Oregon Judge Calls for a Holistic, Thoughtful and Wild Steelhead-Safe Hatchery Release


From The Conservation Angler:

Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wren, in ordering the release of derelict Rock Creek hatchery summer steelhead into the North Umpqua, required that the parties develop and implement a “wild fish-safe” plan before these hatchery fish are released.

The Conservation Angler, a regional wild fish and river conservation organization, has developed and recommended a comprehensive set of factors to be considered to ensure the hatchery smolt release will not impact wild steelhead.

First, it is imperative that any Court-ordered release be conditioned by ODFW’s recommended a hatchery smolt release of 30,000 juvenile summer steelhead – the number that ODFW represented to the Commission is necessary to bring pHOS levels down to a level of compliance with the Coastal Management Plan (CMP). Those pHOS levels are set by ODFW to prevent risk to wild fish. While the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission (Commission) lawfully and substantively determined that a zero-fish release was the appropriate level to reduce risks to the wild summer steelhead, the staff recommendation represents the minimum “safest” and least intrusive release strategy.

Releasing more than 30,000 hatchery summer steelhead smolts from Rock Creek is not safe, not smart and WILL harm wild steelhead in the North Umpqua. Even releasing 30,000 smolts will likely harm wild fish because the smolts are too small and unlikely to out-migrate, which will result in more hatchery smolts staying in the river and competing with wild fish for food and habitat in a watershed that is recovering from devastating fire impacts.

According to ODFW’s policies and procedures, best Federal hatchery fish management practices, and a plan intended to limit harm to ESA-listed coho salmon, the following conditions must also be met before there is any release of Rock Creek hatchery summer steelhead:

1. ODFW Must Comply with Rock Creek Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP) to avoid harm to ESA-listed coho salmon.
2. ODFW Must Measure Gill ATP-ase Levels
3. ODFW Must Assess Water Temperatures
4. ODFW Must Consider Smolt Size
5. ODFW Must Make Observations of Fish Maturity Stage
6. ODFW Must Complete Disease Monitoring (OAR 635-007-0985)
7. ODFW Must Consider Natural Outmigration Data
8. ODFW Must Ensure There are External Marks Prior to Release (i.e., Removal of Adipose Fins)

In sum, because ODFW recommended no more than 30,000 fish be released to comply with pHOS violations in the CMP, any release of more than 30,000 fish would be inconsistent with what ODFW believes is necessary to ensure safety for the wild North Umpqua summer steelhead and to avoid the potential harm that the court directed the parties to avoid. For those fish released, the eight listed conditions should be mandatory.

Contact: David Moskowitz * The Conservation Angler * 971-235-8953 * [email protected]


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