Oregon commission voting on plan to limit hatchery salmon, steelhead

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A state proposal to stop stocking hatchery salmon and steelhead in a few coastal rivers has not gone over well with some of the anglers who fish those rivers, or some county officials.

The Coastal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan covers salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout in 50 coastal river basins, from Port Orford to Tillamook Bay. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal Friday in Salem.

Wild salmon and steelhead runs are generally healthy on the coast. But on a few rivers, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wants to stop stocking hatchery fish to reduce the risk wild fish won’t survive into the next century, said Tom Stahl, conservation and recovery program manager for the department. Those hatchery fish would be released into other rivers, with the emphasis on recreational fisheries.

“We are trying to make a balance between conservation and utilization that will provide some certainty in the future,” he said.

Hatcheries have long been used to make up for declines in wild fish from habitat losses. Research in recent years has shown hatchery fish do not survive as well in the ocean or reproduce as well in the wild as wild fish, and they can crowd wild fish out of limited habitat.

The proposal was based on the premise that hatchery fish pose a risk to wild fish. However, a public survey conducted for the department found most of the public does not agree, even though the idea is generally accepted by scientists, Stahl said.

Some anglers and officials in Coos and Douglas counties opposed the plan, questioning the idea that hatchery fish present a danger to wild fish. They said hatchery fish make an important economic contribution to the region.

“The justification for the reductions in hatchery fish is based on theoretical ideology that may have no application to our current hatchery practices, or based on streams in our areas,” said a letter to the department signed by leaders of the South Coast Angler’s STEP Association and members of the Coos County Commission.

The Association of Northwest Steelheaders, a statewide group representing anglers, grudgingly endorsed the plan.

“We could argue forever over the details and never move forward,” resources director Ian Fergusson wrote in a letter to the commission. “We believe the plan represents a modest move toward improved conservation and a modest improvement in harvest opportunity.”

The Native Fish Society, a conservation group dedicated to the protection of wild fish, said a review by a panel of scientists they commissioned found the plan offered little real benefit for wild fish.

“The plan acknowledges that the most pervasive factor limiting wild fish is habitat degradation, but provides absolutely no direction for what has to be fixed,” executive director Mike Moody wrote.

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