May 28, 2022 — Hatchery summer steelhead smolts were released on May 20 from Rock Creek Hatchery into the North Umpqua River per a court order issued this week by the Marion County Circuit Court.
Petitioners Douglas County, Umpqua Fishery Enhancement Derby, Inc., and fishing guide Scott Worsley filed for a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent from taking effect the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission's April 22 decision to not release hatchery summer steelhead smolts in 2022 and to eliminate the Rock Creek hatchery summer steelhead program until the case is decided on its merits or is otherwise disposed of by the court.
Under the court order issued after a May 18 hearing, approximately 70,000 hatchery summer steelhead smolts are being "volitionally released" (meaning leave the raceway on their own). Any smolts that do not migrate out of the raceway will be transported outside the range of summer steelhead rearing habitat to minimize risk of competition to wild juvenile summer steelhead in the river.
Volitional releases have been standard practice with summer steelhead at Rock Creek Hatchery.
The court order also requires the petitioners and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to work together and with others in the region to seek out and support implementation and funding of an effective trapping program at the hatchery to further mitigate any potential harm to wild summer steelhead.
The ODFW Commission's decision to eliminate the Rock Creek Hatchery summer steelhead program is enjoined until the case is decided on its merits or is otherwise disposed of by the court.
This court order is considered a victory by some local anglers and other pro-hatchery groups who don’t deny wild fish populations are down but claim evidence says it wasn’t hatchery fish that’s hurting wild population
“[Last month] the commission voted 4-3 to kill releases, a decision that still beggars belief among some,” said Andy Walgamott of Northwest Sportsman. “That’s because agency scientists found “no evidence that the hatchery summer steelhead program negatively affected naturally produced summer steelhead,” nor was it limiting the wild population’s recovery.
North Umpqua steelhead are hurting, as are summer-run stocks up and down the US and Canadian west coasts in recent years due to environmental conditions in their natal streams and at sea. Last year, just 630 were counted at Winchester Dam on the lower river between Sept. 28 and Nov. 20, the fewest by a very long shot.”
The Commission decided at its May 13 meeting to hold a special meeting to discuss information received from various tribes and other comments related to the Rock Creek summer steelhead hatchery program. In light of the court's decision, that meeting is delayed to a yet to be determined date.
To view the Commission’s May 13 meeting in full, go to youtu.be/2kuzMWHI2MU.