Thursday, December 30, 2010
Please take a few minutes to make your voice heard on these important issues.
WDFWs Fishing Mortatorium on the Elwha River.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has proposed to close the Elwha River to all fishing for 5 years following the removal of the dams. While the idea of closing the Elwha to protect early colonists of the river is good, 5 years is less than one full generation of steelhead and chinook. The state also plans to continue releasing nearly 60,000 chambers creek steelhead, more than 2 million hatchery chinook and 750,000 coho during the fishing moratorium. Releasing large numbers of out of basin hatchery fish which are released with the expressed purpose of supplementing harvest during the fishing moratorium is not only a waste of public funds, but fundementally threatens the ability of wild Elwha steelhead and salmon to successfully recolonize the upper river. Comments are due by Friday December 31st. More information:
Sandy Broodstock Programs
The Sandy River in the Lower Columbia is one of the most beloved rivers in Oregon and with relatively intact habitat and the removal of Marmot dam it offers a tremendous opportunity to recover wild steelhead. Instead, ODFW continues to operate three hatchery programs in the basin including a wild broodstock program which annually harvests between 10-15% of the wild run for egg take. This is inexcusable. Write ODFW and tell them you don't want them harvesting ESA listed wild fish to support harvest. More information:
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Over the last decade, many populations of wild steelhead in the Columbia River have seen modest recoveries from low levels observed during the 1990s. Biologists have largely attributed increased wild abundance to improved ocean conditions at the mouth of the river. Meanwhile the Sandy River, home to one of the largest and historically important steelhead runs in the Lower Columbia has continued to decline. All this despite increased habitat protection and the removal of two dams in the basin. Meanwhile ODFW continued to plant nearly a quarter of a million hatchery steelhead into the river annually. During that time NMFS estimated a stray rate of nearly 45% for hatchery fish spawning in the basin.
In 2000, on top of the two hatchery programs already in place ODFW initiated a wild broodstock hatchery program which now harvests nearly 15% of the wild run. Meanwhile the wild population which as recently as 1980 topped 4000 fish now hovers below 5% of historic abundance at 700-1000 fish annually. Mining 15% of an ESA listed wild run to enhance harvest opportunity is absolutely unacceptable, furthermore wild broodstock hatchery fish residualize at a much higher rate and spawn at the same time as their wild counterparts dramatically increasing the ecological impacts of the program and the likelihood that hatchery fish spawn with wild. On the nearby Hood River, Hitoshi Araki and Michael Blouin of ODFW showed that even one generation in captivity is enough to significantly reduce the reproductive success of hatchery spawners so on the whole broodstock programs offer no conservation benefit to wild fish and may actually pose greater risk than traditional early timed stocks.
All this in a river with generally good habitat on the Columbia where some other populations have recently been trending upwards. The glaring different between the Sandy and other river systems where wild fish have recently been increasing in numbers...those systems have seen hatchery interactions with wild fish reduced or eliminated entirely. The Molalla River on the the Lower Willamette River has seen a more than 12 fold increase in wild steelhead abundance since hatchery programs were discontinued and populations continue to increase. Wild summer runs on both the Wind and Washougal Rivers have also benefited greatly from WDFW efforts to keep hatchery fish off the spawning grounds. Given the geographic proximity of these rivers outmigrant steelhead from the Molalla, Wind and Washougal have in all likelihood been experiencing the same marine environment as fish from the Sandy River. With high quality habitat throughout the Sandy basin, there is no reason the wild run could not recover to an even greater abundance than pre 1980s levels, however until ODFW deals with the impact of its hatchery programs on wild fish that will not happen. Instead, populations of wild steelhead on the Sandy will continue to decline as managers mine harvest 15% of the wild run to supplement harvest.
More information from NFS River Steward Spence miles at the Whitefish Can't Jump Blog:
Write ODFW and tell them what you think of their management of the Sandy.
