OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has extended the public comment period by one week on a proposal to create wild steelhead gene banks in three tributaries of the lower Columbia River.
WDFW will now accept written comments submitted through Thursday, Dec. 19 at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01559/. Recommendations currently under consideration by the department are also available on that website.
Those recommendations, developed by three WDFW advisory groups over the past two years, would eliminate the release of all hatchery-raised steelhead on the East Fork Lewis River and the North Fork Toutle/Green River watershed as early as next year.
They would also prohibit future releases of hatchery steelhead in the Wind River, which has not been stocked with hatchery steelhead since 1997.
"This proposal is designed to preserve key wild steelhead populations by minimizing interference by hatchery-produced fish," said Cindy Le Fleur, WDFW regional fish manager. "Research has shown that those interactions can range from interbreeding to competition for food and habitat."
Gene banks are one of a number of management strategies endorsed by the department’s Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, Le Fleur said.
Under the current proposal, WDFW plans to redirect hatchery steelhead smolts currently earmarked for rivers proposed as steelhead gene banks to other tributaries of the Columbia River. Final recommendations will be forwarded to NOAA-Fisheries, which oversees salmon and steelhead recovery on the Columbia River.