We hear a lot of bad news about our salmon and steelhead runs, which often over shadows the good news. If you’re tired of doom and gloom, check this out. The average steelhead run since 2000 has more than doubled the average of the previous seven years.
Steelhead runs spike and drop from year to year, but they never got above 87,000 fish between 1993 and 1999.
Between 2000 and 2007, runs averaged 179,000 fish, from a high 269,000 to a low of 115,000.
It’s easy to get Chicken Little when it comes to anadromous fish and think we’re watching one of Idaho’s greatest game fish swirling down the drain.
But I don’t care how you slice it, that’s good news for steelhead. More fish are making it from Idaho to the ocean and back again, and it means more fish all around, from trucked and transplanted fish in the Boise River to wild steelhead returning to their natal streams in the Frank Church Wilderness.
Good returns don’t mean steelhead are recovered, but it’s still encouraging.
It means we have fish to catch, and I would like to think it could mean better times ahead for wild fish. Last year, wild fish comprised about 18 percent of the total run. I would rather see about 50/50, or a higher component of wild fish.
I like to think of hatchery fish as an interim fix. I have nothing against them, but it costs millions of dollars annually to produce an inferior facsimile of wild fish.
Wild fish were shaped by Mother Nature to withstand the rigors of traveling up to 1,800 miles round trip from Idaho’s high country to ocean. They have done it for thousands of years, and if given the opportunity, can continue indefinitely.
We’ve spent billions trying to replicate those formerly abundant wild fish, and come up woefully short.
Why spend billions to reproduce what Mother Nature will do for free if we just protect wild steelhead spawning and rearing areas and give them safe passage to and from the ocean?