Thursday, March 31, 2011
With the EPA in the process of reviewing the impact of pebble mine on the Bristol Bay region, it is important to take a look at the track record of mining operations in the US and the impacts we're living with today. Having realistic expectations is the first step towards making a reasonable assessment of whether or not Pebble Mine poses a long term ecological threat to the region, and unfortunately for the mining companies their predecessors have given opponents plenty of ammunition against their industry. Throughout the US and Canada decommissioned mines and the tailings they've left behind continue to leach toxic heavy metals into surface and ground water every year, devastating the communities that depend on them. Among the more recent cases comes from Northern Idaho where large floods this winter pushed an estimated 352,000 pounds of lead into Lake Coeur d'Alene. Mining wastes last forever and unfortunately the companies that left them there are more often than not long gone by the time the true costs of the extraction are being felt by local communities and watersheds. This leaves tax payers on the hook for cleaning up the hazardous waste, or alternatively if nothing is done, allows huge amounts of toxins and heavy metals to end up in our watersheds. More information in the Seattle Times:
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
The Enbridge corporation is facing stiff resistance against their proposal to build a pipeline from the Alberta tarsands to Kitimat on BC's Northern Coast. The oily extract would then be loaded into tankers and shipped down the coast, in the process threatening the Fraser, Skeena, and Central Coast ,three of BC's more productive and important salmon bearing ecosystems. The pipeline is to traverse some of the most rugged terrain on earth, where landslides, avalanches, floods and earthquakes are the norm rather than the exception and oil tankers would be forced to navigate the treacherous douglas channel and other fjords along BCs coast a region known for fearsome tides, winds and currents. All this is a recipe for certain disaster, for the Fraser, the Skeena, and the Central Coast. We know the devastation oil spills can bring about and in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill marine areas in Prince William Sound have not yet recovered. More than 20 years later shell fish remain toxic and many herring stocks have never reappeared. The question remains, why is the BC government even entertaining the possibility of allowing this project to go forward given the economic, and ecological importance of all three of those systems for the province?
Enbridge of course has sought to assure BC voters and locals along the proposed pipeline corridor of the project's safety. They've offered millions of dollars to local first nations bands for support and for the most part its been turned down. The question of Enbridge's actual commitment to safety and cleaning up any potentially disastrous spill is real and given their actions following last summers spill in Michigan, their claims appear more dubious than ever. In July 2010 an Enbridge owned pipeline burst, spilling 3 million liters of oil into the Kalamazoo River. At the time the corporation promised to pay all reasonable claims and took full responsibility for the cost of the cleanup. Now, only 9 months later they're in court arguing that they are not legally liable for many of the expenses. Bottom line is, they're willing to say whatever it takes to momentarily soothe the public into allowing their projects to go forward. Their record however is less than stellar and actions speak louder than words. More information in an article from the Common Sense Canadian:
The January Issue of the Osprey also features an article on the Enbridge pipeline project. Subscribe and receive your copy today:
Monday, March 28, 2011
Last week researchers from BC's Simon Fraser University published a paper documenting the importance of salmon for riparian plant communities. Specifically, they found that salmon high levels of salmon nutrients favored certain plant types with plant community composition changing across a range of salmon spawning densities. Highly abundant salmon runs provide a massive pulse of marine derived nitrogen and phosphorus every year and while their importance for aquatic and terrestrial systems has long been known we're only beginning to understand the profound effect salmon have on their home ecosystems. Check out this article in the globe and mail:
Friday, March 25, 2011
Last year, with construction complete on a multimillion dollar passage structure at Round Butte Dam biologists with Portland General Electric set out to quantify the passage success of spring chinook, steelhead and kokanee through Lake Billy Chinook. Tagging fish in each of the major tributaries and then counting them as they passed through the smolt intake at Round Butte they determined that as many as 50% of spring chinook were successfully passed and 25% of steelhead passed for a grand total of 42,000 and 7,800 smolts respectively. Biologists were also pleasantly surprised that kokanee, long trapped in the lake smolted in excellent numbers with 50,000 of the young sockeye passing through the facility.
