Native Fish Society's Annual Report for 2021
An excerpt from the Native Fish Society's Homewaters: Reconnect 2021 Annual Report. To view the whole report online click here.
Message from Executive Director Mark Sherwood
The year 2021 was a tough one for native fish. Historic drought conditions and the dreaded heat dome gripped much of the Northwest warming many streams and rivers to temperatures lethal for native fish. Add these tough freshwater conditions to years of a warm and unproductive ocean and you have a recipe for trouble. Summer steelhead returns in the Columbia, North Umpqua, and Skeena set all-time record lows. Even the Olympic Peninsula returned its lowest ever run of wild winter steelhead - resulting in a truncated, mostly closed angling season.
The Native Fish Society community sprung into action to meet these crises with science-based advocacy. Staff joined River Stewards in support of unprecedented actions to give struggling native fish populations a break, everything from fishery closures, emergency cold water spill from dams, restricting the collection of wild fish for hatchery broodstock (to ensure a maximum number of wild fish spawned naturally), and providing fish with sanctuary by limiting angling in small cold water refuges. Where angling continued, we advocated for best practices in catch and release for wild fish: keep fish wet, single barbless hooks, and limit your catch.
Wild summer steelhead ready for a careful release. PHOTO: Justin Bailie
All of these measures were aimed at one critical goal: maximizing the number of wild fish that spawned successfully in 2021. Thankfully, this collective action and sacrifice made a real impact. For example, in the Deschutes, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that the steelhead fishery closure reduced angling-related mortality by 50%, giving more fish the critical chance to spawn successfully.
At the same time, we didn’t just focus on solving the emergencies of the day. The crises of 2021 reconnected us with the importance of making the lasting changes necessary to revive wild abundance over the long term. Together, staff, members, volunteers, and partners advanced dam removal efforts on the Eel, Klamath, North Umpqua, and just outside Portland on Kellogg Creek. Cleaner, cooler water and volitional fish passage carried juvenile spring Chinook salmon safely down the Willamette, thanks to a years-long campaign to improve the Army Corps’ management of their 13 dams, which impound tributaries of Oregon’s largest watershed. We secured significant new monitoring and transparent fisheries management in southwestern Oregon. To buffer against a changing climate, we helped increase public investment in the protection of cold, clean water and native fish habitat by establishing a new Habitat Division within ODFW.
Matt Mendes, Warm Springs River Steward joins hosts volunteers planting native vegetation along the Deschutes River. PHOTO: Arian Stevens
With River Stewards and staff we created new partnerships to improve cold water habitat in cherished homewaters like the lower Deschutes and Molalla rivers. We advocated that the fabled North Umpqua be managed as an all wild steelhead river. The majority of our work focused on the actions that will make a future with abundant wild fish, free-flowing rivers, and thriving local communities possible.
When we get to spend time on the river, we’re reconnected with the incredible opportunity to experience first hand the arteries and lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest - its rivers and native fish. And when we see so much that needs care, we’re also reconnected with the great responsibility to be good stewards. We cannot thank you, our friends, donors, volunteers, staff, and Board of Directors enough for your stalwart commitment to making this vision of abundance a reality. It’s the groundswell of your support that has and will create the transformative power to make long lasting change for wild fish and the habitats that sustain us all. Thank you.
Wild is the Future,