I have enjoyed working with our Hatchery program here for over 8 years. Through that time I have learned a lot from a variety of people from all walks of life. My opinion seems less important as I have learned there are many points of view on every subject. That being said, this year was the toughest year for our hatchery in terms of permits and our ability to deal with all the many points of view on hatchery production versus wild producing fish. We did not trap fish in December or January because we were not given permits to trap more than one female and four male Steelhead for our Step Education program. Our Steelhead trapping permit came from the Fish & Game Region 3 office in Monterey in early December. It was based on the local Fish & Game biologist’s theory that our hatchery was no longer needed since there was for the first time a no take provision in all our local streams. The Region 3 Biologists felt these streams had enough fish in them and natural production over a very long period of time would eventually restore our local fish populations. In addition the head biologist of Region 3 requested that we no longer clip hatchery fish since there would no longer be a take provision in any of our local streams. This was completely contrary to NMFS requirements that all hatchery fish be clipped.
The Hatchery had worked over the last two years with the biologists from Region 3. We told them on numerous occasions during that time that we would be forced to close the hatchery if we could not raise Steelhead. Although Region 3 kept our Coho permit and program as well as our STEP Education program in tack, we told the Fish & Game Biologists that we could not raise enough money for the Hatchery and the Coho Salmon program because our volunteers would lose interest because they cannot fish for them. We have a limited volunteer and donor base which is made up of a majority of people who do fish. They would not work at the hatchery if we discontinued Steelhead production. Knowing this the Region 3 Office would still rather close our hatchery and all of our programs including the loss of Coho restoration and our STEP education programs. This would give the Region 3 office more of a voice and control on all fresh water issues as well as fishing in this area. All of this came to a head in January 2003 when we had our first Technical Oversight Meeting which included people from the Fish & Game Hatchery division, Fish & Game Biologist from Region 3, NMFS Research Lab Supervisor and assistants and NMFS Legal Division as well as NMFS Hatchery biologist. NMFS fund raising personnel also attended as well as two Directors from the Hatchery as well as our Hatchery Manager. At that meeting we discussed the Coho restoration plans and Steelhead restoration with the local Region 3 biologist who again stated that it was their position that hatchery production should be eliminated entirely for Steelhead. We explained that once the Hatchery shut down there would be no more Coho production. We also felt that with the Hatchery closure, all fishing including catch and release would be banned because the possibility that every fish was needed to help preserve the genetic diversity in our local streams. With the hatchery closed, there would be no restoration of populations of fish in our local streams especially to a level that would allow take fisheries. In addition, NMFS has spent a great deal of time and money constructing a large building at the Long Marine Lab in north Santa Cruz that was designed primarily for use with their Coho captive brood stock programs and their recovery program for Coho Salmon in our area. NMFS also pointed out that if we closed our hatchery, they would lose additional funding as well as money already spent on these new facilities. NMFS Legal Division as well as their Hatchery Division and Research Division as well as Fish & Game Hatchery Division all wanted us to continue with our normal hatchery production. It was also pointed out by the NMFS Research Division, that without the Monterey Bay Salmon & Trout Projects efforts, Coho Salmon would have become extinct in this area years ago. Still the local Region 3 biologists refused to change their opinion stating that was not their pro lem. During the TOC meeting the local Region 3 biologist stated that they had funding for stream assessment for fish population studies and were funded for three years. When the TOC meeting decided on which streams were to receive our Coho plants this year, the Fish & Game biologist assured us that a huge natural dam blocking Waddel Creek would be removed so fish passage would be much easier. The Region 3 biologist also stated that they would get the necessary State Parks permits for us to plant Coho Salmon in Pescadero Creek and Aptos Creek. When it came time for us to plant these fish, none of the work was done at Waddell Creek and we had to scramble to get the necessary permits and permission to plant our fish on the day we were supposed to release the fish. When confronted with their lack of follow through, our hatchery manager was accused of planting fish wherever he wanted without regard to the Region 3 biologist protocol. In addition, their funding that was supposed to be available for stream population studies was no longer available. A complete break down of communications is the best that can be said. The worst is a concerted effort by the Region 3 local office to undermine our hatchery production and success and close the hatchery.
All of this was very discouraging because we had the support of NMFS as well as many in Fish & Game. When we confronted the Region 3 supervising biologist in Jan. 2003, his comment to us was that unless we got his decision overruled by his supervisor in Yontville, there would be no more supplemental Steelhead production from our Hatchery. Knowing this we contacted the Region 3 director. NMFS also made their opinions known to Director of Region 3. With NMFS support, in early February we overturned the Region 3 biologists ruling and they were ordered to reissue our permit. Since this occurred after the TOC meeting, we were left with dealing with the Region 3 biologists and their complete rage at us for over turning their initial permit. That also may explain their complete lack of cooperation during our hatchery plantings as described above. Last, I feel that the Region 3 Biologists views on wild fish production will not work in the Monterey Bay area and has not worked anywhere in California. Rivers and streams in California which do not have hatchery production currently, do not have any take fisheries. No wild river or stream in California has recovered enough to allow a take fishery. Mind you that there are only five Steelhead hatcheries left on the North Coast in the State. With all the remaining rivers and streams that flow to the ocean on our north coast, you would think that in some of those streams where there are no hatcheries and a no take provisions, there would be a recovery of fish populations. This has not occurred and these are streams and rivers that have far more water and habitat available than our area does.
On a happier note, we did trap our normal amount of adult Steelhead from the San Lorenzo River in February and March 2003. Finally, I do believe that NMFS as well as Fish & Game are doing their best to help restore fish populations. There are so many opinions on how to do it. It seems a shame that there was no room for compromise. It didn’t have to happen this way. I have the utmost respect for those in Fish & Game and NMFS. I don’t always agree, but I know we are all working on the same problems. For those of you who agree or disagree with me, feel free to express your opinions on these issues and let us know what you think.
– Larry Wolf