Friday, April 30, 2010

Big Run of Spring Chinook Headed up Columbia and Snake Rivers

All indications are that this years return of spring chinook on the Columbia river will be very large relative to the ten year average. Biologists have forecasted that 470,000 adult spring chinook would return and the run has been building in the lower Columbia for more than a month. High numbers of endangered upriver chinook have resulted in unprecedented catches of these ESA listed stocks in lower river "select areas" where hatchery chinook releases normally provide commercial chinook fisheries with little bycatch on other stocks. See an article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Researchers working at Bonneville are observing record numbers of sea lions that have followed chinook upriver to Bonneville dam. A record number of salmon taken have been taken by sea lions so far, however the proportion of fish taken by sea lions is much lower than previous with high numbers of fish passing Bonneville.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Washington Wants a Working Snake River

Decades of inaction and indecisiveness on the management of the lower Snake River have left eastern Washington communities in limbo. The four lower Snake River dams are the biggest impediment to salmon recovery in the Snake Basin, yet the unwillingness of the federal government to consider alternatives to the status quo has and will continue to cost millions of dollars annually in mitigation. Meanwhile chinook and sockeye in the Snake teeter on the brink of extinction and steelhead remain listed as threatened. Now a group of prominent business and communities leaders in Eastern Washington have joined together to call for a collaborative and visionary solution to problems on the Snake River. The Columbia and Snake Rivers are the lifeblood of Eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho and for too long the federal government has turned its back on dealing with the management of these systems. Check out their new website for more information.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Taku Watershed Under Threat

The Taku River in Northern BC/Southeast Alaska is one of the largest pristine salmon and steelhead ecosystems remaining in the world. The river is home to healthy populations of all 5 species of pacific salmon, steelhead, cutthroat and dolly varden char. Now the BC government and the Tlingit nation are in the process of developing a management plan for the watershed, and the government is insisting on allowing mining in the management plan. Of particular interest it seems is a proposal to reopen a mine which was decommissioned in 1957, and extract zinc, copper, silver and gold. Mining and the associated transportation infrastructure could have catastrophic impacts on this pristine ecosystem and must be fought. See more information in an article in The Common Sense Canadian...

and take action at Taku Legacy

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Feds to Maintain Snake River Spill

The federal government has back off on a controversial plan to dramatically change strategies for the down river passage of smolts through the Snake and Columbia Rivers and implement a "maximum transport" plan. Instead operations will remain more or less the same as they were the last few years, spreading outmigrating smolts between in river passage and barging. Independent scientists and environmental advocates had objected to the proposed plan to increase transport, citing concerns over potentially harmful effects of a barging strategy, including a higher incidence of straying in barged fish. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin...

and Idaho Statesman...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ottawa Finally Holding Fish Farmers Accountable

This week, Ottawa took the reins in the prosecution of fish farming company Marine Harvest Canada under the Fisheries Act for illegal possession of wild salmon. The charges stemmed from an incident last year when Marine Harvest incidentally caught wild salmon during routine harvest at a fish farm facility, however rather than releasing them immediately they ignored the problem allowing wild salmon smolts to perish on their dock. The charges were initially filed by Alexandra Morton, a renowned scientist and advocate for wild salmon. Ottawa taking control of the case is substantial because it represents the first Canadian government action to hold fish farm companies accountable for their impact on wild salmon. More information in The Globe and Mail...

Dam Removal, Lets Get Serious

An article in the latest Northwest Fishletter details a plan released by the Army Corps of Engineers for studying dam removal on the Lower Snake River as a, "contingency of last resort." Rather than providing a comprehensive, scientific analysis of the potential benefits and impacts of dam removal, the report focused heavily on the uncertainty associated with removal of the Snake River dams, and emphasized that removing the dams could have detrimental impacts on wild fish. This sort of attitude towards change is exactly why the status quo is so strongly entrenched and as long as we in the public continue to allow ourselves to be fooled by handwaving and pseudo-science the Snake River dams will remain in place. The impact of dams is undeniable and while there may be short term changes in abundance as populations of salmon adjust to a dam free river, removing dams on the Snake is the only way to ensure the long term persistence of wild salmon and steelhead in the system. Fish letter article here...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

