Chetco River steelhead anglers can help the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife by engaging in some citizen science this year.
Annually, ODFW releases up to 50,000 yearling hatchery steelhead into the Chetco River to provide additional angling opportunity for adult hatchery steelhead. Anglers can tell a hatchery steelhead from a wild steelhead by a missing adipose fin. This is the mark most used by fishery managers to identify hatchery fish.
This year, anglers may find some additional fin clip marks. Over the past two years, ODFW has released juvenile hatchery steelhead with these two additional marks: in 2019 a right ventral fin was clipped, and in 2020 a left ventral fin was clipped.
Chetco winter steelhead typically spend two or three years in the ocean prior to returning to spawn, with most returning after two years. Unlike salmon, steelhead do not necessarily die after spawning, but repeat spawning is not as common as some might assume. The likelihood in the Chetco River of a steelhead returning is 10 percent to 12 percent or less. Anglers often assume these repeat fish are the big fish they catch, but biologists have learned, based on scales sampled, those bigger fish are steelhead that spent three or four years in the ocean before their first spawning run.
What can you do?
ODFW would like for anglers to keep a Chetco River hatchery winter steelhead harvest log that notes the date, size of the fish, rough location such as the nearest gravel bar or access point, and the number of hatchery steelhead and their fin marks - adipose, adipose/left ventral, adipose right ventral.
If your steelhead has all of its fins, it’s a native fish. If it’s missing the adipose fin, it is a hatchery steelhead. All Chetco River hatchery steelhead are missing an adipose fin. Once an angler retains a hatchery steelhead, it’s time to check for secondary clips.
Does it have an adipose fin clip?
If your fish only has an adipose fin clip, it was released in 2018 or earlier. If it is a large steelhead, 12 to 14 pounds, most likely the fish has spent three or more years in the ocean before making its first spawning run. If it is smaller, the steelhead may be on a second spawning run.
Does it have an adipose fin and right ventral fin clip?
If yes, this steelhead was released in 2019. It has spent two years in the ocean before spawning. These fish should be around six to eight pounds.
Does it have an adipose fin and left ventral fin clip?
If yes, this steelhead was released in 2020. It has spent one year in the ocean before returning. These fish may be returning to spawn or are on a false spawning run.
For two years, the ODFW has changed release strategies for Chetco River hatchery winter steelhead smolts, varying the location and timing of the release. The additional fin clip and information collected from anglers will assist ODFW in evaluating whether these new release strategies have the potential to increase angler opportunity.
You can share your harvest log information by either communicating with ODFW staff directly out in the field or turning in your catch information to South Coast Fisherman representativest Dave Kuehn at 805-350-0542 or Rod Anderson at 541-254-0065. They are working jointly with ODFW to collect the information.
You can also text (503) 798-2084 or call ODFW Gold Beach office at 541-247-7605 with catch information. Drop boxes will also be located at popular access points for anglers to drop off catch information.