Saturday, May 30, 2009

Columbia River seeing record number of jack chinook

For the last two years the columbia system has been seeing unprecedented numbers of jack chinook returning. Last years return of last year during the spring run of chinook 17,683 jacks were counted passing upstream of Bonneville dam, nearly 8,000 more than the ten year average 9,968 fish. Traditionally biologists have used Jack counts to predict the following years return of adult fish. This year however that relationship appears to have broken down with a much smaller return of older fish than managers had been predicting. This year Jack counts are even higher, with more than 64 thousand jacks already past Bonneville. The sudden change in the proportion has maangers vexed and has them questioning their understanding of how the environment, as well as hatchery practices may be influencing the life histories of these fish. An article in the Seattle Times today provides some background.

Also see some discussion of how Jack counts may be throwing off managers ability to preseason forecast at the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Administraiton officials visit PNW

Obama administration officials including NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco and Nancy Sutley chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality have been touring the northwest for the last few days meeting with stake holders as they try to iron out details of the final BiOp set to be submitted to judge James Redden. In Portland they met with representatives from the four northwest states effected as well as the 8 Native Tribes in the Columbia Basin. Their visit also included stops in Seattle at the National Marine Fisheries Service NW headquarters to meet with scientists as well as a visit to Lower Monumental dam, one of four Lower Snake Dams. to see the full story check out the Columbia Basin Bulletin here,

Klamath Settlement

Klamath irrigators and the Klamath tribes announced a tentative agreement on water allocations last week, contingent on approval of restoration projects including removing four hydropower dams on the river. While it is a good step towards dam removal, some environmental groups are concerned that it fails to address water allocation durng low water. In drought stricken 2001 irrigation was priortized over water releases for salmon and an estimated 77,000 salmon and steelhead died as a result of low water, temperature stress and the associated diseases. While this is a hopeful first step for restoring the once mighty runs on the Klamath it is only that. With dam removal tenuous at best, and in the best case scenario many years out we may well see more fish kills before the issue is finally resolved. Here is a link to an article about the issue in the Eureka times standard,

We also had fairly detailed coverage of the Klamath issue in our September 2008 issue, found in our archives at

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Great Underwater Footage

About a month ago Oregon Public Broadcasting aired a show with some really fantastic underwater footage taken by OSU/USGS biologists John McMillan and Jason Dunham. The video demonstrates the diversity of life histories and reproductive strategies found in salmonids and particularly steelhead. Check out the video here

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Letter from Alexandra Morton

I have been in Norway for 10 days because 92% of fish farming in British Columbia is Norwegian owned. I have met with many Norwegian scientists, members of the Mainstream and Marine Harvest boards, been to their AGMs, toured the area with fishermen, examined a closed-containment facility, met the Norwegians fighting for their fish and joined a scientific cruise.

I thought Norway had this industry handled and I expected to learn how marine salmon farming could work, but this has not been the case. My eyes have really been opened. This industry still has major issues that are growing and has no business expanding throughout the temperate coastlines of the world. The way they have been treating sea lice in Norway has caused high drug resistance. The only solution in sight is increasingly toxic chemicals. In the past two years (2007, 8) sea lice levels have actually increased on both the farm and wild fish. The scientists I met with are holding their breath to see if drug-resistant sea lice populations will explode and attack the last wild salmon and sea trout. The same treatment methods have been used in BC and we can expect this to occur as well.

I am not hearing how the industry can possibly safeguard British Columbia from contamination with their ISA virus. Infectious Salmon Anemia is a salmon virus that is spreading worldwide, wherever there are salmon farms. In Chile, the Norwegian strain of ISA has destroyed 60% of the industry, 17,000 jobs and unmeasured environmental damage. The industry is pushing into new territory. If this gets to BC no one can predict what it will do to the Pacific salmon and steelhead, it will be unleashed into new habitat and we know this is a very serious threat to life.

Professor Are Nylund head of the Fish Diseases Group at the University of Bergen, Norway, reports that, “based on 20 years of experience, I can guarantee that if British Columbia continues to import salmon eggs from the eastern Atlantic infectious salmon diseases, such as ISA, will arrive in Western Canada. Here in Hardangerfjord we have sacrificed our wild salmon stocks in exchange for farm salmon. With all your 5 species of wild salmon, BC is the last place you should have salmon farms.”

New diseases and parasites are being identified. The most serious is a sea lice parasite that attacks the salmon immune system. There is concern that this new parasite is responsible for accelerating wild salmon declines. The Norwegian scientists agree with many of us in BC. If you want wild salmon you must reduce the number of farm salmon. There are three options.

The future for salmon farming will have to include:

permanently reduction of not just the number of sea lice, but also the number of farm salmon per fjord,
removing farm salmon for periods of time to delouse the fjords and not restocking until after the out-migration of the wild salmon and sea trout.
But where wild salmon are considered essential they say the only certain measure is to remove the farms completely.

There are many people here like me. I met a man who has devoted his life to the science of restoring the Voss River, where the largest Atlantic salmon in the world, a national treasure, have vanished due to sea lice from salmon farms. Interestingly he is using the method I was not allowed to use last spring... Towing the fish past the farms out to sea. Another man is working with scientists and communities to keep the sea trout of the Hardangerfjord alive. There are so many tragic stories familiar to British Columbia.

The corporate fish farmers are unrelenting in their push to expand. With Chile so highly contaminated with the Norwegian strain of ISA all fish farmed coasts including Norway are threatened with expansion. I made the best case I could to Mainstream and Marine Harvest for removing the salmon feedlots from our wild salmon migration routes, but they will not accept that they are harming wild salmon. They say they want to improve, but they don’t say how. Norway has different social policies which include encouraging people to populate the remote areas and so fish farming seemed a good opportunity to these people. BC has the opposite policy, but the line that fish farms are good for small coastal communities has been used in BC anyway. I have not seen any evidence that it has even replaced the jobs it has impacted in wild fisheries and tourism.

It is becoming increasingly clear to protect wild Pacific salmon from the virus ISA the BC border absolutely has to be closed to importation of salmon eggs immediately and salmon farms MUST be removed from the Fraser River migration routes and any other narrow waterways where wild salmon are considered valuable.

Our letter asking government that the Fisheries Act, which is the law in Canada be applied to protect our salmon from fish farms has been signed by 14,000 people to date at has still not been answered.

Please forward this letter and encourage more people to sign our letter to government as it is building a community of concerned people word wide and we will prevail as there is really no rock for this industry to hide under and longer.

Alexandra Morton

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Yakima River

Long known as one of the premier trout fisheries in the state, few people know that the Yakima river once supported hundreds of thousands of salmon and steelhead annually. Today that number has been reduced to a fraction of it's former glory, Chinook, Steelhead are listed and Sockeye are extinct. There are however glimmers of hope, two tributaries of the lower Yakima still support some of the strongest returns of wild summer steelhead in the Middle Columbia and thanks to ongoing efforts from the Yakama Nation and their allies they're making an incremental recovery. Currently only about 200 steelhead annually return above Roza dam making it a ripe opportunity for recovery. Efforts are underway to provide access to spawning tributaries and make downstream passage easier for smolts in hopes that it will allow the fish to rebuild their numbers.

Thre is a captive breeding and acclimation program in place to enhance Spring Chinook spawning abundance. We also recently had a piece about the ongoing efforts to provide passage at Cle Elum dam, and reintroduce Sockeye salmon to the upper Yakima. While the jury is still out on whether these efforts will be successfull it is a hopeful time for the Yakima River. Keep an eye out for this months issue to learn more.

Currently one of the main obstacles to recovery of all anadromous salmonids is the water management in the Yakima system. More specifically the "flip-flop" where the Bureau of Rec ramps up flows dramatically in the summer to provide irrigation water for farms in the Lower Yakima valley. This unnatural hydrograph make the mainstem of the Yakima, Naches, and Tieton rivers inhospitable for juvenile rearing most of the summer and has altered the ecology of the system severely. There is an interesting article with more detail in the high country news from a couple of years ago.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Comment on WDFW's proposed hatchery reform

Comments are due on WDFW's proposed hatchery and fishery reform document before June 1st. While the document has outlines some decent principles in so far as it goes, it fails to address many pressing issues. First, it suggests increased reliance on wild broodstock programs for harvest fisheries. Wild-broodstock programs have been in place for over 20 years in some places and they have never been anymore successful than integrated programs. Domestication selection occurs rapidly and the fitness, and resultant success in the wild of a broodstock fish declines within one generation of being spawned in the hatchery. Also, why would we be taking threatened wild fish out of the spawning population to create a domesticated population designed to enhance harvest opportunities? It doesn't make sense.

