Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leaked Report: DFO Knew of ISAv in 2004

A Map of Salmon Farms in Southern BC and Washington

Research by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans dating back to 2004 has emerged which suggests the department knew of Infecious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv) in British Columbia as early as 2004. The research which tested several species of salmon found the disease in 117 fish but was never published. Despite the importance of the work, DFO has not allowed researchers to publish their findings.

Recently researchers at Simon Fraser University and the Raincoast Research Society have documented ISAv in salmon in the Lower Fraser River and as far north as River's Inlet, prompting international concern and US agencies have initiated comprehensive testing in Puget Sound and Southeast Alaska. Canadian agencies however, have maintained that ISAv is not confirmed in British Columbia raising questions about their credibility and their cozy relationship with international fish farming corporations operating in British Columbia.

More information in the Seattle PI:

Read the leaked report here:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Speaking For the Salmon Tackling Disease Issue

Since 1998 Simon Fraser University has hosted Speaking for the Salmon workshops, bringing together the foremost experts in the field to address the issues facing wild salmon populations in the Province and throughout the North Pacific. The latest seminar titled, Managing for Uncertainty: Pathogens and Diseases in Pacific Salmon is being hosted this week and will focus on recent developments surrounding disease in British Columbia and its effect on salmon population dynamics. The meeting will bring together experts from a variety of backgrounds including some of the central figures in salmon research and policy in BC and will culminate with a free public presentation Thursday December 1st at 9:00 PM in Room 1900, SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings, Vancouver. Seating is limited so reservations are required. Visit SFU's website to make reservations for what is sure to be a fascinating discussion:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Changing Landsape for the Columbia BiOp

Last week Judge James Redden, who has long presided over the lawsuit surrounding the Columbia Biological Opinion (BiOp), announced that he will step down before 2014 when the next Biological Opinion is due. The State of Oregon, The Nez Perce Tribe and a coalition of conservation and fishing groups have been locked in a legal battle with the federal government since 2001 over the legality of the Columbia BiOp, winning three court decisions which found federal authorities in violation of the Endangered Species Act. As a result of the litigation, court mandated spill and other operational guidelines have led to improved survival for outmigrating smolts, and the BPA and federal government have invested millions of dollars in habitat restoration and hatchery reform. Yet the feds have fallen woefully short of their mandate to recover wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake, something which many believe will require the breaching of the four Lower Columbia Dams.

Also coming out last week was Trout Unlimited's announcement that they will be withdrawing as plantiffs on the Columbia BiOp marking a major change in course for the organization. The decision is somewhat puzzling given what is at stake on the Columbia, the track record for success through the courts and the Federal government's unwillingness to convene stakeholder meetings to decide the future of the four Lower Snake Dams. Departing the lawsuit Trout Unlimited states that they will focus instead on bringing stakeholders together to work out a management plan everyone can live with. Trout Unlimited has a long track record of working collaboratively with government and stakeholders to address conservation challenges, however given the intractability of the Columbia BiOp and the fundamental differences in the position of stakeholders and the government such a consensus may prove difficult to find.

An article from the Oregonian on Redden's departure:

An article from OPB on TU's decision:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Elwha In Science Magazine

Last week Science Magazine, a leading publisher of science journalism printed an excellent article on the Elwha Dam removal. The article discusses some of the specific research that is ongoing in the Elwha with quotes from many of the scientists involved about their expectations for the recovery of fish populations and the Elwha ecosystem, and places the project within the larger context of dam removals around the country. The author also touches on the issue of hatcheries with a great quote from Jack Stanford on the way that managers have used concerns over high sediment loads as a justification for hatchery intervention.

Dam removal is ongoing on the Elwha, and the FFF Steelhead Committee has joined with the Wild Fish Conservancy, the Wild Steelhead Coalition and the Conservation Angler in a lawsuit seeking a more robust scientific review can objectively examine the role of hatcheries in the recovery and develop an adaptive management plan which includes measurable recovery objectives and a time line for ending hatchery supplementation in the basin. The Elwha affords a unique opportunity to allow for a natural recovery of wild salmon in a pristine ecosystem, setting the bar for other recovery projects throughout the region.

Monday, November 21, 2011

SSBC Thompson Fundraiser This Week

This Wednesday in Vancouver, BC the Steelhead Society of BC is hosting a fundraiser to benefit Thompson River Steelhead. Money raised will go directly to habitat projects on Spius Creek an important spawning tributary if you live in the area come out and support a great organization and cause.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Feds "Staying the Course" Towards Extinction on Snake River Salmon

A map from the Oregonian depicting the status of listed Columbia Salmon

Yesterday the federal government responded to a request for settlement by plantifs in the lawsuit against the Columbia River Biological Opinion (BiOp). Opponents of the Columbia River BiOp which include the Nez Perce Tribe, the State of Oregon, and a broad coalition of conservation and fishing groups have called on the Federal Government to convene discussions with stakeholders to craft a lasting solution for the Snake River and it's four lower dams. In their response the Federal Government indicated that they are uninterested in such a process and that instead they plan to "stay the course" with the controversial plan to recover Snake and Columbia salmon.

This begs the question though, what kind of future are we staying the course towards? Salmon populations in the Snake and Columbia have been buoyed by favorable ocean conditions which are cyclical in nature. Every year the federal government and the BPA spend millions of dollars on salmon recovery projects with questionable benefit, seeking to meet their legal obligations under the ESA and protect the status quo. This despite the fact that leading researchers at the American Fisheries Society, the worlds largest organization of fisheries professionals have stated unequivocally that the only way to ensure recovery of ESA listed salmon and steelhead in the Snake over the long term is to remove the four Lower Snake Dams.

Even under the most optimistic scenarios salmon and steelhead in the Snake and Columbia will not even reach "recovery" goals laid out by NOAA, but instead will continue to fluctuate around the same levels of abundance we've seen over the past decade. Even with massive investments by the BPA the federal government we're reaching the point of declining returns. Passage can only be improved so much at each of the 8 dams fish must navigate migrating from the pristine headwaters of the Snake, and at the end of the day the undeniable fact is that dams have turned a mighty river into several hundred miles of stagnating, predator infested lakes.

Looming on the horizon is the true elephant in the room, climate change. Interior basins of the Columbia and Snake may be some of the hardest hit by a warming climate, yet bureaucrats at NMFS refuse to even entertain the notion of proactively removing four antiquated dams that never should have been built in the first place. The federal government is living on borrowed time, begging a federal judge to let them "stay the course" to extinction. So as we approach the twenty years mark since the first illegal BiOp, it's back to court for another round in the never ending saga.

More from Save our Wild Salmon:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Klamath Dam Removal Legislation Introduced in Congress

Bills introduced last week in the House and Senate seek federal authorization and funding for the removal of four dams in the Klamath Basin. Sponsored by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkely in the Senate and California Congressman Mike Thompson in the House, the bills would authorize $536 million in federal funding for the project, authorizing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, commonly called the Klamath Accords.

This fall the Department of the Interior released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) indicating that they supported the removal of the four Klamath dams and that they total cost of the project might be significantly lower than previously projected. Still, Republican lawmakers who last year sought to kill Klamath Dam removal with riders attached to the House Appropriations bill remain adamantly opposed to the project meaning it faces an uphill battle in Congress.

Without authorization by 2012 the Klamath Settlement is nullified, something which could be a major setback to dam removal efforts.

More information from OPB's earthfix blog:

Monday, November 14, 2011

NOAA's Technical Recovery Draft for Puget Sound Steelhead Available Online

Since the listing of Puget Sound Steelhead in 2007, NOAA has been actively working to develop historical baselines which will allow for the evaluation of extinction risk and recovery planning in the Puget Sound Distinct Population Segment (DPS). Central to completing that task was the formation of the Technical Recovery Team (TRT) a group of scientists representing many of the state, local and federal agencies involved in steelhead management in Puget Sound.

Their draft titled, Identifying Historical Populations of Steelhead Within the Puget Sound Distinct Population Segment, attempts to identify demographically independent populations within the Puget Sound and will provide the foundation for recovery planning. Demographically independent populations are basically populations of steelhead with shared traits such as georgraphic distribution, entry timing, etc. So for example, Deer Creek summer run steelhead may be considered a demographically independent population for the purpose of the TRT.

It's a long document which brings together a wealth of information on steelhead life histories, population and genetic structure, migration timing, habitat use and historic documentation and is well worth the read. Check it out at NOAA's website:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

WSC Film Premier Raising Money for Wild Fish

The Wild Steelhead Coalition is hosting the Washington premier of Connect, a fly fishing film by Confluence Films. The film documents the experiences of traveling anglers around the world, from the Yukon to Tanzania, Africa. If it's anything like other productions by the Confluence Films crew it should be visually stunning and well worth the price of admission. It's a win win that the event will serve as a fundraiser for the Wild Steelhead Coalition and our efforts to protect the future of the Elwha River from the harmful impact of hatcheries.

Advanced Ticket Sales:

Confluence Films website:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Canadian Officials, "no confirmed cases of infectious salmon anaemia in wild or farmed salmon in BC."

A press release last week from the Canadian Food Inspection (CFI) agency stated unequivocally that ISA is not in BC, this despite previous tests both at the world reference laboratory for ISA and at an independent lab in Norway had confirmed the presence of the disease in two juvenile salmon from Rivers Inlet, BC. Since the two individuals tested positive for ISA in Rivers Inlet, independent testing on coho and chum sampled in the Lower Fraser has also confirmed the presence of ISA in BC. Yet the agencies responsible for the well being of wild salmon in British Columbia remain woefully behind the eight ball, happy to continue denying the presence of the disease.

Canadian officials have long had a close relationship with the fish farming industry but the latest turn is an egregious affront to the precautionary principle that should be guiding the management of wild salmon and aquaculture in BC, and its only a matter of time before they are exposed. The sad truth is, there is almost 100% certainty that ISA is in BC. The PCR tests administered on the samples at the world reference lab amplifies particular parts of the viral genome making false positives extremely unlikely. Until now the disease has never before been documented in the Pacific and there is literally only one place it could have come from...farmed salmon.

Indeed, US officials are so concerned about the inability of Canadian authorities to act responsibly that federal agencies are being tasked with undertaking independent sampling, expressing concerns that the Canadian government may, " have a motive to misrepresent its findings". In light of the response by the Canadian government it appears that these concerns are more than valid and it is unfortunate that there has not been an honest attempt to get ahead of the disease by rigorously sampling farmed and wild salmon around BC.

More information from a savvy Canadian blogger:

Article from the Seattle Times:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Support a Wild Elwha

The FFF Steelhead Committee has teamed up with the Wild Steelhead Coalition and Wild Fish Conservancy to challenge the legality of the Elwha Fish Recovery Plan. We believe that dam removal on the Elwha is a momentous opportunity to recover wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, a chance to allow natural recovery of healthy wild populations in a largely pristine watershed. Given this opportunity we cannot sit by and allow a plan which calls for the release of nearly 4 million hatchery salmon and steelhead to go forward, particularly when that plan was never subject to formal public review or any independent scientific review. We cannot do this without your support, and the Wild Fish Conservancy is in the midst of a campaign to raise funds to support the lawsuit. Please visit their website today and support the cause, the future of the Elwha hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

White Salmon Dam Removal Highlights Weaknesses in Elwha Recovery Plan

Dam removal is proceeding at Glines Canyon and Elwha Dams

For fish and river lovers this has been a monumental fall. In late September, work began to remove two dams on the Elwha River in what will eventually be the largest river restoration project in our history. As many of you have undoubtedly read, removing these two dams will restore access to more than 90 miles of habitat in the Elwha, much of which is pristine and protected within the Olympic National Park. With access to that much pristine habitat, wild salmon and steelhead populations are poised to recover to levels not seen in the Elwha in a century. Unfortunately, state and federal agencies in cooperation with the Elwha Klallam Tribe have agreed on a fish recovery plan that will release close to 4 million hatchery salmon and steelhead into the river each year, threatening the recovery of wild fish in the basin.

The argument for the hatchery is that the habitat in the lower river will be so compromised by the sediment trapped behind the two dams that the hatchery program is necessary to keep the fish from going extinct. That may seem like a logical argument until you consider two facts. First, the magnitude of hatchery releases is completely out of scale with the supposed need. Under the current plan hatchery fish will continue to outnumber wild by an order of magnitude in the Elwha for the foreseeable future, reducing the productivity and fitness of the wild population. The ecological effects of the hatchery are also considerable and will serve to reduce the survival of wild juveniles in the river, and as they migrate to sea.

Second, in light of what we know about hatcheries and their impacts on wild populations what are the alternatives? Surely a number of alternatives were considered by the Elwha Recovery Team, but because the federal government never issued an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Fish Recovery Plan we have no idea what they considered. Nor did we have the opportunity to suggest that perhaps a massive production hatchery is incompatible with the goal of the dam removal, recovering healthy wild populations in the Elwha Basin.

Even without a formal list of alternatives for the Elwha Recovery, we don’t have to look far for examples of dam removal projects where managers have opted not to rely on hatchery intervention. This fall in preparation for the removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River, biologists with the USFWS captured nearly 700 adult Chinook and passed them above the dam. Like the Elwha, the removal of Condit unleashed massive amounts of trapped sediment which would have resulted in extremely high mortality for any juvenile Chinook incubating in the Lower River after the dam removal. Since the ultimate goal of the dam removal was to have Chinook colonize newly available habitats above condit dam, the biologists have solved two problems with one simple, inexpensive action. These fish will emerge next spring and migrate to sea and by the time they return Condit Dam will be gone. Given the existence of Chinook, coho and steelhead in the Lower Elwha the same type of recovery plan could have been implemented, instead the majority of returning adults will be taken into captivity, reducing the fitness of their progeny and delaying the natural process of colonization in the Elwha.

