Tuesday, December 28, 2010


When there is a conservation concern for a wild salmonid population such as one listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, each fish is valuable for its potential contribution to recovery of the population.  The loss of juvenile steelhead and salmon can negatively affect adult abundance several years later.  It is important to consider all sources of mortality and take appropriate action over those that can be affected by management.  Reducing the mortality associated with angling by requiring single barbless hooks is an important policy decision.  Doing so can increase survival of juvenile and adult fish by reducing handling time required to take out the hook, and injury from handling as well as exposure to the air.

The following peer-reviewed studies provide a scientific basis for angling regulations to include barbless hooks as a factor important to conservation of native, wild salmonids.  While there is ample justification to use barbless hooks on adult fish as required in ocean commercial fisheries to promote easy release with less handling and a goal of reducing mortality, there is also a measurable conservation benefit from using barbless hooks when adult salmonids are captured by angling in freshwater. These studies provide the verification for this conclusion.  Using barbless hooks to reduce injury and mortality for juvenile salmon and steelhead is often overlooked when setting angling regulations.  Steelhead juveniles rear in freshwater for 2 to 3 years and are exposed to angling mortality in fisheries targeted on trout and adult steelhead and salmon. It only makes sense to include juvenile fish protection as a benefit of barbless hook fisheries. 

With a few exceptions such as the Metolius River, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has adopted a position opposed to the use of barbless hooks as a conservation tool for vulnerable wild salmonid populations.  They base this policy on a scientific literature review done by staff in 2001.  Oregon stands alone among entities that are concerned about recovery and protection of wild salmon, trout and steelhead.  British Columbia requires single barbless hooks province wide, Washington requires single-point barbless hooks in areas designated as "fly fishing only" or "selective gear rules; California requires single barbless hooks on most trout and steelhead fisheries; Idaho says only barbless hooks may be used when fishing for steelhead in the Salmon and Clearwater river drainages and the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam.

The studies provided below provide the scientific justification for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Commission to adopt single barbless hooks as a conservation management tool to protect native, wild salmonids throughout the state.  In waters where these fish are threatened, a more precautionary management approach is appropriate to reduce mortality.  In waters where wild fish harvest is allowed, a barbless hook regulation would provide a conservation benefit for those that are released.  For example, in some rivers a limit of one wild steelhead per day and 5 per year is allowed.  In those fisheries a hatchery fish may also be taken.  This means that the angler may release one or more wild fish in order to take a legal limit that includes a hatchery fish.  There is also evidence that wild steelhead contribute more to the fishery than their numbers would suggest, so single barbless hooks would not only help prevent mortality, they could contribute to more angler satisfaction through multiple catches.  

The point of this paper is to provide the Department and the Commission with information that provides the scientific justification and benefit of using barbless single hooks in Oregon waters for adult and juvenile fish.


Wright, Sam. 1992. Guidelines for selecting regulations to manage open-access fisheries for natural populations of anadromous and resident trout in stream habitats. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 12:517-527.

“Adding restrictions requiring single hooks, barbless hooks, or flies can provide only relatively small incremental improvements in trout survival.  However, managers have realized that these can become important in situations where individual fish are hooked many times.  The chance of mortality from a single hooking event was examined for various unweighted combinations of terminal gear from our compilation of research results.  The categories and single-event losses were as follows:

Barbless hooks with flies                                1.76%
All barbless hooks (with flies or lures),         2.16%
Barbless hooks with lures,                             3.00%
All hooks with flies,                                       3.34%
Barbed hooks with flies,                                3.88%
All barbed hooks,                                           5.86%
Barbed hooks with lures,                               6.86%

“The most fundamental rule to remember in managing any open-access trout fishery is that effective regulatory control must be applied to every individual fish (Hunt 1970).  Fishing seasons and daily bag limits, when used by themselves, are not effective management tools, because they do not apply to each fish that is captured.”

Meka, Julie, M. 2004. The influence of hook type, angler experience, and fish size on injury rates and duration of capture in an Alaskan catch-and-release rainbow trout fishery. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 24:1309-1321.

“Recent studies have emphasized a holistic approach to evaluating the effects of catch-and-release angling on fish by evaluating both sublethal and lethal effects.  When fish are subjected to angling stress, they are affected by stressors that may not cause immediate mortality; in fact, some may influence ultimate survival.  These stressors include physiological disruptions from landing time, handling time, and exposure to air during the hook removal process or when photographed, as well as the potentially confounding effects of nonlethal hooking injuries.”
“…fishing methods and whether J hooks were barbed or barbless significantly influenced new overall injury rates.  Fish caught by spin-fishing had similar injury rates as those caught by fly-fishing; thus, significance was from higher injury rates with barbed hooks for both fishing methods as well as higher injury rates for barbed hooks between fishing methods.”

“…novice anglers injured proportionally more fish than experienced anglers.  The number of new injuries per capture was more significant in small fish.  Small fish were hooked in more than one location more frequently than large fish (small fish <440 mm or 17-inches)…small fish were injured more frequently, and bleeding was most significant in fish hooked in sensitive areas and in small fish…small fish had higher bleeding rates.   Bleeding was more prevalent in small fish.  This presumably was because they were injured in sensitive areas more often as well as injured more often.”

“…hook removal time was significantly longer when barbed J hooks were used compared to barbless J hooks.  Mortality was also higher for fish caught with treble hooks compared with single hooks, presumably because the increase in hook-point penetrations increased the probability of injury to critical locations and associated bleeding. My results indicate that smaller fish (<17-inches) may be more vulnerable to mortality.”

“In this study, barbed J hooks caused significantly more new hooking injuries, took longer to remove, and were more efficient at catching fish than barbless hooks.  Higher injury rates and longer handling times for barbed hooks were mostly likely due to difficulty in hook removal and hooks becoming tangled in landing nets, both of which were observed to intensify injuries and bleeding.  Barbless hooks have been found to cause a lower incidence of injury and bleeding than barbed hooks and decrease the amount of time fish are handled and exposed to air while removing hooks.”

“The results of this study indicate that the use of barbless J hooks may minimize injury and reduce the amount of time fish are handled during hook removal and that angler experience can contribute to hooking injury.”

“However, a slight reduction in hooking injuries and less handling time are two important benefits to consider in support of a regulation change or promotion of angler education programs for catch-and-release trout fisheries.”

“…focus future research on the prolonged sublethal effects of hooking injury on trout populations, and develop angler education programs and gear restrictions to minimize injury.”

Schreer, Jason, F., Dayna M. Resch, and Malachy L. Gately. 2005. Swimming performance of brook trout after simulated catch-and-release angling: looking for air exposure thresholds. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 25:1513-1517.

“Air exposure has been hypothesized as one of the primary stressors present during catch-and-release angling.  However, there are few studies that systematically vary air exposure duration and evaluate the consequences on individual fish.  Here we evaluated the short-term sublethal effects of exercise (to simulate angling) and air exposure on the swimming performance of hatchery brook trout at 10 degrees C. (50 degrees F.).  Nearly half of the fish held out of the water for 120 seconds were unwilling or unable to swim at all.  This work suggests that fish possess air exposure thresholds that, once exceeded, result in performance impairments.  Fish released after extended air exposure may become easy prey for predators or could be displaced downstream .  We conclude that air exposure should be restricted to less than 60 seconds and ideally should be avoided entirely.”

(Note:  Barbless hooks decrease the amount of time fish are handled and exposed to air while removing hooks in the  study by Meka.)

Taylor, Mathew, J., and Karl R. White. 1992. A meta-analysis of hooking mortality of nonanadromous trout. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 12:760-767.

“…fish caught on barbed hooks had higher mortality rates than fish caught on barbless hooks.

“…the mortality rate for fish caught with barbed flies or lures is almost double the mortality rate of fish caught with barbless flies or lures.

“”…the effects of handling on hooking mortality have been sparsely investigated.  It would be nice to know about variables such as net use, resuscitation techniques, time out of water, and the effect of barbs on handling time.  Research on these variables would give a clearer understanding of how to increase survival rates.

“The overall average mortality rate in these 18 studies was just under 12%.  Under the best conditions, with barbless flies or lures, the percentage dropped to under 3%.

Reingold, Melvin. 1979. Mortality and catch rates of juvenile steelhead trout caught on single versus treble barbless hooks.  Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

“…even at the low level of mortalities observed, losses from treble barbless hooks were 4.5 times that of losses from single barbless hooks.  In an intensive catch-and-release fishery, this could be meaningful…anglers hooked and released 75,000 cutthroat trout on the Middle Fork Salmon River in 1978.  Applying the percent mortality observed, single barbless hooks would account for 428 deaths versus 1,928 for treble barbless hooks, a difference of 1,500 trout; predominately spawner size individuals.  This is 83% of the estimated season trout harvest in that stream in 1969 (1,800) when it was catch and keep.”

Pollard, Herbert, A., and Ted C. Bjornn. 1973. The effects of angling and hatchery trout on the abundance of juvenile steelhead trout. Transactions of the Americana Fisheries Society No. 4: 745-752

“A large proportion of juvenile steelhead trout in a stream can be removed with a moderate amount of angling.  Age II-plus steelhead are especially susceptible to harvest by angling and 70 to 100% of those present in a 122 m (400 ft) section of stream were removed with 4 angler hours of effort.  The normal sport fishery may take as many as half of the catchable size (age II-plus) juvenile steelhead from a stream such as the Crooked Fork each year, and thus may reduce the number of smolts produced.”

“Hatchery reared, catchable sized rainbow trout did not act as a buffer to reducing the angling harvest of juvenile steelhead…”

“Removal of the larger pre-smolts by angling could decrease adult returns due to fewer smolts and decreased survival of the remaining, small smolts.”

(Note:  This study was included to show how vulnerable juvenile steelhead are to a trout fishery and the impact of a fishery on the future abundance of adult returns.  Angling with barbed hooks increases tissue damage, handling time, exposure to air, and causes a reduction in smolt numbers and adult returns.)

Cowen, Laura. 2007. Effects of angling on chinook salmon for the Nicola River, British Columbia, 1996-2002. North Americana Journal of Fisheries Management 27:256-267

“Gjernes (1990) found that barbed hooks caused higher hooking mortality rates.  Bartholomew and Bohnsack (2005) reported three studies that showed increased mortality when using barbed versus barbless hooks.  We did not use barbed hooks in this study.”

“The optimal angling gear and techniques used in our study included soft, knotless-mesh landing nets, suitable hook sizes, barbless hooks, short playtime, short handling time, little or no air exposure, angling only at water temperatures less than or equal to 20 degrees C, and leaving deep hooks in or removing them gently with pliers.  In addition, Bartholomew and Bohnsack (2005) advocate fishing actively and setting the hook as soon as possible, use of dehooking tools, and avoidance of touching gills and handling the soft underbelly of the fish.”

Pelletier, Christine, Kyle C. Hanson, and Steven J. Cooke. 2007. Do Catch-and-release guidelines from state and provincial fisheries agencies in North America conform to scientifically based best practices. Environ Manage 39:760-773

“Barbless hooks were recommended by 34 (or 69%) agencies as an alternative to barbed hooks.”

“However, there is compelling evidence that barbless hooks are easier to remove than barbed hooks.  Ease of removal results in reduced handling time and tissue damage, thereby decreasing associated mortality.”