North Willamette District Biologist
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Fish Division Director
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Sunday, December 26, 2010
An article a few weeks ago in the Oregonian detailed the success of a newly constructed concrete wall below the Dalles Dam spillway. The project was designed to improve juvenile fish passage past the deadly dam by transporting them away from shallow water areas where they were easy fodder for predators. After a failed attempt in 2004 the project was relaunched in 2008 and last spring, juvenile salmon and steelhead migrated past the $51 million dollar structure for the first time. The project was successful in increasing the survival of juvenile spring/summer chinook by 4 percent to 96%, and juvenile fall chinook 7 percent to 94%. While the survival of juvenile steelhead past the Dalles was not previously monitored, this spring 95% of the young fish made it past the dam. While such efforts are required to meet the ESA mandated mitigation obligations for operating the Columbia hydrosystem, they can only do so much and the cost of mitigation efforts is only going up and up. Biologists with the Army Corp of Engineers now list the Dalles as one of the most fish friendly on the Columbia, highlighting the fact that at many dams fewer fish survive passage.
Imagine for a moment a juvenile spring chinook migrating from the Snake River. These fish have to migrate past 8 dams during their trip to the pacific. Even with tremendously expensive measures in place to improve fish passage at the dams, on average about 5% of fish will die at each dam. Add that up and out of 100 outmigrating smolts nearly 35 will die before they even reach the ocean. While this is a vast improvement from the past, the undeniable fact is that dams are still a massive hindrance to the recovery of wild salmon in the Columbia. Add in the fact that smolts now arrive weeks later than they did historically and their odds of survival once they hit the ocean is further reduced. Federal regulators and biologists have tried to get around the problem by barging huge numbers of fish from the Snake to the Pacific, however the program has questionable survival benefits for juvenile fish and has the unintended consequence of dramatically increasing the rate of straying in the Columbia. Stray fish, particularly stray hatchery fish are a major danger to ESA listed wild fish because they are not adapted to the river in which they spawn. By increasing the stray rate on the Columbia we are reducing the productivity of wild stocks through introgression with unfit hatchery fish AND undermining local adaptation produced by thousands of years of genetic isolation.
The bottom line is, as long as the dams stand in the way of migrating salmon there is only so much we can do. While no one will argue that the economy in the Northwest will ever be without hydropower, there are a few things we can do. The first is to take out the four lower snake river dams which provide trivial amounts of power, and are in place only to provide massively subsidized transportation for wheat grown by farmers in eastern washington, oregon and idaho. The 2009-2010 budget for the Army Corps mitigation costs was $85 million dollars. A number of dams in the basin are owned by other entities so that cost is only a fraction of what is spent on fish mitigation each year in the Columbia. Add in the cost of maintaining the locks, dredging canals for shipping and you start to see the real cost of keeping the four Snake River dams in place.
We stand at a crossroads with Judge James Redden set to make a decision in the New Year on the legality of the Obama BiOp. Now is the time for the federal government to provide visionary leadership and a longterm solution to the ongoing battle over ESA listed Snake River salmon. Rather than fighting for the status quo where the shipping industry is massively subsidized by federal dollars we should be removing the four lower Snake dams and improving rail infrastructure to make up for lost transportation capacity.
See the article in the Oregonian:
Email or call Washington Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and tell them to take a stand for Snake River Salmon.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
For about two weeks now the media has been flooded with stories about a new publication examining the impacts of salmon farming on populations of wild pink salmon. The study was done by a group of three researchers using data on lice levels in fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. Data which until now has been proprietary and the industry has refused to release to independent scientists. Previous work by Marty Krkosek and collaborators in 2007 have documented the impact of the salmon farming industry on wild salmon and a 2010 paper by Brendan Connors found that sea lice infestations were also depressing the productivity of Broughton coho salmon. Now as the Canadian public and government appear poised to push the industry towards closed containment that would finally eliminate the transfer of parasites and disease from salmon feedlots to wild juveniles, the aquaculture industry releases this piece of PR science, hiring three virtually unknown scientists, including a veterinarian who has worked for the salmon farming industry for over 15 years. This conflict of interest is clearly stated on the first page of the paper.
With pressure mounting on the salmon farming industry they sought to infuse uncertainty into the debate, and rather than testing a set of hypotheses in an objective fashion the scientists appear to have set out to show that salmon farming has no appreciable impact on the productivity of wild salmon. This is glaringly obvious in a few parts of the paper. Among the most astonishing quotes are,
"all published lab and field data support the conclusion that something other than fish farms caused the population decline in 2002."
This is simply not true. Previous population modeling has absolutely attributed declines to high parasite loading coming from salmon farms. At the height of the sealice outbreaks upwards of 90% of wild juveniles were infected with sealice. Pink salmon juveniles lack scales and therefore are highly vulnerable to parasites.
"Because most or all of the initially infested fish shed their lice before they died, the cause of death remains unknown, and the evidence points to something other than sea lice killing most of the fish."
This is absolutely ludicrous. Ecotoparasites like sea lice are more than capable of leaving hosts at any time and have even been shown to move from juvenile pinks to larger predatory coho salmon during the act of predation. The fact that they aren't on the juvenile pink salmon at the time of death by no means vindicates the sea lice. That would be the equivalent of saying that because someone died of a bullet wound after the murderer has fled the scene that they did not die because of the individual who shot them. The authors also cite relatively low mortality of infected pink salmon in the lab environment, again this is just not biologically relevant. In the wild, juvenile pink salmon don't just die. They fall victim to predators, they are lost to disease, they starve for lack of food. In a laboratory environment the effect of sea lice cannot be fully accounted for because the actual sources of mortality are largely absent and the fish are fed on a daily basis. In the wild, infected pink salmon fry grow more slowly and are much more likely to fall victim to predators and disease.
I wondered however if I did a similar analysis, what I would find. Just so happened that I had the DFO escapement/runsize data for the Broughton archipelago on hand from a class project. By comparing the number of spawners in a given year to the number of recruits two years later (all pink salmo return to spawn at age two) we can make inferences about the relative productivity in a given year and model the effects of various factors ranging from environmental conditions, and spawner density to the number of farm salmon in the broughton archipelago. My time series went from 1976 to 2004 so I was unable to capture the latter portion of the period in question, but given the fact that the salmon farming industry started in the Broughton in the early 1990s that gave me 14 years of salmon farm data to use. Keep in mind this is by no means peer reviewed, but I think it provides some valuable insights.
I used what is called a stepwise model selection, basically starting by just modeling the relationship between spawners and spawners/recruits log transformed so that the data fits the assumptions of a linear model.
relationship between spawner abundance and log(r/s) in the Broughton Archipelago. x-axis is spawner abundance, y is log (r/s)
A is the abundance of sea lice relative to the abundance of spawning pink salmon. Note that in years of high spawner abundance there are more lice in farms.
B is the prevalence of sealice on juvenile pink salmon relative to the abundance of lice on farms. No surprise there, lice from farms are ending up on wild juveniles.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
In recent years the commercial bycatch of Chinook salmon by Pollock Fisherman has surged. This year more than 50,000 chinook has prompted the North Pacific Fisheries Management council to call for a fast track plan to reduce the impact of Pollock fisheries. Higher than normal bycatch and recent declines in the abundance of many Alaskan Chinook populations have led to heightened concern that the pollock fishery may be having a substantial impact. Further complicating the issue is the fact that depressed populations of Chinook from Canada, Washington and Oregon feed in the Gulf of Alaska and are threatened by bycatch. High bycatch has also been documented in Bering Sea Pollock Fisheries and in 2007 a record 120,000 chinook were taken. NOAA has already implement a bycatch limit for Bering Sea fisheries and the same could be on the way for the Gulf of Alaska. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:
Monday, December 20, 2010
In a plan released last week, Washington State governor Chris Gregoire proposed to merge 21 state agencies into 9. With the state facing record budget shortfalls, state lawmakers have been forced to think critically about the role of many state agencies and how best to implement consolidation and still provide essential services. Under the plan the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would be merged with State Parks and Recreation, The Recreation and Conservation Office and the Department of Natural Resources law enforcement under the banner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The state's budget woes have hit WDFW hard over the past year forcing them to cut staff and take a hard look at many programs. With an emphasis on saving money and reducing waste the department should cut many of its hatchery programs. In puget sound in particular the state releases millions of fish annually but poor marine survival means that hatchery programs see very few fish returning. A state auditors report last year revealed that the average blackmouth caught in Puget Sound costs taxpayers nearly 800 dollars. Not only are these hatchery programs wasteful, but they're hindering the recovery of ESA listed wild steelhead and chinook in the sound. More information in the Seattle Times.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Last week opponents of a proposed oil pipeline and tanker route through some of BCs most important salmon habitat scored a major victory when the House of Commons voted in support of a tanker ban along BC's Central Coast. Enbridge corporation has proposed to build an oil pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands, across northern BC to Kitimat where oil would then be loaded onto tankers and shipped south. Unfortunately the proposed route for the pipeline directly threatens the Upper Fraser and Skeena Rivers as well as the BC Central Coast. These there areas support the majority of BC's healthy salmon populations and such a project could prove disastrous in the case of an accident. In the unstable, landslide and avalanche prone terrain of Northern BC a spill is inevitable and the proposed shipping corridor would be through very treacherous fjords known for violent weather and tides. Polls show that 80% of BC residents support the tanker ban. More information at the living oceans society website:
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Please take the time to make your voice heard on these important issues.
-Comment on the extension of the Snider Creek Wild Broodstock Program on the Sol Duc River. The program, designed to enhance early run wild steelhead has been operating for 25 years taking an average of 44 wild fish per year to produce hatchery reared offspring. Throughout its history the program has been plagued by poor performance and has produced an average return of less than 300 fish. Given the ecological and genetic impacts of such a program and its continually poor performance, this program should be abandoned. Comments are due by December 15th.
-Comment on the proposed Elwha Fishing Moratorium. WDFW and the tribe plan to continue planting nearly 60,000 chambers creek hatchery steelhead in the Elwha throughout the period of dam removal. Segregated stocks like chambers creek are used for the expressed purpose of supplementing fishing. With a fishing moratorium in place there is no justification for such a program. Chambers creek stock are known to have extremely poor fitness when spawning in the wild and allowing the entire run to return, uncaught and spawn in the wild, impeding the recovery of wild fish in the system. WDFW is also hosting a meeting on December 15th in Port Angeles on the topic.
The Washington Department of Fish and wildlife is urging anglers to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon on the Lower Columbia River. The department had hoped to adopt a rule requiring the use of barbless hooks but co-managers in Oregon refused. Salmon fisheries in the lower Columbia target hatchery raised salmon however every year substantial numbers of ESA listed wild fish are caught and released. A barbless rule would maximize survival of wild fish which by law must be released and there is absolutely no reason why Oregon should oppose this rule. Their position is especially perplexing in light of their long running involvement in other issues on the Columbia including opposition to the 2008 BiOp. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:
Saturday, December 11, 2010
In the ongoing battle to stop Pebble Mine and its disastrous impacts on Bristol Bay's salmon dependent communities and ecosystems 2011 will be a critical year. Opponents have asked the EPA to use the clean water act to declare the project illegal. As we wait for political action out of Washington, it is critical that the public continues to stand up for Bristol Bay and oppose Pebble. Check out the Natural Resource Defense Councils website for more information on fighting Pebble Mine and to find out what you can do.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
For the first time disease records from 120 salmon farms in British Columbia will be made public. The industry has long fought against transparency, but a ruling yesterday by BC supreme court Justice Bruce Cohen found that the disease records were of great relevance to the inquiry into declining productivity of Fraser Sockeye. So for the first time the records dating back to 2000 will be made public. Salmon advocates have long argued that disease is a missing piece of the puzzle and hope that this ruling will improve the ability of inquiry to fully understand factors which have contributed to declines in Fraser Sockeye. Furthermore the ruling should serve as a wake up call to fish farming companies that they do not operate in with impunity British Columiba. and that they will finally be getting long overdue scrutiny from government. Parasites from salmon farms have been linked to major declines in populations of wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago and the Northern Georgia Strait and are likely contributing to the collapse of wild salmon in some areas along Vancouver Islands West Coast. Now with disease records from all over the province being made public scientists and policy makers will have access to an under appreciated and crucial part of the story of how salmon farming is affecting wild salmon. More information in the Victoria Times Colonist:
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
While data on the past abundance of salmon and steelhead in our rivers can be hard to come by, it is generally acknowledged that there were alot more salmon in the past. Often we hear "salmon so thick you could walk across their backs" as a description of past salmon abundance. Unfortunately, most agency records date back only to the 1950s and the majority of monitoring efforts were not started until the 1970s or later, so we have mostly been left to speculate about exactly how productive our rivers once were, unitl recently.
In 2006 Bill McMillan published an analysis which he coauthored with Nick Gayeski of the Wild Fish Conservancy. The report, which predictably, was widely dismissed by WDFW officials, is the best attempt ever made to quantify historic abundance of steelhead in Washington State. Using early commercial fishing and cannery records they made the first robust estimates of steelhead abundance in many of Washington's Rivers. What the found was startling, many of the rivers in Washington State once supported tens of thousands of steelhead. In the heart of steelhead's range these rivers supported some of the most productive and diverse populations of steelhead in the North Pacific at the time of colonization. Historical records suggest the Stillaguamish River once supported a run of 60-90 thousand winter steelhead. Today the escapement goal is 950 fish, as little as 1% of historic abundance. In 2009 WDFW estimated that 125 winter fish returned to the entire Stillaguamish basin. On the Queets data shows that historically between 50 and 80 thousand fished returned annually. Today run sizes are depressed below 10 thousand fish and commercial harvest of steelhead continues to take a substantial portion of the run every year. In another recent analysis of the North Umpqua River canning records, McMillan uses information dating from 1919 to estimate historic abundance of steelhead on the Umqua well in excess of 100 thousand fish and possibly as high as 200 thousand fish.
Taken in the context of modern steelhead abundances where populations are most often counted in the few hundreds, tens of thousands of fish can seem difficult to imagine. How could we have possibly driven populations to such low levels, and why can't we recover some semblance of historic abundance. To fully incorporate historic abundance into our recovery goals we must first understand the process by which populations were so rapidly depleted. While historic records are undoubtedly patchy, the story they tell is one of fantastically abundant populations of salmon and steelhead in the period of the first american settlements in the Northwest. Within a few generations many populations had collapsed to much lower levels of abundance. This can be explained by a couple of mechanisms. With protracted freshwater rearing, steelhead are typically much less productive than their salmon cousins and intensive harvest likely meant that within a few generations, only the most productive portions of the stock complex remained.The rate at which agriculture and resource extraction changed the landscape also had profound impacts on steelhead populations. Clearing of forested floodplains for agriculture, diking of floodplain reaches, dredging for barge traffic, splash damming and extensive timber harvest, unregulated mining and the construction of irrigation dams which blocked fish passage all brought devastation to once pristine habitats. Even 100 years later, the legacy of these impacts remains.
While historic abundance numbers may paint a grim picture of devastation and loss in populations of salmon and steelhead, it also provides hope. Salmon and steelhead have throughtout their history recovered from catastrophic disturbances including glaciation, megafloods and volcanic eruptions. As our understanding of the linkages between intact habitat and the productivity of salmon and steelhead grows we are increasingly capable of undertaking restoration projects which can benefit wild fish. The next step however is changing the culture that surrounds salmon. With so many economic and cultural interests in play, moving away from the status quo of intensive harvest and large scale hatchery supplementation will be extremely difficult but not unattainable. We will never recover populations to historic levels, but by incorporating our knowledge of historic abundance and habitat loss we may someday be able to recover populations to a level beyond what our current management paradigms could ever imagine.
See the 2006 publication at Wild Salmon Center's website:
An interesting analysis reposted on the North Umpqua Fly Guide Blog:
Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is accepting comments on a proposed 5 year fishing moratorium and a public meeting will be held December 15th in Port Angeles. This summer Elwha and Glines canyon dam will come out on the Lower Elwha, opening the upper 90 miles of river to anadromous salmonids for the first time in 100 years. Closing fishing during the period following dam removal is essential for the recovery process and 5 years should be considered an absolute bare minimum. Five years is one generation for Chinook, and Steelhead which means very little recovery is likely to have happened in that time. True recovery will take time as salmon and steelhead will have to stray into the newly available habitats, diversify and become locally adapted. Luckily the habitat on the Elwha is some of the most pristine in the lower 48 with most of the river protected in the National Park and eventually salmon and steelhead should be able to return to near historic levels of abundance.
Unfortunately it appears, at least at present that continued supplementation of the Elwha with hatchery fish will continue even during the fishing moratorium. During the last century hatcheries were built on the Lower Elwha to mitigate the effects of the dams and lost habitat and support both sport and commercial fisheries. Now that the habitat is once again accessible and the fisheries will be closed for at least five years there is little need for hatchery supplementation. Particularly concerning is the fact that WDFW plans to continue planting almost 60,000 chambers creek steelhead throughout the recolonization process. Chambers creek fish are a segregated stock, planted with the express purpose of supporting harvest and with fishing closed there is absolutely no need to continue that program. Furthermore WDFW's own data shows that Chambers Creek fish have much lower reproductive success than their wild counterparts when they spawn in the wild. Allowing these fish to spawn in the wild will only slow the process of recolonization by reducing the reproductive success of wild fish.
WDFW is accepting comments on the Elwha fishing moratorium until December 31st. Please submit comments and support the fishing moratorium. The Elwha recover is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Tell the department:
- Five years should be considered a bare minimum for the fishing moratorium and longer closures should be considered if populations have not recovered after 5 years.
- Chambers creek steelhead should absolutely not be planted in the Elwha during the recolonization. Segregated hatchery stocks are intended to supplement harvest and with a harvest moratorium in place there is no need to continue this program.
- Chambers creek steelhead spawning in the wild are likely to hinder wild steelhead recovery on the Elwha. This is unacceptable and can be easily avoided.
WDFW Rules Coordinator Lori Preuss at Lori.Preuss@dfw.wa.gov or 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.
Contact WDFW biologist Ron Warren with more questions: 360-249-4628
More information on the WDFW website:
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Buoyed by productive ocean conditions and a three year moratorium on ocean harvest rivers throughout Northern California is seeing strong returns of Chinook Salmon this year. As of mid-November biologists had trapped 1,600 Chinook at the Van Arsdale counting station on the Eel River nearing the previous record of 1,754. The counting facility is on the upper mainstem Eel and passes fish above Cape Horn Dam, so the actual counts of Chinook in the Eel are certainly much higher. Rivers throughout the Central Valley are also seeing strong returns just a few short years after record low counts triggered closures in ocean commercial fisheries. While commercial fishing moratoriums in Northern California have been a tough pill to swallow, abundant returns this year are no doubt benefiting from the closure. Not only have returning salmon in this years run been more numerous, they've also been larger on average. Check out two articles about this years boom in Chinook Returns:
Record returns on the Eel River:
Salmon rebounding on the Sacramento:
Also, an interesting report on historic abundance in the Eel: