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Rainbow is a Steelhead is a Rainbow ...

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, May 29, 2004

Many rainbow trout populations could be listed as threatened if a proposed hatchery policy is adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rainbow trout that occur in the same areas used by protected runs of steelhead will be considered part of the same populations, according to the policy unveiled in Seattle Friday.

The policy would not cause protected runs of steelhead trout to be removed from the endangered species list once rainbows are counted, according to NOAA officials.

Donna Darm, a NOAA administrator at Seattle, said there is no evidence healthy rainbow trout populations can significantly contribute to steelhead populations. Conversely, she said the rainbows may be dependent on steelhead.

"Without healthy anadromous populations we would be concerned about fragmentation and isolation of the remaining residents and that would be a long-term concern for viability."

Nor will the proposed policy prevent anglers from catching and keeping rainbow trout in most circumstances. As long as anglers catch rainbow trout and not migrating juvenile steelhead, they can keep the fish.

Darm said most states with protected steelhead runs have adopted rainbow trout regulations that protect migrating juvenile steelhead.

Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish manager of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise, said by the time juvenile steelhead reach a size where they can be legally harvested, they have already left for the ocean.

"We are very confident our current fisheries management and fishing regulations are protective of anadromous juveniles as well as resident juveniles."

Rainbow trout and steelhead trout are considered to be genetically linked.

Steelhead trout leave their native fresh water streams as juveniles and migrate to the ocean. They spend one to three years there before returning to spawn.

Rainbow trout spend their entire lives in fresh water.

Many rainbow trout are actually the offspring of steelhead that, instead of migrating to the ocean as juveniles, spend their lives in fresh water.

The offspring of two rainbow trout can migrate to the ocean and return as much larger steelhead. Rainbow trout also can spawn with adult steelhead.

Because the two fish can interbreed and are considered part of the same species, Darm said, the agency has to consider both when it decides if either needs federal protection.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, based in Sacramento, has sued the agency for not considering the abundance of resident rainbow trout in some steelhead listings. Those cases have yet to be decided.

But based on the logic of another court case known as the Hogan decision, the agency must consider rainbows and steelhead as the same population, Darm said.

In that case, Federal Judge Michael Hogan ruled the agency erred when it listed wild coho on the Oregon coast as threatened and not hatchery coho, even though it determined both to be part of the same population.

That decision led the agency to re-evaluate its hatchery policy and also to look at the way steelhead and rainbow trout are treated.

According to the proposed policy, rainbow trout that occupy the same water as steelhead will be considered part of the same population.

Rainbow trout that live above impassable dams or other obstacles would not be counted as steelhead.

But in one exception to that rule, rainbow trout in the North Fork of the Clearwater River would be considered part of the protected Snake River steelhead population.

Salmon advocate Pat Ford at Boise called the proposed policy ridiculous.

"It is just insane from a fisherman's point of view to think it's the same fish," he said.

The policy is open for public comment for the next 90 days.

Eric Barker
Rainbow is a Steelhead is a Rainbow ...
Lewiston Tribune, May 29, 2004

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