The Osprey Steelhead News blog has a great post about how wild steelhead have responded to the removal of hatchery steelhead from the North Fork of the Clackamas in Oregon.
What makes this case study even more amazing is the lack of genetic issues involved in the population suppression of the wild winter steelhead. The effects of the hatchery fish were ecological in nature and not genetic. Genetics are often what get mentioned the most when hatchery and wild interactions are discussed, but this case study shows what damage can happen to populations just by the ecological interactions with hatchery fish. When we add both parts (genetic and ecological) the effects must be magnified, which makes me hopeful that recovery can also be magnified if hatchery plants are stopped.
Good news is often hard to find in the world of wild fish in the Pacific Northwest with our dwindling healthy stocks and the overwhelming number of ESA listed stocks. Seeing an eleven mile stretch of river start to produce close to carrying capacity after only ten years of being hatchery free (just above the dam and not the entire river system) has to give us hope when fighting hatchery plans elsewhere (Elwha, Sol Duc). It also shows how quickly wild fish can respond when we actually give them a chance. We should see some case studies in Washington State in the years to come
as many of the smaller systems without collection facilities have had
smolt stocking stopped in the last few years. Hopefully we will see not
only more fish, but more diversity with some increase in the critical
early component of the wild winter steelhead run.
I do not know how many nails in the coffin are needed to actually have a shift in hatchery thinking by the agencies in charge, but this only adds to the massive dogpile.
Kudos to ODFW for making this change, how about doing the same thing for the Sandy?