[env-trinity] Trinity Journal 10 28 09 Hatchery v. Wild Trinity Fish

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Sat Oct 31 14:47:41 PDT 2009

Agencies seek optimum use for Lewiston facility 


A Trinity River Hatchery worker Monday handles a wild coho which entered
hatchery waters. The fish was saved for later spawning. 

The Trinity River Hatchery may be too successful in producing fish, at the
expense of wild fish in the Trinity River. 

That concern has resulted in formation of a multi-agency technical advisory
group to review operations at the hatchery, which is owned by the federal
Bureau of Reclamation and run by the state Department of Fish and Game. 

"There are genetic concerns, ecological and competition concerns," said Wade
Sinnen, a DFG associate biologist and member of the advisory group. "It's a
balancing act to not eliminate the hatchery but make it fit better with the
whole ecosystem." 

The group will make recommendations to higher-ups in the agencies involved.
This worries some who fear that drastic reductions in hatchery production
will be implemented, to the detriment of the sports fishery. 

However, Sinnen said the first recommendation is likely to address the least
controversial fish produced at the hatchery, coho salmon. Coho are a listed
species which must be released if caught (with the exception of some tribal
fisheries), whether hatchery or wild. 


Trinity River Hatchery workers on Monday prepare fish for spawning. The
procedure involves anesthetizing and killing the fish, removing eggs from
the female and sperm from the male. 

The hatchery production goal is to release 500,000 coho each year and get
back 2,100, reflecting numbers thought to have been produced naturally
before Trinity Dam blocked 109 miles of habitat. Those goals were
established in an era when returns were lower - before the ban on sports
harvest and improved disease prevention technology at the hatchery, Sinnen

Hatchery coho returns far exceed the goal now, averaging about 6,600
annually. The hatchery is thought to account for 80 to 90 percent of the
Trinity River coho run. 

Meanwhile, the Trinity River Restoration Program is charged with restoring
wild fish populations. 

"That's a little out of balance, it appears to us," Sinnen said, adding that
possible recommendations regarding coho could include reduced production or
allowing a limited harvest of the hatchery coho. 

In addition to coho, the hatchery releases 800,000 steelhead and 4.3 million
chinook salmon annually. 

"The plan is to review the steelhead and chinook production as well," Sinnen

Changes in hatchery operations have been advocated by the Friends of the
Trinity River for several years and gained steam with the release of a
master's thesis on predation of wild fish by hatchery steelhead. Through
catch and release and stomach pumping, Seth Naman, now a fisheries biologist
with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service,
found that the hatchery steelhead released as yearlings consumed a
significant number of the smaller salmon fry within two miles of the dam. 

DFG officials have said the study has merit and warrants further research,
but also noted that the hatchery is to mitigate for habitat upstream which
itself would be producing predator fish if not blocked by the dam. 

>From the DFG, Sinnen reiterated that point recently - but noted that
interbreeding is another issue. 

"Some of these hatchery fish do stray and spawn with wild fish," he said.
"There's a plethora of studies that suggest hatchery fish interbreeding with
wild fish in the wild reduces the fitness of those fish. They don't
necessarily need the same traits to survive." 

The advisory group could make recommendations ranging from production
levels, timing of releases, ideas for further research or maybe no change at

"Everything is up for discussion," Sinnen said. 

>From the Friends of the Trinity River, Chairman Byron Leydecker said he sees
progress on this issue. 

He stressed that no one wants to hurt the fishing industry, and from the
discussions he's had, any changes would be incremental. 

"People are concerned about their livelihoods because they think there's
some effort afoot to demolish hatchery production of fish. That isn't the
case at all," he said. "What we do want to see is that over a period of
years - not in my lifetime, we're talking about decades - a fishery
comprised mainly of wild fish, not hatchery fish . We want to see action
taken so there's a sustained fishery on that river." 

He's right about the concerns. 

Fishing guide Ed Duggan of Willow Creek worries that hatchery fish releases
will be changed without enough research into how many wild fish there are.
Weirs are not in operation in December when the wild steelhead are coming in
fast, he noted, and there are no studies on wild steelhead production in
tributaries to the Trinity River. 

"So how can we say we're overburdening the system with hatchery fish?" he

Regarding hatchery coho, Duggan is in favor of some harvest to reduce those

"We need to keep supplying the river with chinook," he said. 


Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 




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