Monday, August 31, 2009
In the midst of a monumental collapse in the Fraser River Sockeye return DFO minister Gail Shea was in Norway for a fish farming convention. Why the agency charged with managing and protect the wild salmon resources would be investing such a large amount of financial and political capital protecting multinational fish farming corporations is unfathomable. See the full article and video here
It appears that Winter Steelhead in the Puget Sound area are rapidly sliding towards oblivion. While it remains unofficial, a reliable source reported recently that preliminary spawner estimates on the Skagit system this past spring were in the ball park of 2000 fish, startlingly few fish on a system that as recently as the 1950s likely supported well over 30,000 winter steelhead most years. The escapement goal is 6,000 fish and this year WDFW had forecasted a banner run. Anyone who spent much time fishing the Skagit this winter could tell you that there were very few fish. While it is no surprise that the Skagit failed to reach its preseason forecast the magnitude of the failure is startling and should have managers raising serious questions about how to save Puget Sound wild steelhead before its too late.
One things that managers and biologists know for sure is that ocean survival has declined dramatically in the past 15 years. Historic smolt to adult survival in steelhead is thought to have been between 10 and 25%. Recent acoustic tagging research on the Green and Puyallup systems has revealed that in most years fewer than 10% of the smolts even survive their migration to the Strait of Juan De Fuca. While the ocean environment is complex and understudied the connection between the massive hatchery supplementation in Puget Sound seems obvious. Much has been made of genetic interactions, reduced fitness and the desirability of segregating hatchery stocks from spawning with wild, however the ecological impacts of industrial scale hatchery supplementation are underappreciated. Through competition, predation, and disease hatchery salmon of all species are likely providing downward pressure on wild salmonids in the Sound. Additionally the large communities of predators supported by hatchery supplementation may be taking a heavy toll on wild fish. Because it is a confined, glacial, fjord, the Puget Sound is particularly sensitive to pollution including intensive hatchery supplmentation.
If we are serious about recovering wild stocks we need to prioritize watersheds for protection as wild refugia. While urbanization and habitat degradation are common around the Puget Sound Area many streams are in relatively good shape. The Skagit and Sauk are perfect examples of quality freshwater habtiat being underutilized. Until managers begin to understand and address the true scale at which hatchery programs are impacting wild populations and come up with a more biologically hatchery releases wild fish are unlikely to make a recovery of any consequence. From any perspective most hatchery programs in the Sound are a failure. Low ocean survival in hatchery stocks means that millions of smolts are planted annually for pitifully small sport catches. Hopefully 2000 fish returning to one of our states most storied steelhead rivers serves as a wakeup call, the status quo will only lead to continued declines. Wild steelhead can recover in Puget Sound if we acknowledge the factors limiting their productivity and aggressively address the problems.
Keep checking back as official escapement estimates come out we will post them.
Since 1965 Round Butte Dam on the Deschutes River has blocked upstream passage of anadromous salmonids cutting of most of the largest and historically most productive tributary streams. Now a new trap and haul operation coupled with a major investment in downstream passage for juveniles could begin to restore anadromous fish to the Crooked, Metolius and other upstream tributary streams. Wild deschutes steelhead currently spawn in only a few of the larger lower river tributary streams and if the project is a success the increase in spawning and rearing habitat could be a major boon to the overall return. Check out a brief document from the Native Fish Society Website on the Upper Deschutes
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Climate change is the biggest unknown for the future of our wild salmon and steelhead. A paper published by prominent UBC researcher Scott Hinch and colleagues in the mid-1990s concluded that warming sea surface temps would result in smaller, slower growing sockeye. Slower ocean growth typically means lower ocean survival, and now some are pointing towards warming oceans as a possible factor in the catastrophically low returns to the Fraser this year. While Hinch's paper presents compelling evidence that warming ocean temperatures could mean a bleak future for Sockeye stocks in our area, the current year class of Sockeye outmigrated during a strong La Nina. This means that juvenile sockeye outmigrating during 2007 would have encountered favorable cold water conditions, and Sockeye in the Columbia system only a few hundred miles to the south saw record returns this year. One thing however is certain, the Georgia Strait and the Puget Sound ecosystems are sick. Chinook stocks have plummeted over the last 25 years, Steelhead have collapsed all around the region and Sockeye are rapidly disappearing. Without considerable changes to the way we impact the Georgia Basin through fish farming, hatchery releases, habitat degradation, and pollution we will be facing a future without the possibility of recovery for our wild salmonids. See more information on warming SST and Sockeye Salmon in the Georgia Strait online
For all the most recent news on the Fraser River Sockeye collapse check out the Canadian website Save Our Wild Salmon's news feed
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Hemlock dam on the Wind River's Trout Creek, an important spawning tributary for Wind fish is finally gone. Removal of the dam will give fish better access into the upper watershed and allow for the transport of spawning gravels into lower Trout Creek. If anyone doubts that fish are able to quickly utilize habitats following dam removals or other restoration activities they need only check out this video. Shot by the USFS at the site of the Hemlock Dam Removal. The tagged fish was seen swimming up Trout Creek just hours after dam removal was completed and water was restored to the section below the construction site.
Around the Northwest this summer has been one of the hottest in recent memory. During hot spells, migrating anadromous fish are particularly vulnerable to infection and C&R related mortality. As anglers it is critical that we take personal responsibility for our impacts on wild stocks and stop fishing when temperatures exceed 68 degrees. Above this threshold catching and releasing a fish can be lethal for fish already stressed by high temperatures. Temperatures in many of the Columbia River Impoundments have been over 70 degrees for almost 2 months and at times have reached almost 75. Last week while fishing a Columbia River tributary I observed three dead steelhead, two of which were definitely wild. Water temps the previous week had been high enough to pose a risk to the fish and they likely died from irresponsible catch and release fishing. The fish pictured looked to have died from an infection associated with an old lamprey bite. A thermometer is a crucial fishing tool, by taking care to limit fishing impacts during warm water periods we can make sure we have the lowest overall impact on our beloved wild fish as possible and still enjoy fantastic fishing on this banner run year.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
As of yesterday Summer Steelhead Counts over Bonneville dam were over 430,000 fish, already the third highest return in 70 years and on pace to potentially break the 2001 record of about 630,000 fish. While the vast majority of returning steelhead are of hatchery origin, over 130,000 unmarked fish have passed Bonnville making it one of the best years for wild returns in recent history. High returns are essential drivers of recovery, future productivitiy and diversity. Favorable ocean conditions the last two years are largely responsible for the record breaking return. High returns are always promising however it is important to put them in perspective. The current wild run is a fraction of the historic return and the conditions which are driving the high survival cannot possibly last. The only way to ensure more stable returns and long lasting recovery is to address the fundemental problems in the Columbia system, the dams and the huge level of hatchery production. The next few weeks are some of the most important in history for determining the future of the Snake River dams. If you haven't already, contact your Senators and Congressmen and tell the the Northwest wants the Snake Dams gone.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Fraser River sockeye have 4 year cycles of abundance meaning normally, every fourth year sees a particularly high return of the fish. This year was supposed to be a year of abundance with a return of close to 13 million Sockeye predicted. Instead this year has seen one of the biggest collapses of a fishery in recent memory. To date fewer than 2 million fish have returned to the huge river system prompting comparisons to the collapse of the Cod fishery in Eastern Canada, and causing alarm among BCs commercial fishermen, First Nations, and environmental groups. Many are pointing the finger at the controversial fish farming industry arguing that the high densities of sea lice, other parasites and pathogens in the migration corridor of juvenile sockeye is devastating the Fraser stock much like it did Chum and Pink salmon in the Northern Georgia Strait. While some are blaming ocean conditions for the poor returns, Sockeye Salmon in the Columbia saw record returns this year. Early marine survival is critical for the size of an adult return and it is possible that environmental conditions were highly unfavorable in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin when these fish outmigrated in 2007. Regardless of the cause, the more than decade long trend of declining abundance in Fraser Sockeye is disturbing and needs to be addressed. The Fraser Sockeye bust is all over the news. Here are a few of the more informative artciles.
Odd Year returning pink salmon have been arriving in Puget Sound Rivers en masse for the last couple of weeks. Returns are predicted to be well above average with over 1 million salmon bound for the Skagit drainage alone. Despite the huge numbers of fish there is concern that the unusually low flows in some of our rivers may end up limiting their access to important spawning areas. Additionally if the salmon spawn sometime in the next couple of weeks and we have a dry warm fall river levels may continue to drop leaving some redds dry. See the article in the Seattle times.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The newest in a long line of invasive species threatening watersheds in the Northwest is the Quagga Mussel. The tiny filter feeding mollusks originally made their way to North America through ballast water from Europe, they are capable of spreading extremely fast when introduced and may dramatically alter aquatic communities which support juvenile salmon. The mussels have already been found in a number of Western States, but have yet to invade the Columbia Basin. Recognizing the magnitude of the threat these invasive species pose, many local government officials and agencies are asking the federal and state governments for financial support to prevent and combat the invasives. More information at the Columbia Basin Bulletin
Quagga Mussels are far from the only invasive organisms threatening our waterways. New Zealand Mudsnails have been found in many Western states and can spread readily on wading boots and boating equipment. European Millfoil another highly invasive plant which can choke waterways quickly is also easily spread by anglers and boaters. It is critical that we take the individual responsibility to prevent the spread of harmful exotics. A simple and cost effective way is to keep a bucket, scrub brush and some bleach in your vehicle. Scrubbing your equipent in a cup of bleach in a bucketful of water will remove any potential invaders.
Friday, August 14, 2009
The Obama Administration will not yet deliver its updated Columbia River Biological Opinion until it explains it to the litigants, according to a recent legal note delivered to the Redden court. Judge Redden accepted the deadline extension from today to September 15th. Plaintiffs such as environmental groups, Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe unsuccessfully requested a "status review" from the court, expressing their dissatisfaction with the federal government's position and process. They indicated the federal government has failed to make adequate changes to the 2008 BiOp. For more information, see the Columbia River Bulletin's article.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Obama Administration's Justice Department recently filed an appeal indicating it will seek to defend Bill Clinton's 2001 roadless rule in the National Forests. Clinton had prohibited logging, mining and other industrial uses of the forests in his rule however Bush had sought to overturn these restrictions. After some uncertainty over whether Obama would follow in line with the roadless rule, environmentalists and others are satisfied with the administration's position. For more information see the AP article in the Oregonian.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
With the Obama administration set to make a decision as to whether to accept, reject or modify the 2008 BiOp on the Columbia some groups feel that they're being left out of the negotiations. The State of Oregon, environmental groups and the Nez Perce tribe have been the last holdouts from litigation over the 2008 BiOp claiming that the plan was illegal and failed to adequately address the issues leading to the decline of wild salmon in the Columbia systems. Now those groups are being left out of the negotiation process over what to do about the Columbia and the BiOp, raising fears that the Obama administration will abandon its promise to make decisions based on sound science and make only token changes to the current plan. It is critical that we act now and remove the Snake Dams before the wild salmon in the drainage slide further. See the full coverage in the Oregonian.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Strengthening El Nino conditions in the Pacific likely mean that this winter will be mild and dry compared the norm. El Nino also bring warmer sea surface temperatures to the North Pacific and can result in lower ocean survival for salmon. La Nina conditions, or cool ocean temperatures coupled with good upwelling conditions the last two years have resulted in good survival and growth for outmigrant smolts and promise to bring banner returns of Pinks, Coho and Chinook to the Pacific Northwest over the next couple of seasons. While high returns are always encouraging it is vital that managers and policy makers understand the cyclical nature of salmon returns when considering harvest fisheries or increased hatchery releases. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin.
A perfect example of this is on the Oregon Coast where ODFW hopes to open a harvest fishery this fall for ESA listed Coho Salmon. Spawning Coho salmon returning this fall outmigrated during some of the most favorable ocean conditions in a decade and as a consequence the return is predicted to be a few thousand fish above the escapement goal. What will managers say however when the runs again drop to a fraction of the escapement goal in 4 years when ocean conditions are not as good? How will it look to have harvested a stock of listed fish in the one year they actual returned in relative abundace. Keep in mind the escapement goal for Oregon Coastal Coho is probably less than 10% of the historic return.
High escapement years allow fish to colonize new areas which may have long been devoid of fish. In years of high escapement fish with more marginal, or less productive lifehistories, entry timing, and spawning areas return in much higher than normal. Diversity in a salmon population drives abundance over the long term, and protects the population from collapse when environmental conditions change. Present day Coho salmon populations are much less diverse than historic populations and only in recovering that diversity will we be able to recover any semblance of a historic population.
