After months of rampant rumors and speculation coming off of the Cowlitz River, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has finally confirmed what many area anglers had feared. Of the roughly 625,900 steelhead and 90,600 cutthroat smolt reared by the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery for release in 2016, roughly 514,000, or about 70 percent of the stock, went missing prior to release.
To make matters worse, the WDFW says it doesn’t know where exactly the fish went. Theories to explain the huge losses include bird predation, disease, escape from rearing pens and wildly inaccurate and faulty counting equipment.
On Jan. 9, the WDFW quietly released a fact sheet detailing the historic loss of steelhead and cutthroat trout. On Thursday afternoon, WDFW policy coordinator for the Columbia River, Cindy Le Fleur, spoke with The Chronicle in order to more thoroughly address the situation.
“We’ve not seen anything like this before,” said Le Fleur, who was the only WDFW representative made available for comment.
Numerous attempts to speak on the record with hatchery managers and WDFW biologists were refused and instead passed along to Le Fleur’s office over the past month. At one point, when The Chronicle asked if the animals had died, an official from WDFW said no, but provided no additional information about the missing fish.
The loss of more than a half a million fish that would have begun making returns to the Cowlitz River in the summer of 2017 comes on the heels of another loss of about 100,000 fall Chinook salmon smolt in May 2016 when a net pen in Lake Mayfield was vandalized, allowing the fish to escape. This time around, though, there was no nefarious outside act to help explain the loss of more than half a million hatchery fish that fuel the most popular fishery on the Cowlitz River.
LINK (via: The Chronicle)