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Interview with a North Umpqua Guide

Posted by Mark Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reposted from the Buster Wants To Fish blog

Hatchery Stocking in the North Umpqua Flywater: A Q & A with A North Umpqua Guide

We print this for your consideration and then, considerate comment, Buster readers.
In a brief nutshell, recent summer steelhead returns (or lackthereof) on the fabled and highly regulated North Umpqua apparently churned up the idea machine down in Douglas County, Oregon and a few folks are fixing to fix things.

Talk from a number of folks—some of which are high-profile guides, others are anglers with much history on the river—has proposed moving the stocking of hatchery fish up into the flywater to both maximize the economic output of the present hatchery effort (currently below the flywater) and to relieve pressure on the wild fish. Given scientific findings behind hatchery fish genetic introgression into the wild fish life history, this idea is strongly opposed by others. Trust me when I say I’ve attempted to write this last paragraph as objectively as possible.

Whether you’re a proponent of hatchery salmonids or an ardent supporter of wild, native fish, I urge you to read and re-read this. Many interesting points made, a few lines that can be read between and at the end, a calm, thoughtful discussion of opinions. Props to the interviewer for calling the interviewee out on his stance, and at the same time, respect to the interviewee for nutting up and answering the tough questions.
That’s a great example of discussion between opposing parties, folks, and we need a lot more of it if we’re going to get anywhere worth going.

Notes:
-No, not I, nor any of the handsome bastards at Buster were involved with any of this interview. I simply received a copy.
-I’ve removed the names of both the interviewer and the interviewee, as it’s not the people that matter. Its the ideals, motivations and potential for common ground.
Comments on this interview absolutely welcomed and encouraged below. 

Q & A with A North Umpqua Guide:

Q: I heard through the grapevine that you are advocating bringing hatchery summers back to the fly water. Is that true, and if so, what is your reasoning?
A: Well, I don’t know how much you know about the North Umpqua, but it’s just the last few years that we’ve stopped seeing hatchery summers in the fly water. The hatchery fish that were up there weren’t a problem, since they were mainstem spawners. I grew up on the Umpqua, and I can tell you that 99% of Umpqua summer steelhead are creek spawners. The hatchery fish spawned in the mainstem, where they were acclimated. Back then you might have seen one or two hatchery fish up at Lee’s pool.
My real issue is I don’t think the wild run can handle all the pressure. I mean, we have more guys coming up here every year. But we only have a couple thousand wild steelhead. Without the hatchery fish, guys are figuring out where the natives hang out and they are pounding on them every single day. Meanwhile, ODFW is planting hatchery summers in places where nobody fishes. I’d say 2/3 of the Umpqua’s hatchery fish aren’t even getting fished for. A third of them are planted below the I-5 bridge. Another third is planted at Whistler’s Bend, and the last third at Rock Creek. But nobody fishes below I-5 bridge. Look at Whistler’s Bend. I drive by there every day, and if you see one guy fishing there it’s a rarity. Two guys I know run down there in the fall. The fly water is the only good summer water, and without some hatchery fish up there, the wild fish take the brunt of the pressure.
Q: So you think that by adding a hatchery program above Rock Creek you’ll be decreasing pressure on the wild fish? I don’t think you could find any examples of that correlation. Hatchery programs result in an increase in angling pressure on wild fish. That’s according to Oregon’s leading biologists and decades of research.
A: I think people are over thinking this whole thing. I mean, do we have a true “wild” run in the Umpqua? With all the hatchery influences over the last century, are these fish really wild?
Q: Umpqua steelhead are wild as they come. Has nobody shared with you the DNA analysis on wild steelhead in Oregon? I can send you the graphs that show the distinct genetic groupings of hatchery and wild fish.
A: Well I haven’t seen what you are talking about, but you just said yourself that the wild fish weren’t harmed by all those decades of hatchery mixing, right? So what’s the problem? Your own data says the wild fish are fine. We had hatchery fish all over up here. All the way up to the dam.
Q: What I’m saying is that there has been very little, if any, genetic introgression from interbreeding. But we know the presence of hatchery adults on the spawning grounds reduces overall numbers of wild fish. So you’re going to have a hard time convincing wild-fish advocates that there is an acceptable risk, at any level.
A: I just don’t see it that way. I don’t think there was much, if any mixing. And if the wild fish are as pure as you say they are, that proves it, right? All I’m saying is if you’re going to have hatchery fish in the Umpqua, put them in the places where people fish! Or get rid of all the hatchery fish, and take the money and use it to repair lost spawning and rearing habitat. One or the other. But it doesn’t make sense to spend all this money and resources on a program that nobody can benefit from.
I’m all for wild fish. But right now we aren’t getting the numbers of wild steelhead we used to see. We’re under 5,000 fish. We need 7,000 to 9,000 fish to handle all the pressure on the fly water. The only way we’re going to get that is if they either let us have some hatchery fish or reclaim the lost habitat. Like Canton Creek. There used to be over a thousand wild fish in there. But it was wiped out when they built that road. It’s never recovered. So if ODFW took all the money from hatcheries and used it to bring back wild fish, I could get behind that.
Now our winter steelhead in the Umpqua really need protection. In the winter we get 10,000 to 14,000 wild fish. And ODFW wants to institute a hatchery program and a kill fishery! All of us guides are against it. ODFW makes no sense. You can’t kill wild fish!
Q: But,  you just said you’re against killing wild fish, but hatchery programs kill wild fish. Isn’t that an inconsistency?
A: I hear what you’re saying, and I could get behind a wild-only Umpqua. But it’s got to be one or the other. The way things are going now, I can’t make any money. I’m not ashamed to say it’s a money thing for me. If we’re going to have hatchery fish, let’s acclimate a third of them from Wright Creek down and offer people a little more opportunity in the summer. We don’t even need to increase the numbers. Just put them where they can be used. Or get rid of them altogether.
Q: Do you think you would feel the same way about this if you weren’t guiding?
A: I don’t know. The summer hatchery program, the way they’re running it now, just doesn’t make good economic sense. So I think I would be frustrated even if I wasn’t guiding. I’d still be up here in the canyon. It’s the only part of the river you can consistently get fish on dries throughout the summer.

