Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Action Alert: Comment on WDFW's Proposed Rule Changes

WDFW is accepting comments on rule change proposals for the 2016-17 season, and a number of the proposed rules that have come up could dramatically reduce impacts on Olympic Peninsula wild steelhead, while simultaneously providing improved angling opportunities.

These include:

Rule #46 Implementing no fishing from a floating device on several North Coast streams - pressure on the Olympic Peninsula streams has increased dramatically over the last 15 years leading to increased catch and release impacts and risks to wild steelhead populations. Eliminating fishing from floating devices would reduce catch rates which still allowing a high quality experience for all anglers. 

Rule #47 Implementing selective gear rules on North Coast streams - see above. With more fishing pressure it's never been more important to have selective gear rules in place to ensure that fish are landed and released unharmed by anglers. 

Rule #48 Prohibiting wild steelhead harvest - This should have happened 20 years ago. Wild steelhead are too precious to be killed and the state should eliminate harvest altogether. These are the last few populations in the state that aren't listed under the ESA and eliminating harvest is one important step towards making sure they stay that way. 

Rule #49 Requiring a wild steelhead harvest tag - This would require anglers to buy a special tag to harvest wild steelhead and would limit guides to three harvest tags per year, which would further reduce harvest without banning it altogether. A small handful of guides account for a disproportionate amount of the harvest on wild steelhead each year and limiting the ability of their guided clients to retain fish would likely dramatically reduce harvest.

These rule changes were developed in collaboration with the North Coast steelhead advisory group, a diverse mix of stakeholders that include a handful of dedicated advocates for wild steelhead conservation.

Visit the site today and voice your support for these and other conservation oriented rule changes:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mining Boom in Northern BC Threatens SE Alaska Fisheries

The BC Government's pro-mining agenda is threatening the livelihoods of people around the region who depend on healthy ecosystems, clean water and wild salmon. Perhaps nowhere is the impact of this mining boom bringing more anxiety over the possibility of disaster than in SE Alaska, where commercial fisheries are highly dependent on wild salmon stocks that return to three trans-boundary rivers. The Unuk, Stikine, and Taku rivers all draw their headwaters from the mountains of Northern BC, running west across the border and into Alaska. Each of these watersheds supports largely intact habitats, and healthy populations of wild salmon. Now a rash of mining proposals that would place mine tailing in their headwaters are threatening the future of these great rivers, and the BC Government has pushed forward mining proposals despite the opposition of downstream communities and the threats posed to other, sustainable industries.

Check out this short film and visit Salmon Beyond Borders for more information.

Friday, February 6, 2015

BC Government and Imperial Metals Go Ahead with Mine in the Taku River

Imperial Metals was responsible for the Mount Polley mine disaster - photo CBC news

The BC Government has given Imperial Metals the go ahead to begin construction and testing of a tailings pond at the proposed site of the Red Chris Mine in the Taku River watershed. Imperial Metals is the mining company responsible for the Mount Polley Mine disaster this past summer. Ironically news of the permit approval came the same week that police executed a search warrant at the Mount Polley Mine site looking for evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the company. Worse yet, a recent review highlighted major shortcomings in the design of the tailings pond at Red Chris, and because of the mining process and ore being extracted at Red Chris mine, a spill there could be far more toxic and catastrophic, raising alarm and anger among downstream fishing communities in Alaska

The mine is within the territory of the Tahltan First Nation, and a blockade by community members this summer prompted the review which exposed the faulty designs for the tailings pond. The Taku is also a Transboundary river, meaning that it flows across the BC border into Alaska, and is a major producer of sockeye and other salmon which support commercial fisheries in the state.

Despite the opposition, risks, and the recent turn of events the government is allowing the project to proceed. Perhaps not surprising given the long cozy relationship between Christy Clark's liberal government, and the fact that a major shareholder in the company held a $1-million dollar fundraiser for Clarks re-election bid at the Calgary Petroleum Club in 2013. The company has also donated close to $150,000 to the Liberal Part of BC in the last 10 years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bill in WA State Legislature Threatens Wild Fish Recovery

A misguided bill making its way through the Washington State Legislature right now is seeking to silence an increasingly vocal and effective opposition to hatchery programs that are jeopardizing wild salmon and steelhead recovery around the state. The bill would seek to silence hatchery opponents by denying Salmon Recovery Funding (SRF) Board funding, money intended to support habitat restoration and strategic scientific initiatives, to organizations that are engaged in litigation against state hatchery programs.

Here's more information from the Wild Steelhead Coalition:

SB 5551, introduced by Senator Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe), would deny state Salmon Recovery Funding Board contributions for any project or activity if the project sponsor has brought any legal action against the state before a court or administrative tribunal relating to fish hatchery facility operations within ten calendar years.

Sound science has repeatedly demonstrated that excessive hatchery production can have serious negative impacts on the recovery wild salmon and steelhead. Many advocacy organizations in the Northwest are working to recover populations of these iconic wild fish; through habitat restoration, harvest improvements, and hatchery reform.

Individuals and Non-governmental organizations have long sought redress in the courts to insure compliance with state and federal legislation. This is a well-established component of our American democracy, and an effective tool for the conservation of our shared natural heritage. These advocates argue SB 5551 deliberately jeopardizes this legal right with the threat of funding ineligibility, setting a dangerous precedent for our state.

Many of the same organizations who have challenged misguided or excessive hatchery programs in court also apply for and receive state Salmon Recovery Funding Board contributions for habitat restoration or in-stream connectivity work. Funding that would be preemptively denied if the sponsors of SB 5551 are successful.

The Washington state Salmon Recovery Funding Board provides “funding for elements necessary to achieve overall salmon recovery, including habitat projects and other activities that result in sustainable and measurable benefits for salmon and other fish species.” This funding was created specially to support the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead stocks. There is clear scientific evidence that excessive hatcheries can harm and impede wild fish recovery. Wild fish advocates argue that if passed, SB 5551 would severely undermine the very purpose of the Salmon Recovery Board funding.

Representatives from the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office and other state agencies tasked with salmon recovery have repeatedly said over the years that for “overall salmon recovery” to be successful, it will take a diverse group of citizens, agencies and organizations working together.
Unfortunately, it seems a small group of legislators is not interested in working together to tackle all the problems facing these iconic fish, including hatcheries. They would rather ignore science and play revenge politics against organizations whose views on fish hatcheries they disagree with, seeking to deny state funding for projects that benefit wild salmon and steelhead recovery, and the many people who want to see them make a comeback in our region.

Contact your state representative and voice your opposition to SB5551:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Natural Recolonization Works for Salmon following Dam Removal

Salmon and steelhead have evolved in a landscape in the Pacific Northwest rife with peril. From landslides and volcanoes, to glaciers which have intermittently advanced and retreated throughout the region over the last few million years. Under these evolutionary circumstances it is not surprising then that salmon have the ability to colonize newly available habitats. Indeed straying and colonization by salmon could be considered one of the very cornerstones of the species. A recent article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin highlights this point, presenting research from the Cedar River, Seattle's municipal watershed, that has shown convincingly that when passage is restored into areas above dams salmon will naturally recolonize the habitat quickly. Landsburg Dam on the Cedar River was built in 1901 as the diversion dam for Seattle's drinking water. In 2003 the city built a fish ladder over the dam following the ESA listing of Puget Sound chinook and growing concern over salmon recovery in the region. At the time there were some vocal advocates for using hatcheries to reintroduce salmon above the dam, but ultimately cooler heads prevailed and the city opted for the lower cost, natural option of letting salmon recolonize the habitat on their own.

They also teamed up with researchers from UW and NOAA who tracked the recolonization process from the very beginning. What they found, while not surprising, should help inform the debate around salmon recovery all over our region. In just a few generations coho and Chinook had established populations above the dam. Coho, which rear for a year or two in freshwater prior to their seaward migration benefited the most from the access to 30 miles of intact habitat that the fish ladder provided. Today hundreds of coho spawn above the dam every fall and with each passing generation the population continues to grow.