Check out this Oregon Public Broadcasting video on Knowles Creek. Habitat restoration projects are underway to add crucial large woody debris to create high quality rearing habitat for listed Coho Salmon. The narrator dramatically oversimplifies the realities of freshwater habitat, degradation and the importance of woody debris, however the video is still valuable and informative.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Once abundant, Chinook returns have plummeted over the last three years in the rivers surrounding the Bering Sea. Among the systems effected is the Yukon River, where native communities have long relied Chinook to provide economic opportunity and sustenance for their remote communities. A number of factors are likely contributing to low returns of including changes in ocean currents, and the ecology of the Bering Sea. Bycatch in the multimillion dollar Pollack Fishery definitely isn't helping either. The fishery catches huge numbers of Chinook while targeting pollack and often bycatch goes unreported. In 2007 however over 120,000 chinook were reported caught in the Pollack fishery, with many more likely unreported. See more information in the Seattle Times
The most recent issue of National Geographic has a great article about the Kamchatka Peninsula, one of the last great salmon ecosystems in the world. Despite the abundance and diverstiy of salmon in the region, and the pristine ecosystem many populations of Kamchatka salmon and steelhead are still at risk. Poaching, overfishing, and a lack of management and enforcement by Russian authorities all threaten to degrade the riches of the region. Now the Russian Government in cooperation with the Wild Salmon center is working to reduce poaching and establish a series of Salmon conservation areas. Pick up a copy of National Geographic and check out the Article or visit the Wild Salmon Centers website to learn more about Kamchatka and their efforts to protect on of the last best salmon ecosystems in the world.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
The court imposed deadline for the Obama administration to submit an alternative proposal to the 2008 BiOp has been set for August 14th. The 2008 BiOp has been rejected a number of times on the grounds that it fails to address the fundemental issues contributing to salmon declines in the Columbia and Snake River systems and therefore does not ensure with any likelihood that the fish will recover. In May Judge James Redden who has presided over the case said that in order for the plan to be legal it must have a contingency plan for removal of the four lower Snake River dams should wild salmon and steelhead continue to decline. Now as the court imposed date approaches the dam removal camp appears to be gaining steam. Idahos two Republican Senators and Newly elected Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley have all made calls for the Obama administration to form a plan that ensures an enduring solution to the problems posed by the hydropower system and for the first time, many politicians and communities are open to discussing the prospect of removal.
Now three former Governors, John Kitzhaber of Oregon, Cecil Andrus of Idaho and Mike Lowry of Washington have drafted a letter asking the Obama administration to reject the 2008 BiOp and move forward providing leadership to ensure that a lasting solution is found. See the Coverage in the Oregonian
and view a copy of the letter at Save Our Wild Salmon's website
To date, Washington States two Senators have failed to provide consequential leadership on Columbia/Snake Salmon Recovery. It is important that they hear from their constituents that removing the dams on the Snake it a priority. If you are a Washington State Resident please contact both Maria Cantwell and Patty Murry and let them know that lasting salmon recovery is important to the Northwest.
Monday, August 3, 2009
The Hatchery Scientific Review Group is a consortium of government, tribal and other scientists which recognizing the many weaknesses of our hatchery system came together to provide recommendations for reform in Washington State and along the Columbia Basin. Their conclusions often fail to fully address the problems associated with hatchery supplementation, often relying on the idea that integrating the hatchery system (wild brood stock) is the answer. However even with the shortcomings of a document entrenched in the status quo they do recognize the fact that hatchery supplementation is significantly limiting wild productivity in many systems and in some cases recommend substantive changes to hatchery practices. Regardless of the scientific merits of the HSRG report, the website is a wealth of information on salmon and steelhead populations throughout the region, particularly the Columbia System. Check out the website, of particular interest are the Columbia River Conclusions and the system wide report.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
In June the Oregon State Forestry Board voted to increase the amount of area which can be clearcut in the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests from 50 to 70%. Now the Sierra Club and a consortium of other conservation groups including the Wild Salmon Center and Native Fish Society have asked the board to repeal their decision. Clatsop and Tillamook State forests represent some of the most intact and diverse forests on the Northern Oregon Coast and logging could threaten several important salmon and steelhead streams. Federal and State laws both mandate that the state preserve and restore aquatic habitats, however state scientists found that the logging plan would most likely lead to declines in many salmon bearing systems. See more information at the Oregonian.