo saying the Clackamas was rebounding.

It's not. We have simply lost one of the best fisheries Oregon had to offer...make that numerous fisheries.

I've ground this axe pretty hard. Right now I want to say that having never met Kostow, many I know and have spoken with consider her a most excellent person. I do not want to take that away. I do want to point out that science is made up of people. People are not infallible. People are not without bias. People make mistakes.

In this specific instance, we've crushed some fisheries for no benefit at all. We've made a mistake.

The earliest summer steelhead I've caught in the Willamette system was caught on February 17th. That hatchery fish would have proceeded upriver and spawned the following year, providing somewhere around 12-months of opportunity (in this specific case, the fish was barbecued in short order :) It used to be said that you could catch steelhead on the Clackamas every single month of the year between the overlap of winters and summers. That wasn't some myth...it was fact.

So as we are now crowding anglers into fewer and fewer places....so much so that groups like TU are hinting at some form of limited entry....I have to wonder.

How many mistakes have we made? How many towns took the hit? How many burger joints like the one that used to be in Estacada are gone? How many connections to fish and the places they inhabit have been terminated?

And what are we going to do we do about it?


And for a capper on weird sense of timing, just before I can hit the upload button on this blog, here's what pops into my email.

In case you can't read the small type in the bottom middle it says, "Participating angler-sponsors assist Russian scientists in the collection of scale and tissue samples, and tagging of all caught-and-released fish. This is a high level scientific project, and all costs associated with sponsoring are tax deductible."

Is this where steelhead fishing is heading? Where the very wealthiest anglers looking for a fishing trip and a charitable donation wing on over to Russia to jam on the Kamchatka?

To quote Ferris Bueller, "If you have the means, it's so choice." I would agree. Insane trip that I'd love to take. I don't look cross at anyone who would take this trip. I do look cross on those who would perpetuate a false shortage of fish and opportunity on the premise that, at least on the Clackamas River, we're gaining something positive for wild fish.

December 02, 2014

TU To Rescue Steelhead

by Carmen Macdonald

Trout Unlimited wants to save steelhead. They launched a new campaign called Be Steelhead on November 20th with simultaneous meetings held in five states: Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Alaska.

I don't need much of a reason to head out to the Lucky Lab, so my daughter and I attended the Oregon meeting in Portland.

TU is an interesting player to jump into the steelhead arena. They have over 110,000 members, mainly located in the East/Northeast region of the country. And most certainly, that membership owes its trout fishing to hatcheries, so I was really interested in a number of aspects of where the group was headed.

Some snapshots of the meeting include:
a. a lot of emotion
b. very little plan they were willing to discuss
c. some comments that left me inquisitive and needing to hear more.

I'm trying not to jump to conclusions- I tried to make it a point before I attended and still do to this day. I want to believe the organization is not another hell bent on dividing anglers and cutting hatcheries to achieve zero measurable results as seems to be the norm lately. But what I heard left little to go on.

Overall, every campaign needs some motivational slogans. I picked up on a couple it appeared TU is advancing within the conversation: steelhead are listed in 70% of their range and TU wants to restore and protect steelhead in the "great rivers of the west."

Those were in the press release and the meeting didn't add much more. I mentioned the emotion of the meeting and maybe that's the problem with steelhead. They've accumulated so much lore that perhaps it's difficult to simply look at them as a population.

Looking over my notes, I caught three pieces from the primary speaker. We have direct control over habitat, hatcheries and the "way in which we fish". Habitat and hatcheries are not new entries to this party. Habitat is a driving factor, in a large part driven by the growth of communities and construction of dams. In the case of hatcheries, it's a tired avenue. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Like the others I hope they don't aim to get programs cut and pat themselves on the back for accomplishing nothing 15 years later.

The "way in which we fish" was a new one to me. In fact, I heard it mentioned in different ways three different times. One was that "pressure is a large issue" and the other was "cannot manage them [fisheries] as we have." It leaves me wondering if gear restrictions, limited entry, or other similar components is the space where TU intends to leave its mark.

The documentation handed out hints further at this. With regard to angling opportunity, "While there may be a need to reduce fishing opportunity in the short-term on some rivers to give wild populations an opportunity to rebuild, we believe that short-term sacrifice will be more than justified by the long-term increase in fishing opportunity."

