On May 19th, a Circuit Court Judge ordered the Rock Creek Hatchery, on Oregon’s famed North Umpqua River, to “voluntarily release” 70,000 hatchery summer steelhead smolts. The North Umpqua is one of those famed wild steelhead rivers that you’ve likely heard lots about. Its runs of wild winter steelhead–when no stocking occurs–have held fairly consistent in recent years, whereas last year the North Umpqua’s summer run was so low that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed the North Umpqua summer steelhead fishing season for the first time in history. Earlier this spring, the ODFW , announced it would terminate its summer steelhead hatchery program on the North Umpqua River.
Then a Legal Challenge
- The decision to terminate the hatchery program was challenged by Douglas County, Umpqua Fishery Enhancement Derby, Inc., and fishing guide Scott Worsley.
- The Circuit Court Judge granted injunctive relief for the petitioners–the Court ordered the hatchery to voluntarily release the smolts, while the case continues.
- “The timing of this release is critically bad given the hatchery fish are now on top of the offspring of the lowest NU Summer run in history,” said Dave Moskowitz, Executive Director for The Conservation Angler.
- According to steelhead scientists, this voluntary release is likely to negatively affect wild steelhead rearing on the North Umpqua. Also, because of the release’s timing, survival of the smolts is likely to be very poor and increase competition with wild steelhead smolts.
- When asked for comment, ODFW added, “The court order requires smolts that don’t migrate to be transported outside the range of summer steelhead rearing habitat to minimize risk of the smolts competing with wild juvenile summer steelhead in the river.”
Time will tell what the effect of this decision is. But again, the North Umpqua is one of the most productive wild steelhead rivers, yet it required an emergency angling closure last season. Hatcheries have their place, but when they have negative effects on dwindling populations of wild stocks, controversial decisions will be necessary.