The effort is underway to provide access to ESA listed salmonids in the Upper Deschutes, lost when Round Butte was constructed in the 1960's. Biologists only expect passage conditions and survival to improve as annual draw downs and targeted releases of water push fish through the lake and into the structure. Once the passage technique is perfected wild salmon and steelhead will once again have access to the Metolius, Crooked and Upper Deschutes Rivers. More info in an article from the Columbia Basin Bulletin:
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Federal dam operators announced today that court ordered spill will continue during the 2011 outmigration season. Many have attributed improved survival in the Columbia basin in part to court ordered spill in place since 2006. Over the last several years the Columbia has seen record returns of sockeye, coho, chinook and steelhead. Plaintiffs in the case challenging the legality of the Obama BiOp have argued that spill should be adopted permanently but federal managers have been resistant. Read a press release from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association:
Portland, OR – West coast fishermen and fishing businesses today thank the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon for successfully advocating to retain court-ordered levels of water spilled over federal dams in the Columbia and Snake Rivers during the 2011 spring salmon migration. This spill has been a key reason for recent improvements in salmon returns, although numbers are still far below levels needed to sustain healthy salmon populations.
Federal dam agencies confirmed today that they will continue to provide spill operations in 2011 that mirror levels ordered by U.S. District Court Judge James Redden for the last five years.
The dam agencies had once again sought to cut back court-ordered spill in favor of generating additional hydropower this spring. Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe led the effort among federal, state, and tribal salmon managers to retain prior spill levels, culminating with today’s announcement.
“We are thankful that the Nez Perce and Oregon stood up to federal pressure to reduce water spilled past the dams to protect salmon,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA). “What we’ve learned in the last five years is that more spill means more salmon, which means more jobs.”
“For the sixth straight year, water spilled over the federal dams in spring when young salmon are migrating to the ocean will mean higher salmon survival, higher salmon returns, more fishing and more jobs in our coastal communities,” said Joel Kawahara, board member of the Washington Trollers Association. “Judge Redden first required spring spill for the 2006 migration season, and every year since, his oversight has led the federal government to keep providing it – even though every year, they have looked for ways to reduce spill in order to make more money from generating electricity.”
Today’s announcement means that about half of young Columbia Basin salmon heading to the ocean this spring will travel there in the river, rather than being collected in barges at the dams. Prior to 2006, up to 90% of baby salmon were routinely removed from the river and barged downstream by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, interrupting their natural migration and compromising their survival.
“Professional fishermen just want to be on the river; we don't like to be in court,” said Bob Rees of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association. “But if we didn't have a presence in the courtroom, we wouldn't have achieved salmon spill, and many of us would be out of a job like too many of our neighbors in rural Northwest communities. This spill, which helps increase salmon survival, would not have happened at the level of past years without leadership from the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe, and the history of court oversight.”
The fishing groups called on federal agencies to take the next needed step, by making spill a permanent, guaranteed part of the federal salmon plan and by increasing the amount of spill wherever possible. Right now the federal plan curtails spill from court-ordered levels, allowing the federal agencies to halt spill at certain key times of the year.
“The science is crystal clear that salmon do better when the river runs more like a river,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations (PCFFA). “We shouldn’t have to fight for spill every year. The dam agencies don’t decide each year whether the dams will generate energy; they don’t revisit the science every year that shows that water running through turbines generates electricity. Salmon and west coast fishing economies deserve reliable protections guided by the best science – and that means continued and increased spill in the spring and summer months.”
The groups also urged federal agencies to support a change in Washington’s water quality standards to align with Oregon’s standards and allow more spill – leading to more salmon and more jobs.
While fishing jobs are the first concern of the groups, they also noted that spill helps another Northwest industry – wind energy. In many cases, additional spill would reduce the number of times wind projects are threatened with shutdowns due to over-generation, or too much energy. “It’s good to know that science-based policy can boost both clean energy jobs and salmon jobs,” said Liz Hamilton.
Monday, March 21, 2011
An interesting article arrived in our inbox last week. Written by Pomona College professor Char Miller, the article discusses the current state of Southern California's steelhead and the rivers that support them. Grassroots efforts are underway in and around the Los Angeles area to restore local watersheds and provide access and suitable conditions for wild winter steelhead. In this piece Miller explores some of those efforts as well as the challenges unique to restoration in the sprawling urban landscape of Southern California. Check it out
Friday, March 18, 2011
Despite a court order from Justice Bruce Cohen directing them to produce fish health documents for salmon farms the BC government has insisted that because farm location's are not inlcuded in disease sampling records, the documents are of little relevance to the Cohen commission. The commission had hoped to use disease records to understand the possible role of fish farms in spreading sea lice and disease to Fraser Sockeye. The fact that the BC government would protect disease records of potentially critical importance to a public resource only adds to the criticism that they have sought to mislead the public and conceal the truth about salmon farming impacts on wild salmon. If net pen aquaculture is not contributing to the decline of wild populations as they insist, the disease records should serve as vindication and their continued opposition to transparency these critical documents is disconcerting.
