As you already know, 2021 steelhead returns to the Columbia Basin, including the Deschutes River, were the lowest on record. Prior to the start of the season, the forecast was for 101,400 wild & hatchery steelhead to return. In fact, only 69,669 did. For perspective, from 2001 to 2010 the average return was 406,375 fish. The 2022 forecast is for 99,700 steelhead. We’ll see if this forecast is more accurate than last year. Many biologists believe that some Columbia Basin steelhead are on the path to near-term extinction if dramatic changes are not quickly made. ODFW is currently soliciting input on how to manage fishing regulations in anticipation of another historically low return year. Keep reading for more and how you can get involved.
Last week ODFW published this press release that contains a link to a survey asking questions about actions they might take. They have also created a webpage with more information called “Steelhead management in Columbia & Snake River basins”. There is some good information on this page, I encourage you to take a look.
Finally, here is an interesting one-page analysis prepared by our friends at The Conservation Angler illustrating the problem of using 10-year moving averages when looking at fish returns, which is common. In short, if returns decline over time the moving average proportionally goes down. So, when you read that returns this year are forecasted to be 59% of the 10-year average, it is much worse if you look at other periods.
A final note: there continue to be individuals and groups claiming that steelhead returns in the Deschutes River are declining due to Portland General Electric’s operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook. This belief is not based on science. Steelhead declines in the Deschutes are due to the same factors that are impacting them throughout the Columbia Basin: hydro power, habitat loss, harvest, hatcheries, and heat. I hope that we can all focus on the real issues being faced by steelhead and stop chasing boogeymen.