The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced their most recent Wild Steelhead Gene Bank designation which will be situated on the Grays and Chinook Rivers in the Lower Columbia. It is the final of four gene banks planned for the region.
“Gene banks are an important tool for the recovery of wild fish in the state of Washington. We commend the Department in their selection of the Grays and Chinook Rivers. These rivers possess the highest potential for self-sustaining, fishable wild winter steelhead in the Lower Columbia,” said John McMillan, science director for Trout Unlimited’s Wild Steelhead Initiative.
Wild Steelhead Gene Banks are rivers that are set aside for wild fish populations and are an important component of the WDFW’s efforts to recover wild steelhead in the state. They are intended to minimize harmful interactions between hatchery and wild steelhead and provide a cornerstone for wild steelhead recovery.
The Department noted there were many reasons for their decision. There was broad public support for the designation with more than 85 percent of public comments favoring managing these rivers for wild steelhead. The Grays and Chinook also have some of the best available habitat and most abundant wild steelhead populations in the region.
Furthermore the department does not expect to see a reduction in the number of winter steelhead smolts planted in the region as a whole – those smolts will simply go in other basins. The Grays River Hatchery will continue to raise steelhead smolts that will be acclimated and released in Lower Columbia basins where they will be available to anglers.
“There’s no net loss in hatchery fish available to anglers here, they will just be planted in more appropriate places. The added bonus is this gives wild fish a chance to thrive,” said McMillan. “This balanced approach is consistent with what the majority of anglers want to see in their fisheries, and simultaneously enhances conservation of our wild steelhead populations.”