Any record of fish health should absolutely include the location of the sample, and the the fact that the data does not allow for robust analysis of impacts on adjacent wild populations highlights the lack of oversight coming from for the BC government. If fish farms are to continue operating in BC's coastal watersheds it should be incumbent upon operators to demonstrate that the practice is having no negative effect on the surrounding ecosystem. So far they have done little to ease concerns and instead remain staunchly opposed to any public scrutiny. See an article in the Globe and Mail.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Recently a group of scientists led by DFO's Kristina Miller published results from a study of prespawn mortality in Fraser River Sockeye. Over the last 18 years some components of the Fraser Sockeye stock complex have experienced extremely high prespawn mortality, with as much as 95% of the run dying in the Fraser prior to their arrival at the spawning grounds. What has troubled researchers is that these fish have foregone their typical pattern of staging for 3-4 weeks at the mouth of the Fraser and have instead entered the river earlier than normal where in river temperatures have proven lethal. Puzzled by the maladaptive behavior biologists set out looking for answers. What they found was that Fraser Sockeye were arriving at the river mouth with elevated levels of cortisol and other hormones normally related to reproductive maturity. The cause of these physiological problems was thought to be disease but until this most recent publication it was unknown.
Miller and her coauthors describe a genomic signature related to a viral infection suggesting that for almost 20 years Fraser Sockeye have been dying because of a viral epidemic, strangely concurrent with the expansion of the Salmon Farming industry in BC. While the link is merely speculative at this point it raises alot of very important and serious questions and DFO would be negligent to ignore the issue any longer. Symptoms of the virus have been documented in sockeye, coho and chinook, both adults and juveniles. Infected juveniles are thought to experience dramatic reductions in marine survival.
Now Miller has reported that the virus may be salmon leukemia, a disease which devastated early attempts to farm chinook salmon in the early 1990s. Salmon leukemia has been documented in Chinook and Steelhead in the Georgia Basin and is particularly virulent because it is capable of being both horizontally and vertically transmitted, meaning it can be passed between adults and from adults to their offspring. Still, the question remains how does a disease epidemic last for nearly 20 years. Diseased individuals experience high levels of mortality meaning that eventually the virus should work its way out of a population, unless their is a constant source of infection. Salmon Farms in the migration corridor remain among the most likely sources for the disease, and since atlantic salmon are asymptomatic carriers of salmon leukemia they have not been tested.
Canadians and Americans alike should be alarmed by these developments. Many of Washington State's salmon spend a significant portion of the year in BC's coastal waters and if salmon leukemia is widespread it is very likely American fish have been exposed and infected. WDFW does not test for salmon leukemia and the degree to which salmon in Puget Sound are diseased is entirely unknown. Recent poor returns to rivers in the Puget Sound system have been attributed to poor marine survival, yet the source of high early marine mortality remains unknown. Is there a possible link between disease in Fraser Sockeye, salmon farming and declining returns in Puget Sound? At this point it is conjecture, but it certainly warrants investigation.
More information on Alex Morton's blog:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
WDFW director Phil Anderson will be hosting a roundtable discussion with the public March 22nd in Sedro Woolley. The meeting which is scheduled to run from 6 to 8PM at the Sedro Woolley Senior Center at 715 Pacific St and is hosted by Wild Cat Steelheaders. This is a great opportunity to turn out, meet the director and let him now how you feel about the current direction of the department and ongoing efforts to recover wild salmon and steelhead in our state.
Monday, March 14, 2011
As many of you may have heard by now, the House of Representatives last month passed a budget that was full of attacks on our environment. A few of the most egregious provisions in HR1 proposed to:
- block implementation of the BiOp for ESA listed Central Valley Salmon
- strip funding for dam removal on the Klamath
- removing the EPAs authority to enforce clean water standards
- defunding the San Joaquin restoration settlement act
Sunday, March 13, 2011
With a landmark court decision looming this spring on the legality of the Columbia River BiOp the two sides have squared off to define the terms of the debate and influence public perception on the ruling. One one side the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce tribe and a coalition of environmental groups say that the BiOp as it is currently constructed fails to address the primary cause of salmon decline in the basin, dams. On the other the Obama administration contends that the changes they have made to include improved monitoring and adaptive management in the BiOp bring the 2008 Bush plan which Judge James Redden ruled against into compliance with ESA mandated recovery. Federal managers contend that recent upticks in salmon abundance on the Columbia are a sign that recovery efforts are working. This despite the fact that increased spill over the dams, thought to be a major factor in improved survival, has been forced upon federal regulators by the courts.
Over the last several weeks the Oregonian has published a series of guest editorials on the Snake River including one from NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco defending the BiOp and calling for an end of litigation. Last week though Demian Ebert a representative of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) responded. AFS a leading association of fisheries and aquatic resource professionals has passed a resolution calling for the removal of the four lower Snake Rivers dams as the only way to meet the legal obligations for the recovery of ESA listed wild salmon. See the editorial in the Oregonian:
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Unnerved by ODFW's unwillingness to take adequate steps to address declining populations of wild fish on the Sandy, folks at the Native Fish Society recently launched a campaign to reduce hatchery impacts in the basin. Currently ODFW releases about 1.5 million hatchery salmon and steelhead into the Sandy, and despite millions of dollars invested in habitat restoration and dam removal wild populations continue to decline. Despite a 1998 ESA listing ODFW has done next to nothing to reduce the impact of hatchery fish on the productivity of wild stocks and the removal of Marmot dam in 2007 means there is no longer a way to sort hatchery fish out of upriver spawning populations. Consequently hatchery stray rates have skyrocketed as high as 60-70% for some species. Spencer Miles a NFS river steward who has spearheaded the Sandy project recently wrote on his blog about shifting recovery goals.
Since 1997, the year before Lower Columbia steelhead were listed, ODFW's wild steelhead escapement goals have gone from 4900 fish to 1730 then 1515. Rather than addressing these declines, ODFW has continually pushed recovery goals lower and lower to protect the status quo and the hatchery operations which threaten wild fish in the watershed. Spencer was able to dig up the 1997 Sandy Basin plan and found that it included some interesting language. The plan calls for ODFW to...
Both conditions have been met, yet ODFW continues to release over a million fish into the watershed annually. Since that time the department has also launched a wild broodstock program which now takes between 10 and 15% of the wild spawners out of the Sandy for broodstock. These practices are not sustainble. More information at Spencer's blog White Fish Can't Jump
(e) Modify or discontinue hatchery steelhead releases in the Sandy River basin if:
(A) It is determined that hatchery steelhead releases are principal causes of significant decline in wild winter steelhead abundance; or
(B) If Sandy River basin winter steelhead are listed as Threatened or Endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Every year derelict gear, and ghost nets kill thousands of fish, birds, crabs and other marine life in Washington's waterways. Efforts are underway to find and remove these lost nets but the process is costly and only so much can be done, that's why an effective reporting system is essential. Currently Washington State has a voluntary reporting system for lost fishing gear and since its implementation in 2003 only two nets have been reported. Quick and accurate reporting of lost fishing gear is absolutely critical if it is to be recovered before inflicting damage to marine life. The bill is currently under consideration in the Senate Rules Committee however SB 5661 must get out of committee by 5:00 PM March 7th or it is dead for this legislative session. Email your senator now and ask them to bring SB 5661 to the floor for a vote.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Friday, March 4, 2011
Join us Saturday March 12th for the annual meeting of the Steelhead Summit Alliance, this years topic is the Elwha River dam removal and fish recovery plan.
Steelhead Summit Alliance Plans March 12th Conference on the Future of Native Fisheries on the Elwha River
The planning and preparations for the removal of the two dams on the Elwha River have been going on for years, but the actual removal of the dams is now scheduled to begin in September 2011 and it is estimated that it will take a period of about three years to complete. In particular, the removal of the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam is the largest dam removal project in North America to date. The contract for the dams removal portion of the project was awarded last fall and totals just under $27 million.
The removal of the dams is a very exciting event for all of us who are working hard on many fronts to try to restore traditional runs of salmon and steelhead to the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. And with the more than 70 miles of river and tributaries that will become accessible to native fish runs with the removal of these dams is certainly a step in the right direction. (To learn more about the details of the project, please visit the Olympic National Park (ONP) website at www.nps.gov/olym.)
However, planning for the future of the Elwha River, especially as it pertains to the future of our native fisheries has been less than transparent, and activities are underway that are already starting to shape the future. In particular, as noted on the ONP website, “a fish hatchery on the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s Reservation is now under construction to replace the tribe’s existing hatchery.” The construction contract for these hatchery facilities, funded through the United States Department of the Interior as part of the 2009 Recover Act is $16.6 million, almost as much as is being spent on actual dam removal.
The principal document that has been released pertaining to future fisheries planning was issued in April 2008 under a rather mundane name: “NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-90, otherwise know as the “Elwha River Fish Restoration Plan.” The authors of this document include fisheries biologists from NOAA/NMFS, ONP and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife(WDFW). It is not apparent upon reading the document that a diverse source of opinions on the matter was desired nor solicited. This 191 page tome can be found on the NW Region NOAA website (www.nwr.noaa.gov). It may look somewhat intimidating at first to the layperson, but it is very instructive reading.
At this crucial juncture the Steelhead Summit Alliance, and in particular the Wild Steelhead Coalition, Wild Fish Conservancy and the Steelhead Committee of the Federation of Fly Fishers, is hosting a conference of distinguished scientists and writers who will present diverse points of view on the subject of Elwha River fish restoration. Participants include some of the authors of the NOAA report, as well as others with extensive experience on the subject of managing fisheries for native fish restoration and enhancement.
Speakers include Jeff Duda (United States Geological Services), George Pess, Gary Winans and Barry Berjikian (NOAA/NMFS), and Pat Crain (ONP). We are also very proud to have Bruce Brown, author of the seminal 1982 environmental classic, “Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon,” as our luncheon speaker. Tribal members and biologists were invited to participate in this Steelhead Summit, but declined the invitation.
We will again be holding our Summit in the conference room at the Western Fisheries Research Center at 6505 NE 65th St. at the junction of Sandpoint Way near the UW on March 12th from 9:30 – 3:00. There is no charge to attend and we welcome all who are interested. However, for planning purposes, please RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to seeing you all there.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Over the last century the Klamath region of southern Oregon and northern California has been plauged by conflicts over water and fish management. In 2001, a drought year, more than 70,000 salmon and steelhead were killed when irrigation withdrawls and drought conditions combined to bring water temperatures in the lower river to lethal levels. Last year stakeholders including fishermen, irrigators, hydropower interests tribes and state governments came to a land mark agreement to remove the four Klamath dams. Despite the significant progress made in the Accords many believe the current agreement doesn't do enough to protect adequate instream flows for ESA listed coho, spring Chinook and steelhead. Now a coalition of groups have petitioned NMFS to list Klamath spring Chinook as threatened. Even with a proposed listing the California Department of Fish and Game continues to allow retention of wild springers and federal managers recently reduced instream flows for the Klamath to maximize irrigation deliveries. t present Compounding the situation are PacifiCorp's demand of adequate flows for power generation until removal, recent speculation that the the dam removal will be delayed and provisions in the House's version of the budget that block funding for the dam removal. At the moment the agreed upon 2020 removal date appears tenuous at best.Lots more Felice Pace's Klamath River blog:
an OPB article:
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Jefferson County spans Washington's Olympic Peninsula, from the remote western coast of the state to Hood Canal. The county approved has been working to update its shoreline management plan since 2009 and has been seeking Department of Ecology (DOE) approval for the plan since then. Recently the DOE approved the plan however not without a number of changes. Among the changes made by DOE is a requirement that Jefferson County scrap a ban on net pen aquaculture that had been included in the shoreline management plan saying that there is "not a conclusive scientific basis on the record," to support an outright ban on net pen aquaculture. The impacts of open net pen fish farming in British Columbia have been profound where disease and ecotoparasites spread from salmon farms have dramatically reduced the survival of some species. Wherever salmon farms have gone, destruction of wild salmon has followed and the last thing Hood Canal's ESA listed chum, chinook and steelhead need is a proliferation of salmon farms. This decision by no means ensures the expansion of salmon aquaculture in Washington's waters, however the fact that DOE does not believe there is conclusive scientific evidence on the issue is deeply concerning. Perhaps it's time to consider a statewide ban on open net pen aquaculture? Alaska, understanding the economic importance of robust runs of wild salmon has already passed similar legislation.
See an article in the Peninsula Daily news:
More information on the shoreline management plan on DOE's website:
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
With spring Chinook already beginning to trickle into the lower Columbia managers and fishermen are gearing up for what is expected to be an average season. This season's run forecast is for 198,000 springers, however given the inaccuracy of recent run forecasts managers are choosing to air on the side of caution planning for a return of approximately 130,000 fish. That means that managers must manage harvest allocation more tightly and fishery openings are expected to be shorter this year in order to keep catch of endangered up river chinook to a minimum. Last year 470,000 spring Chinook were expected, 315,000 showed up. Anoter 100,ooo fish are expected back to the Willamette system this spring. More information in the latest Northwest Fishletter: