Oregon Steelhead Emergency Shutdown
Due to an extremely low return of steelhead Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) announced an emergency closure in Deschutes, Snake, and John Day Rivers as well as other mid-Columbia tributaries.
Washington State Officials closed steelhead fishing from the mouth of the Snake River to the Idaho state line in Clarkston. “We’re in uncharted territory here,” said Shaun Clements, ODFW Deputy Administrator for Fish Division. “The combination of a historically low run on top of multiple years of low runs, and the very poor environmental conditions that seem likely to continue based on the most recent drought forecast, mean this is a regional problem.”
How bad is it?
Steelhead counts at the Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River are the lowest they have been since record-keeping began in 1938 according to Field and Stream. 29,524 steelhead passed through the dam from July 1st to August 26th. These numbers are only 24 percent of the 10-year average. The Columbia and Snake River steelhead are listed under threatened by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
These closures went into effect on September 1st. “We know these actions are going to negatively affect anglers this year and we don’t take that lightly,” Clements continued. “But they are unfortunately necessary at this time to give the fish the best chance to rebound and ensure the populations can support fisheries in future years.”
Steelhead thrive in cold oxygen-rich waters. They spawn in rocky fast-flowing streams and rivers. Many steelheads will migrate to the ocean to return a few years later. A steelhead that doesn’t migrate to the ocean is called a rainbow trout. Unlike salmon which die after the spawn, steelhead can spawn multiple times. With the current drought conditions, and forecast. It can cause added stress on returning steelhead. Higher water temperatures mean less oxygen for steelhead.
We have already seen what these types of conditions can do to salmon fry in the Klamath River that flows through southern Oregon and northern California. 70 Percent of juvenile salmon collected by the Yurok Fisheries Department have been killed by a warm water disease called C. Shasta. Mass losses of juvenile salmon or steelhead will certainly cause low returns for years to come.