The odd thing about pressure is, it's a result of cutting hatcheries. Anglers have descended on those places where there's a reasonable expectation of catching fish. That used to include hundreds of streams, but no more. People didn't use to travel to the Olympic Peninsula en masse until the Puget Sound hatchery runs were flogged by the zealots. The Clackamas, Sandy, Molalla rivers held back much pressure from the coast before their programs were gutted.

I can't help but feel cautious that now that a bunch of other groups have gutted fisheries, TU may come in for the death blow. But in the absence of any real information at the meeting, they've allowed anyone to draw their own conclusions.

Back to a little more on the emotion. It rears its head in weird places. Not minutes after one speaker explains how TU will adhere to science, another speaker talks about how they were successful in thwarting wild steelhead harvest on the Umpqua River.

Get it?

The Umpqua is perhaps the single most scientifically justifiable river in Oregon to have wild steelhead harvest. Thwarting harvest on the Umpqua isn't scientific, it's 100% emotion.

In another comment a speaker referenced the Sandy River. Specifically, it was how when he was younger the Sandy used to have winter steelhead runs better than 10,000, and now runs are just a bit more than a couple thousand.

In fact, going back to 1977, winter steelhead numbers, wild and hatchery combined never exceeded 4,078 to Marmot Dam, and in the years where the high was achieved, wild and hatchery were counted one and the same. What this angler remembered, I believe, is the large quantities of Big Creek hatchery fish that are no longer planted in the river.

Sorting through emotion seems especially difficult with steelhead. In reference to the campaign slogan of steelhead being threatened in 70% of their historical range, I asked if wild steelhead were in a better or worse position today than 40 years ago. The unequivocal answer was much worse. There's a lot of information within the Columbia Basin that would not bear that out. Puget Sound, probably true. California, don't know. But one scientist made a comment to me that wild steelhead have never been in a better position than today in Oregon and the Columbia.

What I fear many remember is quantity of hatchery fish that used to be available. Try as we may to believe those were wilds, I've been completely unable to find the data that bears it out. Steelhead are not as productive as salmon and never have been.

Changing gears, with regard to the "Great Rivers of the West" the facilitators of the meeting were wholly unwilling to divulge what rivers these were. Tough to comment on that. I expect they felt that putting names to them would cause immediate alarm well before the plan has time to gain momentum.

To TU's credit, they were adamant that hatcheries and angler opportunity were necessary. That could make a tough case for them with their traditional local base...but should play well to membership in the East. Orvis would have amounted to nothing without hatcheries back there. I lived in Pennsylvania as a child just long enough to experience a trout opener. Those ditches were filled with hatchery trout and anglers of the highest moral virtue loved them.

I was also impressed by some examples of direct stream restoration. In examples like those, everybody wins and that's certainly something everyone can support.

Overall, I didn't sign my name to the program, but want to see their next move. On one hand I worry that they're an organization in need of a campaign. I wonder if fresh off of the Pebble Mine effort, they simply need to feed the machine.

On the other hand, If this beast of an organization wants to take on large scale habitat issues and show meaningful results, I'd love to have them.

Looking over a bit of history-
-steelhead were made a game fish in the late 1970's
-fin-clipping of hatchery fish separated them from wild in the late 1980's
-ESA protection kicked in the 1990's
-hatchery programs were dramatically reduced in the 1990's
-hatchery programs have continued to be an action item throughout the 2000's
-Washington has its gene bank process rolling
-Oregon just completed its last HGMP (hatchery genetic management plan)

With all of these in place, where does TU feel others have dropped the ball? Where will they achieve meaningful results?

Dear TU, Please show me an example where "reduce fishing opportunity in the short term...to give wild populations an opportunity to rebuild" has produced measurable results. By what model do you hope to be successful? Do you have one, because I have a bunch that can show where reduced opportunity has not accomplished anything at all.

The lynchpin to the future of steelehad exists in a large, diverse and vibrant user group. If there's one concept I hope people can understand and internalize, that's the one. Without anglers, nobody cares about these fish.

September 10, 2014

More On Hatchery And Wild

by Carmen Macdonald

It seems that at this point, every couple of months I see another article published by notable researchers like Michael Blouin, Mark Christie and Michael Ford. To cut right to the chase, these studies conclude that the Relative Reproductive Success of hatchery fish is lower than that of wild fish. In other words if 100 wild fish (50 pairs) can produce 100 returning adults in the next generation, hatchery fish will produce fewer. In the case of wild broodstock steelhead, that number might be 85 returning fish instead of 100 with an RSS value of 85% for these fish.

What follows these articles is a wholly political discussion with those vehemently against hatchery fish standing on the position that hatchery fish are bad, hatchery fish are bad and hatchery fish are bad.

On the research side, what I read is a call for more money for more research so that the components causing this 15% reduction can be dissected.

While all of this is taking place, hatchery programs are (perhaps by design) thrown into turmoil. We have lawsuits, lost participation, lost economics and what will amount to a lost connection between the population and the resource if the trend continues.

While an 85% RRS value for steelhead seems to be a source of condemnation, I believe exactly the opposite. Looking at some layman-understood components that affect spawning success, 85% is one heck of a good number.

What follows here is an email I wrote to Michael Blouin at Oregon State University on the first of August. I did not receive a response from Mr. Blouin, but wanted to share the concepts involved. The italic components were not part of the original email...I've added them here in an attempt to further flesh out the concepts.

Dear Mr. Blouin,

As an angler I've read with great interest the number of Relative Reproductive Success studies that you've been involved with publishing over the last years. Within each, I see quick references to what appear to be some critical concepts that we'd want to understand, but then not much in regards to follow up.

A couple of them are:

a. High level of variation in spawning success between adults. I'd believe most interested in salmon and steelhead would expect progeny to be spread more or less evenly across the spawning adults that preceded them, but that's not the case as you've mentioned. Certain spawners are highly successful, others are not at all- which is true across both wild and hatchery spawners.

On Hood River, genetic studies found that the parents of any given run year were not evenly spread across the population with every two wild spawners replacing themselves. Instead, some spawning events produced many fish, some one or two, and many none at all. To me this suggests that on a given year X, Y or Z tributary might hit those perfect conditions and others experience just the opposite. Think about our hatchery programs. We no longer scatter-plant fish. We apply them to select locations in order to greater expose them to fisheries and minimize their influence on wild spawners.

b. Spatial distribution of spawners. You've referenced spatial distribution of spawners being different for wild and hatchery fish. Generally, I understand that wild fish, especially steelhead, are found higher in systems and better disbursed through spawning tributaries. Hatchery fish are generally planted lower in systems and returning adults tend to hang around the area of their liberation and the spawning tributary nearest upstream.

Within these two concepts alone I see great reason for differences in reproductive success. With regard to variation in spawning success, my thoughts would lead me to believe that to be successful in spawning and returning the next generation, the conditions where spawning, emergence and early life history take place have to be just right. When it's great, it's really great. When it's not good, nature comes down hard. Couple that with greater spatial distribution of wild spawners, usually higher in systems and my thoughts quickly wonder how we can ask that hatchery fish and wild fish be equally successful?

Wild fish are the progeny of a wild event. Hatchery fish have to be applied to a wild river. They cannot be a wild event. Their point of liberation is chosen by humans, not nature.

Is anybody asking or contemplating whether the question of hatchery fish equaling wild fish productivity is even legitimate to ask? It doesn't seem so.

And the further thought here is that wild broodstock steelhead have been shown to perform at 85% of their wild ancestry. With that number and the fact that within fishery programs we're actively trying to minimize interaction while maximizing harvest, how has the result been allowed to be characterized as a negative?

One other component that intrigues me is the issue of capacity. From what I can gather, the first three years of the Hood River study release numbers of hatchery smolts numbered no more than 5,000. Consequently, those were also the years that returned the best relative reproductive success from hatchery fish. From what I believe I've read, the years that followed included releases in the range of 45,000 smolts.

We know a capacity exists in our rivers. We can go beyond capacity by adding smolts that use little resources before they exit the system. However, when they return as adults and try to spawn, they're 100% subject to all forms of natural selection, and capacity. What I see within the studies appears to be the expectation of an infinite upside. To be equal to the productivity of wild fish, hatchery fish would have to be there in numbers (and the aforementioned locations) that are capable of delivering successful reproduction equal to that of wild fish.

