A Pause on Hatchery Summer Steelhead in the North Umpqua River
During the September Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, the North Umpqua Coalition: Native Fish Society, Trout Unlimited, Steamboaters, The North Umpqua Foundation, Conservation Angler, and Umpqua Watersheds, expressed their advocacy for a pause of the current summer steelhead hatchery program on the North Umpqua River. The time is right and the lack of current resources makes it easy and simple for the department to implement this adaptive management change. We would like to make our position clear, we are not asking for a total closure of the Rock Creek Hatchery facilities nor a total elimination of all hatchery programs being propagated at Rock Creek Hatchery, yet a simple pause on summer steelhead.
Read more about the coalition's advocacy work below and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact Southern Oregon Regional Coordinator Kirk Blaine today.
September 29, 2021
The North Umpqua Coalition
RE: CMP Adaptive Management Actions - Summer Steelhead on the North Umpqua River
Dear Chair Wahl, ODFW Commissioners, Director Melcher:
Thank you for hearing The North Umpqua Coalition’s testimony on Friday, September 17 regarding our deep concern for the decline of the North Umpqua’s wild summer steelhead population. We are grateful that many of you made the time to visit the hatchery and witness the destruction caused by the 2020 Archie Creek fire, which included both the Rock Creek and the North Umpqua watersheds. We also thank those of you who met with local advocates virtually. Multiple fires started in the upper North Umpqua Basin this summer and continue to burn.
To be clear, The North Umpqua Coalition is advocating for a pause of the summer steelhead hatchery program, for two generations or ten years, not the removal of the Rock Creek hatchery facility. Before burning in 2020, the Rock Creek hatchery facility cultivated fish for multiple hatchery programs including spring Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, winter steelhead of the South Umpqua, and rainbow trout. The Coalition is requesting a pause of just one program, not the elimination of other programs or facilities. We understand that ODFW is evaluating options regarding rebuilding the facility in the future. We support an open public process that will engage in evaluating those options.
Currently, a hatchery summer steelhead smolt (juvenile) release is planned for the North Umpqua River in the spring of 2022, not 2023 as stated during the Commission meeting, adding to the urgency of this critical fisheries management decision. ODFW took 2020 summer steelhead broodstock to Cole Rivers hatchery days after the Archie Creek Fire. These fish were spawned and offspring are currently being reared at Cole Rivers Hatchery until the spring of 2022 when they will be brought back to Rock Creek in the North Umpqua Basin for acclimation and release. In the 2021 September Commission meeting, Commissioners asked for a full evaluation of alternatives before moving forward. That means this evaluation must be complete and decisions about continuing the North Umpqua summer steelhead program must be made sooner rather than later. ODFW has also collected hatchery fish that returned during the summer of 2021 for their broodstock in subsequent years.
In regards to compromise, the North Umpqua Coalition believes that a pause of the summer steelhead hatchery program is a compromise. We have not asked for a reduction in hatchery Spring Chinook releases, which monitoring shows the percent hatchery origin spawners (pHOS) is exceeding CMP targets. We understand the social and political values of the spring Chinook hatchery program to the community and other stakeholders throughout the entire Umpqua basin. Likewise, The North Umpqua Coalition has not considered advocating for the pause or elimination of the winter steelhead hatchery program on the South Umpqua River, something that could quite possibly boost wild populations in that basin. We understand the social and political values of this program as well. Lastly, our request is not asking for a total elimination of the Rock Creek Hatchery facility. This action was mistakenly referred to by others and taken out of context in the September Commission meeting.
Currently, we are seeing record low wild summer steelhead returns in the North Umpqua Basin, and we are likely to see this trend continue in the absence of management changes. The time to act is now. Returns in 2021 will likely be 25-40% of the current critical abundance threshold identified in the CMP set at 1,200 wild summer steelhead. We ask you to please recognize this emergency and take action before it’s too late. Pausing the Summer Steelhead hatchery program is an adaptive management action in alignment with the CMP and the Climate and Ocean Change Policy. It is the management action that best responds to the drastic change in habitat from the Archie Creek Fire by bolstering the resiliency of the wild fish population. Wild winter steelhead, which are thriving after the removal of hatchery reared winter steelhead, show us that wild steelhead can flourish in the North Umpqua River. It’s time to give wild summer steelhead the same chance.
The North Umpqua Coalition
Executive Director, Native Fish Society
Northwest Director, Trout Unlimited - Wild Steelheaders United
Executive Director, Conservation Angler
President, The North Umpqua Foundation
President, Umpqua Watersheds