Thursday, September 29, 2011

Skeena Steelhead by Bob Hooton

Bob Hooton, long among the preeminent salmon and steelhead biologists in British Columbia has authored a new book set for release this November. The book titled simply, Skeena Steelhead: Unknown Past, Uncertain Future, is not an angling guide but rather a study of Skeena steelhead and the many cultural and ecological challenges they face. Hooton is uniquely qualified to write on the subject and the book should be a must read. More information at the Amato books website:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Important Year for Klamath Dam Removal

Last week the Department of the Interior released a preliminary Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the effects of dam removal in the Klamath. The EIS comes to several conclusions which are favorable for dam removal. Not surprisingly it predicts improved abundance of salmon in the Klamath in the event of dam removal however more surprising and positive is the conclusion by the Department of the Interior that dam removal would likely cost significantly less than previously projected with the estimated price tag dropping from $450 million to $290 million. While the EIS appears to be indication that the department is in favor of supporting the deal ironed out among the states, fishermen, irrigators and the owner of the dams PacifiCorp the deal would still have to be authorized by Congress.

While money for the dam removal would come from ratepayers and state governments, the federal government would likely have to contribute some to the post removal restoration and monitoring and Congressional authorization could be a tough sell in an ideologically polarized environment like the House. Should Congress fail to authorize by March of 2012 the parties to the deal will have to go back to the drawing board and hope that eventually, national politics can catch up with the regional consensus.

More on the EIS from the E&E greenwire:

and from OPB:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Net Pens Proposed for Strait of Juan de Fuca

Recently, a proposal by Pacific Seafood has come forward which hopes to win approval for two new salmon netpens holding up to 1.7 million farmed near the mouths of the Twin and Lyre Rivers in Washington's Strait of Juan de Fuca. The proposal is in its early stages and is far from a sure thing, however bringing more net pen aquaculture to Washington's coastal waters could deal a crippling blow to already depressed populations of wild salmon. Throughout BC where open net pen salmon farms are prolific, scientists have documented their often severe impacts on local populations of wild salmon. The proposal comes at an interesting time as Clallam county is in the process of preparing its new Shoreline Management Plan and must be stopped or the floodgates of salmon farm development may open into Washington's water ways. More information in the Olympic Peninsula Environmental News:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bad Year for Bycatch in BC Fisheries

A recently announced commercial opening for chum salmon in the Johnstone Strait marks the latest in a series of commercial salmon fisheries with potentially catastrophic bycatch of migrating steelhead. This summer the duration and intensity of sockeye fisheries in the Skeena and Nass region as well as salmon fisheries in the Dean channel have raised alarm among steelhead advocates in British Columbia. Perhaps more perilous though are commercial fisheries targeting pink and chum salmon in the Georgia Basin which often intercept steelhead bound for the Thompson and other Fraser River tributaries. In recent years these stocks have declined precipitously and at present are depressed at record low numbers and last year only 500 steelhead returned to the Thompson River. Here's a press release from the Steelhead Society of BC regarding the latest chum opening:

Seattle Times Special on Elwha Dam Removal

A nice video feature from the Seattle Times on the Elwha Dam removal discussing the project and efforts to monitor the recovery of the ecosystem following dam removal. Also some great underwater footage and video of biologists in the field on the Elwha.

Also, check out the Times full Elwha section for all their coverage of the dam removal including some great photo galleries and articles:

Friday, September 16, 2011

AGENCIES WARNED OVER ELWHA RIVER FISH HATCHERY “Restoration” Includes An Increase In Production Of Non-Native Steelhead

A press release jointly issued from the Wildfish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Conservation angler and our organization:

A sixty-day notice letter mailed today to federal and state agencies charges that these agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act by ignoring best available science and the needs of killer whales and native steelhead by funding a fish hatchery that will impede the recovery of the Elwha River ecosystem. Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition served legal notice that they would file suit against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife under the federal Endangered Species Act. The groups allege that the fish hatchery plan that the agencies are implementing for the Elwha River violates the ESA by harming Puget Sound Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout without the proper authorization.

The federal government has already taken steps to remove Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam and open up miles of pristine riverine habitat in Olympic National Park, with actual demolition scheduled to begin this fall. But instead of relying on colonization of the habitat by wild salmonids, however, the federal and state agencies are going ahead with a plan that includes a new $16 million fish hatchery that will increase production of steelhead not native to the basin.

“This is the world’s largest river restoration project and the wild salmon deserve a chance to come back to the Elwha without having to compete with millions of hatchery fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “The habitat is excellent and the wild fish would colonize it quickly if left alone.”