And because we're applying hatchery fish to streams in a manner that will limit their spatial distribution and utilization of the best habitat, rational thought would conclude that the stream's capacity will come down hardest on these fish.

As I consider steelhead, they were made a game fish in the late 1970's. By the early 1990's sport harvest was ended. With only a small level of tribal harvest and sport release mortalities, by what mechanism would Hood River steelhead be below capacity?

With regard to the work you've done, do you have spatial distribution information of where successful and unsuccessful spawners were found? Were the hatchery fish applied to areas that also produced successful wild spawning or were they in low success areas? Is there any information with regard to capacity of Hood River and the stream segments used?

In all of this it appears that the conventional wisdom says that to be of benefit, the RRS of hatchery fish needs to equal that of wild fish. Is anybody asking if that goal is at all reasonable?

And finally, from a population level. If first generation broodstock steelhead have a relative reproductive success that is 85% of wild fish, does the hypothetical math below work?

a. Wild run= 1,000 fish
b. Remove 50 pairs to create broodstock
c. Produce and release 100,000 smolt at 1% return
d. 900 wilds (1,000 minus the 100 removed) return plus 1,000 broodstock

If the Relative Reproductive Success of the broodstock fish are 85% of the wilds, am I in a better population position with 100% of a 1,000 fish run, or 100% of 900 wild and 85% of the additional 1,000 broodstock?

I'd greatly appreciate your insight.

Thank you!

As we move forward with management programs, there is a reason we have some separation between science and policy. And with regard to Relative Reproductive Success, a difference in raw value does not immediately mean damage to wild populations.

To me some in-depth discussion and transparency within these concepts from the leadership at our management organizations would do much to advance trust within ongoing processes.

May 31, 2013

ODFW Does Not Create. ODFW Manages.

by Carmen Macdonald

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees rarely create policy. Instead, they implement and manage policy.

If those couple of sentences make complete sense to you, there's nothing to read in this blog. If you're scratching your head, keep on reading.

My introduction to fisheries meetings and management was a huge wake-up call. I walked in with an exceptional amount of preconceived notions, virtually all of which turned out to be untrue.

With just a little bit of understanding about state government, I had known that the amount of general fund funding of ODFW had been in a downward spiral. Rather than an agency being funded by all citizen's tax dollars, the agency's budget was funded most prominently by license fees. I knew that hunters and anglers funded the largest portion of the budget, first through direct license fees, and secondly through federal taxes paid by manufacturers on all the recreational gear we buy (commercial gear is exempt) then redistributed to the states based on the number of anglers.

My mistake was that, given the funding, I felt that the department naturally put anglers and hunters first. That's not necessarily true. As a state agency, everybody has their say. It matters not that general fund dollars and commercial fishing fees each equal just 2% of the agency's budget.

But even more importantly, I thought that the agency's meetings were where policies were created. Like most anglers, I confused the payment of my fees to the agency with a responsibility on their part to be responsive to my needs. In my erroneous vision, I pictured department employees entering their office everyday with a focus on what could be done to create more and better fishing and hunting. That's not immediately false, but it's also not completely true. I would say that attitude upon entering their office is 100% dictated by the personal beliefs of the agency employee in question. And even more so, it's dictated by political climate and if the subject at hand has strong feelings behind it at the legislative level.

It took years of packing the halls with fellow anglers, speaking within public processes and shooting emails to ODFW to truly realize that while I saw the agency as responsible for policy, that policy was actually being created, shaped and directed elsewhere.

There are two places where ODFW policy can truly be effected. The first is within the legislature and the second is the ODFW Commission. As a state agency, though funded primarily by anglers and hunters, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is responsible to the state legislature and members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission (which is appointed by the Governor, so in a sense is simply an extension of the governing body).

To be effective, anglers and hunters need to communicate with the Governor, members of the state legislature and the Commission. It's at these levels that policy is truly being created, then passed to ODFW for shaping and implementation.

Just look at how many times the names Kitzhaber, Krieger, Johnson, Dingfelder, Olson, Ferrioli, Witt, Boone and others are quoted in articles about ODFW policy. Or watch as Commission members shape policy in front of everyone at Commission meetings.

