Friday, August 27, 2010

Good News for Central Valley Steelhead

A federal appeals court last week ruled that populations of steelhead in California's Central Valley should remain protected under the ESA. The listing had come under fire by agricultural interests who sought to reduce protection for the fish to allow for more irrigation withdrawls and other destructive practices. They argued that NOAA could not list steelhead as long as populations of resident rainbows remained robust, however the federal government refused to back down forcing the case to court. The ruling is great news for Central Valley steelhead which have dwindled to extremely low numbers due to habitat loss, overzealous irrigation and a long history of overharvest. The fish were originally listed as threatened in 2006. More information in an article from the Los Angeles Times:

Some Good Editorials on the Columbia and the Future of Snake River Dams

In the last few weeks a number of excellent editorials relating to the management of the Columbia Basin have appeared in the Media. The first is a guest editorial in the Oregonian written by fishing guide Bob Rees about the problems his community and industry face as a consequence of upriver dams. Rees explains that despite mitigation efforts, fishing communities are held back by depressed wild populations. Good management calls for fishing only as much as the weakest populations can withstand, that means in many years anglers and commercial fishermen are forced to sit idle while huge numbers of hatchery fish, released for "mitigation" purposes swim by.

The second piece is another guest editorial in the Oregonian, by local writer and wild fish advocate Steven Hawley. The editorial discusses President Barack Obama's promise to put science in it's "rightful place" in policy making, arguing that so far, politics have continued to motivate policy on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

During the Bush administration, claims by government scientists that their work was bring stifled for political reasons were widespread. Many within the science community had been hopeful that the Obama administration would take a very different tack. Unfortunately, many scientists complain that the government has continued to skew or disrupt work for politically motivated reasons. More information in a story by Daniel Jack Chasan:,-like-Bush,-seems-to-be-stifling-salmon-science/?utm_source=Crosscut+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=655186efc6-Crosscut_E_mail_8_12_20108_12_2010&utm_medium=email

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fraser Sockeye Return Looking Strong

Up and down the coast from the Columbia River to Northern BC, sockeye returns are surging, fueled by favorable ocean conditions during the spring of 2008. The Fraser River, historically BC's largest sockeye run has experienced troubling declines over the last two decades and last years return fell almost 10 million fish short of the preseason forecast. This year however, the Fraser is exceeding expectations, raising hopes that the once prolific returns of sockeye will hold on for another year. Sockeye returns to the Adams River cycle with four year peaks in abundance, this year was expected to be a strong run however the updated run forecast of 14 million fish is well in excess of predictions. More information in The Province:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pacific Climate Indicators Point Towards La Niña

This spring El Niño conditions weakened gradually after a winter of mild sea surface temperatures, now scientists at the National Weather Service have announced that the Pacific has officially entered La Niña conditions, which may continue to strengthen. La Niña events are often associated with highly productive conditions in the North Pacific. The last two occurances of La Niña conditions have coincided with record breaking returns of both salmon and steelhead in watersheds from Oregon to Vancouver Island. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hatchery Reform, Feds Refocusing Mitchell Act Funds

Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service released their long awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the federally administered Mitchell Act hatcheries on the Columbia River. With so much federal funding hanging in the balance, the DEIS is a critical part of hatchery reform and lays out how federal dollars will be prioritized and allocated in the Columbia Basin. The Mitchell Act hatcheries were built following the construction of the Columbia dams as mitigation for fish lost to the hydrosystem and of the 178 hatchery programs currently in operation on the Columbia system, many of them are funded, at least in part by Mitchell Act Funds. While hatcheries currently support much of the harvest on the Columbia, the consequences of 50 years of industrial scale supplementation have been devastating for many populations of wild fish in the basin.

The DEIS aims to address these impacts and offers five alternative strategies. The first alternative is no action and the second is no funding for Mitchell Act hatcheries. Both of these scenarios are unlikely to play out, leaving three alternatives which represent the more likely outcomes. For the purposes of hatchery management and reform NMFS identifies two levels of performance goals for its hatcheries Intermediate and Strong. Intermediate performance goals hold hatcheries to a standard of 50% natural influence in hatchery broodstock and in segregated programs fewer than 10% of spawning adults being of hatchery origin. While many hatchery programs on the Columbia currently fail to meet even these modest intermediate standards, it will take considerably higher goals to protect the productivity and evolutionary integrity of wild salmon and steelhead over the long term.

The third alternative would require that all Mitchell Act hatcheries meet the intermediate performance goals and would reduce production at mitigation hatcheries to bring their operations into compliance. It would also lead to the construction of seasonal weirs to capture hatchery origin fish and prevent introgression between wild and hatchery populations. The fourth alternative would require that the Willamette and Lower Columbia ESUs meet stronger performance goals, construct both seasonal and permanent weirs on spawning tributaries throughout the system to reduce hatchery introgression, while only holding Middle and Upper Columbia as well as Snake River hatchery programs to an intermediate performance goal. The fifth and final alternative is essentially the same as the fourth, except upper-river hatcheries would be held to a stronger performance goal while Lower Columbia and Willamette programs would have to meet intermediate standards.

Holding part of the system accountable for one level of standards while allowing other programs to get off the hook makes no sense and it is essential that all hatchery programs in the Columbia Basin be held to the highest performance goals possible. Another potentially problematic part of the EIS is the plan to start new integrated hatchery programs. On all but the most imperiled runs, these programs which take broodstock from the wild populations, rear their offspring in a hatchery and release them for harvest conflict with the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead. Work on the Hood River has shown that wild broodstock fish have significantly lower fitness than their wild counterparts and that the effects of their hatchery rearing can linger in the gene pool for generations. On the Kalama River, WDFW has been running a broodstock program for summer run steelhead for almost a decade. Every year 50-60 wild summer steelhead are taken from the run, which now numbers just above 300 fish in most years. The offspring of these wild summer steelhead are reared in the hatchery, adipose clipped and released into the lower river to support harvest. Both of these programs have proven ineffective at restoring wild populations and may be doing much more harm than good. On the other hand, the construction of weirs to protect spawning areas from hatchery strays has already been proven effective on the Deschutes system and should be implemented throughout the Columbia Basin.

Overall, this DEIS is extremely encouraging. The willingness of NMFS to make the politically difficult decision to reduce hatchery production at some facilities shows they are serious about reform. The DEIS represents a major shift in the goals and impact of Mitchell Act funds on the Columbia system and provides hope that fisheries managers are finally hoping to strike a more sincere balance between hatchery enhanced production and the conservation and recovery of wild stocks. NMFS is accepting comments on the DEIS until Novermber 4th, 2010 and given the backlash it will likely provoke from stake holders it is essential that they hear from people who support hatchery reform.

Coverage in the Oregonian:

Read the Plan:

Submit your comments via email:

Rogue River Flows Free at Gold Ray

After almost a month of work, and one brief court delay the Rogue River flowed free yesterday at the former site of Gold Ray dam for the first time in 106 years. The removal of Gold Ray opens up 157 miles of free flowing river on the Rogue between Lost Creek Dam and the Pacific. The Rogue is home to some of the greatest runs of Steelhead and Chinook in the Lower 48. This is the third dam removal project on the mainstem in as many years, making the Rogue a model for the recovery of other watersheds where antiquated dams still hinder salmon populations. See an article in the Oregonian.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Enbridge Northern Gateway, Nothing to Gain, So Much to Loose

A good article in the Common Sense Canadian this week discussing the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and the risks it poses for BC and its natural resources. The Northern Gateway is a proposed oil pipeline through Northern BC from Alberta to Kitimat. The pipeline would run through both the Fraser and Skeena systems and in earthquake, avalanche and landslide prone Northern BC is simple an accident waiting to happen. Enbridge's spotty safety record and a recent spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan are hardly reassuring. BC stands to gain almost nothing from allowing this project to go forward and the pipeline would threaten two of the most economically and biologically important watersheds in the province.

Common Sense Canadian Article here:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thompson River Bait Ban

Photo by Brian Niska

The Thompson River in BC is among the most storied steelhead rivers on the planet. Sadly, the river has fallen on hard times and over the last decade, returns of adult steelhead to the system have hovered around 1000 fish, with a record low return in 2008 when only 850 returned to spawn. Most years the river opens to fishing in the late fall after a test fishery at Albion has determined that there are sufficient numbers of fish to support a catch and release fishery. With the run in such poor shape, it is critical that anglers and managers take steps to reduce their impact on these spectacular fish. Somehow, despite the tenuous future of the Thompson River and its steelhead, fishing with bait is still allowed. A group of conservation minded anglers have been lobbying managers to ban bait for some time and are hoping to have the ban in effect by this fall. They're created an online petition asking the Minister of Environment to ban bait fishing on the Thompson.

Petition Here:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Latest in the On-going Saga of DFO's Negligence

New regulations for fish farming should improve transparency, protect wild fish and ensure that the natural wealth of BC is not sacrificed to make foreign corporations wealthy. Instead the new "regulations" will:

- Issue federal licences without consulting First Nations

- Expand the industry without environmental assessments

- Licence salmon feedlots to "harm, alter, disrupt and destroy " the coastal North Pacific

- Legalize destruction of wild fish attracted to the lights and food and trapped in the pens

- Permit incomplete disease reporting

- Tailor each licence to meet the needs of the companies with no public input

How many more salmon populations have to collapse before DFO gets it? How many more salmon ecosystems will be sacrificed at the alter of salmon feed lots? Even one is too many yet salmon farming continues to expand in BC with no sign that the government intends to rein it in. Instead the fisheries minister is attending aquaculture conferences overseas encouraging investment by foreign corporations. Salmon Farms are wreaking havoc on some of BCs finest salmon ecosystems: Nootka Sound, The Broughton Archipelago, Clayoquot Sound and the Fraser River. Enough is enough.

For more information visit Alex Morton's website:

Sign her petition telling Stephen Harper enough is enough. Its time to get serious about protecting BCs wild salmon from fish farms:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Troubling Signs of Environmental Change in Washington's Coastal Waters

The Seattle Times published a fascinating article this week on some of the consequences of ocean acidification. The Ocean is capable of absorbing huge amounts of CO2 while this slows climate change by removing greenhouse gases from the atomosphere it alters the chemistry of the ocean, shifting the pH lower, or slightly more acidic. While the problem is only beginning to be understood it is already having some alarming consequences for marine life in the North Pacific. The Times article focused primarily on the impacts more acidic water is having on Washington's shellfish industry. Many marine organisms make their shells or exoskeletons out of calcium carbonate, which will dissolve even with moderate increases in the acidity of the water. Oyster growers in Willapa bay have now had 6 consecutive years of spawning failure and scientists believe the more acidic sea water is to blame.

As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, ocean acidity will increase and may have severely detrimental consequences for marine ecosystems. Ocean acidification is bad news for salmon. Pteropods and other zooplankton which make up an essential food source for juvenile salmon have calcium carbonate shells and increased acidity may dramatically reduce their abundance. More information in the article here:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Elwha Dam Removal Brings Together Researchers

An interesting article this week in the Seattle Times about the removal of the two Elwha dams, set to begin in fall 2011. As the article states, this is the largest dam removal project ever carried out in the United States and will set an exciting precedent for reclaiming major river systems from outdated, destructive dams. Given the significance of dam removal for the river and its ecosystem, scientists are eager to use the Elwha to better understand a wide range of questions ranging from how rivers transport sediment, how plant communities recover in the newly reclaimed floodplain and perhaps most significantly, how salmon colonize the watershed, establish populations, diversifying and adapting as they fill every niche of the newly available habitat.

Unfortunately the federal government has so far failed to set aside money for studying the outcome of the dam removal forcing scientists to draw funds from a wide variety of sources. Too often with projects of this nature, congress is happy to cut the check for the popular restoration action without following through and ensuring that the recovery of the system is properly studied. Most of the Elwha is within the Olympic National Park and the removal of the two dams on the Elwha will give salmon for access to the pristine watershed for the first time in over 100 years.

Check out the Seattle Times Article: