environmental organizations that threatened in March to sue federal fisheries
managers over releases of hatchery produced summer run steelhead in the upper
Willamette River made good on their intent in late May.
two groups delivered a letter of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
March 8 and followed with their suit May 22.
the Corps is in violation of the Endangered Species Act due to the impacts of
its hatchery summer steelhead program on wild winter steelhead in the
Willamette and Santiam rivers, Willamette Riverkeeper and The Conservation
Angler filed the lawsuit in the Eugene Division of the U.S. District Court of
Oregon, asking the Court to force the Corps to stop producing the summer
steelhead until the agency initiates an Endangered Species Act consultation
with NOAA Fisheries (the complaint is at http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Oregon-fish.pdf).
River wild winter steelhead were listed as threatened under the ESA in March
1999 and the two groups say the hatchery summer steelhead released from
Corps-owned Marion Forks and South Santiam hatcheries and stocked for a sport
fishery are contributing to the wild winter steelhead decline. Both are
operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Corps is currently
negotiating contracts for ODFW to continue their operations.
are fewer than 30 natural steelhead returning to the rivers, and it’s time for
a change,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Pete Frost told Courthouse news (https://www.courthousenews.com/greens-say-feds-weakening-oregon-trout-species/).
Frost is with the Western Environmental Law Center.
began producing the summer steelhead in the 1960s as mitigation for Corps dams
in the rivers’ upper reaches and that has resulted in a decline of the wild
winter run of steelhead, according to the groups.
summer steelhead originated from the Washougal River in Washington so are not
native to the Willamette River watershed.
to the complaint, the groups want the Corps to reinitiate consultation with
NOAA Fisheries in order to address “significant new information related to the
effects of Corps of Engineers’ authorization, funding, and facilitation of
placing non-native summer steelhead trout into habitat for winter steelhead
trout in the upper Willamette River basin. Plaintiffs also seek to compel the
Corps of Engineers to comply with the ESA by preventing further irreversible
and/or irretrievable commitments of resources before it completes reinitiating
consultation. Plaintiffs also seek to compel the Corps of Engineers to comply
with the ESA by preventing further ‘take’ of winter steelhead trout by
introduced hatchery rainbow trout.”
Riverkeeper had filed a similar suit in 2007 to force the Corps to consult with
NOAA Fisheries about the ESA-listed winter steelhead. That suit resulted, the
plaintiffs say, in a 2008 biological opinion related to the effects of federal
hatcheries and dams on winter steelhead and spring chinook salmon in the upper
Willamette River basin.
of the problems cited in the complaint is that winter and summer steelhead
spawn naturally in the same areas in upper Willamette River tributaries and
there is an overlap in spawning times and locations, resulting in a danger of
of these interbred fish are less fit. Offspring of these interbred fish are
less likely to reproduce,” the complaint says.
situation has changed since the 2008 BiOp. Genetic analysis is showing that 10
percent of juvenile steelhead at Willamette Falls are hybrids of the two fish
and goes on to say that 11.1 percent of steelhead returning to the North
Santiam are genetically mixed and 14.8 percent are genetically mixed in the
South Santiam River. This hybridization decreases the productivity of the
winter steelhead population, the complaint says.
is resulting in declines in the runs of winter steelhead. From 1990 to 2005,
some 1,618 to 2,853, an average of 2,149, winter steelhead natural spawners
returned to the South Santiam River.
by May 15, 2017, just 18 winter natural spawning winter steelhead had returned
to the Foster trap on the South Santiam River.
count for the North Santiam River during the same period was similar, with an
average of 2,109 winter steelhead returning to the river. By May 13, 2017, that
had dropped to 142 winter steelhead counted at stations at Upper and Lower
Bennett Dams, and 31 returning to the Minto fish trap.
similar claim was made in a 2012 lawsuit for McKenzie River Hatchery releases
of chinook salmon. Filed by the McKenzie Flyfishers and the Steamboaters, they
claimed that the release of hatchery chinook salmon “adversely affects the
productivity and recovery of wild spring Chinook salmon by competing with the
wild salmon for food, habitat, and spawning space, by potentially spreading
disease to the wild salmon, and by creating offspring [that] have reduced
fitness and reproductive success when hatchery salmon spawn with wild salmon.”
result of that case was a court order for ODFW to come up with a plan that
would set the number of hatchery smolts released into the river with a goal of
reducing the proportion of hatchery origin fish on spawning grounds to 10
Riverkeeper, founded in 1996, is focused on protecting and restoring natural
resources in the Willamette River basin (http://willamette-riverkeeper.org/).
The Conservation Angler (http://www.wildsalmonrivers.org/) advocates for wild
fish and fisheries.
March 17, 2017, “Groups Intend To Challenge Summer Steelhead Hatchery Program
For Willamette, Santiam Rivers,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438534.aspx
March 10, 2017, “Corps Says Five Oregon Mitigation Hatcheries Could Stay With
ODFW, May Solicit Bids For Two Others,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438455.aspx
February 10, 2017, “Corps To Bid Out Operations At Seven Corps-Owned Oregon
Hatcheries Now Managed By ODFW, http://www.cbbulletin.com/438309.aspx
March 27, 2015, “Judge Rules McKenzie River Salmon Hatchery Releases Sufficient
To Protect Wild Fish,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433511.aspx