Rumors of young winter steelhead being dumped into Swofford Pond in Lewis County hit the chat lines running with some complaining that it was a pure waste of a resource.
To help settle the rumors I called Pat Frazier, a state Fish and Wildlife fish program manager in Vancouver to clear the air about these 192,000 young steelhead.
“It is a bit of a tale and definitely worth listening to,” Frazier said.
There are many entities involved in the Cowlitz River Project fisheries planning known as the Fisheries Technical Committee who have a Settlement Agreement that was created in the summer of 2000.
This agreement formed the basis for the Fisheries and Hatchery Management Plan and other requirements within the Cowlitz River Project federal license.
“We have a self sustainability test in the Upper Cowlitz basin to determine if we should build a volacious fish passage past Mayfield Dam,” Frazier said. “And in order to test a population to see if it is self-sustaining or not, then we need to discontinue the release of hatchery adult and juvenile steelhead into the upper basin.”
What this means Frazier says is they can’t put adult or juvenile steelhead in there anymore, and had a brood of juvenile steelhead to release this year.
“If we allowed it it would have delayed the test further,” Frazier said. “So rather than doing that we chose to move those fish to other locations, and we also had some mortalities of hatchery steelhead in the Kalama basin this year. We plan put some into the Kalama to back fill that loss, and not use them in broodstock when they return as adults.”
Frazier says the remainder were moved into Swofford Pond where the hope is some will be able to survive later on and to help support the trout sport fishery at the pond.
Frazier also pointed out that those fish couldn’t be released downstream into the Lower Cowlitz because “our programs are at the maximum, and we would create impacts on the lower river’s natural populations.”
According to Mark Johnson, the Cowlitz Complex Hatchery Manager the bulk of the 145,000 8-month-old, 5-inch long steelhead were transported into Swofford Pond, where there is no minimum legal size limit on fish kept in that sport fishery.
“These weren’t two-year-old smolts like had been reported in places (various online chats),” Johnson said. “They were hatched and feeding as fry last June.”
Johnson said they were still holding 47,000 steelhead on site, and working through the approval process to get them transferred to the Kalama River.