To be effective, sporting, conservation, preservation and extractive groups pool membership resources in order to afford representation at the state capitol via professional lobbyists. Whatever your passion, there are groups that share your goals.

In the end though, there is no substitute for direct communication. Too often, when frustrated by impending action, sportsmen unleash upon ODFW. I don't want to say that path is worthless, but it can be futile. That same note or letter, written to members of the legislative body, is ensuring it's reaching the people responsible for advancing policy.

For most sporting people I know, jumping into letter writing and mixing with politicians is something that can be difficult. Generally, we're the people that work, pay our taxes and look to enjoy ourselves during our limited free time. We're not zealots, but reasonable thinkers, and we expect the same from government. This is no longer workable, however. Fish and wildlife management has become a social engineering platform.

When urban Senator Jackie Dingfelder positions herself in a gateway position to hatchery funding and wolf management, one has to wonder what the hell she's doing there, and why, as an urban legislator she would preclude a vote on wolf management that would allow the counties that actually have wolves to manage their living spaces. Senator Dingfelder also needs to understand that Oregon hatcheries were fixed in the 1990's and rather than advocate for less hatchery fish, we're at a point where some reflection on what, if anything, has been accomplished by the sweeping changes of the late 1990's. Or perhaps, Dingfelder could pay closer attention to the lost habitat associated with the Bull Run complex and the suite of regional holdings by Portland-based PGE.

Governor John Kitzhaber's first administration was in charge during the massive El Nino of the mid-1990's. Within this first two terms, many of the sweeping changes in Oregon hatchery policy and operations were initiated. He is now in a unique position, more than a decade later, to be Governor again. Our politicians are rarely around to feel the long-term effects of policy. Governor Kitzhaber needs to hear from sporting Oregonians about where his first term policies have landed us today. You know where I'm at. From all I can gather, we reduced hatchery fisheries, ejected the economics associated with them and wild runs of steelhead show no appreciable growth. Emphasis placed on hatchery fish conveniently offers a pass to dam operators and municipalities.

Also to Governor Kitzhaber, strong kudos and support are due for maintaining Oregon's participation in the ongoing Columbia River BiOp. Washington sold out, and it's only Oregon that's holding the Bonneville Power Administration accountable for their ongoing impact to the Columbia River.

Representative Wayne Krieger is deserving of many thanks from our communities. The man takes the time to show up, listen, and engage on the issues.

And if you're really in a writing mood, there are the federal players involved. The Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Land Management, each hold key responsibilities, yet generally receive about zero input direct from anglers and hunters.

When the Corps drops press releases about "surplus hatchery fish," Colonel John W. Eisenhauer can certainly be reminded that surplus wild fish were not an issue before the Corps dams cut off Willamette basin spawning habitat and completely restructured river flow and temperature regimes.

NOAA needs to hear that emphasizing hatchery reform as a means to recovery is a complete cop out. They need to start holding those responsible for major impacts to fish populations truly accountable, or convene the God Squad and declare the damned (pun intended) fish extinct and move on. "Recovery" has been allowed to become an industry all its own, with fat budgets that appear to have a goal of doing nothing meaningful.

Many express feelings that they go to meetings only to feel like the outcome has already been decided. When pressure has been applied in the background by the legislative body, those feelings have merit. Will the impending Coastal Multi-Species Management Plan be a representation of community wants and needs, or dominated by special interests? Make your voice heard.

For most all of us, recreational fishing is simply that- something we enjoy when away from work, not something that should necessitate additional work. The modern reality is that resource management continues to become more and more political. More threatening it seems, is that within this reality, radical preservationists are able to find common ground with big industry and their common goals include elimination of angling opportunity. On both sides their target is hatchery fish, though for different reasons. As a recovery plan it holds no weight. It's a diversion.

In so many instances, whether fish or wildlife, it's time for the common man to call bull. The quiet but powerful voices behind policy need to address the large limiting factors directly and meaningfully, or acknowledge the lack of will do so and get back to maintaining promises made. ODFW in many occasions is a middleman, an insulator of the power brokers. It's time to engage the source.

