Fish and Game
begins steelhead experiment
Some hatchery fish
fins not clipped
Express Staff Writer
the clipping of adipose fins has defined steelhead and salmon raised in
Idaho’s hatcheries, but a new program undertaken by the Idaho Department
of Fish and Game is changing that.
and 20 percent of Idaho’s hatchery-raised steelhead are being released
without clipped adipose fins, and have been since 2000. The unclipped fish
are unofficially labeled in Fish and Game spreadsheets as "stubbies."
past, Snake River steelhead with an adipose fin were defined as wild fish,
which as a threatened species must be released by anglers.
fin clip now more accurately defines Idaho’s hatchery steelhead harvest
program, Fish and Game officials state. Harvest of unclipped hatchery fish
— along with wild steelhead — is prohibited, and the unclipped fish
are now left in certain streams to spawn naturally rather than returned to
purpose is to return some of the hatchery origin fish to certain locations
so that they will spawn in the wild and contribute to the next generation
of natural steelhead," said Charlie Petrosky, Fish and Game anadrmous
biologists said it is relatively easy to differentiate between wild
steelhead and the newly introduced stubbies. Dorsal fins on
hatchery-raised fish erode quickly, and if inspections of dorsal fins
leave doubt, scale tests are usually very conclusive, Fish and Game
Anadromous Fisheries Coordinator Sharon Kiefer said.
releasing stubbies is an "experiment." It is the result of a
settlement between Oregon, Washingon and Idaho and Columbia River Indian
tribes. Until an overreaching Columbia River management plan is adopted,
annual management plans are adopted to settle the ongoing lawsuit.
agreement was reached a few years ago, resulting in reduction of tribal
gill net harvest rates in the lower Columbia River and establishing the
unclipped hatchery steelhead program.
the unclipped steelhead smolts were released primarily in the Little
Salmon River and tributaries of the South Fork Clearwater River as part of
a continuing experiment to test the ability of hatchery fish to boost
natural populations of steelhead, Kiefer said.
rivers were chosen because they have a long history of hatchery steelhead
influence and therefore pose a low risk of negative impacts to true native
just over 1 million steelhead smolts were released in the Little Salmon
River, of which 19 percent were not adipose fin-clipped. Another 3.7
million clipped smolts were released in other reaches of the Salmon River.
more than 1.4 million steelhead smolts released into the South Fork of the
Clearwater drainage, and 35 percent were not fin-clipped. Another 1.7
million were clipped.
10 percent of the hatchery steelhead smolt release was used for the
"natural production experiment."
the "experiment" was expanded to include the Yankee Fork of the
Salmon River and the Lemhi River. Not more than 20 percent of the state’s
hatchery-raised steelhead smolts were released without clipped fins,
stubbies are being tracked, and are not counted as wild fish, Kiefer said.
So far this year at Lower Granite Dam, about 2 percent of adults have been
identified as unclipped hatchery-raised fish.
the arrangement should not confuse dam counts executed by Fish and Game or
the National Marine Fisheries Service.
got protocols in place so it doesn’t confuse dam counts," she said.
"At Lower Granite Dam, my understanding is they feel relatively
confident that they can make the distinction based on dorsal fin erosion,
backing that up with scale tests."
fisheries biologist Petrosky said dam counts are one of Fish and Game’s
concerns, but added that the agency is confident it can retrieve accurate
program does not mean Idaho is backing away from its long-standing
commitment to protecting the genetic integrity and population status of
its core wild steelhead areas, such as the Middle Fork of the Salmon,
South Fork of the Salmon, Lochsa or Selway rivers.
outfitters interviewed this week said their primary concerns with the
program are avoiding mixing of the wild and stubby steelhead gene pools.
Connor, a guide for Lost River Outfitters in Ketchum, said there is a
perception among anglers that hatchery-raised steelehead are smaller,
weaker and genetically inferior to their wild counterparts.
should be avoided, she said.
Bingaman, co-owner of Exodus Wilderness Adventures in Riggins, said he
doesn’t think he saw any unclipped, hatchery-raised fish this spring,
but "I probably would have tossed them back, thinking they were
wild," he said.
potential complaint, Bingaman said, is that there are now fewer fish for
anglers to keep. But most of Bingaman’s customers don’t care about
keeping the fish anyway, he said. They just want to catch big fish.
(the program’s) foundation, we share a lot of those concerns, and that’s
why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it, only placing these fish in
areas where we’re already had a lot of hatchery influence," Kiefer
programs are ongoing with some of Idaho’s hatchery-raised chinook
have a rather large-scale supplementation and implementation experiment
going on," said Kiefer. "As with the steelhead example, none are
in the areas where we are managing for wild chinook stocks, like the
Middle Fork of the Salmon."