“The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources explained that replacing treble hooks with single hooks will make live release easier.  Because air exposure tends to occur when anglers remove hooks, these agencies have taken a positive approach in stressing the importance of a timely live release.”

“Air exposure was the most widely discussed catch-and-release issue among agencies. It was found that 44 of 49 agencies provided advice on the subject.  The most common recommendation (64%) was to keep the fish in the water at all times.  This is consistent with studies showing that air exposure is extremely harmful in fish that have experienced physiological disturbances associated with angling.  Tufts (1992) found that when rainbow trout were exposed to air for either 30 or 60 seconds after exhaustive exercise, mortality increased from 38% to 72%, receptively.”

“…removing hooks (in deeply hooked fish) often results in mortality associated with increased handling time and air exposure.”

“Considering that water temperature is regarded as the ‘master factor’ in the biology of fishes, it is surprising that angling at extreme temperatures was not incorporated into all agency guidelines.”

“…mortality among Atlantic salmon is minimal when angled at water temperatures between 8 degrees C and 18 degrees C., but as water temperatures increased to greater than 18 degrees C, the risk of angling-induced mortality increases considerably.”

“…we believe that natural resource agencies are the appropriate target of initial attempts to ensure that catch-and-release guidelines are consistent with the best scientific information.”

In recent angler surveys by Oregon and Washington fish management agencies, a larger proportion of the respondents practiced catch-and-release fishing.  Anglers are embracing live release fishing as a conservation measure.  It also does not substantially deplete fish numbers like a kill fishery, and provides at least the expectation that the fish will survive to reproduce or be caught again. 

The use of single barbless hooks complements the growing interest in catch-and-release fisheries.  As these studies show, their use reduces sublethal and lethal impacts on juvenile and adult fish. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Commission ought to review their opposition to the use of barbless hooks in selective fisheries.  The goal of selective fisheries is to allow angling opportunity while achieving conservation objectives. Barbless hooks advance the conservation objectives of selective fisheries.   

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Strong and healthy salmonids

There are criteria to be achieved for each watershed to achieve healthy and productive salmonids.  The following are criteria are necessary to make sure that these wild, native populations are healthy.

1.  Determine whether the salmonid species in your watershed are healthy based on the following principles.  Each wild native population health is determined by its productivity, diversity (genetic and life history), abundance, and spatial distribution.

2.  Does your watershed have a spawner abundance objective?  If not, then contact your district biologist to establish one for each species native to that watershed.  Only wild, native fish should be counted for this to be a valid objective.

3.  How many naturally spawning hatchery fish are using your watershed by species and race?  The rule adopted by the ODFW for naturally spawning hatchery fish is 10% in the whole basin.  This is too high.  The NMFS has recommended 5% stray rate.  The natural stray rate for wild fish is less than one percent per brood year.

4.  What is the natural enrichment from spawning fish in your watershed?  The estimate for coho salmon is 200 spawners per mile.  This could be applied to chinook as well.  It is important to have a natural nutrient enrichment goal per watershed rather than rely on distribution of hatchery fish carcasses distributed to the watershed.  The natural spawners distribute nutrients to those areas where they spawn and provide nutrients that benefit rearing juveniles in those areas. 

5.  Naturally spawning hatchery fish are a negative impact on the reproductive success of wild, native fish populations, so an effective block to hatchery fish is needed to improve the life cycle survival of wild fish in you watershed.  If your watershed does not provide a separation between naturally spawning hatchery and wild fish then your goal is to have one established.   Remember it makes no difference what type of hatchery program is being used on your watershed, for they all have an impact that degrades the reproductive success of wild native fish.  This includes native broodstock (integrated hatchery) or production hatchery fish. 

6. Is harvest management supporting recovery and conservation management for wild native fish in your watershed?  The impact of harvest should be determined in order to make sure it is not impeding wild spawner abundance.  A discussion of this issue with the district biologist is necessary to determine whether harvest is supporting rather than impeding wild fish productivity, diversity, spatial distribution and abundance.  If this question cannot be answered then you have a major conservation problem to be resolved.

7.  Establish a conservation requirement for each species of wild native fish in your watershed based on the principles noted above.  We need to develop reference streams so that it is possible to determine whether the wild native fish populations are getting the conservation benefit of management.

8. Does the habitat support or impede native wild fish productivity?  Habitat is organized like links in a chain that support the life history requirements of the fish.  If a link is broken the fish cannot complete their life cycle; if a link is damaged the population’s reproductive capacity is reduced.   The primary mission of the Native Fish Society is to make sure that fish management policy and actions deliver wild spawners and exclude hatchery spawners.  Success depends on having locally adapted wild fish utilizing the habitats of our watersheds.  We also work on preventing habitat degradation and repairing what we can.  Working with other groups that have habitat restoration as their primary mission is an important partnership. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife refuses to require barbless hooks to protect wild salmon and steelhead in sport fisheries.  They are the only western state to take this position and in doing so they are increasing the risk to ESA-listed adult and juvenile fish.  The Native Fish Society has compiled the scientific literature that supports use of barbless hooks to protect fish that are to be released, and ODFW use to require barbless hooks, but has decided that conservation is not important.  Now the State of Washington must suspend its regulation for requiring barbless hooks on the Columbia River because Oregon refuses to go along where the two states share management responsibilities.  When Governor Kitzhaber reviews the performance of ODFW director Roy Elicker, he should ask him to justify this action, giving Oregon a unique distinction among western states.

WDFW director seeks voluntary use
of barbless hooks on Columbia River
OLYMPIA - Columbia River anglers who fish for salmon and steelhead will not be required to switch to barbless hooks next year, but state fishery managers are asking them to do it voluntarily.

"Going barbless only makes sense in these fisheries where we’re trying to maximize survival rates for released wild fish," said Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "Anglers can play an important role in that effort by using barbless hooks."

Anderson made his appeal to anglers after informing the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission of plans to delay a new rule - originally set to begin Jan. 1 - that would require anglers to use barbless hooks in salmon and steelhead fisheries from the mouth of the Columbia River to McNary Dam. 

The Washington commission, which sets policy for WDFW, approved that requirement, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission did not. Anderson said the prospect of having incompatible fishing regulations on a portion of the Columbia River jointly managed by the two states prompted him to delay the barbless rule for at least a year.

"The two states have worked together for nearly a hundred years to avoid conflicting fishing regulations that would create confusion for anglers on the Columbia River," Anderson said. "Delaying the barbless rule is disappointing, but we’re going to continue to pursue it."

Anderson noted that the border between Washington and Oregon - which determines which state’s fishing rules are in effect - is hard to define along the Columbia River. "Down near the mouth, about 90 percent of the river is in Oregon," he said. "That changes as you move upriver."

Anderson said barbless hooks, knotless nets and careful handling of released fish are all ways that anglers can contribute to recovery of wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River.

"Anything we can do to rebuild wild runs will ultimately help maintain or expand fishing opportunities for hatchery fish," Anderson said. "We hope that all anglers will get behind that idea and voluntarily switch to barbless hooks." 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Salmon worth more alive than dead
OCTOBER 22, 2010

Entire ecosystems on the Pacific coast rely on salmon and humans are taking more than their share, a new study concludes.

The paper calls for a shift in fishing plans to protect other species, from insects and seagulls to grizzly bears and killer whales.

Some salmon would be worth more alive than dead, especially when runs are headed for rivers and streams in parks and protected areas, says the paper, published online by the journal Conservation Letters.

"Although more than a hundred species -- like bears, wolves and eagles -- depend on salmon, fisheries often capture more salmon than all of these animals combined, even from runs bound for protected areas created to safeguard wildlife," said the lead author, Chris Darimont of the University of California/Santa Cruz and Raincoast Conservation Foundation science director.

The idea for the study was spawned after a U.S. scientist, visiting a B.C. Central Coast park during the salmon run, asked whether the salmon were protected, Darimont said.

"We had to say 'no, there's a seine boat one kilometre from the river mouth scooping up 50 per cent of these fish,' " he said.

The idea of altering harvesting plans to ensure salmon are shared with wildlife is viewed as radical, especially by commercial fishing interests, admits Darimont.

But changes can be made in a way that minimizes economic consequences, especially as, in some areas, ecotourism, such as bear, eagle and salmon watching, is more lucrative than fishing for species such as pinks and chums, says the paper, written by 10 scientists.

"Our aim is to inform and inspire decision makers with a plan that not only favours biodiversity, but also one that ultimately might yield economic and management benefits," the paper says.

It is a difficult balance, but not impossible, said Paul Paquet, Raincoast senior scientist and one of the authors. "There should be some very intense efforts to understand the requirements of ecosystems and other species and the necessary allocation of salmon to sustain ecosystems and sustain people," he said.
Initially changes should concentrate on salmon runs bound for parks and protected areas. Also, using different harvesting methods could generate higher prices and more employment, Paquet said.
A Department of Fisheries and Oceans paper calls for an examination of the effect of catch rates on ecosystems, but that does not seem to underpin decisions, Paquet said,

The DFO was not able to respond to questions.
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

See the complete study:

Raincoast Organization

Sunday, October 10, 2010



By Bill Bakke
Native Fish Society

There is a continuing debate that has spanned 153 years of salmon management and that is whether salmon are locally adapted animals to their home streams through what Darwin (1859) called natural selection.  The debate continues today and will be present in the future, shaping salmon and steelhead management.  In Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California salmon and steelhead are still released from their river of origin into other rivers in the name of enhancement for fisheries.  This lack of conservation management policy for and understanding of salmonid biology, genetics, and life history and respect for the fish is one issue the Native Fish Society is committed to changing.

I have researched the historical literature on this subject to provide a context for proper salmonid management.  It is a fundamental problem that should no longer be a factor of deliberate fish management.  Transferring fish from one watershed to another is not supported by history or by science, but it takes the many voices of informed people to make a administrative changes. 

Hatchery fish management practices that encourage straying of hatchery fish from one watershed to another is another form of this same problem and it has the same detrimental, degrading effect on wild, native stocks. 

Andrew Lang: “…each river has its own peculiar race of fish…We have now shown that salmon undoubtedly return to the river where they have spawned, and where they belong to the race of fish that inhabit that particular river.”  (N.P. Wilkins, Atlantic Salmon Trust)

George Perkins Marsh:  “Fish (salmon) are more affected than quadrupeds by slight and even imperceptible differences in their breeding places and feeding grounds.  Every river, every brook, every lake stamps a special character upon its salmon…which is at once recognized by those who deal in or consume them…”  (George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature)

Alvin C. Anderson:  He was the inspector of fisheries in British Columbia, and he “…realized that the Pacific salmon are organized into separate local populations, with each river having its own distinct stock.  He recognized that the supply of salmon in a river depended upon the number of spawners in that river.  Anderson’s views reflected earlier recognition that Atlantic salmon faithfully returned to their home stream.  Acceptance of the stock concept led managers of British Columbia’s salmon fishery to limit fishing effort by restricting both the timing of fishing and type of gear permitted.” (David Montgomery, King of Fish, 2003, page 132)

R.D. Hume:  “He recognized that salmon stocks in different rivers were distinct and adapted to their home stream.  Consequently, he advocated using stocks from streams similar to those into which they were to be released as the key to successful salmon breeding.”  (David Montgomery, King of Fish, 2003, page 165)

David Starr Jordan:  “The first president of Stanford University and the leading academic salmon biologist of his day, shared (Livingston) Stone’s view, stating: ‘It is the prevailing impression that the Salmon have some special instinct which leads them to return to spawn on the same spawning grounds where they were originally hatched.  We fail to find any evidence of this in the case of the Pacific Coast salmon, and we do not believe it to be true.” (Jordan and Everman, 1902 in King of fish, 2003, page 159)

Willis Rich:  “It is obvious that the conservation of the species as a whole resolves into the conservation of every one of the component groups…Diverse evidence points so clearly to the existence of local, self-perpetuating populations in the Pacific salmon that…practical conservation measures be based upon the acceptance of the ‘home stream theory’ as an essentially correct statement.”  (David Montgomery, King of Fish, page 165)

Willis Rich:  “It is apparent then that one of the first requirements of a sound conservation program must be the determination of the extent to which the species to be conserved is broken up into local populations.  The defining of specific populations is concerned to a considerable extent with the determination of the geographical limits occupied by each.”  (Willis Rich 1939)

Willis Rich:  The importance of the fact that the salmon and steelhead return as adults to their home streams and tributaries is obvious; it is essential that each independent, self-perpetuating population of fish be preserved if depletion is to be avoided.” (Willis Rich 1948, Special Scientific Report No. 51. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

W.F. Thompson:  “This principle applies to the salmon along our coasts.  Each stream or lake has its own extremely complex characteristics, and if salmon live in one of them we find that these salmon are adapted in an equally complex way to that environment.  We are far from understanding these two complexes, the fish and the environment, but we do know that in order to return to the place for which it has been fitted, the salmon returns from the sea to its home stream, there to meet and breed with its own kind.  Thus it develops and perpetuates the genetic characteristics which fit it for survival in the stream.  So we have a multitude of groups of salmon, each self-perpetuating which we loosely term races, and which the scientists calls gene pools, each fitted to survive in a particular home.  If it leaves this home the race either dies off or readapts.”  (W.F. Thompson. 1965. Science 150: 3705: 1785-1789)

Roderick Haig-Brown:  “The river of birth is the river of return.  Each species of salmon, each race within each species, by long selection, is ideally adapted to make best use of its own watershed, its own tributary and subtributary, even the gravel quality and water quality of its own particular spawning area.”

“What is now clear is that each species is made up of thousands of different ‘races,’ each specialized to its own freshwater environment by thousands of years of adaptation.”   (Roderick Haig-Brown, The Salmon, 1974, pages 9 and 30)

John Volpe:  “Wild salmon, however, return to their natal river to spawn and each generation is repeatedly tailored by natural selection to the conditions of the river.  Each river system ‘selects’ only those individuals possessing traits that are most suited to survive in the local environment.  Thus, each adult wild salmon returning to spawn is an organic extension of not only its parents, but also of the river that produced it.”  (John Volpe, 2002. Suzuki Foundation)
Science is clear about the biological effect of hatchery fish on native, wild populations.  Whether these hatchery fish are released into non-natal rivers or stray into them from releases into other rivers, the impacts are the same.  The stray hatchery fish interbreed with wild salmonids and degrade their reproductive fitness and success. 

Since hatchery fish are able to spawn successfully, they compete at the juvenile stage for food and rearing space.  The abundance of hatchery fish is also attractive to predators and can increase mortality on wild salmonids.  In addition, fishing mortality is increased on wild fish that are mixed in with hatchery fish.  All these factors limit the productivity of wild salmonids and create multiple obstacles to their health and recovery.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife does not have an administrative rule to regulate the transfer of fish among watersheds.  In 2003 the department adopted the Hatchery Fish Management Policy where it states that hatchery fish are to be managed by objective and Objective 2 states: “Contribute toward the sustainability of naturally produced native fish populations through the responsible use of hatcheries and hatchery-produced fish.”

However, there are on-going transfers of salmon and steelhead among Oregon watersheds.  Information contained in the 2010 Hatchery Operations Plans shows that there are 27 stock transfers of fish into watersheds where they are not native. 

The ODFW apparently does not subscribe to the factual basis that salmonids are locally adapted and to their own research and that of others showing that the best conservation principle is to protect locally adapted fish populations.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Science Based Management Improvements by ODFW

ODFW Policy Change Favors Wild Native Fish

There are some encouraging improvements in conservation management of salmonids being carried out by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The following case studies document the changes and the response of wild salmon and steelhead.

Oregon Coho Salmon:

From 1960 to 1990 the ODFW policy was to use natural habitats to rear hatchery coho salmon and the 1980 Coho Plan dedicated the lower Columbia River to coho hatchery production and harvest. By 1990 10 million hatchery coho were being released annually.  Form 1934 to 1990 pre-smolts were released, but those came to an end after 1990 when mostly smolts were released.  The releases were reduced to 4.5 million smolts.  In 2010 pre-smolt releases were ended and releases into natural habitats were ended.  Lower Columbia on-station hatchery releases were reduced to 45% of the 1990 releases and fewer locations were used.  Coastal hatchery on-station releases were reduced to 11% of the 1990 level and there are fewer release locations.  Oregon wild coho salmon abundance has increased (1990-2007) in response to the change in hatchery policy and other environmental factors. 

Hatchery impacts on the productivity of wild coho salmon documented in the scientific literature necessitated a change in management.  The listing of Oregon coastal and lower Columbia River coho salmon under the Endangered Species Act created an important incentive. 

Scientific studies going back to 1986 provided the following information:  Nickelson et al. 1986 demonstrated that the planting of hatchery coho pre-smolts into natural habitats depressed natural productivity; Lichatowich and McIntyre 1987 demonstrated an association with increased hatchery coho releases decreased coho harvest and declining wild coho abundance in Oregon; Flagg et al. 1995 said the combination of hatchery programs and harvest was driving lower Columbia River coho to extinction; Nickelson 2003 said hatchery coho smolt releases depressed the productivity of wild coho on the Oregon coast, and Buhle et al. 2008 said hatchery coho spawners on the Oregon coast had density-dependent effects on natural productivity.

