Blueback’s Chapter leading the way in Angler Science

In Oregon by steelheaders

John McMillan

Last weekend I returned to the Siletz River on the Oregon Coast to participate in snorkel surveys being led by the Blueback’s Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The Siletz River was my adopted home river during my graduate studies at Oregon State University, and I spent as much time as possible fishing for and observing steelhead. So it will always hold a special place in my heart, just as it does for the Bluebacks.Siletz stlhd 3 cp xt sm

The goal of the trip was to see how the Blueback’s are doing with their Citizen Science program, which we at TU refer to as Angler Science. Angler science consists of anglers collecting information on fish and stream habitat to help biologists tasked with managing the resource. While Citizen Science has been popular for birders and entomologists for decades, with the data providing critical information on timing and distribution of birds and insects, it has been less popular among anglers. TU is hoping to change that.

In 2014 the Bluebacks initiated a series of snorkel surveys in the upper Siletz River to count wild summer steelhead. The Siletz population of summer steelhead are unique. They are the only native population occupying a stream that drains the Coast Range of Oregon.

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The Blueback’s have partnered with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Derek Wilson and others to identify data gaps for summer steelhead. The work has paid off. The snorkel surveys last summer revealed one particularly interesting observation: there were more hatchery summer steelhead in the upper Siletz than had been previously thought.

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Hatchery summer steelhead are released annually into the Siletz, but it was believed that their upstream distribution was limited by a falls, which only wild steelhead were thought capable of passing.   The observation of several summer steelhead above the falls piqued the interest of ODFW, which has now started filming the falls to get a rough sense of fish passage.

Myself and eight other people spent the day snorkeling and observing steelhead, including spotting several hatchery steelhead — which are identified by their missing adipose fin. Some of the people had never snorkeled before, while others had extensive experience. Regardless, everyone enjoyed the experience and was enthralled with the underwater beauty of rivers and fish.

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The information being collected by the Blueback’s is not limited to snorkel surveys. They are also conducting redd surveys to more accurately describe the distribution of spawning summer steelhead in areas where ODFW simply did not have enough people to survey. The combined data sets will improve the knowledge and understanding of the extent of overlap between wild and hatchery summer steelhead in the upper Siletz. It also helps ODFW by providing free labor and data. It is truly a win-win situation.

We believe these types of interactions between TU Chapters and fish managers are essential to bridging relationships that traditionally only existed through managers passing information to anglers. The Blueback’s are trying to change this paradigm one snorkel survey at a time because anglers that understand the complexities of data collection and fisheries management are more informed, and more informed anglers are better advocates for wild steelhead.

To stay informed and get involved – join us.

Learn More about Trout Unlimited’s Angler Science

Bluebacks – Find out more about the work of our Bluebacks Chapter and how to get involved.