Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bait and Barbed Hooks on the Clearwater, COMMENT TODAY

IDFG is accepting comments through today Sept 30th regarding steelhead fishing regulations on the Clearwater River. Comment today and tell IDFG that you support reduced harvest of wild trout as well as a ban on bait and barbless hooks on the Clearwater and other local rivers. Follow the link and select both "Clearwater Region" and "Steelhead" surveys.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Little Perspective on Huge Sockeye Returns

After a controversial and disappointing return last year, when runs fell short of the preseason forecast by almost 10 million fish the system is seeing one of the best returns of sockeye in recent memory. To date DFO estimates that around 34 million sockeye are returning to the Fraser. Better news yet, the river is relatively cool this year reducing the risk that the fish will experience high prespawn mortality which has plagued the run in recent years. Society and the media tend to have short memories, particularly when it comes biological system and while last years collapse led to calls for reform to fisheries management, salmon farming and forecasting models, this year the otherside is shooting back arguing that the large return means nothing is wrong with the Fraser.

When considering a record return like this, it is important to put it in context. Yes, this large run is encouraging and is worth celebrating. But before we get too ahead of ourselves let us consider a few facts. This run isn't actually that big when compared to historic runsizes. At the beginning to the 20th century the Fraser annually recieved returns ranging from 60-100 million fish meaning this years record return is only about half of historic abundance, if that. The productivity of Fraser Sockeye has been declining steadily since the 1990s. That means for every individual that returns fewer offspring are surviving to adulthood. Some are quick to blame fish farms, others point to climate change. Whatever the cause, and there are likely many, the productivity of a run can only decline so far before they are below replacement and sprial towards extinction. Less productive runs means less abundance for harvest, fewer marine derived nutrients reaching the river systems of the Fraser and less resilience in sockeye populations.

This years banner return is worth celebrating. It means for one more generation, sockeye remain abundant in the Fraser. Still the future remains uncertain and it is essential that we as a public take the long view of salmon populations, demanding action from our governments that will protect the fundemental ecosystem properties which support abundant salmon.

Good perspective on the Fraser in the High Country News:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Puget Sound Steelhead Continue Freefall

For the second straight year Puget Sound steelhead returns hovered near record lows. Despite excellent returns on the Columbia River and modest improvements in run sizes on the coast, escapement estimates recently released by WDFW show a bleak picture in Puget Sound. Puget Sound steelhead were listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2007 and since that time runs have continued their freefall. While declines are still poorly understood, indications are that poor marine survival is largely driving declines in steelhead abundance. As recently as the 1980s a number of Puget Sound rivers supported "healthy" populations of steelhead. During the 1980's the Skagit routinely saw returns in excess of 10,000 fish. While overharvest and habitat loss have certainly contributed to these declines, habitat conditions during the 1980s were no better than they are at present and in some cases freshwater has recovered dramatically after intensive logging in the 20th century. Last year the estimated escapement on the Skagit was around 4000 fish, well short of the escapement goal of 6700 fish. Last year, every major Puget Sound River fell short of its escapement. The Snohomish system is estimated to have received fewer than 2000 fish, more than 4500 fish short of its escapement goal. The Snohomish has not met its escapement goal since 1994. Equally troubling are dramatic down turns in returns to the Green River which had, until the middle of this decade been faring better than other Puget Sound Rivers. WDFW estimates that last year only 435 fish returned to the Green, its escapment goal is over 2000.

Despite the dire situation, WDFW has taken almost no action other than closing all rivers to fishing February 15th. The department has yet to establish Wild Fish Management Zones promised in the steelhead management plan and hatchery releases into the sound continue to be more or less business as usual, further crowding an already unproductive ecosystem with millions of hatchery reared smolts each spring. With such poor survival, many of WDFW's hatchery programs are utter failures and a state auditors report last year found that on average Puget Sound blackmouth cost nearly $800. Surely there is a better use of these funds? Why not set aside some of the more productive watersheds in the sound for the production of wild fish and seek to limit competition and other ecological interactions between hatchery fish and wild in these systems?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Powerdale Dam on the Way Out

Powerdale Dam on the Hood River will soon be nothing but a memory. Work began in April and is expected to continue through September demolishing and removing the dam which has been in place since 1923. The Dam, which is currently owned by PacifiCorp sits at river mile 4.3 of the Hood River, home to ESA listed runs of summer and winter steelhead. PacifiCorp operates a number of dams throughout the region including dams on the White Salmon and Klamath which are slated for removal.

More information at the Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Big Numbers of Steelhead Returning to Skeena

Steelhead populations on the Skeena River are seeing what appears to be an excellent return this summer and fall. The Tyee test fishery which runs at the mouth of the river during the summer and fall run season has seen exceptionally high numbers of steelhead and to date the run appears to be about 185% of the long term average. While the test fishery is a good indication of the overall runsize, year to year variation in flow conditions can lead to changes in the catch efficiency and low water this year is probably increasing the catch. There is also some evidence that the Tyee test fishery has become more efficient at catching steelhead overtime, leading to overestimations of the run size. Scientists have speculated that this may be due to lower flows on the Skeena, causing steelhead to spend more time staging in the lower river. More information at the Skeena Fisheries Blog:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bakke in the Oregonian

Check out this great editorial in the Oregonian by Bill Bakke who is a long time fish advocate and the Executive Director of the Native Fish Society. In it Bakke eloquently lays out the bioligical, economic and social shortcomings of our hatchery system in terms that non-biologists will find informative and interesting. The piece is particularly timely given NMFS current hatchery reform efforts on the Columbia River system. Read more here:

More information about hatchery reform on the Columbia:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Elwha Contracts Granted

With the dam removal process on the Elwha River scheduled to start in September 2011, the National Park Service last week granted contracts worth $27 million to do the removal to a Montana company.The Elwha once supported all five species of pacific salmon and was home to some of the largest Chinook in the world, however since 1910 Elwha dam has blocked anadromous access to over 72 miles of habitat since 1910 all but exterminating once abundant wild salmon. Most of the Elwha system is protected within the Olympic National Park and biologists are optimistic that, given time the rivers once abundant salmon will return.

More in the Seattle Times: