The state is pulling the plug on a hatchery steelhead program at Snider Creek next year to establish a wild steelhead management zone in the Sol Duc River.
After next spring, no hatchery steelhead will be released into the Sol Duc River, said the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Snider Creek is a tributary to the Sol Duc River near Forks.
The Sol Duc will be the first wild steelhead management zone formally established in the state under the department’s statewide steelhead management plan, said Ron Warren, regional fish program manager.
Wild management zones, also known as wild stock gene banks, are designed to preserve key populations of wild fish by minimizing interactions with hatchery fish, Warren said. Research has shown that hatchery fish are often less genetically diverse and can impact wild stocks through interbreeding or competition for food or habitat.
The agency is also looking to identify other streams that could be candidates for wild management zones, said Warren. That effort includes working with an advisory group to identify specific streams in the Puget Sound region.
“Establishing wild management zones is part of a broad effort aimed at modifying our hatchery programs to be compatible with conservation and recovery of naturally spawning salmon and steelhead populations,” Warren said in a prepared statement. “Shifting hatchery steelhead production away from the Sol Duc River – where we have one of the largest wild steelhead populations in the state – is an important step in that effort.”
Changes designed to support naturally spawning salmon and steelhead are driven by plans and policies adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, such as the steelhead management plan and hatchery and fishery reform policy, Warren said.
While the hatchery program will no longer take place at Snider Creek, the department is working with stakeholders to re-establish a similar effort in the Bogachiel or Calawah rivers, where the department already releases hatchery steelhead, said Warren.
The program will end next spring, when 25,000 winter steelhead smolts are released into the Sol Duc River, Warren said. Last year, the department discontinued its summer steelhead program on the Sol Duc River, after releasing 20,000 smolts.
While fewer hatchery steelhead will be returning to the Sol Duc in the coming years, anglers will continue to have opportunities to fish for salmon and other game fish, as well as retain one wild steelhead per license year on the river, Warren pointed out.
The Snider Creek program was created in 1986 as a joint project with the Olympic Peninsula Guides’ Association to increase fishing opportunities for steelhead on the Sol Duc. The program is unlike most other hatchery efforts in that it produces offspring from wild steelhead rather than hatchery fish.