Thursday, December 30, 2010

Weekly Action List

Weekly Action List 12/30/2010

Please take a few minutes to make your voice heard on these important issues.

WDFWs Fishing Mortatorium on the Elwha River.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has proposed to close the Elwha River to all fishing for 5 years following the removal of the dams. While the idea of closing the Elwha to protect early colonists of the river is good, 5 years is less than one full generation of steelhead and chinook. The state also plans to continue releasing nearly 60,000 chambers creek steelhead, more than 2 million hatchery chinook and 750,000 coho during the fishing moratorium. Releasing large numbers of out of basin hatchery fish which are released with the expressed purpose of supplementing harvest during the fishing moratorium is not only a waste of public funds, but fundementally threatens the ability of wild Elwha steelhead and salmon to successfully recolonize the upper river. Comments are due by Friday December 31st. More information:

Sandy Broodstock Programs
The Sandy River in the Lower Columbia is one of the most beloved rivers in Oregon and with relatively intact habitat and the removal of Marmot dam it offers a tremendous opportunity to recover wild steelhead. Instead, ODFW continues to operate three hatchery programs in the basin including a wild broodstock program which annually harvests between 10-15% of the wild run for egg take. This is inexcusable. Write ODFW and tell them you don't want them harvesting ESA listed wild fish to support harvest. More information:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Broodstock Hatchery Threatens Wild Sandy River Steelhead

Over the last decade, many populations of wild steelhead in the Columbia River have seen modest recoveries from low levels observed during the 1990s. Biologists have largely attributed increased wild abundance to improved ocean conditions at the mouth of the river. Meanwhile the Sandy River, home to one of the largest and historically important steelhead runs in the Lower Columbia has continued to decline. All this despite increased habitat protection and the removal of two dams in the basin. Meanwhile ODFW continued to plant nearly a quarter of a million hatchery steelhead into the river annually. During that time NMFS estimated a stray rate of nearly 45% for hatchery fish spawning in the basin.

In 2000, on top of the two hatchery programs already in place ODFW initiated a wild broodstock hatchery program which now harvests nearly 15% of the wild run. Meanwhile the wild population which as recently as 1980 topped 4000 fish now hovers below 5% of historic abundance at 700-1000 fish annually. Mining 15% of an ESA listed wild run to enhance harvest opportunity is absolutely unacceptable, furthermore wild broodstock hatchery fish residualize at a much higher rate and spawn at the same time as their wild counterparts dramatically increasing the ecological impacts of the program and the likelihood that hatchery fish spawn with wild. On the nearby Hood River, Hitoshi Araki and Michael Blouin of ODFW showed that even one generation in captivity is enough to significantly reduce the reproductive success of hatchery spawners so on the whole broodstock programs offer no conservation benefit to wild fish and may actually pose greater risk than traditional early timed stocks.

All this in a river with generally good habitat on the Columbia where some other populations have recently been trending upwards. The glaring different between the Sandy and other river systems where wild fish have recently been increasing in numbers...those systems have seen hatchery interactions with wild fish reduced or eliminated entirely. The Molalla River on the the Lower Willamette River has seen a more than 12 fold increase in wild steelhead abundance since hatchery programs were discontinued and populations continue to increase. Wild summer runs on both the Wind and Washougal Rivers have also benefited greatly from WDFW efforts to keep hatchery fish off the spawning grounds. Given the geographic proximity of these rivers outmigrant steelhead from the Molalla, Wind and Washougal have in all likelihood been experiencing the same marine environment as fish from the Sandy River. With high quality habitat throughout the Sandy basin, there is no reason the wild run could not recover to an even greater abundance than pre 1980s levels, however until ODFW deals with the impact of its hatchery programs on wild fish that will not happen. Instead, populations of wild steelhead on the Sandy will continue to decline as managers mine harvest 15% of the wild run to supplement harvest.

Sandy River Steelhead Returns at Marmot Dam

More information from NFS River Steward Spence miles at the Whitefish Can't Jump Blog:

Write ODFW and tell them what you think of their management of the Sandy.

Todd Alsbury
North Willamette District Biologist
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Ed Bowles
Fish Division Director
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Roy Elicker
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Columbia Fish Passage Mitigation Costs

An article a few weeks ago in the Oregonian detailed the success of a newly constructed concrete wall below the Dalles Dam spillway. The project was designed to improve juvenile fish passage past the deadly dam by transporting them away from shallow water areas where they were easy fodder for predators. After a failed attempt in 2004 the project was relaunched in 2008 and last spring, juvenile salmon and steelhead migrated past the $51 million dollar structure for the first time. The project was successful in increasing the survival of juvenile spring/summer chinook by 4 percent to 96%, and juvenile fall chinook 7 percent to 94%. While the survival of juvenile steelhead past the Dalles was not previously monitored, this spring 95% of the young fish made it past the dam. While such efforts are required to meet the ESA mandated mitigation obligations for operating the Columbia hydrosystem, they can only do so much and the cost of mitigation efforts is only going up and up. Biologists with the Army Corp of Engineers now list the Dalles as one of the most fish friendly on the Columbia, highlighting the fact that at many dams fewer fish survive passage.

Imagine for a moment a juvenile spring chinook migrating from the Snake River. These fish have to migrate past 8 dams during their trip to the pacific. Even with tremendously expensive measures in place to improve fish passage at the dams, on average about 5% of fish will die at each dam. Add that up and out of 100 outmigrating smolts nearly 35 will die before they even reach the ocean. While this is a vast improvement from the past, the undeniable fact is that dams are still a massive hindrance to the recovery of wild salmon in the Columbia. Add in the fact that smolts now arrive weeks later than they did historically and their odds of survival once they hit the ocean is further reduced. Federal regulators and biologists have tried to get around the problem by barging huge numbers of fish from the Snake to the Pacific, however the program has questionable survival benefits for juvenile fish and has the unintended consequence of dramatically increasing the rate of straying in the Columbia. Stray fish, particularly stray hatchery fish are a major danger to ESA listed wild fish because they are not adapted to the river in which they spawn. By increasing the stray rate on the Columbia we are reducing the productivity of wild stocks through introgression with unfit hatchery fish AND undermining local adaptation produced by thousands of years of genetic isolation.

The bottom line is, as long as the dams stand in the way of migrating salmon there is only so much we can do. While no one will argue that the economy in the Northwest will ever be without hydropower, there are a few things we can do. The first is to take out the four lower snake river dams which provide trivial amounts of power, and are in place only to provide massively subsidized transportation for wheat grown by farmers in eastern washington, oregon and idaho. The 2009-2010 budget for the Army Corps mitigation costs was $85 million dollars. A number of dams in the basin are owned by other entities so that cost is only a fraction of what is spent on fish mitigation each year in the Columbia. Add in the cost of maintaining the locks, dredging canals for shipping and you start to see the real cost of keeping the four Snake River dams in place.

We stand at a crossroads with Judge James Redden set to make a decision in the New Year on the legality of the Obama BiOp. Now is the time for the federal government to provide visionary leadership and a longterm solution to the ongoing battle over ESA listed Snake River salmon. Rather than fighting for the status quo where the shipping industry is massively subsidized by federal dollars we should be removing the four lower Snake dams and improving rail infrastructure to make up for lost transportation capacity.

See the article in the Oregonian:

Email or call Washington Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and tell them to take a stand for Snake River Salmon.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sea Lice PR Science Runs Wild

For about two weeks now the media has been flooded with stories about a new publication examining the impacts of salmon farming on populations of wild pink salmon. The study was done by a group of three researchers using data on lice levels in fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. Data which until now has been proprietary and the industry has refused to release to independent scientists. Previous work by Marty Krkosek and collaborators in 2007 have documented the impact of the salmon farming industry on wild salmon and a 2010 paper by Brendan Connors found that sea lice infestations were also depressing the productivity of Broughton coho salmon. Now as the Canadian public and government appear poised to push the industry towards closed containment that would finally eliminate the transfer of parasites and disease from salmon feedlots to wild juveniles, the aquaculture industry releases this piece of PR science, hiring three virtually unknown scientists, including a veterinarian who has worked for the salmon farming industry for over 15 years. This conflict of interest is clearly stated on the first page of the paper.

With pressure mounting on the salmon farming industry they sought to infuse uncertainty into the debate, and rather than testing a set of hypotheses in an objective fashion the scientists appear to have set out to show that salmon farming has no appreciable impact on the productivity of wild salmon. This is glaringly obvious in a few parts of the paper. Among the most astonishing quotes are,

"all published lab and field data support the conclusion that something other than fish farms caused the population decline in 2002."

This is simply not true. Previous population modeling has absolutely attributed declines to high parasite loading coming from salmon farms. At the height of the sealice outbreaks upwards of 90% of wild juveniles were infected with sealice. Pink salmon juveniles lack scales and therefore are highly vulnerable to parasites.

They then go on to discuss laboratory studies of sea lice infection on juvenile pink salmon. Saying,

"Because most or all of the initially infested fish shed their lice before they died, the cause of death remains unknown, and the evidence points to something other than sea lice killing most of the fish."

This is absolutely ludicrous. Ecotoparasites like sea lice are more than capable of leaving hosts at any time and have even been shown to move from juvenile pinks to larger predatory coho salmon during the act of predation. The fact that they aren't on the juvenile pink salmon at the time of death by no means vindicates the sea lice. That would be the equivalent of saying that because someone died of a bullet wound after the murderer has fled the scene that they did not die because of the individual who shot them. The authors also cite relatively low mortality of infected pink salmon in the lab environment, again this is just not biologically relevant. In the wild, juvenile pink salmon don't just die. They fall victim to predators, they are lost to disease, they starve for lack of food. In a laboratory environment the effect of sea lice cannot be fully accounted for because the actual sources of mortality are largely absent and the fish are fed on a daily basis. In the wild, infected pink salmon fry grow more slowly and are much more likely to fall victim to predators and disease.

that's not a healthy salmon

The analysis done by Marty et al. found what it was looking for. Part of the problem is the sea lice records only go back as far as 2000. Prior to that the farms did not document sea lice levels, however they had become a problem before that. Pink salmon are naturally extremely variable in their productivity and with a short time series the effect of a perturbation like high sea lice loading is likely to be masked by natural variability. Furthermore for the entire second half of the sea lice timeseries 2000-2009 the farms were aggressively treating fish with slice, an anti-sealice medication that can dramatically reduce sea lice densities, at least until they develop resistance.

I wondered however if I did a similar analysis, what I would find. Just so happened that I had the DFO escapement/runsize data for the Broughton archipelago on hand from a class project. By comparing the number of spawners in a given year to the number of recruits two years later (all pink salmo return to spawn at age two) we can make inferences about the relative productivity in a given year and model the effects of various factors ranging from environmental conditions, and spawner density to the number of farm salmon in the broughton archipelago. My time series went from 1976 to 2004 so I was unable to capture the latter portion of the period in question, but given the fact that the salmon farming industry started in the Broughton in the early 1990s that gave me 14 years of salmon farm data to use. Keep in mind this is by no means peer reviewed, but I think it provides some valuable insights.

I used what is called a stepwise model selection, basically starting by just modeling the relationship between spawners and spawners/recruits log transformed so that the data fits the assumptions of a linear model.

relationship between spawner abundance and log(r/s) in the Broughton Archipelago. x-axis is spawner abundance, y is log (r/s)

Not surprisingly I found a highly significant negative relationship between spawner abundance and the per spawner productivity. This is commonly seen in productive populations of salmon where densitry dependence can limit population growth. Basically the more spawners, the less available resources for each individual fish and the population growth rate declines in the subsequent generation.

The next step was to add in farm salmon abundance into the model. Data is in gigatons. Using a full factorial linear model, there is a nearly significant negative relationship between productivity and spawners*farmed fish (p=0.085) (see below for an explanation of p-values) adding farm salmon to the model also improved our model fit (R^2) from 0.56 to 0.62. While interactions between factors in a model can be difficult to interpret, this one is actually fairly straightforward. Basically in our linear equation spawners*farmsalmon has the effect of -0.00000008391, the number may seem small, but in multiply that coefficient by the spawners*farmsalmon and we see it can actually have a pretty profound impact. For 2000 spawners*farm salmon is 25276888 meaning that on average log (recruits/spawner) is reduced by -2.12. That's a considerable impact.

This is because, as Marty et al. demonstrated convincingly in their paper, the density of sealice on salmon farms during the spring outmigration is actually closely associated with the abundance of adult pink salmon the previous fall. Adult pink salmon naturally carry sea lice, however normally they die prior to the emergence of their offspring meaning that juveniles rarely encounter sealice until they are large enough to fend off the parasites. Instead, salmon farms serve as refuges for sealice, which become extremely abundant in the high density feedlots. So despite the lack of sea lice data before 2000, the spawners*farmsalmon interaction probably does the best job of characterizing sea lice abundance in the Broughton prior to 2000.

Figures from Marty et al. in PNAS

A is the abundance of sea lice relative to the abundance of spawning pink salmon. Note that in years of high spawner abundance there are more lice in farms.

B is the prevalence of sealice on juvenile pink salmon relative to the abundance of lice on farms. No surprise there, lice from farms are ending up on wild juveniles.

While this is basically a back of the napkin analysis, it demonstrates just how robust the conclusions drawn by Marty et al. PR science has no place in a reputable journal like the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and the salmon farming industry quickly revved its. PR machine to ensure maximum media coverage. Lets hope the reading public are smarter than the gullible journalists because the wild salmon are the ones paying the price for the industry's unwillingness to take farms out of the ocean and move to closed containment.

*a p value simply describes probability of observing the given result randomly. In ecology a p-value below 0.05 is considered significant, however in other fields a p of 0.10 is significant, and given the high degree of variability this sort of result should give readers of the Marty et al, sea lice PR paper more than a little pause in accepting their results at face value.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bycatch a Growing Concern for Alaskan Pollock Fishery

In recent years the commercial bycatch of Chinook salmon by Pollock Fisherman has surged. This year more than 50,000 chinook has prompted the North Pacific Fisheries Management council to call for a fast track plan to reduce the impact of Pollock fisheries. Higher than normal bycatch and recent declines in the abundance of many Alaskan Chinook populations have led to heightened concern that the pollock fishery may be having a substantial impact. Further complicating the issue is the fact that depressed populations of Chinook from Canada, Washington and Oregon feed in the Gulf of Alaska and are threatened by bycatch. High bycatch has also been documented in Bering Sea Pollock Fisheries and in 2007 a record 120,000 chinook were taken. NOAA has already implement a bycatch limit for Bering Sea fisheries and the same could be on the way for the Gulf of Alaska. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Governor Plans to Merge WDFW with other Agencies

In a plan released last week, Washington State governor Chris Gregoire proposed to merge 21 state agencies into 9. With the state facing record budget shortfalls, state lawmakers have been forced to think critically about the role of many state agencies and how best to implement consolidation and still provide essential services. Under the plan the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would be merged with State Parks and Recreation, The Recreation and Conservation Office and the Department of Natural Resources law enforcement under the banner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The state's budget woes have hit WDFW hard over the past year forcing them to cut staff and take a hard look at many programs. With an emphasis on saving money and reducing waste the department should cut many of its hatchery programs. In puget sound in particular the state releases millions of fish annually but poor marine survival means that hatchery programs see very few fish returning. A state auditors report last year revealed that the average blackmouth caught in Puget Sound costs taxpayers nearly 800 dollars. Not only are these hatchery programs wasteful, but they're hindering the recovery of ESA listed wild steelhead and chinook in the sound. More information in the Seattle Times.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good News in the Fight Against Enbridge

Last week opponents of a proposed oil pipeline and tanker route through some of BCs most important salmon habitat scored a major victory when the House of Commons voted in support of a tanker ban along BC's Central Coast. Enbridge corporation has proposed to build an oil pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands, across northern BC to Kitimat where oil would then be loaded onto tankers and shipped south. Unfortunately the proposed route for the pipeline directly threatens the Upper Fraser and Skeena Rivers as well as the BC Central Coast. These there areas support the majority of BC's healthy salmon populations and such a project could prove disastrous in the case of an accident. In the unstable, landslide and avalanche prone terrain of Northern BC a spill is inevitable and the proposed shipping corridor would be through very treacherous fjords known for violent weather and tides. Polls show that 80% of BC residents support the tanker ban. More information at the living oceans society website:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Support The Osprey

For twenty three years the Osprey has brought the public timely, relevant information regarding the science, policy and management of wild salmonids. Help us continue to be a strong voice for wild fish with your tax deductible year end donation to the Osprey. Our work is made possible by your support. Donate or subscribe at:

Chris DeLeone photo

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weekly Action List 12/13/2010

Weekly Action List 12/13/10
Please take the time to make your voice heard on these important issues.