Will Atlas, chair of the FFF Steelhead Committee, said “The reality is that the annual release of four million hatchery fish means that the Elwha will not reach its potential. In the rush to harvest the abundant hatchery fish we will be repeating the mistakes of the past, depressing the productivity of the habitat we fought so hard to restore.”

Rich Simms, president of the Wild Steelhead Coalition said that the Coalition “hopes that the issue can be resolved for the benefit of wild, not hatchery, steelhead."

"This is a first time opportunity, unlike other dam removals, because the habitat is pristine,” said Pete Soverel, president of The Conservation Angler. “But we are going to compromise the recovery efforts by out-of-basin, Chambers Creek steelhead stock which NOAA's own scientists say is unsuitable for Elwha recovery."

The groups believe that dam removal is a giant step forward to restore the ecosystem but relying on artificial production is counter-productive. The agencies’ plan gives no timetable for ceasing the hatchery production.


Wild Fish Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the Northwest region’s wild-fish ecosystems, with about 2,400 members. Wild Fish Conservancy’s staff of over 20 professional scientists, advocates, and educators works to promote technically and socially responsible habitat, hatchery, and harvest management to better sustain the region’s wild fish heritage. For more information, visit us at or follow us on Facebook at

Demolition is Underway on Elwha Dams

Nearly 20 years after congress first authorized the Elwha River ecosystem restoration act demolition started this week on Glines Canyon dam. The removal of both Elwha dams is expected to take a year or more but will ultimately open more than 90 miles of habitat which has been blocked for more than 100 years.

Here's a video preview of a story the Seattle Times are doing:

A video of the dam removal getting underway can be seen here:

Watch the progress on the dam removal unfold via live webcam:

A story by Lynda Mapes in the Seattle Times:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

NOAA Administrator Weighs in on the Elwha

Will Stelle, the regional administrator for NOAA weighed in on the Elwha situation with an editorial of his own yesterday in the Seattle Times, in which he defends hatchery programs on the Elwha as a necessary part of the recovery. While Stelle states that there will be not be "hatcheries forever" he neglects to mention that there will be an ongoing release of non-native Chambers Creek steelhead during the recovery and the fishing moratorium. That simply cannot be defended biologically. While hatcheries will apparently be phased out as the population recovers, the reality is the recovery plan is entirely lacking in specific quantifiable recovery goals to guide when/how hatchery operations will be decommissioned. The editorial does not add any new detail stating ambiguously,"If the productivity of a restored Elwha is as strong as we expect, there likely will be little need for continued hatchery programs following restoration." This ignores the basic reality that until the hatchery is no longer releasing 4 million fish annually wild populations in the Elwha will be nowhere near their productive potential and in the rush to harvest the abundant hatchery fish we will be repeating the mistakes of the past, depressing the productivity of the habitat we fought so hard to restore.

From the Seattle Times:

Restoration of the Elwha's wild runs will need a careful jump-start

The removal of the two Elwha River dams begins this weekend. Guest columnist Will Stelle argues that restoring the river's salmon runs will take active intervention by releasing fish to jump-start the rebuilding. Hatcheries will be a tool of the process, if only temporarily.

REMOVAL of the two dormant Elwha River dams on the Olympic Peninsula will unleash a powerful, free-flowing river and once again open the entire watershed to the salmon runs that have been knocking at the base of the dams for a century now. Over the next decade, the transformation of the Elwha River we will witness is difficult to overstate.

That we are at this point, where the first blocks of concrete are to be removed this weekend, is a tribute to the vision and tenacity of the local community, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and the other federal and state leaders who have made this their mission.

The restoration of the Elwha has its complexities, including how to rebuild its legendary salmon and steelhead runs. The spectrum of opinion runs from a passive "hands-off" strategy to one of active intervention by releasing fish to jump-start the rebuilding effort. After a decade of work, endless public process and three independent science reviews, the agencies and tribes devised a fish-restoration plan built on an active reseeding strategy that is well-grounded conceptually and open to further refinement as we proceed. Here is why.

The dams' harm to fish will last longer than the structures themselves. Upon removal, mountains of sediment behind the dams will be swept downstream and reshape the lower end of the river and the shoreline/estuarine habitats at its mouth. While efforts have been made to create safe fish refuge and top scientists believe the floodplain may attenuate some of the impacts, entire populations of the remaining wild salmon and steelhead could disappear in this tumultuous period of transformation. Not our desired outcome.

In order to provide a safe harbor for these fish populations through the next few years, the restoration plan calls for hatcheries to protect the remnants of these wild runs in clear, clean water. The use of hatcheries to restore the Elwha's wild runs does seem odd, to be sure, but the risk hatcheries pose are dwarfed by the very real, near-term concern that without them we could lose the Elwha's wild fish for generations.

Some suggest that the populations would survive the onslaught of sediment, that hatcheries are unnecessary and harmful, and that the Elwha would be successfully recolonized without intervention. Perhaps, if we're lucky and patient. But science strongly suggests that any natural recolonization would take decades because the Elwha is relatively isolated from other fish-bearing streams that might provide "stray" fish to the Elwha for repopulation.

Instead, the restoration plan calls for increasing the natural production of fish as quickly as the river allows and phasing out hatchery fish as the wild populations gain strength. Skeptics question the commitment to this trajectory, surmising it masks a "hatcheries forever" approach. Not so.

Federal, state and tribal fisheries managers and other interested parties must spell out this transition strategy with measurable, verifiable metrics under the Endangered Species Act that will be subject to scientific and public review. If the productivity of a restored Elwha is as strong as we expect, there likely will be little need for continued hatchery programs following restoration.

What's the rush? Amid the concerns and consequences of dam removal, we must not lose sight of the severe effects to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe in the near-term and its treaty-protected fishing right. NOAA Fisheries strongly supports the tribe's treaty right and knows that the right means fishing to the tribe, not just the mere existence of fish.

NOAA Fisheries shares in the tribe's pride and excitement about the restoration plan and looks forward to working with them and others on an acceptable hatchery transition that allows the tribe to be fishing as soon as possible on strong, abundant, wild Elwha River salmon and steelhead populations.

Join the effort, hold our feet to the fire and commit to success in rebuilding the wild runs of the Elwha.

Will Stelle is Northwest administrator of NOAA Fisheries Service in Seattle.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Puget Sound Fishermen Turning to Ancient Selective Gear

Seattle Times Photo

The ancient practice of reefnetting, a method of seining fish using two boats targeting groups of moving fish is booming this year in Puget Sound. For the fishermen the obvious benefit is, the fish come to the boat without the damage that a purse seine or gill net can inflict, but wild fish benefit too. Typically unharmed by the nets, wild fish and non-target species are released quickly giving them a high probability of recovery. Fishermen get a higher price for their product and the fisheries can potentially remain open longer with less bycatch. Throughout the state selective fisheries are increasingly viewed as an important step towards harvest reform that can protect wild stocks while ensuring a future for our commercial fishing sector and it is extremely encouraging to see the practice of reefnetting still hanging on in parts of the commercial salmon fleet. More information in the Crosscut:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Unconquering the Last Frontier. An Elwha Documentary

Unconquering the Last Frontier from Robert Lundahl on Vimeo.

With removal of the Elwha dams set to start this weekend it seems a fitting time to reflect on the history of the dams and the impact they've had on the fate of Port Angeles, The Klallam Tribe and the river itself. Unconquering the Last Frontier is a documentary about the Elwha dams and the hard work done by the Klallam tribe, Park Service and local residents to push for dam removal. Not surprisingly, there was significant resistance to idea of removing the two dams. Many of the people interviewed in the film still play an important role on the Elwha including Brian Winter and Pat Crain of the National Park Service and Mike McHenry, Elwha Tribal biologist. The film is long but well worth watching for its historic perspective on the Elwha recovery and as a testament to all that has been accomplished in the watershed.

No doubt we have a long way to go towards ensuring that wild fish are allowed to recover free from the impediment of industrial scale hatcheries but that should not take away from the triumph that is dam removal on the Elwha and the blood, sweat and tears that have been shed to bring the project this far.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cantwell Stands Up for Bristol Bay

Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell announced today that she has asked the EPA to use provisions the Clean Water Act, if necessary, to stop the development of Pebble Mine. The mine which could be one of the largest open pit mines in the world would be cited in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers which drain into Bristol Bay. Fully half of the worlds sockeye harvest comes from Bristol Bay and opponents of the mine which include local native groups, commercial fishermen, sports fishing groups, and environmental groups say the mine would have potentially catastrophic impact on the health of the watershed. The EPA is currently undertaking a thorough scientific review which will examine the potential impacts of the mine on the Bristol Bay. More information in the Seattle Times:

First Nations Reject Pipeline Ownership

Enbridge is meeting strong resistance from local First Nations groups in their attempt to run a pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, a route that threatens the Fraser, Skeena and Central Coast with a catastrophic oil spill. So far, few if any First Nations groups have been receptive to their advances and in perhaps the most bold rejection yet, the Yinka Dene Alliance a group of five First Nations bands whose traditional territory spans much have the Northern BC section of the pipeline have rejected an offer of 10% ownership in the pipeline. That rejection could spell doom for the pipeline since the proposed route goes directly through much of their territory however the battle is far from over and the decisions made on the Enbridge pipeline will undoubtedly shape the future fortunes of BCs greatest salmon bearing ecosystems. More information in the Vancouver Sun:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Willamette Fish Passage in the Oregonian

A good article last week in the Oregonian on plans to pass adult salmon above dams on the Willamette system. Both steelhead and spring chinook are ESA listed in the Willamette and dam construction is the primary culprit in their decline. More than 400 miles of habitat has been lost to dam construction in the basin and spring chinook have plummeted from an estimated pre-dam abundance of more than 300,000 to about 10,000 fish. The large flood control dams present a challenge in terms of engineering passage for juveniles downstream however a number of projects in the region may provide some insights on how to get fish moving downstream.

Read the article here:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two Video's on the Elwha Recovery

Two interesting videos on the Elwha Recovery.

The first is a short film describing the operations at the new lower Elwha weir. The weir is the largest of its kind south of Alaska and will provide biologists the opportunity to closely monitor the recovery of salmon and steelhead in the system.

Elwha River Fish Weir from John Gussman on Vimeo.

The second is a trailer for an upcoming film called "The Opus of Dick Goin". Goin is a long time Olympic Peninsula resident and is one of the few surviving resident's of the area who remembers the Elwha and its fish in the years immediately following the dam construction and before hatchery programs began. In those days the Elwha was still remarkably productive, even with 90% of it's habitat blocked by the dams. Since then the long term effects of the dams on habitat in the Lower River and hatchery programs intended to mitigate for the lost habitat have led to a decline in the abundance and diversity of wild salmon in the watershed. Remarkably all five species of salmon as well as winter and summer steelhead remain in the river, poised to recovery once they're given the opportunity. Dam removal starts this month, and it can't happen soon enough.

Elwha Unplugged: The Opus of Dick Goin from Greg OToole on Vimeo.

Monday, September 5, 2011

American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting This Week in Seattle

Starting today the American Fisheries Society (AFS) will hold its annual meeting at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. AFS is the foremost organization of professional fisheries biologists in the world and the conference promises to be fascinating. Featuring literally hundreds of talks by biologists from around the globe, this meeting has a healthy dose of salmon and steelhead research ranging from the effect of marine derived nutrients (salmon carcasses) on freshwater ecosystems to role of disease in salmon population dynamics. Of particular interest is a session called "Colonization and Reintroduction of Anadromous Salmonids" which runs from 8:00Am to 3:00Pm Tuesday and has several talks related to the Elwha Dam Removal. Check out the full schedule at the AFS website, I'll try to post an update towards the end of the details of a few of the more interesting talks.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Letter to the Editor in the Columbian Takes on Klickitat's Misguided Hatchery Program

Taken from the Columbian

Letter: Hatchery politics is not fish recovery

I was disappointed that the Aug. 15 story, “Klickitat fishway project is nearing completion,” did not discuss the importance of waterfalls to salmon diversity and the danger to indigenous stocks of wild salmon posed by the creation of artificial fish passage. Though the river now has lots of hatchery coho and fall chinook that were once excluded from areas above the falls, ever since the Washington Department of Fisheries violated Lyle and Castile Falls on the Klickitat 50 years ago, the wild spring chinook and summer steelhead that were able to leap these waterfalls have been in serious decline.

Left out of the story as well is that the new trapping facility will be used to mine wild salmon and steelhead for yet another Klickitat hatchery complex planned by the Yakama Nation and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, to be built and funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. While talk of integrating wild fish into their hatchery program is good propaganda; ultimately, it reduces the last of the best to the same status as the generic inbred stocks of salmon that can only thrive in cement ponds. This is just hatchery politics with the usual generous handouts of millions of federal dollars. Please don’t call it salmon recovery.

John Sowinski


The BPA is currently accepting comments on the proposed expansion of the Klickitat Hatchery and has agreed to extend the comment period to October 10th to allow a more thorough review of the proposal. More information on the Klickitat Hatchery proposal:

This is an extremely important opportunity for public input on the management of one of Washington's most extraordinary rivers. Stay tuned for a list of talking points on the Klickitat in the next several days.

Submit Comments:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

NOAA Releases Willamette Recovery Plan

Last week NOAA released its recovery plan for ESA listed Spring Chinook and Winter Steelhead in the Willamette Basin. The plan, which is estimated to cost more than $250 million will seek to recovery depressed wild populations in the basin by improving habitat, reducing the impact of hatcheries and, perhaps most interestingly, providing passage above dams on the North and South Santiam, McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette. Dams on those systems currently block passage to more than 50% of the available spawning habtiat and reduce the quality of downstream spawning areas. Providing passage into watersheds above dams could provide a major boost to salmon and steelhead populations provided they are able to effectively trap outmigrating juvniles and pass them downstream of the dams. More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin: