Troubling times for anglers as hatchery production dips

I concluded my most recent column for The Chronicle with what I had hoped would be a specious rumor. 

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The Corps of Engineers that provides funding for hatchery trout and summer steelhead in the upper Willamette River Basin, under a compensatory mitigation program with the State of Oregon, will be completely discontinuing funding for the production of summer steelhead. 

Also being reduced is the Army Corps contribution to the production of hatchery trout – trout that in the past have been distributed into our local rivers, lakes and ponds. By a whopping 60%, that’s the proportion of fish that will no longer be available for local anglers to catch and keep. 

“Compensatory mitigation refers to the restoration, establishment, enhancement, or in certain circumstances, preservation of wetlands, streams or other aquatic resources for the purpose of offsetting unavoidable adverse impacts.”*

In the upper Willamette Basin those “adverse impacts” were created when beginning in the 1950s the Army Corps erected the series of flood control and hydroelectric projects that dot the perimeter of the Willamette Valley. Built with no fish passage, the dams block the migration of anadromous fish like steelhead and salmon. It also prevented them from reaching ancient spawning waters. Native trout species were also impacted, the dams isolated trout into areas above and below the dams, minimizing the transference of genes that had carried the trout through five million years of evolution. Before the dams, trout were also far more abundant in the streams of the valley floor.

In terms of economic impacts, the last numbers we have are from a 2018 study by social scientists at Oregon State that found “fishing” in Oregon generates $2.2 billion in net income to the state’s economy. And suggests that a loss of 60% or about 180,000 pounds of trout from our region’s trout fishing opportunities and 100% of our steelhead fishing opportunities is going to be an incredible blow to the local fishing culture and to our local angling-generated economies.  A deep disappointment, that local anglers feel upon understanding how the news from the Army Corps of Engineers will directly affect their lives. 

The reductions appear to be entirely discretionary on the part of the Army Corps of Engineers.

In 2021, the most recent year for which the Congressional Budget Office has complete data on the Corps’ funding, the agency received about $7.5 billion in discretionary funding and used about $550 million in mandatory funding. For FY2023, Congress provided the Corps $8.31 billion, which was 26% above the FY2023 President’s budget request by adding an additional 1.75 billion in the “Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2023.” The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) of 2022 also gave the Corps an additional $17.1 billion for “civil works programs, projects and activities that will provide a historic opportunity to address the current and future water resources infrastructure needs for the benefit of the American public.” Which is the Corps funding program that also supports mitigation for habitat loss. **

The Army Corps of Engineers had not responded to my requests on behalf of The Chronicle for comment. 

I spoke with Jeremy Romer, the Assistant Managing Biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife about what is essentially the loss of Federal funds. He told me that “for 2024, the situation is status quo.” We will get the regular allotment of hatchery trout and the department expects that about 5,000 to 6,000 summer steelhead will return to the upper Willamette basin this spring and into summer. Beyond that, it becomes incredibly tenuous. 

The Army Corps of Engineers have told the ODFW not to plant any steelhead this season – which will kill the run. Also, the 60% reduction in funding for trout production would begin in 2025. Romer added that the department is holding steelhead eggs in the event the Corps decides to change course. He further added that the reduction in trout production funding would likely result in the elimination of early-season trout plants, but also that the ODFW was already considering contingencies to help abate a portion of the reduction in Trout numbers. 

This move by the Corps of Engineers comes when our local ODFW already is facing other challenges. I’ll speak to those in future editions of The Chronicle. 

* From the Army Corps of Engineers mission statement. 

** From the Record of the 16th, 17th & 18th U.S. Congressional sessions.

Email: [email protected]



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos