Monday, May 31, 2010

Federal Judge Overturns Protections for Sacramento Chinook

A federal judge in Fresno this week ruled in favor of irrigators in overturning a NOAA issued biological opinion on water use in the Sacramento delta. The ruling is a major set back for fish advocates who have been fighting to protect water use restrictions and the endangered chinook which they benefit. The Sacramento was historically one of the most productive chinook rivers in the world, however development and degradation of the delta and San Francisco Bay have helped lead to massive declines in the once prolific populations. Still, in a normal year the Sacramento supports substantial sport and commercial fisheries for chinook and is an important contributor to commercial chinook catches up and down the west coast. The last three years the river has seen record low returns of salmon over the last three years raising serious questions about the validity of the Judge's findings and his motives in reaching his verdict. More information in the Sacramento Bee.

More information in the Indy Bay News

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spring Chinook Run Falling Short of Expectation

This years run of Spring Chinook on the Columbia River was forecasted to break records. Excellent ocean conditions in the Spring of 2008 and high numbers of Jacks (males that have spent one year at sea) in last years return had generated optimism that the run would be of unprecedented size. Unfortunately the run appears to be falling well short of expectations and two weeks ago biologists downsized their prediction by revising runsize estimates to a more modest 350,000 thousand fish. Now even that estimate appears optimistic and to date the run is only about 50% above the 10 year average. Traditionally, managers have largely relied on Jack counts to predict within cohort survival and subsequent returns of older fish. In recent years however, higher than normal numbers of jacks have contributed to unreliable preseason forecasts.

More information in the NW Fishletter

An old post on forecasting in the Columbia

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Good Article in the Crosscut on the New BiOp

A article published yesterday in the Crosscut provides some excellent coverage of developments in the case surrounding the 2008 Biological Opinion as well as some excellent background on the history of failed BiOps. The federal government has now produced 4 Biological Opinions on the Columbia and Snake, so far all of them have failed to pass legal muster or demonstrate that the Feds have any intention of changing the status quo on the Snake. Read more on the Crosscut's website...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Groups May Sue PG&E Over Spring Chinook

A coalition of environmental groups are prepared to sue Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) over its operations at DeSabla-Centerville dam on Butte Creek, which they say have contributed significantly to major declines in the abundance of Spring Chinook over the last decade. Butte Creek is one of the last remaining strongholds for endangered spring chinook in the Sacramento system. Spring chinook enter freshwater early and over-summer in their natal stream before spawning in early fall. In California's hot, dry climate they rely on over summer snow melt to keep water temperatures at a suitable level for their survival. Unfortunately, over the last several summers, operators at the dam have failed to release sufficient water into the lower river leading to low flows, elevated temperatures and high prespawn mortality in the endangered chinook. Furthermore, fish passage is blocked at Centerville dam meaning fish can no longer access the upper portion of Butte Creek and PG&E's re-licensing application approved in 2007 provided no money for mitigation of the dams harmful effects. More information at YubaNet

Sunday, May 23, 2010

EPA Will Limit Pesticide Use to Protect Salmon

Last week the EPA announced that it will implement new pesticide regulations based on the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) most recent biological opinion regarding the use of pesticides. The changes are designed to reduce the exposure of wild salmon to harmful pesticides and should greatly benefit populations of wild salmon in agricultural areas. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Friday, May 21, 2010

No Change on the Snake From the Obama Administration

After a court ordered three month review of the Bush era Columbia River Biological Opinion, the Obama administration and NOAA have opted not to implement significant changes to the plan they submitted this past September. The plan provides no improvement of in river management and may actually jeopardize progress made over the last 5 years by removing some of the court ordered spill designed to hasten the downstream passage of smolts through the hydrosystem. Furthermore the plan provides no clear mandate for dam removal only providing a provision for "studying" it as a potential option should runs continue to deteriorate in 10 years. While the lack of progress on the Snake and Columbia doesn't come as a surprise it is a significant disappointment given president Obama's emphasis on science and dealing with climate change. Now fish advocates must hope that Judge Redden holds his ground and refuses to accept the plan he has already rejected twice. More information on Save our Wild Salmon's website.

NW Senators Working to Ban Offshore Drilling

A group of Northwest Senators are working to draft a bill that will permanently protect the Northwest coast from oil drilling. The coastal economies of Washington, Oregon and California are worth $34 billion and support more than half a million jobs. The bill would ensure that devastation like that currently occuring in the Gulf could never happen off our coast. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Weekly Action List 5/17/2010

Weekly Action List 5/17/10

-NOAA aquaculture policy. Comment online and tell NOAA that open net pen salmon farming is not welcome in US waters.

or comment at

-Tell Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell that Washington State wants a dam free lower Snake river. More information

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Can Stelle Deliver Change for the Snake River?

Last week the President Obama nominated Will Stelle to serve as Northwest Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Stelle, a career lawyer from Seattle is not new to the politics of salmon in the Northwest. In fact, he served in the same post in the 1990s during the Clinton Administration and was a part of the team that drafted the 2000 BiOp, which was subsequently deemed illegal under the ESA. The appointment comes after a year in which the Obama administration has given no indication that it intends to advocate for the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams in the near term and the legal issues surrounding the 2008 BiOp remain unsettled. Environmental groups have previously butted heads with Stelle and it remains to be seen how his appointment will influence policy on the Columbia.

Since he last held the post with NMFS in 2000 much has changed on the Columbia and Snake systems. Favorable ocean conditions and improved water management through the Columbia hydrosystem have resulted in modest improvements in returns of salmon and steelhead in the Snake and Columbia, however much remains to be done. The four lower Snake River dams remain as the greatest impediment to the recovery of wild salmon in the basin and the public discourse surrounding the dams is increasingly focused on the possibility of removing the dams and restoring a free flowing Lower Snake River. Wild salmon and steelhead in the basin have proven to be extremely resilient and dam removal would pave the way for an unprecedented recovery for wild salmon in the Lower 48. Now the federal government has a choice to make. Do they argue for the status quo, spending millions of dollars a year on mitigation efforts that only delay the extinction of wild salmon in the Snake or do they take a bold new approach to the issue? A free flowing Snake would be a tremendous natural, and economic asset to Washington, Oregon and Idaho and would be the greatest dam removal project in history. With an emphasis on investment in infrastructure, the federal government should strongly consider improving rail transportation along the Snake river corridor and stimulating green energy investment that could replace the aging, and environmentally destructive dams.

The Columbia once one of the greatest salmon bearing rivers in the world, and while salmon and steelhead are holding on by a thread in the Snake, it's only a matter of time before climate change and shifts in ocean productivity cause further declines. Dam removal is the only solution which can lead to a strong recovery for wild salmon in the region and it is time that the government listened to the science and the public, the four lower Snake River dams must go.

More on the Stelle appointment in the Idaho Statesman

Pike Place Fish Market Wont Sell Steelhead

The Famous Pike Place Fish Market, an iconic Seattle fish seller in downtown's Pike Place Market has opted to stop selling wild steelhead. Wild steelhead are listed as threatened in 5 of Washington's 7 ESUs (Evolutionarily Significant Units) by NOAA, yet wild steelhead continue to be harvested in both sport and commercial fisheries. The move by the PPFM came after an outcry from the community asking that they not support these unsustainable fisheries on wild steelhead. This sort of action sends a clear message to managers and seafood suppliers that consumers will not support unsustainable fisheries with their dollars. Hopefully this is only the beginning as many restaurants and seafood stores around the region still sell wild steelhead. More information at their blog...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cedar River Sockeye Hatchery A Multimillion Dollar Boondoggle

For over a decade sport fishing advocates have been calling for investment in a permanent Sockeye hatchery on the Cedar River. The current hatchery is considered temporary and has been operating since 1991 with capacity to produce 17 million hatchery smolts, the proposed permanent facility would nearly double smolt production from current levels and is expected to cost Seattle Public Utilities approximately 12 million dollars . Lake Washington supports one of the most popular salmon fisheries in the state, however recent returns of sockeye have been well below the 350,0o0 fish needed to open the fishery. Last year only 22,166 fish returned, the worst run on record.

A recent report from WDFW strongly suggests that adding more sockeye fry to the Lake Washington system would likely not result in a larger return of adult fish. Sockeye rear one or two years in the lake prior to migrating to sea and it is now believed that density dependent competition for resources is the primary limiting factor in the productivity of the Cedar population. Given these findings, adding more sockeye fry to the system would only compound the problem. Furthermore, sockeye are not native to the Cedar River and were originally transplanted from Baker Lake in the Skagit drainage in the early 1900s and more hatchery supplementation in the system could potentially increase competition for resources with ESA listed Chinook and Coho both of which are native to the Cedar. Still, sport fishing groups have continued to call for increased hatchery production despite the history of failure, poor performance of the current hatchery facility and the scientific evidence suggesting that the new hatchery would be a multi-million dollar waste of money. Instead Seattle Public Utility should use those funds to buy any available floodplain lands on the lower Cedar, restoring much needed connectivity to critically important floodplain habitats. Such off-channel and floodplain habitats are thought to be limiting factors in the productivity of coho and are also important for chinook. Flooding on the Cedar in recent years has caused millions of dollars of damage to homes, highlighting the need to move development out of the historic floodplain whenever possible.

see an article in the Seattle Times here:

the full WDFW report here:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Good Reason To Spill

The John Day River in central Oregon represents one of the most productive and wild rivers remaining in the Columbia River system. No hatchery salmon or steelhead are released into the basin and in general steelhead and chinook in the John Day are doing much better than other nearby watersheds. Unfortunately since 2000, an estimated 23% of spawners in the John Day Basin have been hatchery strays and some years strays have made up more than 40% of spawning steelhead. The majority of these strays come from Snake River hatchery programs hundreds of miles away. High numbers of hatchery strays in a watershed managed as a wild salmonid refuge is a big problem and ODFW biologists believe that hatchery spawners in the John Day are depressing the productivity of wild steelhead in the basin and may be a primary factor in an overall downward trend in steelhead populations in the basin.

It has long been thought that high levels of straying in Snake River hatchery populations was largely due to the practice of barging and now two ODFW researchers have published research confirming that hypothesis. Using coded wire tags implanted in smolts at their hatchery of origin and a tag array in the John Day designed to record when tagged fish passed upriver, they found that almost none of the fish allowed to migrate naturally through the river strayed into the John Day, while high numbers of barge transported fish strayed. These findings highlight the need to manage for spill or remove Snake River dams altogether. Barging is unnatural bandaid applied to a hemorrhaging wound and it is having the unintended consequence of threatening the genetic integrity and productivity of wild steelhead stocks throughout the lower Columbia and Snake. Given the high numbers of hatchery fish released from Snake River hatcheries the problem posed by high stray rates is substantial.

See the report here...

Senate Working on Salmon Stronghold Bill

The US House and Senate are working on bills which would direct federal resources towards the conservation of healthy salmon ecosystems. The bill called the Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act (S. 817), issponsored in the Senate by Maria Cantwell of Washington and will focus on protecting the best remaining salmon ecosystems through direct investment from the federal government, while still investing in recovery of depressed salmon populations and ecosystems. More information at the Wild Salmon Center's website.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Washington Water Quality Standards for Salmon Farms Deemed Unlawful

US District Judge John C. Coughenour ruled recently that the EPA and NOAA ignored their own guidelines when they decided not require a formal environmental review of Washington State's environmental standards for salmon farms. The lawsuit was filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy and should mean that there will be more strict environmental regulations imposed on aquaculture to ensure they don't impact ESA listed salmon, steelhead and orcas in the Puget Sound. There are currently eight salmon farms in the Sound, all of which are operated by American Gold Seafoods. Salmon farming has largely flown under the radar in Washington State, however salmon farming poses one of the greatest threats to the future of wild salmon in our region and fighting the expansion of the industry in Washington is essential. Open net pen salmon farming is fundamentally incompatible with healthy wild populations of anadromous fish and should be banned entirely in the US before the industry gets a foothold.

See a Seattle Times article:

Submit comments to NOAA and tell them that open net pen salmon farms have no place in US waters:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Land Based Salmon Farming is a Must

A report released yesterday by an independent, British Columbia scientist states that salmon farming on land makes sense not only environmentally but economically as well. Opposition to open net pen salmon farms has grown dramatically as they have severely impacted wild salmon stocks in the Georgia Strait and elsewhere. Meanwhile the industry has opposed a transition to fully enclosed or land based alternatives citing concerns over the cost effectiveness. With grassroots momentum growing against the salmon farming industry it should take heed and expedite the transition to more ecologically sound practices if it hopes to continue operating in British Columbia. More info in the Globe and mail

Planned Natural Gas Terminal on Columbia Suspended

Backers of a new Liquefied Natural Gas terminal on the Lower Columbia River near Astoria have put the plan on hold after strong opposition to the project surfaced from environmental groups and federal agencies charged with regulating water quality impacts. The announcement comes as a major victory for local landowners and environmentalists who had adamantly opposed the terminal citing concern that the developer NorthernStar Natural Gas had failed to fully account for their environmental impacts in seeking to obtain permits for the project. The Lower Columbia and Estuary is critical habitat for multiple species of ESA listed salmon. More information in the Oregonian