-Comment on the extension of the Snider Creek Wild Broodstock Program on the Sol Duc River. The program, designed to enhance early run wild steelhead has been operating for 25 years taking an average of 44 wild fish per year to produce hatchery reared offspring. Throughout its history the program has been plagued by poor performance and has produced an average return of less than 300 fish. Given the ecological and genetic impacts of such a program and its continually poor performance, this program should be abandoned. Comments are due by December 15th.

More info:
WDFWs website:

-Comment on the proposed Elwha Fishing Moratorium. WDFW and the tribe plan to continue planting nearly 60,000 chambers creek hatchery steelhead in the Elwha throughout the period of dam removal. Segregated stocks like chambers creek are used for the expressed purpose of supplementing fishing. With a fishing moratorium in place there is no justification for such a program. Chambers creek stock are known to have extremely poor fitness when spawning in the wild and allowing the entire run to return, uncaught and spawn in the wild, impeding the recovery of wild fish in the system. WDFW is also hosting a meeting on December 15th in Port Angeles on the topic.

More info:
WDFW website:

Oregon Refuses Barbless Regulation on Columbia

The Washington Department of Fish and wildlife is urging anglers to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon on the Lower Columbia River. The department had hoped to adopt a rule requiring the use of barbless hooks but co-managers in Oregon refused. Salmon fisheries in the lower Columbia target hatchery raised salmon however every year substantial numbers of ESA listed wild fish are caught and released. A barbless rule would maximize survival of wild fish which by law must be released and there is absolutely no reason why Oregon should oppose this rule. Their position is especially perplexing in light of their long running involvement in other issues on the Columbia including opposition to the 2008 BiOp. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fighting Pebble Mine

In the ongoing battle to stop Pebble Mine and its disastrous impacts on Bristol Bay's salmon dependent communities and ecosystems 2011 will be a critical year. Opponents have asked the EPA to use the clean water act to declare the project illegal. As we wait for political action out of Washington, it is critical that the public continues to stand up for Bristol Bay and oppose Pebble. Check out the Natural Resource Defense Councils website for more information on fighting Pebble Mine and to find out what you can do.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cohen Demands Salmon Disease Records

For the first time disease records from 120 salmon farms in British Columbia will be made public. The industry has long fought against transparency, but a ruling yesterday by BC supreme court Justice Bruce Cohen found that the disease records were of great relevance to the inquiry into declining productivity of Fraser Sockeye. So for the first time the records dating back to 2000 will be made public. Salmon advocates have long argued that disease is a missing piece of the puzzle and hope that this ruling will improve the ability of inquiry to fully understand factors which have contributed to declines in Fraser Sockeye. Furthermore the ruling should serve as a wake up call to fish farming companies that they do not operate in with impunity British Columiba. and that they will finally be getting long overdue scrutiny from government. Parasites from salmon farms have been linked to major declines in populations of wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago and the Northern Georgia Strait and are likely contributing to the collapse of wild salmon in some areas along Vancouver Islands West Coast. Now with disease records from all over the province being made public scientists and policy makers will have access to an under appreciated and crucial part of the story of how salmon farming is affecting wild salmon. More information in the Victoria Times Colonist:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Historic Abundance, Real Context for Recovery

While data on the past abundance of salmon and steelhead in our rivers can be hard to come by, it is generally acknowledged that there were alot more salmon in the past. Often we hear "salmon so thick you could walk across their backs" as a description of past salmon abundance. Unfortunately, most agency records date back only to the 1950s and the majority of monitoring efforts were not started until the 1970s or later, so we have mostly been left to speculate about exactly how productive our rivers once were, unitl recently.

In 2006 Bill McMillan published an analysis which he coauthored with Nick Gayeski of the Wild Fish Conservancy. The report, which predictably, was widely dismissed by WDFW officials, is the best attempt ever made to quantify historic abundance of steelhead in Washington State. Using early commercial fishing and cannery records they made the first robust estimates of steelhead abundance in many of Washington's Rivers. What the found was startling, many of the rivers in Washington State once supported tens of thousands of steelhead. In the heart of steelhead's range these rivers supported some of the most productive and diverse populations of steelhead in the North Pacific at the time of colonization. Historical records suggest the Stillaguamish River once supported a run of 60-90 thousand winter steelhead. Today the escapement goal is 950 fish, as little as 1% of historic abundance. In 2009 WDFW estimated that 125 winter fish returned to the entire Stillaguamish basin. On the Queets data shows that historically between 50 and 80 thousand fished returned annually. Today run sizes are depressed below 10 thousand fish and commercial harvest of steelhead continues to take a substantial portion of the run every year. In another recent analysis of the North Umpqua River canning records, McMillan uses information dating from 1919 to estimate historic abundance of steelhead on the Umqua well in excess of 100 thousand fish and possibly as high as 200 thousand fish.

