Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Judicial Inquiry into Fraser Collapse Underway

Judicial inquiry into last years catastrophically poor sockeye returns on the Fraser got underway last week in Vancouver. Fraser Sockeye have been declining fairly steadily over the last two decades. While many seek to blame a single culprit, declining sockeye runs on the Fraser are the product of a changing climate, changes in ocean productivity, high prespawn mortality in some components of the Fraser sockeye stock and in all likelihood the proliferation of salmon farms in the Georgia Basin.

Most contentious among the potential factors is the role being played by the multimillion dollar salmon farming industry, most of which is owned by Norwegian multinational corporations. The industry has repeatedly denied its impact on Fraser sockeye, however farms have been shown to dramatically increase the density of sea lice a parasite capable of killing juvenile salmon. Salmon farms have been implicated in huge declines of pink and chum salmon in the Johnstone Strait and in the Broughton Archipeligo and in some cases fallowing (removing salmon from net pens) has been used to reduce sea lice densities in the juvenile migration path.

The inquiry is expected to last for sometime, and meanwhile this summers forecast is bleak. Fewer than half of the forecasted salmon stocks in BC predicted to see returns below sustainable levels. More info in an article from the Digital Journal

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Current Columbia Salmon Plan Hurts Endangered Salmon

Last week, a group of retired government biologists joined forces to publish a guest editorial in the Oregonian. The group, led by retired IDFG director Rod Sando stops short of saying that the only solution on the Columbia system is removing Snake Dams however they are highly critical to proposed reductions in spill during the critical spring outmigration. Check out the editorial in the Oregonian.

Bycatch Limits Coming for Bering Sea Pollock Fishery

Over the last three to four years, populations of Chinook salmon in many Western Alaska rivers have seen poor returns. Of particular concern is the Chinook run on the Yukon where successive years of dismal chinook runs have led the federal government to declare a fisheries disaster to facilitate aid for Native Alaskan Villages which rely heavily on Chinook for subsistence. While a number of factors are thought to contribute to poor Chinook runs, bycatch of salmon in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery has been rising and has become a contentious issue.

Bycatch peaked in 2007 when more than 120,000 Chinook were caught in the Pollock fishery, prompting calls for regulations to limit the catch of the valuable salmon. Bycatch has subsequently declined, however with populations of Chinook in the region seeing low returns maintaining low bycatch is important. Beginning in 2011 NOAA will implement a bycatch limit, employ observers on every boat in the Pollock fishery and provide incentives for fisherman not to catch Chinook. More information in an article in Business Week.

Info on NOAAs website:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fish Farms will be Subject to an Environmental Review

In a reversal of a previous position, Ottawa has decided not to allow one of BCs largest salmon farms to expand without an environmental review. Salmon farms have become increasingly contentious as public awareness of their impact has grown. Check out an article in the Victoria Times Colonist.

Nestle Bottling Plant Threatens Columbia Gorge

The Nestle Corporation is in the process of trying to gain access to Herman Creek a tributary of the Columbia River on the Oregon side. For their plan to move ahead, ODFW will have to sign over the rights to Oxbow Springs, which currently provides water for a hatchery facility at Cascade Locks. Herman Creek is a critical thermal refuge for salmon and steelhead migrating up the Columbia and the proposed plan could threaten the availability of cold spring water to Herman Creek. Foor and Water Watch has a petition set up on their website. Sign it and tell ODFW not to hand Oxbow Springs over to the Nestle Corporation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Editorial on Columbia Salmon Politics

An editorial by author Steven Hawley of Hood River Oregon appeared last week in the Oregonian. It provides an oft overlooked view into the world of the Bonneville Power Administration and outlines potential conflicts of interest which may arise from BPA funding much of the science in the Columbia Basin. Check it out at

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekly Action List

Weekly Action List 3/21/10

Weekly Action List 3/21/10
Please take some time to comment on these important issues.

-If you haven't already, please comment on fish passage and introduction plans on the Upper Cle Elum River. This project has great potential to benefit wild salmon and steelhead but only if its done right. Comment period ends TOMORROW March 22nd.

