Wednesday, June 15, 2011


In a recent conversation with an executive of the ODFW fish division about releasing hatchery steelhead in the Sandy River, Oregon, the assertion was made that these hatchery fish had no impact on wild steelhead.  That is a statement of fact, so I asked for the supporting data.  After a bit of dithering, he admitted that this conclusion was indeed only an assumption. 

Apparently, biologists that hold important political positions within an agency or those that have an agenda regardless of their pecking order within the agency, feel comfortable making factual statements even though they have no facts to back them up.  Typically, the public has been conditioned to accept a strongly stated assertion at face value.  After all, why would they lie?  The public trust is easily violated by agenda driven agency functionaries. 

Years of scientific studies costing thousands of dollars have shown that the release of hatchery steelhead has an impact on the health, abundance, and status of wild steelhead in our rivers.  The public pays for these studies and should expect that what is learned would be applied to management decsions by government agencies, but there is no obligation for an agency or its personnel to use this information in their work.  

What are some of the facts about releasing hatchery steelhead in streams already occupied by wild steelhead? 

“Hatchery steelhead displaced wild O. mykiss in 79% of the contests observed between these groups. Our results indicate that the behavior of hatchery steelhead can pose risks to preexisting wild O. mykiss where the two interact.”

That is a startling fact discovered in 1999 by McMichael and others doing a study of hatchery and wild steelhead interactions on the Yakima River.  That fact was documented 12 years ago.  I wonder why it the ODFW biologist did not use it to at least question his assumption that releasing hatchery steelhead had no effect on wild steelhead in Oregon?  Maybe he did not know about this study and maybe since it was from a Yakima River study in the state of Washington, it somehow does not apply to Oregon rivers. 

What else did the scientists find out about hatchery steelhead impacts on wild steelhead in the Yakima River?

“Strategies to minimize undesirable risks associated with behavior of released hatchery steelhead should be addressed if protection and restoration of wild steelhead stocks is the management goal.”

That is interesting.  Maybe this ODFW biologist is not interested in the protection and restoration of wild steelhead in the Sandy River?  But I am sure he must be concerned for after all the wild steelhead are threatened with extinction and their recovery is his responsibility. His agency has even underscored that responsibility in the form of policy when in 2003 the ODFW commission adopted a rule that says protection of native fish is the primary goal of the agency.   Even Oregon state law directs the agency to prevent the serious depletion of native species.  That has been confirmed by the Oregon Department of Justice to mean that the department and the commission have an overriding obligation to prevent the depletion of native species.  I would be surprised if this legal direction did not also include agency biologists and executives. 

I was surprised by the comment of an ODFW biologist that had left the agency for another in state government.  When I asked him why he had left ODFW he simply replied: “I wanted to work for an agency where I did not get in trouble for following the rules.”


McMichael, Geoffrey A.; Todd N. Pearsons; Steven A. Leider. 1999. Behavioral interactions among hatchery-reared steelhead smolts and wild Oncorhynchus mykiss in natural streams. North American Journal of Fisheries Management. Vol. 19, Issue 4. pages 948-956.


  1. This is a sad Fact ! This is also part of my issue when it comes to any and all Wild fish data from a government agency. (Snyder cr.) the issues are critical and physically obvious to many guides and anglers in the N.W.
    Makes no sense to operate this way when the solution is just as simple if not more so !

  2. Didn't the Canadians do a study on hatcheries prior to the first Columbia dams going in showing only a put and take continuum and no contribution to a self sustaining run of fish? US was invited to share in the study but couldn't use the data to sell dams, so ignored it. Humans don't like to be told that what they've been doing for years was a mistake and doesn't work. Sounds like some early retirements and a housecleaning may be in order before the ODFG can operate in present time.