December 31, 2012

Anti-Hatchery or Anti-Angler?

by Carmen Macdonald

I've always been a pretty good reader. I consider my reading comprehension to be pretty solid. As I read over the history of our greater Columbia basin salmon and steelhead runs, the story laid out is pretty straightforward.

Euro-man came to region. Euro-man harvested the hell out of trees and salmon. Euro-man needed food and electricity also, so Euro-man placed over 200 dams within the basin. At the time, Euro-man understood that the dams, agriculture and growth would eliminate much of the productivity of the region's salmon, but that was cool because cheap power, irrigation, flood control and harvest of other natural resources would make the region actually livable. To replace the natural productivity of salmon that would be destroyed, man would construct hatcheries.

I clearly understand that there are some dramatic examples of over-harvest, a couple world wars and several injustices to fish alongside this concise history, but still, that's the snapshot.

Yet in the modern day, history is morphing. It's being rewritten. On the pages of Ifish, the declarations are specific. It wasn't the fact that we dammed the rivers, cut off access to a massive percentage of the spawning habitat, radically altered the temperature and flow regimes of the rivers and diked, rip rapped and built in the flood plains that created today's salmon situation. Nope, quite clearly it is proclaimed that it was the addition of hatchery fish that caused the decline of our great fish.

Ifish is one thing, the law protects freedom of religion and the religion of wild fish is no different I suppose. But where this revisionist history is much more troubling is in the courtroom. The Native Fish Society, as well as the McKenzie Flyfishers have either launched lawsuits or filed notice of intent to sue the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife over hatchery fish. Their beef? That hatchery fish are impeding the recovery of wild fish.

They cite studies authored by Katryn Kostow and many others that show suppression to productivity based on the mixed spawning of hatchery and wild fish. In two such studies, one on the Clackamas and one on the Siletz, Kostow outlines "estimated carrying capacities" of wild fish in these rivers with the removal of hatchery fish. In these instances, the hatchery fish in question were removed, and now 15 or so years later, the wild fish have failed to respond. In each case, the reality of the wild population proves to be about half of Kostow's estimates.

Looking at this graph of Siletz, what has been gained? I see a run that's the same as it was in the 1970's that's gone through a severe El Nino and bounced back to what it was. I also see a successful fishery that is now gone.

Unfortunately, reality doesn't seem to trump a good theory and these studies are regularly utilized as the basis for continued removal of hatchery fish throughout the region.

Political science was a passion of mine at Oregon State University. The key point of learning over four years in the subject was that you can understand any political move by understanding "who benefits." Because the political work of these groups include fish, I might also add, "what benefits" because surely the fish ought to be on the receiving end of some good stuff if we're going to court.

You can probably guess at this point that I believe these lawsuits are frivolous at best and extremely destructive at worst. Here's why.

In the late 1800's there was a collapse of Columbia River fish runs based on massive over-harvest. This time period is often documented in the literature. What is less documented is that the habitat, being intact, was flexible to the injustice and delivered two more harvest booms. This fact is important because the first hatcheries went in during the very late 1800's and more were added throughout the next 40 years, the period leading to the wartime harvest of 1941.

It's too tough to post screen shots of the whole document, but here's a key excerpt.

By 1941, the dam building era was well underway, but it would not come to an end for 30 more years. Over a period of nearly 50 years, the Columbia Basin would be transformed from a salmonid ecotopia, to a modern industrial environment.

Harvest graphs from the period clearly outline the ramifications of dam building as harvest plummeted. It's important to note here, that the dramatic decline in harvest rates would have been even worse if it were not for hatchery production. Clearly, we cut off the productivity of the wild populations.

As we built dams throughout the region, we destroyed not only the elasticity of the populations to support high harvest rates, but the ability of the populations to sustain themselves at all.

At the time, power, flood control, irrigation…they all made sense. I'd take a guess that put to a popular vote today, these projects still would, and do, command the approval of residents, by a landslide. The collective "we" made choices, conscious decisions, over these decades. Portland wanted water…the Bull Run complex was built and the watershed dammed. The Willamette and its tributaries were summarily dammed, most without fish passage. The Columbia and it's tributaries…all the same.

Power, flood control, irrigation and logging made this region livable.