-Gold Ray Dam DEIS. Tell NOAA you support removing Gold Ray, the last dam stopping the Rogue from flowing freely over 150 miles from the Lost Creek Dam to the Sea. Comment period ends March 26th.

Heart of the Fraser Campaign

The Fraser River in British Columbia is one of the worlds most productive salmon rivers. Between Mission and Hope BC lies a particularly productive reach of the Fraser, what is commonly referred to as the Fraser River Gravel Reach. The area represents some of the most intact, functioning floodplain river in Southern BC and produces millions of salmon in odd years when pink salmon return en masse to spawn. It also supports Chum Salmon, and a huge variety of other aquatic and riparian biodiversity. Currently there is not a well formulated plan for protecting this critical reach of the Fraser and with populations growing in the Lower Mainland there is a glaring need for protecting this unique area. A coalition of the groups have formed with the goal of advocating for much needed protections on the Lower Fraser. Check out their website for more information on the effort.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lawsuit Over Water Diversions from Eel River

The nonprofit group Friends of the Eel River recently filed a lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric alleging that the California utility has been diverting as much as 98% of flow into the nearby Russian during the critical late summer low flow period. During the typically dry summers in Northern California the Eel and other northcoast rivers typically experience very low flows, even under natural conditions. Withdrawing any substantial portion of water has potentially catastrophic effects on salmon and steelhead populations and can contribute to entire reaches of river going dry during late summer. FOER argues that the Potter Valley diversion produces minimal return for the substantial environmental impacts it causes.

More information here

Monday, March 15, 2010

WA State Budget Cuts...How About Failing Hatcheries?

Washington State is facing a 2.8 billion dollar budget shortfall. As might be expected agencies are hemorrhaging funding as the state tries to trim fat and get the budget balanced. WDFW is hardly immune from these problems, meaning the agency will in all likelihood will face substantial budget cuts in the next year or two. At last count Fish and Wildlife was looking at about a 6 million dollar reduction in their budget.

Rather than cutting already underfunded enforcement and research, why doesn't the department consider cutting some a few hatcheries out of the multimillion dollar hatchery system? According to the WDFW website Washington is home to 80 state run hatchery facilities, many of which pump out thousands of fish with very little return. When viewed from an economic standpoint many of the states hatcheries are utter failures. WDFW dumps more fish into the Pacific than any other state agency, meanwhile wild returns continue to dwindle. The state openly acknowledges the impacts of hatchery supplementation and annual closures to meet pitifully low egg take goals is case in point that many hatcheries, particularly those in Puget Sound are failing. All this is without considering the lost economic benefits which would otherwise be afforded by healthy wild returns. It's time the state takes a hard look at the hatchery system here, by closing some hatcheries and finally designating Wild Salmonid Management Zones WDFW can meet their own objectives as laid out in the Wild Steelhead Management Plan and save millions of dollars.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oregon Senators ask for Federal Assistance to Klamath

Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are asking for federal assistance to help coordinate water relief in the drought stricken Klamath Region this summer. Klamath Lake, the water supply for a huge agricultural region on the Southern Oregon and Northern California border is at record low levels and is significantly lower than even 1992 levels when the basin experienced its worst ever drought. A letter drafted by the two senators to the department of Commerce, Interior nad Agriculture asks for

-Funds to purchase upstream water rights voluntarily offered

-Adjusting surface water management within parameters of the law and sound science;

-Releasing emergency funds for land idling through water banks or other programs;

-Activating emergency drought wells or other means of accessing groundwater; and

-Establishing drought assistance for all farmers regardless of crop type.

Drought is not new to the Klamath Region and in 2002 low water and a failure to provide adequate instream flows for migrating salmon and steelhead led to an unprecedented fish kill. Recent political negotiations between the states, agencies, and stakeholders in the region have sought to resolve long standing disagreements over the management of water in the Klamath Basin. This summer will be an immediate, challenging test of the agreement.

see an article in the Oregonian:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

El Niño Reducing Ocean Productivity

This winters El Niño has warmed sea surface temperatures throughout much of the North Eastern Pacific. Researchers with NOAA and the Scripps Institute for oceanography recently reported that, as expected, warm water has led to reduced plankton biomass and consequently low abundance of pelagic fish.

During El Niño events, warm southern waters often encroach on coastal regions from California to BC, bringing with it predators and competitors from the subtropical oceans. The widespread appearance of Humbolt squid in Coastal BC, normally found in coastal waters off the coast of Southern California and Baja Mexico is evidence of this shift in ocean temperatures. Along our coastal region, productivity is typically driven by strong seasonal upwelling which may be dramatically reduced during El Niño. After a few years of excellent ocean conditions and excellent returns, managers must now prepare for the potentially catastrophic consequences of poor conditions.

With a changing climate ocean conditions have already become more variable and in the future, El Niño conditions are expected to occur with a greater frequency. This highlights the need for adaptive, cautious management and a concerted global effort to curb emissions which cause climate change. See an article on current ocean conditions in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Support the Removal of Gold Ray Dam

With multiple dams having been removed on the Rogue in the last decade, Gold Ray is the last dam standing in what would otherwise be 157 miles of free flowing Rogue from Lost Creek to the Pacific. Federal stimulus money has been made available for the removal of Gold Ray Dam however policy makers must act quickly to approve removal or the money will be lost. A draft Environmental Assessment is underway on the system and it is critical that the public show support for removing this barrier to fish migration.

Submit comments by March 26th in support of removal.

How to Comment on the Draft EA The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has completed its Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) on the removal of Gold Ray Dam. To get the draft EA (titled Project Environmental Assessment – February 2010 DRAFT) and related documents:

Send comments to
E-mail: Please include “Gold Ray Dam Draft EA” in the subject line of the e-mail.

Mail: Send written comments to Gold Ray Dam Project Comments, RVCOG Attn: Pat Foley, P.O. Box 3275, Central Point, OR 97502.

Fax: 541-664-7927. Please identify the fax as regarding “Gold Ray Dam Draft EA.”

Talking Points:

-You support removal of Gold Ray Dam, alternative 1 of the EA.

- The EA is sufficient and shows no significant adverse environmental impacts from dam removal.

-Dam removal would be a huge step in restoring the Rogue River, and would permanently eliminate the harmful impacts of the dam on Rogue River salmon and steelhead, including ESA listed coho salmon.

-The dam is a non-operating facility that provides no hydropower, no water storage and no flood control purpose, and is a liability and public safety concern for Jackson County.

-Rehabilitating the dam and retrofitting it for power generation is not economically feasible or environmentally sound.

-Gold Ray Dam has been identified by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as fifth in priority for removal and/or fish passage improvement on Oregon's Statewide Fish Passage Priority List.

-Dam removal is an important component for restoring safe passage for significant portions of all five runs of Rogue River salmon and steelhead.

-The ecological benefits of dam removal far outweigh the benefits of maintaining the artificial wetlands behind the dam.

-The dam blocks boat passage and limits public access to 500 acres of public land.

-Jackson County should make sure it doesn’t lose the current stimulus funding, and end up sticking county taxpayers with the costs of removal or the even greater costs of trying to upgrade the dam and ladders.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Strong Runs Winter 2010

The latest edition of the Native Fish Society's newsletter, Strong Runs is available today on their website. In this issue:

-The pitfalls of managers ignoring science

-Recovery Strategies on the South Umpqua River

-Politics of Salmon and Steelhead on the Nehalem river

-Developments in the effort to protect the McKenzie River

check it out at the NFS website:

BC Salmon Forecast Predicting Poor Returns

Preseason forecasts for British Columbia's wild salmon are looking grim for 2010. This summer could bring poor returns from the Lower Mainland to the North Coast. This at a time when many of BCs salmon stocks have already been in decline for multiple generations. More details at the Vancouver Sun:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Columbia Fish Passage and Low Snowpack

With poor snowpack and minimal runoff looming this spring, dam and fishery managers in the Columbia Basin have been weighing the potential costs and benefits of various fish passage strategies. Over the last 8-10 years increased spill over hydroelectric dams has helped speed the passage of smolts out of the Columbia system, while other smolts have been collected and barged downriver in an attempt to reduce in river mortality. This year, with minimal snowpack available for spill some have been advocating for a fish passage strategy based largely on barging. Unfortunately barging is not without unintended consequences. Barged fish may survive passage down the Columbia at a higher rate, but the jury is still out as to the effectiveness of barging in the longer term. Barged fish are known to stray at a substantially higher rate. Straying is problematic because upriver stocks may loose a large number of potential spawners to lower river systems, and high stray rates can erode local adaptation.

With climate change predicted to further reduce snowpack in Columbia, future fish passage through the Snake system will pose a variety of problems. Low snowpack also means warmer temperatures for migrating adults during summer and fall, and a potential for increased prespawn mortality. This year is an example of what we can likely expect as the norm 20-30 years down the road and highlights the need to remove the four lower Snake River dams. Current measures are merely bandaids applied to a hemorrhaging patient that is the Snake system. With dam removal, the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River have a high liklihood of recovering substantially, without, wild stocks will continue to decline towards extinction.

see an article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin for fish passage plans in 2010:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Klamath Region Bracing For Low Water

Poor snow pack throughout the coastal Northwest has managers worried about providing adequate instream flows for salmon in the Klamath Basin where the interest of irrigators has in the past trumped that of fish in the river. Low water will put the recently signed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement to the test in its first summer. Last Tuesday Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski called together agency heads in Salem to discuss options for the summer, and how much water can be allocated to irrigators while still maintaining instream flow for salmon. In 2002 thousands of migrating salmon and steelhead died in the Klamath when low water and a failure to protect instream flows led to extremely high in river temperatures.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

NBC Airs Story on Salmon Farms

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Last night NBC nightly news aired a story on BC's salmon crisis and the threats posed by salmon farming to 10 million Americans. NBC deserves recognition for bringing this issue to a broad audience, lets hope it adds to the growing public opposition to salmon farming.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Puget Sound Net Pen Coho Threaten Wild Salmon

In Puget Sound, WDFW and the tribes have long operated net pens where juvenile coho are reared and subsequently released into the sound. Between Elliot bay and Agate Passage alone, almost 750,000 coho smolts will be reared and released with a potentially detrimental effect on wild populations of salmon and steelhead. Many of these coho will residualize in the sound, feeding heavily on baitfish, invertebrates and juvenile salmon and trout. The state and tribes also rear chinook and delay their saltwater release as a means of encourage residualization. Furthermore, since they do not home to any specific stream, many of these net pen reared coho will stray into local rivers and creeks where they will spawn with wild salmon, depressing the productivity and genetic integrity of already imperiled wild stocks.

The HSRG expressed concerns about the level of supplementation occuring in the Southsound and the same point could and should be made for all of Puget Sound. The number of salmon and steelhead being released into the Puget Sound ecosystem is unprecedented and likely exceeds even historic levels of wild abundance. Meanwhile poor early marine survival has been identified as a major impediment to the recovery of wild steelhead and coho in the sound. Considering the fact that the Puget Sound ecosystem is far less productive than it was historically, releasing millions of smolts is almost certainly reducing wild survival.

Check out this article in the Kitsap Sun for more details:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Uphill Battle For Alex Morton On Sea Lice

Alexandra Morton has been doing all she can for almost a decade to expose the impacts of salmon farming. Meanwhile Ottawa and the BC Provincial Government have remained ardent supporters of the fish farming industry, despite dramatic downturns in salmon abundance in many areas exposed to salmon farming operations. Read an excellent editorial in the common sense Canadian on why the burden of proof shouldn't be on Morton or Wild Fish.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Smith River goes CnR for Steelhead

The Smith River had for the last decade or so been the last holdout in California where harvest of Wild Steelhead was allowed. Beginning March 1st however, the Smith will be managed under CnR regulations for wild steelhead. Perhaps a few successive years of below average returns have startled CDFG into closing harvest. This is great news for the Smith, which supports one of the healthier runs of wild steelhead in California, and represents a positive change in the management philosophy at CDFG. Hopefully ODFW and WDFW take notice, the archaic practice of sport harvesting of Wild Steelhead is still allowed on some rivers in Oregon and Washington. Given the depressed state of most wild steelhead populations, concentrating wild steelhead harvest pressure on the few remaining robust runs is foolish and unsustainable. Subscribe to the Osprey today and check out Jon Goin's very timely article about the Smith River.