San Joaquin River Reconnected to the Bay

Thanks to hard work by environmental advocates, including the Bay Institute, the San Joaquin River has once again been connected to the San Francisco Bay. The San Joaquin once supported huge runs of Chinook, Steelhead and Coho, however for nearly 60 years massive dewatering for irrigation has caused much of the river to run dry most of the year. Last year president Obama signed landmark legislation to restore instream flow to the San Joaquin and begin the process of recovering listed Chinook. More information at the Bay Institute's website

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NOAA Hearings on Aquaculture

NOAA is working to revise our federal policy on aquaculture, specifically fish farming in US waters and is seeking public input through a series of hearings. This Thursday April 22nd at 6PM, NOAA will be hosting a listening session in at the Seattle Aquarium where the public will be given the opportunity to voice opinions and concerns about aquaculture in US waters. It is critical that the public turns out and demostrates strong opposition to open net pen salmon farming. Norwegian corporations control the bulk of the salmon farming industry and have an extremely effective lobby making it essential that the public take every opportunity to voice opposition to expansion of open net pen fish farming into US waters. Salmon farming has devastated salmon stocks in Southwestern British Columbia and will do the same here if it spreads into US waters.

Details on the Listening Session.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Seattle Aquarium
1483 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98101

Readers who cannot make it to the listening session can also submit comments online at

Friday, April 16, 2010

Enbridge Pipeline Threatens Skeena and BC coast

With the expansion of oil extraction in Alberta's tar sands, oil companies are looking for ways to move oil more than 1000 kilometers to the coast where it can be moved to market via tankers. The latest plan being proposed by North American giant Enbridge is to build a 1150 km pipeline across Northern BC to Kitimat. The pipeline would cross both the Upper Fraser and Skeena River systems and tanker traffic on the remote BC coast is expected to expand dramatically. Given the unstable nature of the geology in Northern BC and the risks associated with heavy tanker traffic, the threat posed to salmon and other aquatic and marine organisms is huge. Transporting oil through three of BCs most important salmon ecosystems is a flat out bad idea, and if the pipeline is constructed it becomes a question of when not if a catastrophic spill would occur. Act now to protect wild salmon and steelhead in Northern BC by visiting the Living Oceans Society website and sending a letter to Enbridge's CEOs telling them you adamantly oppose construction of the Enbridge Northern Pipeline.

Also, more information on the pipeline project at the Skeena Watershed Conservation Council:

6 Million Federal Dollars to Protect Bull Trout Habitat

Photo by Mike Davidchik

The Columbia Land Trust has been given a 6 million dollar grant from the Federal Government to purchase critical Bull Trout habtiat in Southwestern Washington. With the money Vancouver WA based nonprofit will now be able to buy 3,000 acres of forest and and riparian habitat surrounding critical bull trout habitat in the area surrounding Mt St. Helens. A total of $16.2 million dollars of federal support for land conservation in Washington State were announced Monday by interior secretary Ken Salazar.

Bull trout populations in the Lower Columbia have been hurt by dam construction blocking movement of the migratory predators and isolating populations predominantly above impassable dams. Development and Logging have further degraded critical bull trout habitat in the area, making permanent protection of remaining habitat in the region absolutely essential. More information in The Columbian

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Great Article on the Hoh River Trust

Last week the Seattle Times published an article on the Hoh River Trust and their efforts to protect one of the most intact salmon ecosystems in the Lower 48. The Hoh Trust began its work in 2001 when the Wild Salmon Center and the Western Rivers Conservancy joined forces to start the task of protecting critical habitat in the Lower Hoh Valley. The Hoh is unique in the fact that the entire upper watershed is protected within the boundaries of the Olympic National Park. Seeing an opportunity to provide a corridor of protected habitat from the park boundary to the rivers mouth, the Hoh River Trust was founded and has been working hard for the last 9 years to make that goal a reality. The organization now owns more than 7000 acres in the Hoh River watershed, protecting critical riparian habitats on one of Washington's greatest salmon rivers in perpetuity. More information in the Seattle Times Article.

Also check out the Hoh Trust's website

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

High Prespawn Mortality in Fraser Sockeye Attributed to Warmer Water

Over the last 10-15 years prespawn mortality in some components of the Fraser Sockeye run has been startlingly high. In some years upwards of 90% of sockeye have died before reaching their spawning grounds. Excellent work done by UBC's Scott Hinch and graduate students in his lab has revealed that warmer temperatures in the Fraser during the migration period have played a major role in high in river mortality. Even more startling is the fact that rather than migrate later during periods of cooler water, some components of the Fraser run are actually entering the river, increasing the impact of high summer temperatures. Sockeye which have historically spent time staging at the mouth of the Fraser during late summer now are entering the river instead. Hinch's group and others have uncovered physiological evidence that sockeye are arriving at the river more reproductively mature, with immune systems, and physiological states which are far more advanced towards spawning than one would expect in fish which should be waiting nearly a month to spawn. Why exactly the salmon have experienced such a shift in physiological condition is unclear but hypotheses range from climate change to disease.

Environmental change and its impacts on salmon populations are out of our hands to some degree, however what is particularly frustrating is DFOs willingness to subject Fraser Sockeye to unknown and potentially disastrous threats of salmon farming when the future of this great run of salmon already hangs in the balance.

More info in an article from the globe and mail...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Take Action on Columbia Spill

Last week we posted a link to a piece by the Columbia Basin Bulletin indicating that decisions on spill v. barging in the transport of outmigrating smolts on the Columbia system had been made already for this season. The truth is however that the administration has yet to make a final decision. So far indications are that the spill strategies which have been used for the last 5 or so years will remain in place, and last week the Independent Science Advisory Board for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council released findings favoring continuation of increased spill. See a press release HERE

It is critical that the public make their voices heard and stand up for keeping spill which aids in survival of outmigrant smolts through the hydrosystem. Visit Save our Wild Salmons website to take action.

True Cost of Puget Sound Blackmouth

With budgets being trimmed the state auditor released a report recently identifying WDFWs Puget Sound Blackmouth program as a particularly wasteful use of the states resources. With poor survival of hatchery released Chinook in the sound, on average each blackmouth harvested by anglers costs $798.00. Hatchery programs designed to produce blackmouth and resident coho are also troubling because the state rears juveniles longer prior to release to encourage residualization. This means fish stay in Puget Sound, feeding on and competing for resources with wild fish.

Hopefully budget stress in Olympia will finally bring some recognition to the failures of many puget sound hatchery programs. More information in the Seattle Times.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Help Stop Pebble Mine

Join the fight against Pebble Mine, a proposed open pit gold and copper mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay Region. The Mine will be situated in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers which have historically supported some of the most productive and commercially important populations of Sockeye, and Chinook in the region. Mining operations are expected to produce up to 9 billion tons of contaminated waste which could have devastating effects on aquatic communities and salmon populations in the area. Check out the Natural Resources Defense Council website for more information on the issue and how you can get involved.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Court Ordered Spill will Remain for 2010

Court ordered levels of spill on the Columbia and Snake Rivers which have been in place since 2006 will likely remain in effect this spring despite an earlier indication that NOAA would favor earlier initiation of downstream barging of smolts in a maximum transport alternative proposed in the 2008 BiOp. Critics of barging say that evidence that barging increases survival is minimal and in fact increased rates of straying may pose problems for the genetic integrity wild salmon in the Snake and Middle Columbia. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Harrison River Becomes BCs first Wild Salmon Stronghold

The Harrison River has become the first Salmon Stronghold in Canada. The Salmon Stronghold seeks to protect the most robust remaining populations of wild salmon by identifying watersheds of particularly high value and managing for robust wild stocks. The Harrison River in Lower Mainland BC flows into the Lower Fraser Below Hope and is home to robust runs of Sockeye, Fall Chinook, Coho, Chum and Pink as well as cutthroat, bull trout, and small populations of Spring Chinook and Steelhead. More information on the Wild Salmon Center's website.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Underlying Problems Remain for Sacramento Salmon

Over the last three years Chinook Salmon in the Sacramento have seen record low returns. Many commercial and sport fisheries on the west coast from the Oregon Coast to California depend on Chinook from the Sac, and poor returns have forced closures of fisheries up and down the coast. Now for the first time in three years, a salmon fishery will open in Montery Bay. Unfortunately many of the problems which have led to the collapse of the Sacramento persist, including huge withdrawls of water from the Sacramento Delta. The Delta provides critical habitat for juvenile salmon and many other native species and the situation in the Sacramento and indeed all along the California and Oregon Coast will not improve until conflicts between federally subsidized water withdrawls and salmon are resolved. See an editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel