Reviving Wild Abundance: An All-Wild Steelhead North Umpqua River

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The North Umpqua River and its wild fish are invaluable public treasures for our community and our state. Wild fish species, such as summer steelhead, play a critical role in the ecosystem of the North Umpqua River in Oregon. They provide a source of food for other animals, help to maintain water quality, and serve as indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem. By protecting and restoring wild fish populations, we can ensure the continued health and productivity of the North Umpqua River and its ecosystem. However, native fish populations in the North Umpqua River in Oregon face significant threats due to hatchery fish that are putting their survival at risk. To protect these important species, it is important to reduce the number of hatchery releases, implement sustainable fishing practices, and conserve critical habitats to support healthy populations of wild, native fish in the North Umpqua River.

The Threat:

In late 2022, ODFW released the final summer steelhead counts for the North Umpqua River showing 1,346 wild summer steelhead and 2,520 hatchery summer steelhead crossing Winchester Dam in 2022. That is only a mere 146 wild steelhead over critical abundance and the second-lowest return ever on record. With such elevated returns of hatchery fish, we risk the future of wild steelhead in the basin. Based on current numbers, the elevated hatchery fish spawning in the wild will further diminish the future wild steelhead returns. The release of hatchery fish into the same waterways as wild fish leads to competition for limited resources, spreads diseases, and interbreeding with wild fish, thus reducing the genetic diversity and overall health of the population.

Our key area of focus on the North Umpqua is Hatcheries. Learn more about the science behind the 5 H’s and their importance to the revival of wild abundance here.

Our Goal:

Native Fish Society's goal is to restore an iconic river and revive its wild, native fish by establishing the North Umpqua as an all-wild steelhead river by eliminating the Summer steelhead hatchery program.

How We Are Working To Achieve Our Goal:

We are continuing to defend the decision made by the ODFW Commission in April 2022 to eliminate the hatchery summer steelhead program on the North Umpqua, and we are advocating the prevention of investment in any new hatchery infrastructure. Native Fish Society is also working on continued educational outreach messaging to the community and advocates about the benefits of an all-wild river, and about current and upcoming habitat work.

Successes & Accomplishments to Date:

Achieved Outcomes in 2022:

  • Successfully advocated for ODFW to stop releasing hatchery Summer steelhead smolts in the North Umpqua River, and to no longer collect wild Steelhead for hatchery broodstock purposes.

  • Completed an ODFW evaluation of adaptive management changes to reduce the proportion of hatchery-origin spawners (pHOS) in the North Umpqua.

  • The commission directed adaptive management changes to the Coastal-Multi-Species Management Plan (CMP) that includes a 10-year moratorium on the North Umpqua Summer steelhead hatchery program.

Achieved Outcomes to Date:

  • ODFW Commission directed the department to eliminate the Summer Steelhead hatchery program. This includes:

    • ODFW completes an evaluation of the hatchery Summer Steelhead program and submits a recommendation to reduce pHOS in the North Umpqua.

    • ODFW conducts a stakeholder survey, a listening session, and a public informational webinar focused on North Umpqua Summer Steelhead issues., all of which Native Fish Society participated in and encouraged others to do so as well.

  • Douglas County, individuals, and organizations file a lawsuit claiming the administrative rules procedure was not followed to eliminate the hatchery program.

  • We helped establish the North Umpqua Coalition, a group of nonprofits working together for the future of an all-wild North Umpqua River. The workgroups include: science/economics, messaging/marketing, and policy/legislative.

  • September 2021: Testimony to ODFW Commission from 7 wild fish advocates/coalitions members on the need for adaptive management changes in the CMP results in commission directive to the department to evaluate and report back with suggestions for North Umpqua Summer Steelhead, Coquille River Fall Chinook, Elk River Fall Chinook, and South Umpqua Spring Chinook.

  • December 2021: Several members of the coalition testified before the ODFW Commission providing an update on the poor adult return numbers in 2021, helping make them aware of the problems with smolt rearing operations at Cole Rivers and associated concerns with upcoming smolt releases.

How Can You Help?

Get involved!

You can help make a difference for the future of an all-wild North Umpqua River by volunteering, making a donation, and spreading the word about the importance of reviving wild abundance. Send us a message if you have any questions or would like to be notified of any upcoming volunteer opportunities and/or Action Alerts for the North Umpqua River.

These accomplishments and steps forward are largely in part thanks to advocacy from our supporters who stood up and shared their voices over the past several years about the future of the North Umpqua. Fisheries managers took notice and understood we are all stakeholders for the future of wild fish. We must continue to keep a close eye on these populations, ensure management is changed when declines are present, and we must never quit advocating for wild fish. Let's continue to build this community around reviving wild fish, and free-flowing rivers, if not for us, then for the future generations looking to follow in our footsteps.

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