The shift in hatchery management policy by ODFW has contributed to the increasing trend in wild coho salmon in coastal and lower Columbia River populations.  Whether it is enough to actually protect wild coho by improving their abundance, productivity, diversity and distribution remains to be seen.  At least a  50 year policy of trying to replace wild salmon and their habitats with hatchery programs is beginning to change.

Siletz River Wild Summer Steelhead:

Siletz Falls creates a passage barrier to winter steelhead, fall chinook, and coho salmon during winter flows.  Natural barriers like Siletz Falls are responsible for providing habitat for fish that can pass during the spring and summer flows, habitat that favors spring chinook and especially summer steelhead. 

In 1952 a fish ladder was constructed at Siletz Falls and opened up the river above the falls to winter steelhead, coho, and fall chinook passage.  The ODFW also started up hatchery programs for the release of winter steelhead, summer steelhead, coho and cutthroat trout by releasing smolt and parr in the 1960s.  Monitoring results show that while hatchery fish increased wild steelhead and spring chinook rapidly declined.  For 22 years from 1972 to 1994 the ODFW did no monitoring of this hatchery and fish passage program, but when it re-started again they discovered that there were fewer than 100 wild fish while 92% of the fish were of hatchery or non-native origin. 

In order to salvage the wild summer steelhead above the falls the ODFW eliminated passage of all hatchery and non-native salmonids, but continued to release hatchery summer steelhead until 1999.  In response, the wild spring chinook population stabilized and the wild summer steelhead population has increased from less than 100 fish to a range of 400 to 900 fish following the termination of the hatchery summer steelhead program and blocking access to hatchery and non-native salmonids at the falls. The river above the falls has been restored to its natural condition and is more productive for native salmonids as a result.


Kostow, Kathryn. 2010. Strategies for mitigating ecological effects of hatchery programs: Some case studies from the Pacific Northwest.  State of the Salmon. Ecological Interactions Between Wild and Hatchery Salmon.  May 4-7, 2010. Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010



In most watersheds there are places where fish seek cooler water during periods of low, warm flows. I have seen westslope cutthroat and whitefish lined up in the cool flow of a tributary of the Selway River in Idaho. Spring chinook form a large school at the mouth of a cold creek on the Molalla River. On the Middle Fork John Day River spring chinook are found in a few pools that are influenced by cool ground water flow. Recognizing the value of these thermal refuges, environmental groups are seeking wilderness protection for cold water tributaries of the lower Rogue River to maintain their important ecological benefits for salmonids.

Historically, these thermal refuges have played an important role in salmonid life history, for during the hot days of summer, from July through September, migrating fish such as steelhead, summer chinook, and fall chinook, depend on these cool reaches of stream in order to complete their migration and reduce stress. As the climate changes and warms, these thermal refuges become even more important and should be protected, but they are not. The source of cold water is not protected, and these areas are a favorite among anglers because the fish are concentrated in a relatively tiny area. Even though I have asked the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect these areas on the Columbia River, the request has largely fallen on hard times as the agency tries to increase license sales and is reluctant to restrict angling in areas of high conservation value.

This year a team of scientists wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding their research findings about thermal refuges on the Columbia River and made recommendations for their management. In this letter they make the following observations.

“Summertime water temperatures in the lower Columbia River have steadily increased over the last several decades. Annual peak temperatures have exceeded 21 °C (69.8 degrees F) in most recent years and have been as high as 24 °C (75.2 degrees F). The warmest period typically occurs in late July to early September, coincident with late-migrating summer Chinook and sockeye salmon and with substantial portions of the fall Chinook salmon and summer steelhead runs. Water temperatures in the 19-22 °C (66.2 – 71.6 degrees F) range, like those that routinely occur in the Columbia River main stem, are a significant management concern for adult migrants because a large proportion of adults currently experience thermal conditions thought to be stressful. Such temperatures have been associated with behavioral changes and a variety of sub-lethal effects on physiology, disease susceptibility, reproductive development, gamete quality. Based on these and other studies, we assume that temperatures above ~18-19 °C (64.4 – 66.2 degrees F) induce stress in adult migrants and that higher temperatures are associated with stronger negative costs. This issue may become more acute if warmer regional temperatures predicted by climate models come to pass.”

“A series of cool-water refugia are located along the migration corridor at tributary confluences with the main stem rivers. Many of the most-used refugia sites are located between Bonneville and John Day dams in the lower Columbia River, where cool-water tributaries draining the Cascade Range enter reservoirs. These sites are often 2-7 °C cooler than the main stem.”

“The incidence and duration of thermal refugia use differs widely among populations as a function of migration timing and basic life history. In our research, summer steelhead had both the greatest incidence (~70%) and longest duration (up to several weeks or more) of refugia use. Many steelhead also used multiple refugia sites. Extended refugia residence times resulted, at least in part, from the relatively flexible migration timetable for steelhead. Many of the summer-run fish enter the Columbia River study area at the warmest time but have 6-10 months to reach springtime spawning areas. In contrast with steelhead, about 20% of fall Chinook salmon and 15% of summer Chinook salmon were recorded in one or more lower Columbia refugia sites in the radiotelemetry studies.”

“Initiation of thermal refugia use in the lower Columbia River has been associated with main stem water temperatures of about 19 °C for steelhead and between 20 and 21 °C for fall Chinook salmon. The incidence and duration of use for both runs rapidly increased as temperatures rose above 21°C.”

“Presumed benefits of refugia use include reduced metabolic costs, reduced physiological stress, reduced negative temperature effects on maturation and gamete quality, and increased survival. The most obvious direct negative effect is increased harvest risk because fish are spatially and temporally concentrated in refugia, attracting intensive fisheries. We found that Snake River and upper Columbia River steelhead that used refugia in the lower Columbia River were significantly less likely to survive to spawning tributaries, primarily because harvest rates in and near the refugia sites were high. Refugia sites are typically shallow, and intensive human use of the sites presumably can elevate fish stress levels.”

“Overall, it is currently unclear whether refugia are currently ecological traps for adult salmonids, where holding was adaptive under historic conditions but now results in a net mortality cost due to increased mortality factors (e.g., fishing), or whether they primarily provide fitness benefits.”

As shown in Keefer et al. (2009), the concentration of steelhead in lower Columbia River refugia sites (e.g., at Drano Lake at the Little White Salmon confluence and the Deschutes River mouth) can result in high exploitation rates. Harvest impacts on upriver populations are also possible for Chinook salmon (especially summer and fall runs) and at sites other than those studied by the University of Idaho and NMFS. Harvest management at these sites may become increasingly important, particularly if impacts on threatened populations are significant.”

“The impacts of climate warming are likely to be greater for spring and summer-run salmon than for fall-run populations because spring–summer fish hold in tributaries during summer months, with increased metabolic costs and potential for disease expression. Longer, hotter summers predicted under climate change scenarios would also be expected to differentially affect spring-summer run stocks by increasing metabolic costs of migration. The behavioral flexibility observed in steelhead suggests the potential for greater benefit of thermal refugia use to steelhead than salmon because they can use the sites for extended periods during the warmest time of the year. However, refugia may become relatively more important for salmon under warmer climate conditions, allowing migration in a “stepping-stone” sequence among refugia sites.”

Based on their investigations and research scientists have documented an issue that warrants action by the National Marine Fisheries Service with the authority to protect ESA-listed salmonids and the state fish and wildlife agencies. So far, however, none of these government institutions have recognized the issue or have taken steps to provide improved management of thermal refuges and protection of salmonids.


Keefer, Matthew, Chris Caudill and Chris Peery. 2010. Temperature regimes during migration and the use of thermal refugia by adult salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin. Letter to David Clugston, USACE, May 6, 2010.

Follow this link to read the full letter


Tuesday, June 8, 2010


June 8th, 2010

The Native Fish Society has asked the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete a cost/benefit analysis of Oregon’s hatchery system. Fiscal and ecological accountability is needed in the operation of Oregon’s hatchery system. This need is even more acute now with the recently announced declines in the state’s general fund.

Oregon’s fish hatchery program is growing at the rate of about a million dollars a year. This growth rate is unsustainable given the likely loss of general tax revenues that currently help fund the program. The only way to compensate for the loss of state taxpayer support for the hatchery program would be for the recreational and commercial anglers to support additional large increases to their license fees.

NFS has asked the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete a cost/benefit analysis for each of its separate hatchery programs in order to help determine the risks of these programs to native species and to help prioritize individual hatchery operations as reductions in these programs occur. The Hatchery Accountability Project provides a legitimate process that the department could use to determine which hatchery programs need to be reduced or eliminated. This process could lead to a smaller and more fiscally sound and sustainable hatchery program over the long term.

Oregon operates a fish hatchery system statewide that includes several dozen separate facilities. These facilities produce millions of salmon, steelhead and trout each year for release into the waters of the state to support commercial and recreational fisheries. For many years, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has said reform of the hatchery system is underway. The only major visible reform that NFS has seen has been the relocation of coastal coho releases to the Young’s Bay area and the expansion of supplementation and acclimation programs. These small changes are relatively insignificant and some may actually be counterproductive. There has not been any fundamental change to the way ODFW operates the hatchery system.

The Hatchery Accountability Project would provide the department with a legitimate way to prioritize its various programs based upon which programs are the most cost effective, which ones provide the largest benefit to the most anglers and which projects have the least potential for inflicting harm to native fish and wildlife resources. Saving the best programs and eliminating the worst ones should help lead to a more sustainable state hatchery program.

The Oregon Hatchery Accountability Project is based upon the following criteria:
• What is the return on investment in terms of fish caught in commercial and recreational fisheries?
• Are the angling opportunities provided commensurate with the investment?
• What are the environmental risks and costs associated with each hatchery program?

NFS has asked ODFW to begin the analysis on hatchery programs that a) seem overly expensive b) only serve small segments of the angling community or c) have a high risk of adversely effecting native fish and wildlife populations. Examples of such programs include:

1. The Atlantic salmon stocking program
2. The Cascade lakes brook trout stocking program
3. Trout stocking in flowing waters
4. The Willamette basin summer steelhead program
5. Programs that utilize non-native or introduced fish stocks
6. The transfer of anadromous salmonids among watersheds

“The Native Fish Society believes that the information provided by the Hatchery Accountability Project will provide ODFW, the Governor, the Oregon Legislature and the public with valuable tools to use in assuring that Oregon’s fish hatchery program is operated in the public interest for the long-term benefit and health of our native fish populations,” said NFS Executive Director Bill Bakke, “All we ask is that ODFW conduct an annual cost-benefit analysis of its hatcheries. That way the taxpayers, who are paying for the hatcheries, can make informed decisions about them. It just makes sound business sense to do so.”

The ODFW Commission will decide on the agency’s budget at their July 16 meeting, and it is NFS’ hope that the Commission will direct the agency to begin the Hatchery Accountability Project at this time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Future Depends on Diversity of Salmon Populations

Study Provides New Standards for Reliable Fisheries

Preserving population diversity stabilizes fisheries, ecosystems, and the economies that depend upon them

The many populations of sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska act like a diversified portfolio of investments, buffering fisheries and incomes from the ups and downs of particular stocks. Sockeye salmon are one of the most valuable fisheries in the U.S., and since 1950, more than 60% of that value has come from Bristol Bay. A new study in the June 3 issue of Nature quantifies, for the first time, just how much depends on this “portfolio effect.” Without its current population diversity, the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery would close ten times more frequently – once every two to three years rather than once every 25 years.

The study, by scientists at the University of Washington, draws on five decades of data and provides the first solid evidence that population diversity within a species plays a key role in maintaining stable fisheries.

“We believe this new evidence is a game-changer for managing species and entire ecosystems,” says lead author Daniel Schindler, an ecologist at the University of Washington. “Population diversity of species is often overlooked by managers and conservationists. Yet in general, current rates of population loss are probably a thousand times higher than species loss.”

The authors argue that, in order to maintain the steady flow of fish and other ecosystem services people depend upon, managers will need to put an explicit priority on preserving population diversity within species. Such strategies require aggressive protection of the habitat networks that ultimately generate and maintain population diversity. Both approaches will become increasingly important as a first line of defense against climate change.

“Part of it is understanding history and having the discipline not to chase the hottest stock of the day,” says co-author Ray Hilborn, also at the University of Washington. “We have to maintain a range of productive elements - a broad range of stocks.”

With a landed value of more than $120 million in 2009, the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery has provided a reliable source of income and food year after year. This is because sockeye salmon are finely tuned to the individual streams and lakes in which they were born, and are thus incredibly diverse. Some populations do better in cold, wet years - others thrive when it’s hot or dry. Each population experiences its own boom and bust cycles based on environmental conditions and pure chance. But given sufficient diversity, there should be enough winners to make up for the losers every year for the species overall.

“Mother Nature does a pretty good job dealing with uncertainties – climate change, for instance – by producing a diversity of populations,” explains Schindler. “In terms of fisheries, we need to have a longer term vision for the viability of populations; the populations that are strong now are not necessarily going to be strong in coming years, so we need to protect weaker populations too, as insurance for the future.”

Protecting weaker populations is a challenge– not only in salmon, but also in other species like tuna and cod. Managers must reduce fishing pressure below the levels that the stronger populations can tolerate, or distribute fishing pressure to protect diversity within stocks. The authors argue that in addition to protecting existing population diversity, we must also preserve and protect the variety of habitats that generate population diversity in the first place.

Many salmon rivers, including the Sacramento River in California and the Columbia in Washington, once enjoyed a high degree of population diversity and productivity. However, decades of heavy fishing, habitat degradation and reliance on hatcheries have dramatically simplified populations in these rivers. This has resulted in intense boom-and-bust cycles and frequent fishery closures. In British Columbia, major salmon rivers like the Skeena and Fraser have some populations that are highly depressed and show symptoms of decreased portfolio performance and increased vulnerability.

Hatcheries are frequently used to bolster wild salmon populations. But over time, hatchery fish can become closely related to one another, and can contribute to declines in unique wild populations. Eventually, hatchery-dominated areas can resemble one giant population. Just as intensive monoculture practices make food crops more vulnerable to disease or bad weather, a dependence on hatcheries can leave a fishery open to huge swings in fortune.

“The first lesson [of this paper] is that a wild multi-stock fishery can function very well on its own – better than we’ve ever done with any kind of hatcheries,” says Jack Stanford, an ecosystem scientist at the University of Montana who was not involved with the research. “Hatcheries are counterproductive if the goal is to sustain very healthy wild fisheries, especially in light of climate change.”

Beyond hatcheries, the study results hold other important implications for wildlife management strategies in the US and beyond. In terms of habitat protection, for example, California is currently working on lessening the blow to Chinook salmon, delta smelt, Central Valley steelhead, and green sturgeon in the Sacramento and San Joaquin delta. A March 2010 report by the National Research Council supported recommendations by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce the number of engineered diversions, such as dams and water diversion channels, in these river systems, on the grounds that they have negative consequences for these endangered species.

“In the Sacramento River, we have a history of exploitation and degradation going back to the gold rush,” says Steve Lindley, a research ecologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz, CA, who was not involved with the research. “It’s radically simplified the habitats that salmon depend on in the valley. In California, people have managed ecosystems with concrete. We build dams, line channels, and build flood control structures. Rivers need room to work, and they make salmon habitat if you let them. This research shows that sustainability depends on a healthy ecosystem, but our technological fixes to ecosystem problems usually have unintended consequences that make matters worse for salmon.”

Salmon population loss is not confined to places with lots of people. The same activities that started eroding salmon diversity in the Columbia and Sacramento rivers a hundred years ago are spreading northward quickly.

Bristol Bay, the most productive salmon ecosystem in the world, is facing decisions about major development proposals such as the giant Pebble Mine copper and gold mining facility, as well as hydroelectric dams,” explains Stanford. “This research shows that the choices made in Bristol Bay today will help determine whether the fishery remains reliable for the next hundred years and beyond.”

Hilborn adds, “Offshore drilling has also been proposed in Bristol Bay, and a spill similar to what we're seeing in the Gulf of Mexico could devastate this productive fishery. However the diversity in timing of migration to the ocean and age at maturation among different sockeye populations – that is, the portfolio effect - could afford them protection. In essence, protecting diversity is a form of insurance against the unexpected."

The lessons from Bristol Bay will be important for communities that rely on sustainable ecosystems, as well as the decision makers charged with managing them.

“This is a ground-breaking piece of work,” says Jeff Hutchings, a professor of biology at Dalhousie University in Canada and former chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, who was not involved with the study. “It’s the strongest evidence to date that there’s a financial benefit to maintaining population diversity – and a greater chance that species can withstand environmental and human induced change. It’s not done in a lab or in a tank. These are real rivers and a strong data set for a major fishery. If managers ignore this, they do so at their own peril.”


University of Washington: School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Daniel E. Schindler