16 comments

  1. Mark Says:
  2. Some valid points here on both sides guys!

     
  3. charlie Says:
  4. Planting hatchery fish in the fly water would be a terrible management decision, and I an disappointed that a guide, who is supposed to be a steward of the river, would be a proponent of such an idea. I think a better way to relieve pressure, which is his main concern, would be to change the regulations so that only floating lines and unweighted flies would be allowed from June until November, no sink tips. I'd be curious to know if that guide uses sink tips when fishing with clients. There certainly are more people than there should be fishing tips for the summer fish on the nu, which is irresponsible if you're into the conservation of wild fish. Thanks for posting the interview Mark. How do you feel about planting hatchery fish in the fly water.

    Charlie Erdman

     
  5. Mark Says:
  6. Charlie thanks for commenting,

    and I would fully support a floating line, no weighted fly/no tip season on the North.Another good suggestion made by a friend was to shut down the Campwater section below Steamboat Creek. That is one of the main stacking points for wild fish and they just get hammered. Make it a sanctuary for wild fish.Hallowed fishing grounds or not it may be time to make some moves like that on the North.

    I think most people fail to realize that there has been hatchery fish planted in the fly water for decades. This is not anything that hasn't already been done. There were fish imprinted to almost every major creek mouth below the dam.This spread pressure out on the river that is for sure.Today,many of the proponents of wild fish on the North have no idea of the history or dynamics of the hatchery program and the effects,good or bad to the river.They just jump on the wild fish bandwagon cause it's the cool thing to do, not because they actually have an informed opinion.I am all for people supporting wild fish,just know your subject and maybe some of the history behind the river in question.

    I find it very interesting that after decades of a hatchery fish presence on the North Umpqua,the wild fish genetics remain as pure as the driven snow. As wild and pure as any wild fish anywhere.What does that tell you? It tells me that there was very little if any mixing of the two.

    In my opinion, the whole thing is so much more political than it should be. 95% politics and 5% actual in the field true facts. He said this ...this study says that, it's all over the board depending on which angle it's coming from.A lot of people sitting behind desks crunching numbers and doing experiments in controlled settings.Some of that is productive and good and some not so much.

    What I have seen in the 25+ years that I have been on the river is that we are slowly loving our wild fish to death. The pressure on the river even in the last 5 years is outrageous.Everyone loves wild fish.....but still wants to go out and stick a bunch of them.An interesting dilemma if you think about it.

    Charlie,I am for wild fish first. I would love to see it all wild fish....who wouldn't.I do believe there is some truth to the fact that the wild fish that are around now are taking a beating. Again,I have seen the effects firsthand.The wild fish are much more pressured than when there were hatchery fish.I don't know how anyone can argue with that.I agree with the point that we can't have it both ways. If everyone wants and agrees on wild fish then stop ALL hatchery production on the North and take that money and do some serious restoration in Canton,Steamboat,and every other creek that used to have native fish spawn in it.

    I will say,to keep spending millions on a hatchery program that puts the majority of fish where they go un-fished is asinine.Get rid of it and use the money to support wild fish or make the program worthwhile somehow.

    No easy answers here.It's a mess and after being mired in a hatchery mentality for so long it will be hard for the state and feds to pull their heads out for a long time.So that's where we are, we all want wild fish, the hatcheries aren't going to close down for years and we are stuck in the middle.

    I think discussions like this help a lot in bringing together people who are really not that far apart on most ideas.

    Keep it coming

     
  7. Adam Says:
  8. Very interesting debate/discussion. My vote is for improving the available habitat. And a few back to back 'La Nina' years couldn't hurt either.

     
  9. Mark,

    I agree completely, and will be the first to admit that I do not know much about the historical hatchery plants in the fly water. I'll have to do some research before I can give more of an opinion. While I do fish the nu on an almost weekly basis from July-mid october, I have only fished it for the last two years (yes, I am part of the problem),so by no means do I claim to be an expert. However, I feel like I've made a consious effort to be a steward of the river by fishing responsibly, as well as meeting and befriending numerous people who have been fishing the river for years. I am actually surprised my buddy and I haven't run into you, although we might have at some point.

    Anyways, one of the appeals of fishing the river, probably at the top of the list for many people, is the fact that the majority of fish one will catch in the fly water are wild. However, that is the reason why I only fish with floating lines and unweighted flies for summer fish. A lot of people fish with tips during the summer, something which is irresponsible. There is a large difference between what someone says they're for (wild fish) and what that person will do (fish with tips for mostly wild summer fish). I am not saying that very eloquently but I think the message is there. Also, please know that these opinions/thoughts are by no means directed at you or how you fish with your clients. I think you and Rich Zellman do a great job walking the fine line with your blogs between bringing up important issues regarding the fisheries you guide on and attempting to attract clients, while at the same time not being too free with the information and reports. So kudos.

    Shutting down the camp water would be very interesting, probably a very good idea. Or maybe some sort of beat deal on this section.

    I agree 100% that all hatchery operations should be ceased and that money could be redirected to conservation and habitat improvement in the above mentioned tributaries.

    But again, I stand by the fact that planting hatchery fish in the fly water is a horrible idea. It's simply irresponsible. I would bet that most people who support this idea had slow seasons this year, which is not a reason to plant hatchery fish.

    Thanks again for willing to discuss this, and other issues.

    Cheers,

    Charlie Erdman

     
  10. Mark Says:
  11. Thanks Charlie for your thoughts, much appreciated. I think you are a lot more informed than many on the issues. We will have to hook up and fish sometime.

     
  12. chaveecha Says:
  13. Mark, bravo for your post and for your heartfelt concerns. But we gotta work on a few things here:

    You write: "I find it very interesting that after decades of a hatchery fish presence on the North Umpqua,the wild fish genetics remain as pure as the driven snow. As wild and pure as any wild fish anywhere.What does that tell you? It tells me that there was very little if any mixing of the two."

    But you are missing the key impact that hatchery fish have on wild fish. When a wild fish and a hatchery fish spawn, the most likely outcome is zero offspring. The biggest reason we don't see genetic introgression in most wild populations is the hatchery fish are incapable of contributing. They typically negate the reproductive potential of wild fish if they spawn together. So holding up the purity of our wild fish doesn't mean that wild fish were held harmless. Quite the opposite. It means that any wild fish that spawned with a hatchery fish was taken out of the gene pool. That's one of the biggest ways that hatchery steelhead KILL wild steelhead.

    You also write: "In my opinion, the whole thing is so much more political than it should be. 95% politics and 5% actual in the field true facts. He said this ...this study says that, it's all over the board depending on which angle it's coming from.A lot of people sitting behind desks crunching numbers and doing experiments in controlled settings."

    This is a weak avoidance of the facts. I just can't let you off so easy. If you engage, get informed, dig in, you'll quickly see that hatchery programs increase pressure on wild fish, negate their spawning potential, compete with wild smolts for resources, and create risks to the genetic integrity of wild populations.

    My last point relates to this passage: "What I have seen in the 25+ years that I have been on the river is that we are slowly loving our wild fish to death."

    The North Fork's wild steelhead have been held back from their full potential for a long time. They have just recently been given a slight respit with the elimination of fly-water releases. How about we give them a chance to respond instead of using the first crappy return as an excuse for moving backwards?

    You and the other NU guides need to see the contradictions in your arguments. You all "say" you don't want to see wild steelhead killed. But by promoting any sort of hatchery supplementation on the Umpqua, you are, in fact, promoting the killing if wild steelhead. This is not an opinion, and it's not political. It's a fact supported by piles of vetted scientific literature.

    And I just gotta say how totally lame it is to have a bunch of fly guides calling for hatchery fish because you had a shitty year. Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME!!!!! Pull youselves together :-)

     
  14. Mark Says:
  15. OK,agreed lets give them a chance.So lets shut the river down to all fishing for 4-5 years and see what happens.It will never happen. But maybe it should.

    Why all the talk about genetic introgression if we never see it?

    Please point me to the data that shows the effects of hatchery fish program on the North Umpqua specifically...I would love to read it.

    I had a great year fishing this year by the way.I do not guide full time heck not even part time. It's a very small part of what I do in a year. My comments in no way reflect on my need to earn a living out there.Just some observations I see.

    Oh and a question for you....did the guide in the interview know his every word was being recorded? And did he grant permission to share the interview? Just checking. Not that it matters much because he probably doesn't care and would say the same things, but a little sneaky if he wasn't aware of it.

     
  16. Mark Says:
  17. I will add that to be lambasted by merely trying to continue to get some dialouge going about what to do with a hatchery program that isn't going away anytime soon,is interesting. I am interested in seeing our money be spent in a productive way. If hatcheries are going to slowly fade away,and it will be slow, how best can they coexist with wild fish until that time comes? That is the question that no one seems to be able to or want to answer. Everyone wants wild fish now but we need a plan to transition away from hatcheries and into stream rehab and wild fish habitat restoration.

     
  18. Racy Says:
  19. Mark,

    Thanks for posting this. Great to see civilized discussion on the topic. I jumped over to Buster Wants To Fish, hoping to see a little more background on this info. I asked over there already, but will ask here as well, just in case you know:

    When was this interview conducted? This year? Five years ago? Longer? I have no idea how to put this into context with current regulations, if this isn't a current interview...

    A time stamp would be great...

     
  20. Mark Says:
  21. Hey Racy,

    I believe it was this summer

     
  22. chaveecha Says:
  23. Mark, you're right. Please consider pardoning my earlier rant. I have been holding in my gut-level feelings in the interest of productive dialogue, but last night it was bubbling up inside and I indulged in some bad behavior. I wasn't intending to lambast you. And I appreciate your professional attitude and genuine concerns.

    First, regarding introgression, NOAA recently reported (sorry I don't have a link) their finding that the risk of genetic introgression is the single biggest threat to the future of wild steelhead. There are some examples of genetic degradation from hatchery influence. But so far, in most cases, hatchery adults have been unable to make genetic contributions. The state-wide shift toward wild-broodstock programs is very likely to increase those incidents, since wild-brood offspring have a higher liklihood of spawning successfully.

    Second, on the question of how to make the transistion, I think ODFW is doing it now. They've phased out hatchery fish in the most important spawning areas in the basin. Great first step. Now let's give the fish time to recover. So far nothing I've heard or read leads me to believe the river should be closed to sport fishing. The current regs seem to protect wild steelhead adequately, in my opinion.

    The interview was not electronically recorded, just written. The final draft was sent to the interviewee and approved for distribution.

     
  24. chuckDee Says:
  25. Thanks for posting all this Mark. It takes some guts to attempt a thoughtful discussion of this issue, especially as a guide. This is how we are able to form opinions...by discussing and arguing with others and listening to what they say. Seriously, cheers to ya!

     
  26. willie u Says:
  27. I think this discussion is good in that it starts a dialog on the poor summer returns we're seeing on the NU. Hope that it motivates folks to get involved and try to do something about it. I think everyone would like to have more fish in the river to catch, but suggesting that moving hatchery fish back into the flywater would help ease the pressure on the wild stock is hard to support. Not only does the introduction of hatchery fish put pressure on the wild stock by lowering their reproductive fitness, it also brings a lot more angling pressure to the river.

    Michael Blouin's lab at OSU has done some interesting work characterizing the impact hatchery fish have on the reproductive fitness of wild steelhead, here' a link to some of their recent work:

    http://people.oregonstate.edu/~blouinm/pdf_files/ArakiEtAl2009BiolLetters.pdf

    Definitely boots on the ground kind of research, not a bunch of folks crunching numbers in a controlled setting. I don't think it's a stretch to think that some of the problems with poor returns of wild fish on the NU are due to hatchery influence. It's well documented that hatchery fish hurt the wild spawners.

    And I think that the years where we had big returns in general, with much of that return being made up of hatchery fish, that the fishing pressure is much more intense than in low run years. When that summer run gets around 10,000 fish you better bring your own basalt ledgerock to stand on. Low run years usually equals fewer anglers fishing the river. The campwater gets pounded every year regardless of the run size. It gets pounded beacuse everyone knows that's where the wild fish stack up. Whether or not there should be some additional regulation on that stretch of water is an interesting idea, but I feel that the no weighted fly regs in the summer months does a good job of balancing the need for a recreational fishery while minimizing the imacts on our wild run. Anyone remember the days of the Ugly Bug? Now that brought out some serious fish greed in people! And that fish greed put a lot of stress on the wild summer fish.

    I agree with Mark and the anonymous guide that ODFW should not waste the resources they are dumping hatchery fish in the lower NU. Completely agree that the money should go toward work that actually helps the wild run, like improving the habitat up in the tribs. Totally disagree that hatchery fish should be used to beef up the run. Bad idea!!!

     
  28. Joe F Says:
  29. This is a good time to have this discussion, thanks for the opportunity here Mark. ODFW begins its planning process for Coastal Winter Steelhead this winter; I heard last month that plan has been expanded to include summer steelhead, fall chinook and chum salmon as well.
    My experience is that when there's a healthy hatchery run in our River, they migrate up into the flywater in good numbers; lots of HF up to susan Ck area and a few all the way up above Copeland Ck. I think the problem this summer was no hatchery fish returning, not the planting location.
    That being said, increasing hatchery fish in the fly water is a bad idea. It's disengenuous to suggest that more HF, resulting in more fishing pressure, is somehow good for wild fish. And other than the waste of spawning space, HF progeny take up limited rearing space in the mainstem North Umpqua and compete for a limited nutrient supply. The tribs are poor rearing habitat for the usual reasons, particularly warm temps. Most of the juveniles rear in the River, not the tribs, and the wild juveniles don't need comeptition from HF progeny.
    The answer seems to be producing more wild fish, but even that issue is complicated - would more rearing habitat favor summer fish or winter fish? Will improvements at Steamboat Falls ladder select for summers or winters? Will Soda Springs ladder improve fish numbers in the upper River?
    What we do know is that HF have negative impacts on wild fish, and ODFW has no money to monitor those impacts.

     
  30. Anonymous Says:
  31. I am the guide in the interview.

    First off I would like to see the NU all wild both winter and summer but it is not that easy to do for the summer fish. I have never asked the ODFW to put hatches in the fly water. The only thing I have lobbied the ODFW for is no kill of wild winter fish on the hole Umpqua system and I would bet most of the people blogging on these sites has never been to a ODFW regs meeting and testified in front of the state game commission. It was just a interview guys.

    I do feel putting some hatches in the lower few miles of the fly water will give the fly guys more fish with out causing any more intermingling than we have now. Is that a step in the wrong direction maybe but in the short term we will have better fishing.Chaveecha calm down your blood pressure is to high, last time I checked nobody was trying to put hatches in the fly water.

    Yes I am a full time guide and want to make a living on the river I live on and love more than any other. I try to instill good fishing ethics and fish handling skills as well as how to catch a fish.

    I think the thing you guys should be worried about is keeping the kill off wild winter fish in the Umpqua system.

     

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