Also, the document does very little to address the ecological affects of hatchery programs and the underlying problem which is the sheer number of hatchery fish being dumped into puget sound as well as the columbia. Lastly, the policy document says absolutely nothing about Wild Fish Refugia. Until we are able to set aside our most pristine and productive ecosystems are refuges for wild fish we won't see any real recovery. Everything else is token measures. We need to encourage the department to implement large scale wild refugia projects in areas like the Skagit, Quilleyute and Hoh.

to view the document for yourself and provide comments either via email at or by mail at Washington Fish andWildlife Commission, 600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA98501-1091.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rogue River dam removal


Oregon's Rogue river continues to enjoy restoration success thanks to many conservationists, particularly WaterWatch. Last year the Gold Hill Diversion Dam was removed and the Elk Creek Dam was notched. Now Savage Rapids Dam at Grant's Pass is in the final stage of removal. Here's a video from a local news station that offers a synopsis.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

UW climatologists make bleak predictions regarding future snowpack

In recently published research UW climate scientists estimate that with every 1 degree celcius of climate warming April 1st snowpack will be reduced by 20%. Most scientists estimate that our region will experience between 2 and 5 degrees of warming over the next century meaning there is a very high likelihood that the hydrology of our river systems will change dramatically. While the research may appear alarming we can hope that the diversity and adaptability of our salmon, steelhead and other aquatic organisms will allow them to cope with the coming changes. See a summary of the work at the columbia basin bulletin.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Judge demands better Columbia restoration plan

Judge Redden has written a letter to lawyers for federal agencies demanding that they submit a much improved restoration plan for the Columbia basin. Redden says more river flow and improved habitat on tributaries will be needed. Furthermore, a contingency plan for dam removal on the lower Snake River will be necessary for the plan to be accepted. See the story here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beavers creating habitat in the Lower Skagit

Beavers have long been known to be important ecosystem engineers in coldwater habitats. The dams they build slow water and create important refuge pools for juvenile salmonids of many types. Researchers with the Skagit Cooperative have recently begun documenting the importance of beavers for juvenile salmonid in a different kind of habitat, estuaries. The Seattle times did a fascinating piece on the topic. See it here.

Yet Another hatchery on the Columbia

The new Chief Joseph hatchery project is underway. Spearheaded by the Colville tribe, the BPA and the Northwest Power council the hatchery is set to cost 40 million dollars and will produce chinook. See more details on the Columbia Basin Bulletin at

Oregon State Forests in danger

A move is currently underway to log huge swaths of Oregons Coastal watersheds. Oregon's coastal streams currently produce some of the last healthy runs of Chinook and Steelhead in the lower 48 and support listed Coho salmon. Previous logging activity in the 60's, 70's and 80's had extrodinarily detrimental effects on these systems and it is important that we as a community unite to fight this proposal. If you live in Oregon, or if you are passionate about the Oregon Coast, do your best to show up and voice your opinion that timber harvest at the expense of healthy rivers and fish is not something you will allow. The Flyer is pictured above. For more info check out Jeff Hickman's blog at

Thursday, May 14, 2009

BC recovery website

For those of you interested in steelhead recovery issues related to lower mainland BC and vancouver island, here's an interesting website that explains recovery efforts:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some interesting websites regarding the Columbia

Free the White Salmon River. With Condit dam scheduled to come down later this year, hopes are that Steelhead, Coho and Chinook will be able to quickly recover strong wild populations. With relatively high quality habitat above the dam and only one mainstem dam for the fish to migrate past the future looks bright for the White Salmon.

Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. Member tribes are the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama. They agreed to drop their lawsuit demanding Snake River dam removal in exchange for over 1 billion dollars in "restoration" funds. Detailed reports on their website provide some insight into how they will go about using the money they get from the BPA and others.

Salmon outlines the federal governments position on the columbia including Biological Opinion documents which set the stage for all the restoration activities in the coming years. The current BioP has been repeatedly rejected as inadequate under the ESA, we will see what the new administration changes, if anything.

Stimulus money for salmon

37.2 million dollars have been allocated to the "Pacific Region" of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. While an influx of government money for salmon is welcome, nearly 25 million is set to go towards agency facilities and hatcheries while only 2.27 million will go towards habitat improvements. See the full report at the columbia basin bulletin here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Obama administration asks for more time on BiOp

The Obama administration asked Judge James Redden of Oregon for more time to review the facts surrounding the Columbia River biological opinion. The judge had set an early May deadline for the final revisions to the plan. See a summary on Seattle Times.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Passage on the Crooked River

Fish passage projects are underway on the Crooked River in Central Oregon. Once a highly productive salmon and steelhead tributary it has been blocked by Pelton Dam. As passage over Pelton Dam comes online the Crooked River Watershed Council, Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. The passage projects are designed to give fish access to Ochoco and McKay Creeks, both are considered prime spawning habitat. See more coverage on the CBB bulletin here.