Merry X-mas to all!
While our steelhead return to short rivers the real arduous part of the post spawn steelhead's migration is in the marine waters. Our fish return to the North Pacific making a complete circuit; going west of the international date line. It is my understanding that those northern fish don't migrate as far. Could that play a role?
The sudden collapse of Puget Sound wild winter steelhead is a real head scratcher. It has occurred over a wide area (all of Puget Sound, lower main land of BC and the east side of Vancouver Island). Populations have crashed on rivers that have had kill fisheries, have been management with CnR or wild steelhead release, and those that have closed to fishing. It affected both the hatchery and wild fish. The same system's summer steelhead (both hatchery and wild) have maintianed or even increased in numbers. The only thing that seems to make much sense is that the winter fish are experiencing extremely poor marine survival (the only common factor).
I agree whole heartly that the number of anglers interested in CnR management has increased substantially over the last 20 years. I continue to believe that mcuh of that interest is the result of the diverse fishing opportunities that state has provided. When I look at where and when most of our anglers are fishing today I still see more anglers on the water during kill season (whether hatchery or wild) than during CnR seasons. This even though I would consider the CnR providing superior fishing.
Prior to the late 1970s or early 1980s most of our river system had no escapement goals for steelhead. The ideal way to set goals is to use river specific information however in the early 1980s that kind of information was not generally available. What the state did was use a compsosite model to develop those goals. When the goals for most of our systems were set in 1983 most were substantially higher the recent historic escapement.
As I stated earlier I'm not up to speed on the details of the various coast rivers so I'll use the Snohomish as an example. Prior to 1984 the wild steelhead escapements were in the 3,000 to 4,000. The Snohomish goal was set at 6,500 wild steelhead (note that it was for wild fish - not hatchery fish spawning the wild -quite different from salmon). The 1983/84 season was the first management with the goal as a factor. The expected run size was such that there were harvestable fish. As a consequence wild steelhead release was used (anyone remember the fin cards). All the returning hatchery weren't adipose clipped unitl the 1985/86 season. The escapement in 1984 was 6,450. Between then and the late 1990s the management allowed the taking of wild fish when the run was expected to be above the goal (season length varied depending on run strength) and wild steelhead release when it was expected to be at or below the goal. The average escapement between 1984 and 1996 was about 7,100.
With nearly 20 years of information it is now possible to look at river specific information. Where that has been done in most case the river specific information at hand indicates the goals set in 1983 were to high. In most cases
there hasn't been changes in the goals.
I agree with you that we need to be conservative with steelhead management and clearly if runs are below goals we need to manage conservatively with either Wild Steelhead Release or closures depending on run strength. However my question for you is what you do with a river system that consistently has runs above goals?
Do we use the survey that Bob has referred to all allocate fishing impacts to various interest groups. For ease lets assume that 60% want Wild steelhead release and 40% want to kept a fish. For a simple example - river has a goal of 5,000 (and we all agree that it is an OK goal) and a run size of 7,000. That means that there is 2,000 fish to fight over. Would you would allow anglers to kept 800 and reserve the rest for CnR? or would you make it all CnR? What you would do if the 60% want to kept fish and 40% CnR?
Any others have an opinion?