More information in the CBB:

Friday, December 19, 2014

AFS Hatchery v. Wild Symposium

The Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society is sponsoring the Hatchery vs. Wild Salmonid Symposium – Research, Management, and Reform in the Pacific Northwest, January 22-23, 2015, at the Hilton Portland in downtown Portland, Oregon. Early registration ends December 22nd, for what should be a fascinating and worthwhile two-day event.

Check out the symposium page for more information and to register:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time for Our Yearly Reminder that Hatcheries Don't Work

Wild is the future

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced last week that the Nooksack River is closed to fishing. The reason: to allow the hatchery program in the watershed to get enough fish for their egg take goal. The river has been closed to protect hatchery fish. Unfortunately this occurrence has become commonplace over the last decade as hatchery programs in Puget Sound (and around the state for that matter) have failed to produce even enough returning fish to support their own existence. These programs cost state taxpayers millions of dollars per year, and are counterproductive to the goal of recovering ESA listed wild steelhead in the region. So why is WDFW continuing to run these programs?

Because the hatchery programs are an entrenched and broken part of the department, and leadership can see no other way of providing "opportunity". At WDFW the first two tenants of the departmental mission are to 1.) conserve and protect native fish and wildlife and 2.) provide sustainable fishing and hunting. The department's apparent answer to their mission of conserving fish and providing sustainable fishing? Spending millions of dollars on hatcheries that are so ineffective that they force fishing closures to protect the fish returning fish as broodstock, and failing egregiously to provide opportunity in Puget Sound and around the state because of a lack of vision on how to protect wild fish while providing fishing opportunities. Hatchery populations are tanking all over the region, while on the Skagit and other North Puget Sound rivers the last two years have seen some of the best returns of wild steelhead in decades. These rivers could have easily supported catch and release fisheries through the end of April with negligible impacts on steelhead populations. Instead they were closed to fishing.

The Nooksack, like every other river in Puget Sound will close on January 31st this year, eliminating opportunity for three months of catch and release angling for wild steelhead. While steelhead populations are undeniably depressed in these rivers, the state could and should where possible manage these rivers to support opportunities for anglers to fish, and do so in ways that minimize impacts on ESA listed populations to the greatest extent possible. This would hardly require a precedent setting battle with NOAA. Steelhead are listed in the majority of rivers in the Lower 48, but when state management agencies make providing catch and release opportunities a priority NOAA has by and large gone along with it, and fishing is open throughout the entire steelhead season in most areas in Oregon, Idaho, and Northern California despite listed populations. NOAA does this because they know that for the most part these fisheries have very little impact on population trajectories and they're extremely popular with anglers, supporting millions of dollars of economic activity around our region every year.

Even in Puget Sound WDFW has gone to battle to protect sport fisheries for ESA listed chinook, getting NOAA to agree on "recovery harvest rates". While these fisheries are less biologically defensible they illustrate a key point, the ESA does not necessarily guarantee a perpetual end to fishing opportunity as we've seen in Puget Sound. Rather, it compels state managers to defend the decisions they make with some minimal level of biological justification. WDFW has been more than willing to do this for expensive, failing hatchery programs, so why not for catch and release fisheries for wild steelhead which are ostensibly free for the state?

It's time for WDFW to think differently and change their priorities when it comes to steelhead management. The hatchery paradigm has failed so miserably over the past two decades that any rational observer will agree that there really isn't another defensible choice. The state could improve monitoring, enforcement and creel surveys at a fraction of the cost of the current hatchery operations, With this information and enforcement regime in place, WDFW could sustainably manage catch and release fishing in the region, setting thresholds for impacts on wild populations, and conducting in season management accordingly.

So while we're sitting at home this winter not fishing the rivers that we've known and loved for decades, remember that there is a different way forward for WDFW and our state. But until we emphasize the protection of wild fish and the fisheries they can support we'll continue to squander millions of dollars a year all in the name of perpetuating a broken system of hatcheries and river closures.

See the WDFW press release here: