WDFW has opened a comment period until July 23rd on the 2011-2017 strategic plan. In the face of massive budget cuts the department appears to be in flux. It is critical that they hear from conservation minded anglers who believe the state must prioritize the well being of wild salmon and steelhead populations. Submit comments and make your voice heard...
Here's what I told them...
I am writing you today to express my concern about the future of wild salmon and steelhead in Washington State and how I believe WDFW can better meet their responsibility to protect and restore our wild salmon over the next eight years. Throughout the state most populations of wild salmon and steelhead currently exist at less than 10% of historic abundance, and steelhead, chinook and coho are all listed under the ESA. While many factors have contributed to the sad state of our anadromous fisheries, there are many actions which WDFW could potentially take to significantly improve conditions for wild salmonids. Among my concerns are the current extent and magnitude of hatchery propagation in our state, and continued over harvest of many wild stocks including steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula, Chum and Coho in Willapa Bay, and Coho in Puget Sound.
Currently WDFW operates the largest state run hatchery system in the United States. Particularly troubling are hatchery practices in Puget Sound where the HSRG has expressed concern that hatchery releases are surpassing the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Mounting scientific evidence suggests that the ecological impacts of hatchery fish may be at least as substantial if not greater than the genetic and evolutionary consequences. In Puget Sound, an already degraded ecosystem, dumping millions of smolts annually does not make sense, ecologically or economically. Declines in abundance of wild coho and steelhead have been attributed to low marine survival, which is almost certainly being reduced by large scale hatchery supplementation. A recent state auditor's report concluded that each fish harvested in the fishery costs nearly $800. With budgets decreasing statewide, how can the department justify this wasteful program? This is just one example of what I believe to be a systematic problem. Fifty years of blind faith in the merits of hatchery propagation and its ability to produce productive sport and commercial fisheries has led to the expansion of our state hatchery system to a level which clearly cannot be sustained. It costs too much money and it doesn't work, period.
Survival of hatchery steelhead smolts on the Skagit and other Puget Sound Rivers is commonly below 1% meaning that for 450,000 smolts fewer than 5000 adults return to the river to be caught in the sport fishery. Nearly every year state hatchery managers are forced to scramble to reach egg take goals closing fishing on even these meager hatchery returns to get the minimum number of eggs necessary to sustain these failing programs.
Healthy populations of wild steelhead support nearly four months of sport fishing, bringing huge economic benefit to local communities at absolutely no cost to the state. Conversely, hatchery fisheries end February 16th in Puget Sound lasting little more than a month and cost the state millions of dollars. Furthermore, these fisheries are often concentrate in terminal areas and fail to attract the type of angling tourism associated with healthy populations of wild steelhead. Forks Washington is a perfect example of what traveling angler's dollars can mean to a community.
I believe that the state must take three actions in order to give wild salmon and steelhead a chance of recovery. First, designate multiple Wild Salmonid Management Zones in every ESU. These refugia should be placed in watersheds which contain the most productive and intact habitat, support the greatest diversity of salmonid species and life histories and which have outstanding cultural value. Second WDFW should set hatchery releases in accordance with ecosystem carrying capacity. I believe this would mean significantly reducing the number of smolts released at most hatcheries in the state, particularly those in Puget Sound. Finally the state must stop placing harvest opportunity first and foremost. As citizens of Washington State we are the guardians of a tremendous natural wealth. Healthy populations of wild salmon and steelhead are an essential part of our regional culture, ecology and evolutionary legacy. It is our responsibility to safe guard the future of that vast natural wealth and I believe up to this point, we have largely failed. Please make wild fish the priority of WDFW moving forward. Their future depends on it.Obviously there is alot more that could be said but I figured the longer I wrote the less impact I'd make I tried to hit the key points quickly.