Steelhead Hatchery Reform Campaign
“Chambers Creek” Winter Steelhead Hatcheries in Puget Sound
On March 31, 2014, Wild Fish Conservancy filed suit against the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for illegal “take” of threatened Puget Sound steelhead, Puget Sound Chinook salmon, and bull trout under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Chambers Creek fish are produced at several WDFW hatchery facilities across western Washington and WDFW plans to release nearly one million smolts into many Puget Sound watersheds each year. Since the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead, WDFW’s Chambers Creek steelhead hatchery programs have continued to operate without the necessary ESA “take” permits from the NOAA Fisheries Service.
Elwha River Hatchery Steelhead
Before the construction of Elwha Dam in 1910, the Elwha River supported robust populations of steelhead and five different species of salmon including some of the largest Chinook ever documented. The removal of the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam (constructed upstream of Elwha Dam in 1927) provides a reason to believe that we could see those magnificent fish return in similar numbers within a few decades.
Despite the incredible potential for salmonid recovery within the Elwha River watershed, our fisheries managers have chosen to continue utilizing strategies that act against the survival of wild fish populations. Instead of enabling this pristine wilderness habitat to recover on its own, we are impeding the course of nature through our persistent reliance on artificial hatchery propagation. Research has demonstrated that hatchery practices reduce the capacity of wild salmonid recovery. Nevertheless, we are flooding the watershed with thousands of maladapted hatchery salmon and steelhead. Large releases (175,000 per year) of hatchery steelhead smolts derived from local Elwha wild steelhead are being planned in the future. Reliance on hatchery propagation is an alleged conservation measure to “protect” the wild steelhead population from the risk posed by high suspended sediment levels downstream of the dams during the five to ten year period following the start of dam removal. Scientific literature suggests the opposite: we are hindering the rebound of wild fish at the most critical phase of recovery.
The stated goal of the Elwha River dam removal is to restore healthy populations of wild salmon and steelhead to the watershed. Faced with the single greatest opportunity to restore wild salmon, federal, state, and tribal managers have opted for business as usual, perpetuating a failed paradigm: replacing native fish with a man-made alternative.
Read more here about the action Wild Fish Conservancy has taken to stop the release of hatchery steelhead into the Elwha River watershed.
Grandy Creek Steelhead Hatchery
Wild Fish Conservancy and other groups successfully fought this ill-conceived project in the Skagit River watershed in the 1990s and early 2000s after the Washington State legislature pushed for the construction of a new steelhead hatchery (using Chambers Creek stock). After a decade and several draft Environmental Impact Statements, this project appears to be dead.