MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS: One more time for Sol Duc steelhead program

THE SNIDER CREEK steelhead broodstock program may not be dead.

If it were a spawning steelie, however, it would almost certainly be flopping around some bank of the upper Sol Duc River.

Ron Warren, state Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fish manager, said this, the 26th year of the program, will be its last on the Sol Duc.

Members of the Olympic Peninsula Guides’ Association will get one more egg take from wild steelhead collected out of the Sol Duc this winter.

Their smolts will be released back into the river in 2012 before broodstocking operations are transferred to another West End river — likely either the Calawah or Bogachiel — in 2013.

Larry Scott, the association’s vice president, said he isn’t thrilled with the decision, having worked on the Snider Creek program each of the past 25 years.

But he and several members of the association and Forks community are ready to start working on whatever incarnation is moved to the Bogachiel or Calawah in the future.

“It’s just a hell of a blow for the guide association and all the sportsmen and the like,” Scott said.

“I’d like to still go to battle for the project, because I’m one of the last few still guiding that started this.

“I can’t believe with all the closures [to other fisheries in the state] that they wouldn’t let this go on.

“It’s obviously the strongest river in the state as far as wild stock is concerned and hosting a tremendous amount of wild fish year after year.”

Of course, that’s what makes this whole thing a bit of a Catch: 22.

Regardless of whether or not the Snider Creek broodstock program helped boost wild populations during the past 25 years, the fact that the run is so healthy makes it the perfect candidate for a wild stock gene bank.

As part of Fish and Wildlife’s new management philosophy, there is a desire to reduce the impact of hatchery fish on wild runs throughout the state.

Creating wild stock gene banks allows for rivers to operate completely free of hatchery influence.

And that was a major factor in moving the Snider Creek program out of the Sol Duc and putting a similar one into a river like the Bogachiel or Calawah, where a winter hatchery steelhead run exists.

“What we’ve decided is that the stock in the Sol Duc, the steelhead stock, should be a wild stock gene bank and not have any hatchery influence on it,” Warren said.

“It’s difficult to ascertain the absolute risks with our inability to fully see and count steelhead. It’s tough to enumerate steelhead in the best of conditions.

“Then to try and differentiate them hatchery or wild makes it more difficult.

“Then to try and ascertain or analyze what different programs are doing to the natural population is even more difficult.

“In looking at our analysis, we know that there is risk.”

The Snider Creek program has been run jointly by the state and the guides association since 1986.

Association members collect 50 wild fish from the Sol Duc each year to spawn 50,000 smolts at the Sol Duc Hatchery.

After the smolts have their left ventral fins clipped, they are taken to a location near Snider Creek where they are raised by longtime association member Sam Windle Sr. prior to release.

Typically, fish return from late December into January and February.

The sport fishery averaged 131 Snider Creek-origin steelhead per year from 1999-2010, with a range of 40 to 293.

The Quileute tribal gillnet fishery averaged 47 during the same time.

The annual cost to the state, thanks to volunteer work by guides and West End community members, was just $8,000 for fish food and fin clipping.

“We’ve done such a great job on doing what we’ve set out to do,” Scott said.

“Last year was as good as I’ve ever seen on the Sol Duc, and I’ve fished it for 40 years.

“It wasn’t a week-long hype with good fishing.

“It was pretty much all season. It was a really good run of fish.”

The task now becomes building a broodstock program with the same returns on a new river.

That comes with some challenges, from picking a workable new site on the Calawah or Bogachiel to catching enough early wild steelhead (Dec. 1 to Jan. 31) for an egg take.

There are also start up costs to worry about.

Scott estimates those at upwards of $200,000 just for construction of a new site.

Client and community donations helped make that happen back in the 1980s, according to Scott.

That would likely be needed again this time around.

With so many members of the community invested, including the mayor’s office in Forks, it’s certainly a possibility.

They already toured a couple of possible sites with Warren last week on the Bogachiel and Calawah.

“It seemed like it went pretty good the first time [on the Sol Duc] . . . but it’s a whole lot of work to start over again,” Scott said.

“You’re taking wild fish to try and create more wild fish. It’s going to be tough.

“Some of the guys are pretty enthusiastic about getting going on it.

“I am, too, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

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Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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