Taken in the context of modern steelhead abundances where populations are most often counted in the few hundreds, tens of thousands of fish can seem difficult to imagine. How could we have possibly driven populations to such low levels, and why can't we recover some semblance of historic abundance. To fully incorporate historic abundance into our recovery goals we must first understand the process by which populations were so rapidly depleted. While historic records are undoubtedly patchy, the story they tell is one of fantastically abundant populations of salmon and steelhead in the period of the first american settlements in the Northwest. Within a few generations many populations had collapsed to much lower levels of abundance. This can be explained by a couple of mechanisms. With protracted freshwater rearing, steelhead are typically much less productive than their salmon cousins and intensive harvest likely meant that within a few generations, only the most productive portions of the stock complex remained.The rate at which agriculture and resource extraction changed the landscape also had profound impacts on steelhead populations. Clearing of forested floodplains for agriculture, diking of floodplain reaches, dredging for barge traffic, splash damming and extensive timber harvest, unregulated mining and the construction of irrigation dams which blocked fish passage all brought devastation to once pristine habitats. Even 100 years later, the legacy of these impacts remains.

While historic abundance numbers may paint a grim picture of devastation and loss in populations of salmon and steelhead, it also provides hope. Salmon and steelhead have throughtout their history recovered from catastrophic disturbances including glaciation, megafloods and volcanic eruptions. As our understanding of the linkages between intact habitat and the productivity of salmon and steelhead grows we are increasingly capable of undertaking restoration projects which can benefit wild fish. The next step however is changing the culture that surrounds salmon. With so many economic and cultural interests in play, moving away from the status quo of intensive harvest and large scale hatchery supplementation will be extremely difficult but not unattainable. We will never recover populations to historic levels, but by incorporating our knowledge of historic abundance and habitat loss we may someday be able to recover populations to a level beyond what our current management paradigms could ever imagine.

See the 2006 publication at Wild Salmon Center's website:

An interesting analysis reposted on the North Umpqua Fly Guide Blog:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

WDFW Accepting Comments on Elwha Fishing Mortatorium

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is accepting comments on a proposed 5 year fishing moratorium and a public meeting will be held December 15th in Port Angeles. This summer Elwha and Glines canyon dam will come out on the Lower Elwha, opening the upper 90 miles of river to anadromous salmonids for the first time in 100 years. Closing fishing during the period following dam removal is essential for the recovery process and 5 years should be considered an absolute bare minimum. Five years is one generation for Chinook, and Steelhead which means very little recovery is likely to have happened in that time. True recovery will take time as salmon and steelhead will have to stray into the newly available habitats, diversify and become locally adapted. Luckily the habitat on the Elwha is some of the most pristine in the lower 48 with most of the river protected in the National Park and eventually salmon and steelhead should be able to return to near historic levels of abundance.

Unfortunately it appears, at least at present that continued supplementation of the Elwha with hatchery fish will continue even during the fishing moratorium. During the last century hatcheries were built on the Lower Elwha to mitigate the effects of the dams and lost habitat and support both sport and commercial fisheries. Now that the habitat is once again accessible and the fisheries will be closed for at least five years there is little need for hatchery supplementation. Particularly concerning is the fact that WDFW plans to continue planting almost 60,000 chambers creek steelhead throughout the recolonization process. Chambers creek fish are a segregated stock, planted with the express purpose of supporting harvest and with fishing closed there is absolutely no need to continue that program. Furthermore WDFW's own data shows that Chambers Creek fish have much lower reproductive success than their wild counterparts when they spawn in the wild. Allowing these fish to spawn in the wild will only slow the process of recolonization by reducing the reproductive success of wild fish.

WDFW is accepting comments on the Elwha fishing moratorium until December 31st. Please submit comments and support the fishing moratorium. The Elwha recover is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Tell the department:

  • Five years should be considered a bare minimum for the fishing moratorium and longer closures should be considered if populations have not recovered after 5 years.
  • Chambers creek steelhead should absolutely not be planted in the Elwha during the recolonization. Segregated hatchery stocks are intended to supplement harvest and with a harvest moratorium in place there is no need to continue this program.
  • Chambers creek steelhead spawning in the wild are likely to hinder wild steelhead recovery on the Elwha. This is unacceptable and can be easily avoided.
Comments are accepted at:

WDFW Rules Coordinator Lori Preuss at or 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

Contact WDFW biologist Ron Warren with more questions: 360-249-4628

More information on the WDFW website:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Califorinia River Having Record Chinook Returns

Buoyed by productive ocean conditions and a three year moratorium on ocean harvest rivers throughout Northern California is seeing strong returns of Chinook Salmon this year. As of mid-November biologists had trapped 1,600 Chinook at the Van Arsdale counting station on the Eel River nearing the previous record of 1,754. The counting facility is on the upper mainstem Eel and passes fish above Cape Horn Dam, so the actual counts of Chinook in the Eel are certainly much higher. Rivers throughout the Central Valley are also seeing strong returns just a few short years after record low counts triggered closures in ocean commercial fisheries. While commercial fishing moratoriums in Northern California have been a tough pill to swallow, abundant returns this year are no doubt benefiting from the closure. Not only have returning salmon in this years run been more numerous, they've also been larger on average. Check out two articles about this years boom in Chinook Returns:

Record returns on the Eel River:

Salmon rebounding on the Sacramento:

Also, an interesting report on historic abundance in the Eel:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Closed Containment Gains Momentum

After years of struggle, advocates of closed containment aquaculture for salmon may finally be gaining some ground. Many stocks of wild salmon along BC's southern coast have been decimated by open net pen aquaculture, where millions of atlantic salmon are raised in a feedlot like setting, spreading parasites and disease to local populations of wild salmon. Despite the impact of open net pen aquaculture, industry and government officials have long argued against farming salmon in closed containment systems on land, saying it would be far too costly and would render the industry uncompetitive. Now though, the mentality appears to be changing. A number of high profile projects have been started by private parties and by non-profit organizations to demonstrate the viability of salmon aquaculture on land and a recent DFO study concluded that closed-containtment aquaculture could be economically viable and warrants further consideration. More information in a press release from the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR):

and from the Vancouver Sun:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Osprey Among 100 Best Blogs for Studying Oceans

The Osprey Blog was recently selected as one of the 100 best blogs for studying the ocean. The list was compiled by We're honored to be considered along side a great group of dedicated and passionate people working to increase awareness on the importance of our oceans and the environmental challenges we face. Check out the full list here...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Puget Sound Steelhead Issues Entering the Mainstream

Check out this informative and well written article on the state of steelhead returns in Puget Sound. It's great to see objective information about the management of our steelhead populations and what role hatcheries are playing in policy decisions around the area financially reaching mainstream audiences. Many hatchery programs in the sound have seen ocean survival below 1% during the last 10 years and returns of wild fish hit record lows the last three seasons. WDFW just announced that is will be closing significant portions of many Puget Sound Rivers to ensure hatchery egg take goals begging the question, if hatchery programs designed to enhance harvest opportunity are failing to meet even that modest goal, whats the justification for the program? The state is struggling financially and closing some of the hatchery programs around the Puget Sound would save money while simultaneously alleviating some of ecological and genetic impacts on wild populations.

Monday, November 22, 2010

WDFW Accepting Comments on Snider Creek Broodstock Program

The contract for the Snider Creek Broodstock program on the Sol Duc River is expiring in 2011 and WDFW is accepting public comments on the future of the program. The Snider Program takes early returning wild fish, spawns them in the hatchery and releases their offspring for harvest opportunity. In its 25 year history the program has been terribly managed and has been a massive waste of the few early returning wild fish that remain in the Sol Duc. It is critical that the public tells WDFW that this failing program needs to be curtailed. Comments are due before December 15th.

Comment at:

Snider Creek Steelhead Hatchery Bullet Points

1. General effects of supplementation hatcheries

Evidence in scientific literature suggests numerous negative impacts of supplementation hatcheries, of which I will discuss two; A) Fitness B) Ecological Interactions.

A. Low Fitness in the wild: Supplementation hurts wild runs through low productivity of HxH crosses and HxW crosses, and these effects can last multiple generations, potentially depressing productivity of wild populations.

B. Ecological Interactions: Residualized hatchery smolts as well as the offspring of hatchery-origin fish that spawn in the wild both compete with wild juveniles for limited food and space in freshwater rearing areas and may precociously spawn with wild steelhead. Scale data from WDFW in fact shows considerable proportions of the Snider Program adults return after rearing for an additional year or two after release in freshwater (Mean = 11.5%). This is direct evidence of hatchery smolts using, and presumably competing for, the same limited freshwater rearing habitats and resources as wild juveniles. Further, this percentage likely underestimates the actual percentage of released fish that residualize because residualized fish produce 11.5% of the adult returns after surviving for one year in freshwater. Surviving the additional year in freshwater likely incurs at least 50% mortality, suggesting that at least 20% of the initial releases actually residualize. This represents an additional ~10,000 (20% of a 50,000 Mean Annual Release) hatchery O. mykiss parr competing with wild juveniles as a result of the program.

2. Unclear or contradictory program goals

If the Snider program was designed to supplement the wild population, the mass-marking and open-harvest of returning adults is contradictory to that purpose. If the purpose of the program is to provide harvest, then it comes with the direct cost of removing individuals from the wild population to satisfy this objective. Further, if the latter is the case, there is already an existing segregated program to provide harvest opportunity that doesn’t require the mining of wild populations.

3. Impacts on already-depressed early component of wild run

The program removes wild fish from the segment of the wild population with run timing that is most depressed (early)—a time of year that wild steelhead retention was just outlawed by WDFW (in 2010) in recognition of the depressed state of early runs.

4. Low and inconsistent smolt quality, low rearing survival, and resulting impacts

The program consistently fails to meet state steelhead rearing guidelines. It has low eyed egg to fry survival (Mean = 72.4%) and low fry to smolt survival (Mean =69.6%), both of which should be greater than 90% in a successful hatchery program. It has highly variable mean smolt size (Range of Mean Annual Size = 5.5 to 17 fish/lb) between years, and high individual size variation within a year, both of which likely lead to much higher than desired rates of residualism because large numbers of fish are too small to smolt or are so large that they are likely to precociously mature and then may spawn with wild steelhead.

5. Disease impacts

Infectious Hematopoetic Necrosis (IHN) of the M clade, which is most virulent in steelhead, has spread throughout hatcheries across the Washington Coast over the last several years, exposing na├»ve wild populations to the diasease. Last year the positive test results for wild fish captured for the program resulted in their slaughter and thus the waste of those wild steelhead—they weren’t necessarily infected before being caught but may have been infected during holding together in close proximity at the hatchery—the program likely infected and then killed those wild steelhead with no tangible benefit.

6. Low productivity of program

The program produces small run sizes most years (Mean = 210 or 290 using either WDFW run reconstruction method), has low contributions to fisheries (Mean Tribal + Sport Catch = 140.2; Mean Total Run Size = 210 or 290 using either WDFW run reconstruction method), and very low smolt to adult survival (Mean = 0.34% in other words 3.4 returning adults for every 1000 smolts). This suggests bad hatchery rearing practices (see #4) and/or low smolt to adult survival. This is a much lower return rate than the segregated Chambers Creek stock currently planted on the Bogachiel and Calawah (Mean SAR = 8.3%, in other words 83 returning adults for every 1000 smolts released), and is poor in comparison to virtually all other existing steelhead programs in the state.

7. Cost

The program costs thousands of dollars per year to operate and oversee during a time when the state is in its biggest budget crunch ever.

8. Cumulative impacts of hatcheries in the Quillayute Basin

The Percent Hatchery Origin Spawners (PHOS) spawning in the wild from the segregated programs in the Quillyute Basin is already above the HSRG recommendation of 5% based on the WDFW run reconstruction data. To bring it in to line with HSRG recommendations, reductions in hatchery production are needed. A program like the Snider Creek program only increases the hatchery influence in a basin where it is out of compliance with HSRG recommendations.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wild Harvest Continues on the Olympic Peninsula

Following last years rule change proposals WDFW is reminding anglers that wild retention on Olympic Peninsula rivers does not open until February 16th. In years past, wild steelhead could be harvested beginning December 1st. The rule change is designed to help the depressed early component of the wild run recover. Unfortunately though, tribal netting continues to be extremely intense during the first half of the season, and while the state and tribes will argue that they're targeting hatchery fish, gill nets are non-selective. Also, this year the Pysht and Hoko are closed to retention because, "runs have recently been in decline". No surprise there. The WDFW policy appears to be, harvest wild steelhead until populations decline, even below the absurdly low escapement goals the state sets for steelhead populations.

It is time to change the paradigm of harvest or nothing. If we hope to have any fishing opportunity for wild steelhead in a few decades it is critical that the state understand the necessity of statewide catch and release. Not until sport harvest of wild steelhead ends can WDFW have any reasonable negotiating leverage with tribal fishers who continue to harvest more than 30% of wild runs on many Olympic peninsula rivers. The state of Alaska long ago realized the value of wild steelhead as a sport fish, managed for catch and release opportunity. Despite the fact that steelhead populations are healthy throughout much of the state, steelhead are managed for statewide catch and release in Alaska. Meanwhile, many populations on the Olympic Peninsula are in decline, largely due to overharvest. The Hoh River has missed its escapement goal 5 of the last 10 years. The Olympic Peninsula is fortunate to have some of the finest habitat remaining habitat in the Lower 48, sadly with continued overharvest of wild steelhead it's only a matter of time before populations decline further.

Press Release From WDFW:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Counties Begging for more Hatchery Handouts

Four counties, Pacific and Wahkiakum in Washington and Clatsop and Columbia in Oregon recently sent a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) complaining that the recent DEIS for the operation of Mitchell Act hatcheries on the Columbia is flawed. They argue that the plan, which outlined ways which federally funded hatchery operations could reduce their impact on ESA listed wild stocks is flawed because it should actually be providing more funding for increased hatchery production on the Columbia system. This letter demonstrates the sad reality of what the Columbia hatchery system has become, social welfare for communities which have become dependent on artificially produced fish to support both sport and commercial fishing. The assertion that the Columbia river system needs more hatchery fish is absurd, the river system is already home to 178 hatchery programs. Simply put, the numbers of hatchery fish is not limiting down river fishing opportunity.

Instead of dragging their feet and resisting change to a broken system, the counties should realize that commercial and sport fishing opportunities will continue to be limited as long as some upriver stocks are teetering at the brink of extinction. Hatchery fish are already extremely abundant in the Columbia, ESA listed wild fish are currently the limiting factor as fisheries must be managed to limit by-catch of fragile populations. How about developing more mark selective fisheries? How about understanding that wild populations cannot recover to a level that will allow the type of fishing pressure these counties want until hatcheries are no longer limiting their productivity, undermining their genetic integrity and adaptive potential? Fighting for the broken status quo is like fighting harder to escape quicksand. The DEIS is based on the best available science and if adopted it would be the biggest step forward for salmon and steelhead on the Columbia since the era of dam construction and hatchery supplementation began.

Here's a link to the story in the Oregonian:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bruce Brown on Hatcheries

Last month, as a follow up to a profile he wrote about Northwest author Bruce Brown, Ron Judd posted a short piece with some of Bruce Brown's thoughts on hatcheries. In 1982 Brown authored the now legendary book Mountain in the Clouds A Search for the Wild Salmon, a book which has served as a foundation for three decades of work to remove the Elwha dams and advocate for wild salmon. The debate about hatchery impacts on wild salmon is too often out of the public eye, yet hatcheries are among the biggest hurdles to the recovery of wild salmon in Washington State. Check out the story and the follow up in the Seattle Times:

Bruce Brown on Hatcheries:

Ron Judd's profile on Brown:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Elwha Weir is Up and Running

This fall, in preparation for the removal of the Elwha river dams in September 2011, biologists from the Elwha Klallam Tribe, NOAA, WDFW and the USFWS installed a resistance board weir on the lower river. The project is the largest floating weir on the westcoast and will allow for the safe capture and handling of all migrating salmonids while the river is below 2000 cfs. The Elwha once supported robust runs of all 5 species of pacific salmon as well as summer and winter steelhead, anadromous bull trout and cutthroat however since the construction of Elwha Dam in 1910, migrating fish have been blocked at river mile 4.9. With 90% of the river protected within the national park, the Elwha is perhaps the most pristine river in the Lower 48 states. Now with the dams coming out, the Elwha will be the largest dam removal and salmon restoration project in history with the weir giving biologists the unique opportunity to accurately monitor the recolonization process.