Dams are a big deal. When someone wants to build one there are hoops, more hoops and then probably legal action to contend with prior to construction. Within these processes, "mitigation" for known destruction included the production of hatchery fish. There was clarity. When you cut off more than 10,000 miles of spawning habitat completely and change the temperatures and flows of the rivers that remain, you end up with remnant runs of wild fish in the small niches of habitat that persist.

Meanwhile, we zoned most of the remaining land for forestry, farming, industrial, residential and more. In smaller chunks the habitat was changed, altered… converted. Of course there were not environmental impact statements when, by little bits and pieces, flood plains were plowed under and planted, a parking lot was paved and hillsides logged. Many thousands of small injustices to the fish, none remarkable on their own, but in combination massive, removed the refuges and added to sediment and pollution loads.

Wild fish are incredibly adept at filling suitable habitat. That is exactly what they do today, and exist in numbers commensurate with the habitat that is left.

So who benefits by the revisionist history?

1. The preservation groups. A political entity is only as good as its latest campaign. Hatchery fish as the cause for the decline of wild fish is easy, actionable and sellable to membership.

2. Dam operators. In development of the watersheds and destruction of the habitat, funding for hatchery fish are the ongoing responsibility of power and utility companies. Get rid of the hatchery fish and these entities run the river and alleviate themselves of ongoing costs and grow profits. Even the City of Portland who pays for hatchery fish on the Sandy because the Bull Run complex has no fish passage sent in their letter stating "…the City believes that the current hatchery programs for spring Chinook are having a significant impact on the integrity of the natural origin fish." It's perfect logic. You have a mitigation responsibility with costs tied to hatchery fish. Instead of balking at costs, just get on the anti-hatchery bandwagon.

3. People who are anti-angler. In conversation with anglers who are fish preservationists, there is a common trend. Deep down, they loathe other anglers. Oftentimes it's due to differences in fishing techniques. Sometimes they just can't stand a crowd. But it seems that their goals of eliminating hatchery fish are really based upon eliminate the hatchery fish angler…and have the water to themselves.

Who loses?

1. Anglers. Fishermen have always been the push over in the middle of this debate. For the most part, we're realists. We're thankful the region was developed to advance our quality of life. We also like our fish. But with each hatchery cut, we lose opportunity, directly losing fish. Those with solid experience and history here have witnessed fisheries become shadows of their former selves, with no tangible response from wild populations. Promises have been broken by the hundreds.

If you started steelhead fishing after 1992, I can't say that you've ever seen a really good steelhead fishery.

2. Communities. Hatchery fish create arteries through which dollars flow from urban to rural areas. With each program cut, the dollars stop flowing. The little tackle shop disappears, the burger joint goes away and the town constricts.

3. The fish. In the modern world, if resources cannot rally a mountain of support for their existence, they're eradicated. I love to fish. I'm not necessarily in love with fish. I think they're beautiful, amazing and inspiring creatures, but my connection with them is through a rod and reel, not on an emotional level. We're losing anglers with every fishery reduction. In losing anglers, we're losing the base of support that is truly the only way to ensure the species' ongoing survival.

What makes an actual difference for salmonids?

This whole debate started in the mid-1990's. I remember it clearly. El Nino crippled stocks throughout the region. EVERYBODY wanted answers. At the time, I worked at Frank Amato Publications. Obviously, our office was extremely concerned. Marty Sherman, then editor of FlyFishing magazine, laid out a fantastic argument that fingered hatchery fish as the cause: genetic drift, inferior genetics, feedlot type breeding. This was the case championed by Oregon Trout at the time.

I was 100% on board with Marty and the Oregon Trout mantra.

Even remember arguing with Nick Amato, editor of Salmon Trout Steelheader about it. Nick was incredibly calm. Growing up with Frank Amato as a father delivers an extremely tight relationship to these fish. Nick had the history to understand that runs cycle, based upon ocean conditions.

A flurry of management actions have taken place since the massive El Nino of the mid 1990's. Removal of hatchery fish, downsizing of programs, changes in broodstock. I've paid attention to it all and while all the runs rebounded from the El Nino, only two examples fall outside the curve.

1. Oregon Coastal Coho. In the 1970's and 1980's it was Coho rather than Chinook salmon that commanded participation in ocean fisheries. As a participant who remembers the fisheries, they were amazing, world-class events. Within these monster fisheries, however, wild fish protection was weak. As we harvested masses of hatchery fish, we harvested wild fish right alongside them. Total exploitation rates ranged as high as 90% of the spawning population. It was egregious.

When the El Nino crippled the availability of fish, harvest was dramatically cut back. Maintaining lower exploitation rates of 10- to 15% since, the populations have once again expanded greatly. The anti-hatchery folks will say the expansion is due to the removal of hatchery fish. I urge anyone with a simple understanding of bar graphs to draw their own conclusions from the chart below.

Did we save coho by removing hatchery fish, or simply by not harvesting 80% of the adults every year?

2. Columbia River Spring and Summer Chinook. In the winter of 1996, Mother Nature took control of the Columbia River migration corridor for salmon. Massive flooding overwhelmed the ability of the hydropower system to "control" river flow. Salmon smolts went over spillways and rode massive flows to an ocean that had rebounded from the El Nino. Following that year, federal judge James Redden ordered hydropower operators to meet flow and spill requirements for the benefit of migrating salmon.

The result of changes to the hydropower system was exponential growth in Spring Chinook and Summer Chinook runs. Fisheries that had been closed for 24 years were reopened. Quickly, we've come to take these fisheries for granted. New anglers know nothing different. Know nothing of the history.

On the contrary, we've now approaching twenty years of reductions to hatchery plants or complete elimination of hatchery runs. We have examples of rivers that have not been stocked with hatchery fish for a much longer timeline.

What are the results? From my perspective, the results are pretty obvious.

1. We've eliminated tons of fisheries, the economics that accompany them and the connection between tens of thousands of anglers and the resource.

2. The wild fish populations have persisted as they did in the presence of hatchery fish. They rise and fall bases on outmigration conditions and the fertility of the ocean on a given year. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why are wild fish, steelhead in particular, not responding to the reduction and/or elimination of hatchery fish? Why are results similar to the Columbia not being seen after 15 years?

My answer is cause and effect. Hatchery fish did not cause the decline of wild fish, therefor it seems a little absurd to believe that removing hatchery fish would create a rebound. This is what seriously chaps my hide. As these "suppression" studies roll out, no one is going back to quantify any results, or at least any meaningful results.

On January 27, 2011, Kathryn Kostow of ODFW delivered an update to her Clackamas River study and sent it out directly to wild fish groups. Within it, she cited a wild winter steelhead run numbering 3,100 adults as proof of the expansion of the population since the removal of hatchery summer steelhead. They only problem is, the wild fish numbering 3,100 did not exist. The actual number was 2,100, per PGE's direct fish count of wild fish ascending the dam. The actual run size of 2,100 and the 2010 run size of 2,200 are exactly similar to run sizes that existed when the hatchery summer steelhead were present.

Notice the winter steelhead counts now, versus the 1980's. I challenge anyone to show a difference in the wild population.

And here's what we've given up for an increase of nothing in the wild population. A thriving summer steelhead fishery.

Within Kostow's update, there was this gigantic out clause: "The population appreas to be able to grow again, which should increase the chance for recovery of this ESA-listed species. Two factors, population grow rate and basin carrying capacity, will determine how rapid the population abundance will increase and how big it can become. Recent modeling results (still in progress) suggest that population growth could take as long [as] 5 or 6 generations and will continue to be influenced by external factors that influence smolt-to-adult survival, such as migration survival, ocean productivity cycles, and harvest rates."

In other words, there's a whole bunch of other factors that are much more important to wild fish survival than the presence of hatchery fish and Kostow has inserted her placeholder for the very real probability that no expansion of the wild run takes place.

What's been accomplished on the Clackamas and other rivers has not been an expansion of the wild runs, but destruction of the hatchery run and the promises made to anglers during the era of dam building.

At what point will we go back and test the hypothesis about wild and hatchery fish interactions on actual populations? We now have abundant case studies, yet the preservation groups ask for no validation.

I can only wonder if they're anti-hatchery fish for the sake of the resource or just simply anti-angler, anti-hatchery –fish-angler specifically. Given the lack of measurable success to date associated with the removal of hatchery fish, I can only believe the latter.

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