Both rivers are also home to healthy populations of rainbow trout, the resident life history of steelhead, and in both rivers these trout continue to produce substantial numbers of ocean going smolts each year. In both systems, a handful of these smolts survive to adulthood and upon returning to the river have been blocked from their spawning grounds, until now. Knowing this, managers on the White Salmon have had the wisdom to allow the fish to recover on their own, and they are optimistic that in a few generations steelhead will thrive again in the Upper White Salmon.

Contrast that with the $16 million the federal government spent on a hatchery on the Elwha. Despite assurances by NOAA’s regional administrator Will Stelle that hatchery operations are only temporary, no formal timetable for discontinuing hatchery releases has been set and no goals for wild recovery that would prompt reductions or outright elimination of hatchery releases are in place. Instead we have a blank check for permanent, massive hatchery supplementation in a river that in the absence of hatchery supplementation would likely be among the most productive in the region.

Given time the Elwha can again support robust fisheries for wild salmon, but by adopting a recovery plan which hinges on a production hatchery; managers are placing the cart before the horse. The Elwha is the project of a lifetime and given all the blood, sweat, tears and dollars that have gone into making it a reality, we need a fish recovery plan that works. One that will not only ensure harvest in the coming years but which will allow wild salmon to recover the diversity and abundance that once sustained the Elwha ecosystem. That dream can be a reality, but as long as the hatchery plan remains in place we won’t get there.

Friday, November 4, 2011

US Senators Taking ISA Very Seriously

Since news of the detection of ISA in wild sockeye salmon came to light in October the disease has been confirmed in three more species almost 400 miles away in the lower Fraser prompting concern that ISA may be wide spread in Southern BC. In response to the findings, a group of US Senators including Washington's Maria Cantwell and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich have sponsored a resolution calling for federal agencies to immediately begin testing in US waters for ISA. The US federal government has taken the threat of ISA very seriously and a letter sent by the three Senators expressed skepticism at ability of the fish farming industry and the Canadian Government to objectively monitor fish farms for disease saying,

"We should not rely on another government -- particularly one that may have a motive to misrepresent its findings -- to determine how we assess the risk ISA may pose to American fishery jobs,"

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pesticide Ruling Good News for Fish

This week a federal judge upheld a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) which placed limits on pesticide use in close proximity to rivers and streams. Agriculture has encroached on many watersheds in the Pacific Northwest and the ruling was a major win for salmon and steelhead. Pesticide use can cause significant harm to both juvenile and adult salmonids, eroding water quality, killing terrestrial and aquatic insects which provide food and in some instances killing the fish directly. The effort to overturn the rule had been financed by agricultural chemical manufacturing companies.

More information in the Oregonian:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Crooked River Salmon Recovery Hinges on Flows

From the Bend Bulletin, an editorial by Native Fish Society River Steward Tom Davis calling for environmentally sound water allocation in Prineville Reservoir on the Crooked River which give recovering salmon populations adequate in stream flow to ensure recovery. HR 2060 guarantee's only 17 cfs for fish in the crooked at least ten times less than what is needed trout and salmon.

The reality is recovery of ESA listed salmon and steelhead in the Upper Deschutes will eventually require more water. For the time being NMFS has given Upper Deschutes salmonids an "experimental" designation, which does not come with the same stringent requirements that a normal ESA listing might. This wont last forever and when the time comes it is better for the fish to be on their way to recovery and for water management and use to be in balance with both agricultural and ecological demands of the system. Otherwise it will be up to the courts to decide for Central Oregon how they should best manage their water.

Here's Tom's Editorial

Solutions for Fish Reintroduction

For more than 40 years, the Upper Deschutes habitat was closed to steelhead, spring Chinook and sockeye. The first adult salmon of one of the most ambitious reintroduction efforts in U.S. history are now returning to Pelton Round Butte Dam.

The relicensing agreement for the dam included a temperature-management and fish collection/passage structure. The total reintroduction cost is expected to exceed $300 million. The threats include low flows, water quality, passage and politics.

Recent OSU research on Whychus Creek concludes “an estimated four steelhead trout adults would be expected to return.” Low flows that are too warm and inadequate state flow targets mean low potential for steelhead, so the Crooked River watershed is exceptionally important.

The steelhead fry released were twice the number of Chinook fry released above the dam through 2009. The Chinook smolts that arrived in 2010 at the dam's fish collection facility were five times the number of steelhead smolts and this may portend poor steelhead success. Hopefully the outmigration of steelhead will improve, since Chinook typically smolt in their first year, but steelhead can smolt in their first, second or third year.

The Crooked River below Prineville and many tributaries have flows that are too low and too warm. The good news is that the problems appear to have feasible solutions.

The total storage capacity of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Prineville Reservoir is 150,200 acre-feet, with 148,600 acre-feet of active/usable space. Of that, 70,282 acre-feet of Prineville Reservoir storage space is for irrigation and other storage accounts, with 82,000 acre-feet uncommitted.

This suggests that Crooked River flows can be adequate for Chinook, redbands and steelhead, without compromising irrigation or other needs. In drought years, some small, proportional reduction of flows for fish and irrigation may be needed. The actual flow augmentation releases would depend on credible flow targets and adaptive management decisions made as-needed by the responsible fish managers.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently analyzed a 2001 best-available-science study performed by a consultant for the USBR. Flow recommendations for steelhead spawning below Bowman Dam ranged from 140 to 160 cfs in the 2001 study.

The ODFW analysis emphasized flat-water boating and fishing in Prineville Reservoir. The impact of adequate flow releases on flat-water recreation during the infrequent low water years would usually be minor and mitigation is possible by extending/lowering the launch areas.

More than 100 large reservoirs and lakes exist in Oregon for such recreation. There are four large reservoirs and at least six large lakes within a one-hour radius of Redmond that provide flat-water recreation.

Reintroducing ESA-listed steelhead into hundreds of miles of habitat is a rare opportunity and should be a high economic, biological and ESA priority.

Flow augmentation for steelhead and Chinook will be needed for only three or four months during most years, and 70,000 acre-feet of reservoir space would accomplish that. The USBR supported “providing some of the now unallocated space in the reservoir for fish and wildlife.”

HR 2060 authorizes 17 cfs for downstream flows, which is way below best-available-science flows. It contains a “First Fill” provision so in the occasional dry years irrigation would get the water it would in a normal year and steelhead, Chinook and redbands would take the loss. The USBR testified that first fill presents an “increased possibility for conflict.”

Legislation should allocate 70,000 acre-feet of the available 82,000 acre-feet of unallocated Prineville Reservoir space to downstream flows and 5,100 acre-feet for City of Prineville mitigation. The full 70,000 acre-feet would seldom be needed. The flow release decisions must be by fish professionals and should vary by season, life stage, run characteristics and flows otherwise in the river. The flow objectives must be the 2001 best-available-science recommendations for steelhead and Chinook. For public transparency, these flows must be noted in the bill that eventually passes as objectives of the adaptive management process.

- Tom Davis, PE, is a volunteer with the Deschutes Reintroduction Network, an informal group working on fish reintroduction in the Upper Deschutes.

The Senate is considering a bill (HR 2060) which will have important implications for the future of the Upper Deschutes. If you live in Oregon please take this opportunity to weigh in on these issues. Here's a list of talking points drafted by the Deshutes Recovery Network:

· 82,000 acre-feet of Prineville Reservoir storage space is uncommitted, and therefore available. 70,000 acre-feet must be allocated to downstream flows for Chinook, steelhead and redbands. The actual water available in the 70,000 acre feet of space will vary according to year and season.

· The flows needed from Prineville Reservoir storage specifically for fish would vary over the year. The amount released must be based on adaptive management decisions by professionals from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) and US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).

· The flexible objectives of the ODFW-NMFS-CTWS-USBR adaptive management decisions must be the best available science (BAS) regarding optimum flows for steelhead and Chinook. The BAS is the 2001 Hardin-Davis evaluation prepared for the US Bureau of Reclamation. For public transparency these flows must be listed in the bill that eventually passes as objectives of the adaptive management decisions. The optimum, minimum steelhead flow needs below Bowman are 140 to 160 cfs for spawning and 160 to 180 cfs for juvenile habitat. The Chinook needs are similar.

· Dry-year proportional reduction of reservoir space for salmonid flows and irrigation is essential. First fill as requested by irrigation interests is unacceptable.

· The relocation of the Wild and Scenic River boundary downstream for a hydropower generator must avoid disturbing redband-spawning beds and the new location justified.

Contact the offices of Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley with your concerns.

Senator Wyden:

· To – Wayne Kinney - -
· cc – Dave Berick - -

Senator Merkley:

· To – Susanna Julber - -
· cc – Adrian Deveny - -