Court Hits Pause on Termination of Harmful Hatchery ProgramODFW Rolls the Dice on Wild Fish Safety
PORTLAND, Ore – On May 18, 2022, a Marion County Circuit Court judge granted a preliminary
injunction that pauses the elimination of the Rock Creek Hatchery summer steelhead program pending
the Court’s ultimate decision on the merits of the case. The injunction also directs the Oregon
Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to release hatchery summer steelhead smolts this year to
prevent alleged harm to the plaintiffs while the case proceeds. The judge directed the plaintiffs and
ODFW to develop a plan to release these smolts in a holistic, smart, and wild fish-safe manner. The
judge explained that such a plan could result in the release of 20,000 smolts or some other figure. The
plan the parties developed, and that ODFW is currently implementing, is anything but safe or smart for
On May 20 th , ODFW opened the hatchery exit gates for 78,000 juvenile steelhead. ODFW did this despite
the fact it recommended to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on April 22, 2022, that it release
no more than 30,000 hatchery smolts per year because releasing more than that would exceed risk
management measures to protect wild North Umpqua summer steelhead. It is unclear why ODFW has
more than doubled the hatchery release since their April recommendation. It makes no sense.
Despite the Court’s order to release “smolts,” ODFW is likely releasing hatchery steelhead that are
transitioning back to the parr life stage. These hatchery fish are derived from the wild population, which
hits its peak outmigration to the ocean in March and April. Therefore, these fish have already passed
their window of physiological preparation for smolting and will likely residualize as parr in the North
Umpqua River. As a result, these hatchery fish will compete for food and habitat with wild steelhead
parr, many of which are the offspring of the lowest return of wild North Umpqua summer steelhead
since records began in 1946.
Based on ODFW’s own declarations, it is also unclear if these hatchery steelhead have even reached size
targets that ODFW associates with reduced residualization. According to ODFW, these fish are smaller
than is typical for this time of year.
Through these actions, ODFW is putting all the risk of its failing hatchery program on the backs of wild
North Umpqua summer steelhead, one of the most cherished wild steelhead populations on Earth.
“[T]his is nothing more than an ill-advised ecological Hail Mary, a last second shot at the basket with
almost no chance of scoring. The reality is that there is no cost to these types of wild haymakers in
sports, but there is in ecology and biology, because the unfit and undersized smolts will not simply go
away when the clock hits double zeros,” says John McMillan, Science Director for The Conservation
The North Umpqua Coalition will continue to fight to uphold the Commission’s correct and lawful
decision based on the best-available science to eliminate the Rock Creek Hatchery summer steelhead
program, which has put wild North Umpqua steelhead at risk for decades. Although the Court denied
the Coalition’s motion to intervene as a named party to the case, the Court is allowing the Coalition to
participate by offering arguments the court may want to consider before making their ruling. This status
allows the Coalition to weigh in on arguments to dismiss the plaintiffs’ legal challenge.
“For over a half century the Steamboaters, starting with folks like Frank Moore, have worked to protect
and conserve the North Umpqua’s iconic run of wild summer steelhead. Joined by the members of
North Umpqua Coalition, we will continue to push for the right decision to conserve these fish for future
generations,” said Kirk Blaine, President of the Steamboaters and Southern Oregon Regional
Coordinator for Native Fish Society.
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