When STEP biologist Tom Rumreich thinks about how much good the Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program has done for fish and habitat in its 35 years, he thinks of the volunteers who’ve planted countless trees to shape and stabilize banks.
He can picture the multitude of children who’ve had the opportunity to catch and learn about fish.
He recalls a creek restoration project in the program’s earliest days, where gravel and hatchbox fry Coho salmon were added where habitat had been damaged. He’s excited today to know that now, three-and-a-half decades later the Coho are still there.
In other projects, volunteers have corrected fish passage in places where barriers kept salmon from getting back to historic spawning areas.
“The small streams and barriers like that, looking at them individually, it’s not significant, but when you look at them collectively along the coast of Oregon, it’s huge,” Rumreich said.
STEP was established in 1981 to provide an opportunity for volunteers to have a valuable impact on restoring salmon and trout populations.
Since then volunteers have restored habitat, hatched and reared several million salmon and trout eggs, conducted surveys to assist fisheries work, and much more.
STEP’s goals are to rehabilitate and improve natural habitat and native fish stocks, ensure that the harvest does not exceed the fish population’s reproductive capability, provide for volunteer participation in achieving the state’s fish management objectives, and support public education programs.
The 13-member Salmon and Trout Advisory Committee, appointed by the governor, and 11 Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife STEP biologists are an integral part of the program.
Educating children has always been a critical part of the work
When you involve volunteers and children, what you do is not only educate both, but you impart resource ownership, Rumreich said.
“You provide for them the opportunity to become stewards of that resource at all different levels,” Rumreich said. “It’s all about that ownership and that stewardship, and those are some of the true dividends of being able to really get people involved on a large scale.”
Rearing and release of fish into community waterways is another primary focus.
In a partnership with the volunteers and the agency, they release 2.2 million Chinook salmon annually into the Coos River basin, Rumreich said.
That’s just one example. There are similar efforts statewide.
These efforts are valuable because fish are an important part of an area’s ecology. Fishing provides a recreation opportunity for many. It’s also a billion-dollar industry in Oregon, Rumreich said.
“Fishing for salmon and steelhead is an enormous economic benefit,” Rumreich said, not only to coastal communities but all Oregonians.