Oncorhynchus mykiss: Assessment of Washington State's Steelhead Populations and Programs

Category: Management and Conservation

Published: February 1, 2008

Pages: 424

Author(s): Edited by James B. Scott, Jr., William T. Gill

This version of the steelhead science report was provided on February 2, 2008 to the Fish and Wildlife Commissioners concurrent with the staff presentation on the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan (the Plan). Since that presentation, the agency has received numerous oral and written comments on the Plan and on the steelhead science report. Our intent is to assure that the steelhead science report addresses the key scientific questions underlying steelhead management. We are reviewing the public comments prior to finalization of the report. In the interim, we are providing access to this version of the report, including a new habitat chapter.

Executive Summary

From cold mountain streams to the Pacific Ocean, the waters that shape the landscape of the Pacific Northwest also define the lifecycle of native steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Fast and sleek, steelhead cover thousands of miles from the time they leave their natal streams for the open ocean, then return again - often more than once - to spawn. Known for their explosive power and their preference for fast-flowing rivers, these fish have long held a special place in the lore of Northwest anglers. Traditional Native American culture in the Pacific Northwest is also inextricably tied to steelhead and other anadromous salmonids. For many Northwest Indian peoples, these fish have always provided an essential source of food, a focal point of religious life and a central commodity for trade and commerce. A Northwest icon, steelhead were designated by the legislature as the Washington State fish in 1969.

Steelhead have also been the focus of significant controversy. Construction and operation of dams, habitat degradation, hatchery programs, and fishing have all sparked long and continuing debates, blue-ribbon panel reviews, and research papers. Two reviews of particular note -- "Upstream: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest", by the National Research Council, and the Royal report, commissioned by the Washington Department of Game in 1973, have had a substantial impact on fishery management in the Pacific Northwest.

Why, in the face of the already extensive literature, have we invested substantial time and energy in the development of yet another report? This report is not simply an assessment of Washington's steelhead populations or a critique of current management practices. Rather, the intent is to lay a scientific foundation for the development of a Statewide Steelhead Management Plan that assures the productivity of Washington's steelhead for future generations. To achieve this goal, we established four primary objectives for this report:

  1. Promote Progress in the Continued Evolution of Fisheries Management. The underlying paradigm for fishery management is rapidly shifting from an approach that focused simply on the abundance of a single species to one that considers multi-attribute population assessments and community ecology. Abundance, productivity, spatial structure, and diversity all contribute to the maintenance of viable salmonid populations (VSP) (McElhany et al. 2000).
  2. Reduce Information Lag. A significant lag often exists between the completion of research or a monitoring project and its application in management. We seek to reduce information lag by providing access to cutting-edge analyses, including new methods for evaluating hatchery programs, assessing the historical distribution of steelhead, and estimating the risk of extinction.
  3. Collate Existing Data and Provide Statewide Perspective. What is the status of Washington's steelhead populations and how do they vary throughout the state? Collation of existing information is a key step in the development of a management plan. Research in other parts of the state or the region can sometimes help answer a local question that has been difficult to resolve.
  4. Identify Critical Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation Needs. The significant conservation concerns facing some steelhead populations and the rapid evolution in fishery management may require changes in monitoring and analysis. Preparation of this report provides an opportunity to evaluate our capabilities and identify key research, monitoring, and evaluation needs.

Our analyses, findings, and recommendations in these areas can be found in the eight chapters of this report and the extensive pages of supporting documentation. In this Executive Summary, we have attempted to highlight key points in the report and provide references to additional analyses. Topics in the Executive Summary are grouped into six categories: 1) Habitat; 2) Population Structure, Diversity, and Spatial Structure; 3) Abundance and Productivity; 4) Artificial Production; 5) Management; and 6) Additional Challenges and Opportunities. Within each of those categories, we provide the primary Findings and Recommendations of this report.


Related documents

Draft documents

Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.