While the purpose of the Elwha dam removal has always been to restore robust populations of wild salmon and steelhead, concerns about high sediment loads in the period following the dam removal have prompted managers to implement a strategy that calls for the continued supplementation of Chinook, Coho, Chum and Steelhead in the Elwha. The weir however will allow biologists the opportunity to track the reproductive success of all species and compare between hatchery and wild spawners, and ultimately serve as a way to sort hatchery fish out of the spawning population.

For more information about the weir and to see photos check out:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Protect the Thompson From Hatcheries, Sign the Petition Today

This year, for the second time this decade, fisheries mangers opted not to open the BC's legendary Thompson River. For the last 5 years returns have hovered at extremely low levels, with only 800-1200 fish returning annually. Now, with steelhead stocks critically depressed some ill informed angler groups are calling for a hatchery program. Thirty years of science and recovery efforts elsewhere have demonstrated that hatchery fish are not adequate replacements for wild and that when spawning in the wild, their reproductive success is often reduced as much as 90%. Adding a hatchery on the Thompson would only serve to further depress wild stocks. At this point the wild population cannot afford such a setback. Sign the petition today and tell fisheries managers the Thompson must remain wild.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

McKenzie River Water For Sale

A judge recently ruled that the Eugene Water and Electrical Board could enter wholesale water sales agreements without the city's approval. EWEB currently can withdraw as much 76 million gallons per day from the McKenzie, however it owns a second right to an additional 118 million gallons per day which it currently is not exercising and which will be lost if it is not used. Now the utility wants to sell 4 million of those gallons to Ventana to ensure its claim on the additional 118 gallons is not lost, opening the pandoras box for a potential 21st century gold rush on the McKenzie's water. ODFW, anticipating a potential conflict has established a minimum flow requirement of 2000 cfs, required for protecting threatened Upper Willamette Spring Chinook as well as the river's unique population of Redband Rainbows. More information on the Oregon Fly Fishing blog:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Salmon Farm Diseases Threaten All Westcoast Salmon

DFO and the Salmon Farming Companies are playing Russian roulette with the worlds greatest run of sockeye, exposing wild salmon from the Fraser as well as most of the rest of southern BC to disease and parasites from salmon farms and refusing to make disease records public. Furthermore, most salmon migrating from the rivers of the Lower 48 states migrate north along the west coast of Vancouver Island where salmon farms now fill Clayoquot, Nootka and other once pristince ecosystems. Exposing wild salmon populations to disease without regards for the consequences represents gross negligence and it is imperative that the public continue to put pressure on the government to take salmon farming out of the ocean and put it on land where it belongs. There are stirrings of change within the Canadian government and a bill has been brought to the house of commons by MP Fin Donnelly that would mandate all salmon farming operations be moved onto land. More information on bill c-518 and how you can get involved:

Check out this startling email from Alex Morton with links to some very informative articles:


There is a very real viral threat to BC wild salmon underway. I can't get government to react appropriately, so I am calling on all of you who are on BC rivers right now. Norway has just found a highly contagious RNA virus that has been sweeping through their salmon feedlots for 10 years. While the symptoms were obvious, the virus was difficult to identify. Norwegian salmon feedlots have been importing Atlantic eggs into BC every year. If they only just identified this virus ... their eggs could not have been screen for it. The door has been wide open to infect the Pacific with this Atlantic virus.

At the same time a DFO scientist is reporting that the majority of wild salmon that travel north out of the Fraser River through salmon feedlot effluent are being killed by an unidentified virus.

Brain lesions linked to sharp drop in sockeye stocks
VANCOUVER— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Many of you have told me about sending sockeye disease samples to DFO and never getting responses. I would strongly suggest you contact DFO about these samples until you get an answer.

Many of you have also written to me about sockeye dying on the riverside this year full of eggs. While this may be normal in low numbers, I am hearing extremely high numbers. Contact your local DFO officers until they come out with you and take samples and count the rate of prespawn mortality. I have been trying to inspire action with no success, so it is over to you.

A memo circulated yesterday by the Globe and Mail
reveals that senior DFO consider this "emerging disease factor" as one of the three causes of the sockeye crash last year. But they never mentioned this. They let the fishermen and First Nations take the blame. They left us in the dark, why?

Time is of the essence. Take pictures of any prespawn mortality. Go with your DFO community representative to take samples, open the dead fish and take pictures, particularly of their kidneys.

We all know this is up to us, but we also know your local DFO folks are almost certainly willing to help. I have cc'd the minister in case she cares to respond.

Please send me what you find so I can keep track.


Fish Passage Helps Sandy Coho, Steelhead

Stan Petrowski Photo

This year, for the first time in more than 50 years, the upper reaches of Cedar Creek, a Sandy River tributary will be accessible to anadromous fish. Cedar Creek is the site of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery on the Sandy River and a weir, designed to stop hatchery fish has blocked wild anadromous fish since its construction in the 1950s. Now, with the help of funding from the city of Portland, a new passage facility has been constructed allowing hatchery technicians to sort out hatchery fish and pass wild fish upriver. The project should benefit both Coho and Steelhead which historically spawned in upper Cedar Creek. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rogue Salmon Benefitting From Dam Removal

The last five years have been a whirlwind of dam removal on the Rogue River, making it a model of how local governments, fish managers and the public can work together to quickly remove dams, improve habitats and restore native salmonids. Since 2008 three mainstem dams which historically impeded fish passage have been removed and another dam has been removed on Elk Creek, a critical tributary for ESA listed Coho. Today the Rogue runs free 157 miles from Lost Creek Dam to the Pacific and the salmon appear to be benefitting. Check out this article in the Oregonian documenting some of the changes to the rivers habitat and how salmon are already spawning in areas which were inundated by dams just this summer.

More information: