The Elwha is one of our very few opportunities to be given a second chance. We owe it to the fish, the many species that depend on them, and ourselves to see what they can do.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The veil of secrecy which has long shrouded the salmon farming industry in BC has begun to lift, and while there is still much to learn the story that is unfolding is providing vindication for the concerns of wild salmon advocates, who have long argued that salmon farms are responsible for declining salmon populations Southern British Columbia. Last winter BC Ministry of Environment scientist Gary Marty published a controversial paper, using never before released sea lice data from salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago. The paper established a connection between sea lice abundance in fish farms and their loading on wild juveniles, but concluded that salmon farms were not responsible for the collapse in pink salmon stocks observed in the Broughton. More disconcerting Marty stated emphatically that management actions such as closed containment and fallowing were unnecessary. However a paper published by Marty Krkosek and a group of colleagues in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Sciences (PNAS) came to a very different conclusion. Saying Marty's findings,
"are based on a statistically nonsignificant result of a correlation test between pink salmon spawner–recruit data and L. salmonis abundance on salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago."
Using the newly available sea lice data published with Marty's work, Krkosek's group used a more robust modelling framework to confirm their previous conclusion that sea lice from salmon farms pose a serious threat to wild pink and coho salmon. They conclude that mortality from sea lice has depressed wild populations and in some years upwards of of 88% of pink and 92% of coho mortality was attributable to sea lice.
Then yesterday at the Cohen commission wild fish advocates made a major breakthrough. After years of demanding that salmon farm disease records be released the BC government at last made disease records public. While the records represent a limited number of samples they suggest that Salmon Leukemia, the disease associated with high mortality in Fraser Sockeye is present on fish farms in the Georgia Basin. Perhaps more frightening though, hundreds of cases of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) have been observed over the last several years, all the while the farming industry and government insisting that ISA was not present in British Columbia.
Read the latest post on Alexandra Morton's blog for more information
The light of public scrutiny is finally starting to shine on the reality of salmon aquaculture in British Columbia and not surprisingly what we're seeing isn't pretty. Now we're left to hope that the public will demand more accountability out of their government and the corporations who do business in BC. Otherwise the future looks bleak for Fraser Sockeye and other Georgia Basin salmonids.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
An excellent story last week in the Oregonian on the long struggle to remove Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. Facing an expensive and unpopular relicensing, Condit Dam's owner PacifiCorp agreed to remove it however the dam removal, which was originally supposed to have started in 2006 has faced a number of hurdles. The article outlines the process by which PafiCorp and convinced Klickitat and Skamania county to support dam removal.
Most recently concerns about elevated levels of heavy metals in the sediment at the bottom Northwestern Lake required approval from the Washington Department of Ecology, which was granted. Then this year an administrative error nearly delayed the dam removal for another year. Facing a massive public outcry the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission corrected the problem and dam removal whih will reopen 15 miles of habitat for salmon and 33 for steelhead will proceed as planned, starting October 26th.
Friday, August 26, 2011
Re-reading Lynda Mapes' story from yesterday's Seattle Times on the Elwha Hatcheries one particular quote by tribal hatchery manager Larry Ward stands out. It reads,
"There is this whole philosophy of the Elwha being a living laboratory, when in reality, it is the home of the Elwha tribe. After waiting 100 years for the dams to come out, they are not willing to wait another 100 years for the fish to recover"
It begs this question though: after watching wild salmon populations dwindle for 100 years are we willing to squander the greatest recovery project of our generation over the desire to have harvest opportunities in the near term? In the absence of the hatchery it would likely take wild populations only a few generations to recover to levels that could sustain some level of harvest. Instead managers and the tribe appear willing to abandon the notion that wild fish, in a pristine watershed can support sustainable well managed fisheries.
No doubt the Lower Elwha Klallams, like other tribes in our region have long been given the short end of the stick when it comes to the management of their home river, but the Elwha belongs to us all and as such we all have a stake in it's future. One that is jeopardized by our societies blind faith in hatcheries and a connection between a healthy watershed and wild salmon that we seem to have forgotten long ago.
Yesterday marked day four in the Cohen commissions inquiry into the impact of disease on Fraser River sockeye. As expected there have been some fireworks, starting on Wednesday when DFO researcher Kristina Miller took the stand for questions related to her research on disease and prespawn mortality in Fraser Sockeye. Last winter Miller and colleagues published a paper in SCIENCE which exposed the role of a viral pathogen in high rates of prespawn mortality in Fraser Sockeye.
Since then, many have drawn connections between the persistent disease and the millions of salmon raised in net pens in BC's coastal waters. Miller has not been allowed to speak with the media and many have accused DFO of muzzling her to protect the fish farming industry. With the Cohen Commission finally turning its attention to the disease issue and aquaculture, the public is getting a glimpse into potential threat posed by fish farms and the diseases they harbor.
Alexandra Morton has been updating her blog daily with coverage from the hearings.
A few key developments from the last few days...
- DFO doesn't appear to be taking the disease threat very seriously, and may actually be downplaying it in an attempt to limit public concern.
- Miller has had problems getting agency approval to analyze the pathogen afflicting Georgia Basin salmonids.
- Miller has thus far been unable to get approval or funding to test whether farmed salmon carry the same pathogen as Fraser Sockeye.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
While there is some legitimate concern about high sediment loads and their impact on the survival of remaining wild fish in the Lower River, however the fact of the matter is the upper watershed is pristine and will be unaffected by high sediment loads. The hatchery plan will require the domestication of a major proportion of the remaining wild populations, reducing the fitness and productivity of populations in the system. By releasing more than 3 million hatchery fish each year throughout the recovery managers will swamp the Elwha's pristine habitat with hatchery fish undermining the ability of populations to colonize and become locally adapted in the upper river.
The article also tackles the complexity of managing the recovery with the competing interests of wild recovery and tribal harvest opportunity both in play. The tribe for its part has supported plans to use hatchery fish during the recovery period, including the controversial plan to continue releasing non-native Chambers Creek steelhead during the recovery despite opposition by NOAA, WDFW and USFWS.
Read at the Seattle Time's website:
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Last month a bill titled "The Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act" was brought to the floor of the Senate, cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell D-WA, and Lisa Murkowski R-AK. The bill seeks to better protect remaining populations of wild salmon by establishing, "a new, proactive U.S. policy that recognizes the need for conservation of salmon strongholds as a complement to ongoing efforts to recover federally-listed salmon population."
The Wild Salmon Center, long proponents of the idea of salmon strongholds has worked collaboratively to support the legislation saying, "The legislation aims to get ahead of continued
salmon declines by supporting the protection and, if necessary, the restoration of ecosystem
processes within currently healthy salmon-bearing watersheds."
More information in a press release from the WSC's website:
Saturday, August 20, 2011
In the wake of the latest court decision against the Columbia River BiOp, federal officials and regional politicians with a strong, entrenched interest in preserving the status quo have sought to interpret Judge Reddens rejection as tacit acceptance of the plan with a few minor tweaks. While federal officials may be slow to accept reality, the fact of the matter is, until we have an open stakeholder process to decide the fate of the Snake River dams, we will continue treading water as wild salmon populations slowly decline towards extinction.
In the late 1990's when many Columbia and Snake River populations hovered on the brink of extinction the prognosis was grim, many scientists believed extinction was inevitable saying,
"If we cannot improve mainstem passage survival and increase natural productivity so that progeny-to-parent ratios consistently exceed 1.0, recovery will never occur. Natural populations will go extinct and only hatchery fish will remain."
The problem with the Columbia then, and now is 14 mainstem dams on the Columbia and Snake which have turned what was once the greatest salmon bearing ecosystems in the world into a thousand mile long, warm, stagnating lake. Over the last decade salmon have been mercifully spared from extinction by period of good ocean conditions, and a strong willed federal judge who has ordered that water be spilled at dams during the juvenile outmigration. But the reality is wild fish remain extremely depressed. NOAA confirmed that fact this week, releasing their latest status review for the 13 listed stocks of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia. The review came to the conclusion that all 13 should remain listed under their current designation. Simply put, they aren't recovering.
While things may seem good relative to the dark days of the 90's we're actually bouncing around the same long term average. That means, when ocean conditions turn south, or the BPA gets its way and stops spring spill, populations of wild salmon will plummet right back to where they were.
In the decade and a half since the ESA listings began on the Columbia we've hovered in limbo, never escaping the cycle of inadequate, overtly political recovery plan. Unfortunately that won't cut it and the federal government has wasted valuable time, perhaps the best ocean conditions we've seen in three decades, not to mention billions of dollars fighting to protect the status quo on the Columbia.
Climate change is coming, and while the effects may be imperceptible in the short term, the high desert rivers of the Snake and interior Columbia will eventually be some of the hardest hit in the region. Compounding the situation are hundreds of miles of slack water between the Sawtooth Range and the Pacific, which already serve to warm the Snake and Columbia to water temperatures that can be lethal to migrating salmon. A future with warmer summers, and lower snow pack does not bode well for wild salmon and steelhead, particularly if the Snake Dams remain in place.
Recognizing the inadequacy of federal efforts so far, many, including Marc Crapo Idaho's Republican Senator have proposed wiping the slate clean and coming at the problem of the Snake River with a new approach; one that actually includes the citizens of the region, one that weighs the long term costs and benefits of keeping the Snake Dams in place rather than simply protecting the entrenched interests of the BPA and barging companies. If there is the political courage to support such a process they will find it remarkably difficult to justify keeping the four lower Snake dams in place.
For all the billions of dollars we spend on failing mitigation efforts we are getting nowhere. A heavily subsidized barging industry, the main beneficiary of the Snake River dams could be readily replaced with modest improvements to already existing rail and highway infrastructure. And no matter how many times the federal BiOp insists that dam removal is not essential to recovering wild fish, they will eventually be forced to butt heads with this reality: wild salmon thrive in free flowing rivers, not stagnant man made impoundments. We've wasted the last 15 years squabbling over a plan that is destined to fail and it's time to change the conversation. Dam removal on the Lower Snake is crucial to the future of wild salmon in the region. Failing to take action would be a travesty of the highest order, joining the long list of pork barrel boondoggles, protected by the cushy relationship between a powerfully self-serving lobby and our "representative government".
The 15 million salmon and steelhead which once returned to the Columbia River each year are a centerpiece of our regions vast natural wealth, perhaps the single greatest self sustaining natural resource on the planet. A century of overzealous hydro development has left wild salmon teetering on the brink, and it's time for the conversation to change. The Snake Dams will come down, its just a matter of when, and whether it will be too late. That's why 1100 business owners from around the region have called on the federal government to convene an open stakeholder process to decide the future of our great rivers. Anything less would be a crime.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
A interesting story today by Oregon Public Broadcasting on the Elwha dam removal and the plan to use hatcheries as part of the restoration strategy. While the article has some of the run of the mill feel good back patting on how hatcheries will "reseed" the upper watershed above the dams it also highlights a philosphical divide that exists even within the tribe. The article quotes Mike McHenry of Elwha Fisheries as saying that Chambers Creek Steelhead; a non-native stock which will continue to be released throughout the dam removal, are poorly suited to recolonizing the watershed. However those who want harvest opportunities in the short term following dam removal have thus far managed to keep the Chambers Creek program in place.
It also quotes Fred Utter, a poineering fisheries geneticist at UW as saying of the Chambers Creek stock, "by no means should ever be used as a fish to restore natural populations in the Elwha. I think that would be a serious mistake."
NOAA, WDFW and the other agencies involved have echoed the sentiment of Utter in letters written to the Elwha tribe but have thus far gotten little traction. Read the article here:
On Tuesday, hearings resumed in the Cohen Commissions inquiry into the decline of Fraser River Sockeye. With this round of hears slated to review the impact of aquaculture and disease, many hope it will be a critical turning point in the fight against open net pen salmon farms. Among those giving testimony is Kristi Miller, the DFO researcher who last winter published a paper in science documenting the presence of a viral pathogen in Fraser Sockeye and was subsequently muzzled by the agency. The potential link between aquaculture and disease is only now coming to light and the timing couldn't be more interesting. To date government agencies and the fish farming industry have refused to allow comprehensive testing of salmon farms to determine the origin and prevalence of the disease. More information in the Vancouver Sun:
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
On the heels of Judge Redden's ruling against the latest iteration of the Columbia River BiOp, Steven Hawley - author of Restoring a Lost River - published an illuminating editorial in the Seattle Times, examining the road ahead for the Columbia and Snake Rivers and the tepid response thus far from federal agencies. Hawley also points to the problematic relationship between NOAA fisheries and the BPA and the conflict of interest it creates on the Columbia system. Hawley advocates for a more good faith effort on the Columbia that does more than simply protect the status quo and the entrenched interests in the basin. Billions of public dollars have already been spent on recovery, yet arguable the most effective tool (short of dam removal) available to managers, happened because of a court order.
Judge still riding feds to restore dwindling Columbia River salmon
Guest columnist Steven Hawley considers the implications of the recent federal court ruling against federal agencies' salmon-management plan on the Columbia River.
Special to The Times
THE feds have struck out again in trying to come up with a legal plan to restore dwindling Columbia River salmon.
U.S. District Judge James Redden ruled against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its sister federal agencies' salmon-management plan on the Columbia River. His 24-page decision cited federal defendants' "lack of, or at best, marginal compliance" with Endangered Species Act law, their "history of abruptly changing course, abandoning previous bi-ops [biological opinions] and failing to follow through with their commitments."
Redden gave yet another last chance, in 2014, to come up with a workable plan.
But the comments of NOAA-Fisheries Northwest Regional Administrator Will Stelle last week may have Redden already regretting the forbearance granted: "I think it is fundamentally encouraging that the heart of his opinion was to find that the (recovery) plan is sound," Stelle told The Seattle Times.
A similarly obtuse statement was jointly issued by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration.
"We're encouraged by the court's basic conclusion that the biological opinion should remain in place through the end of 2013, that it is providing 'adequate protection for listed species' and that we should tighten up on the habitat program beginning in 2014."
This fantasy-league reading of Redden's decision, which feds and industry shills are promoting, is another cynical exercise in slick public relations. Redden declared the federal opinion invalid for the entire 10-year period, ending in 2018, covered by the biological opinion. He ordered the feds to implement habitat work through 2013 because those were the only plans the feds had listed and funded that meet the standards the law requires.
Most important, Redden continues to be deeply skeptical of the federal approach to salmon recovery. The issue before the court has been to determine the level of harm done to salmon runs by the dams. The feds continue to defer an honest answer to that question by conniving and coercing stakeholders into signing onto the curious concept that building hatcheries plus habitat work in the tributaries will somehow overcome the damage done by thoroughly plugging the mainstem river. This ruse persists, even in the face of growing scientific evidence that actions taken at the dams — more spill, and a serious look at dam removal — will produce the most dramatic and immediate results.
So why would an agency charged with protecting salmon engage the delusion that Redden declared the bi-op sound? One source of trouble might be in the way NOAA gets its money.
Over the decadelong course of this case, three-quarters of NOAA-Fisheries Northwest's budget — $90.2 million — has been paid by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Corps of Engineers. NOAA's "independent" biological opinion, in other words, is funded primarily by their co-defendants in Redden's court.
The federal defendants also have a problem with a revolving door between industry and the agencies. NOAA deputy regional administrator Bruce Suzumoto is a former BPA and utility industry scientist. BPA's president of Fish and Wildlife Affairs is Lori Bodi, a former NOAA attorney in its general counsel office. NOAA has a long history of hiring key scientists from the BPA or the Army Corps of Engineers.
We've spent $10 billion on a salmon-recovery program that's failing badly. Overall Columbia River salmon runs are half what they were when the recovery effort began 30 years ago.
Meanwhile, the Columbia Basin hydrosystem has racked up a $17 billion debt, gained mostly through ill-fated ventures with other utility interests. As taxpayers and ratepayers obligingly foot the bill for both fish and wildlife and utility programs that reliably betray the public interest, we might do well to scrutinize federal fisheries lawyers, scientists and administrators as closely as we have the fish.Steven Hawley is the author of "Recovering a Lost River: Rewilding Salmon, Re-vitalizing Communities, Removing Dams" (Beacon Press). He lives in Hood River, Ore.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
While habitat loss should provide the backdrop to our conversations about salmon recovery in the region, we cannot proceed effectively without recognition of the other factors which continue to depress wild salmon populations in the Puget Sound. Chiefly, declining marine survival in Puget Sound which remains poorly understood, and the proliferation of hatcheries which now release millions of less fit competitors into our waters each year.
Frank argues that shifting responsibility for habitat protection and recovery to the federal government will improve the outcome for wild salmon in Puget Sound. While that is subject to debate one thing is certain, more needs to be done to protect Puget Sound's remaining salmon habitat. With 150 years of habitat degradation we face an uphill battle to recovery, but more can be done. While we may never reach historic abundance we could be getting alot more bang for our habitat buck. As most populations in the Sound hover between 1% and 5% of their historic abundance we need to increase research that expands our understanding of the processes that drive marine survival in the Sound. And as hatchery programs are proving to be a limiting factor for struggling wild populations, it is critical that measures be taken to reduce the ecological effects of hatcheries in Puget Sound.
Unfortunately, as wild stocks have declined, Native fisheries have increasingly turned to hatcheries to sustain themselves, and in the past Mr. Frank has been a proponent of hatchery expansion efforts in the region. Given the weight of evidence suggesting hatcheries are a problem rather than a solution, one hopes that tribal fishermen, long advocates for wild salmon will put their considerable political weight behind hatchery reform as well as habitat protection.
Read Frank's editorial in the Times:
Map of State hatchery programs which currently release more than 10,000 fish annually
Monday, August 15, 2011
Increasing water temperatures from changes in flow releases at Lake Billy Chinook have reduced the number of "dip ins" and occasionally lead to water temperatures in the Lower Deshcutes which can be stressful for salmon and steelhead. Addressing the concerns, PGE has sought to improve their flow management in the Lower Deschutes and ensure that temperatures remain below 70 F, however anglers continue to complain that the warm water is hurting their fishing as this year has seen unusually late runoff and cooler than normal summer temperatures meaning fewer fish are dipping into the Deschutes.
While cool water in the Columbia may hurt fishing on one of the state's most popular rivers, it's a boon to Columbia salmon and steelhead which can more readily migrate to their natal rivers, avoiding thermal blocks, stress and elevated prespawn mortality. More information in the Oregonian:
Friday, August 12, 2011
Published: August 11, 2011
Last week, for the third time in nearly a decade, Judge James Redden of the United States District Court in Portland, Ore., rejected as inadequate a federal plan claiming to save imperiled salmon species in the Columbia River basin. These fish have been listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act since the early 1990s, their once-remarkable annual runs reduced to a trickle by habitat destruction and by the hydroelectric dams that impede their passage to the sea.
Three different administrations have offered survival plans. All three have been found wanting. Judge Redden, who has shown a great deal of patience and sagacity on this issue, tossed out a Clinton administration plan as too vague and a plan from the administration of George W. Bush as essentially illegal. The law requires the recovery of a species; the Bush plan promised little more than allowing the fish to go extinct at a slower rate.
The Obama administration added improvements, including lofty promises to restore spawning streams and estuaries. Not enough, Judge Redden said, noting that the plans did not extend beyond 2013 and, in any case, depended on Congressional appropriations that may or may not occur. He told the government to return with a more plausible and aggressive scheme in three years. Significantly, he left all recovery options on the table, including breaching four dams on the lower Snake River, an idea we have long supported.
It's time now for the stakeholders in this dispute to sit down at the same table, something they have never done. They include the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Bonneville Power Administration, two federal agencies that have offered only incremental steps toward fish recovery. They also include environmental groups, fishing and farming interests, Indian tribes and two state governments with differing views, Oregon favoring more aggressive actions than Washington.
Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the fisheries service, should convene such a group, with White House backing, to reconcile differences and devise an acceptable plan. Otherwise, it's back to the legal wars, which benefit no one, least of all the fish.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
With Sockeye numbers above expectations on the Skeena this summer, the commercial fishery has ramped up to take advantage of the opportunity. Despite years of concern over bycatch of steelhead and other non-target species in the gill net fishery, and a world class independent scientific review which recommended moving towards selective gear, regional DFO managers remain unmoved. Instead they contend that short set gill nets can serve as "selective gear" as non-target species are removed and released when the net is collected. The data however is unequivocal, short term mortality rates in fish released from gill nets are exceedingly high and over the long term the injuries and stress the fish sustain will lead to increased susceptibility to infection and elevated prespawn mortality. A quote from the Skeena Fisheries Blog:
"As of July 22 we are 1/3 of our 2010 numbers. No selective fishing measures being taken and seine fishery every day of the week. This all makes us wonder whether we have made any progress in this battle or whether we just get more meetings. On a positive note the Province has taken a stand for steelhead. No matter how progressive DFO is at higher levels the changes never seem to make it past the Rupert office. It is time to take off the gloves and focus on the real problem...North Coast DFO. "
Visit their website for the latest updates on the Skeena and surrounding area.
Monday, August 8, 2011
The BPA is proposing to build another hatchery facility on the Klickitat designed to "increase the abundance of spring chinook and steelhead natural spawning," and "decrease the impacts of non-native fall Chinook and coho programs". While the projects purported benefits are to reduce the impacts of hatchery propagation on native spring chinook and summer steelhead it would also build two new hatchery facilities in the klickitat basin to accomplish that goal, a concerning contradiction given the already out of control nature of hatchery supplementation in the basin.
Spring Chinook and steelhead are native to the klickitat however the construction of a fishway at Lyle falls and misguided hatchery programs have led to introduction two non-native species (fall Chinook and coho) into the upper watershed creating a situation which poses a significant threat to wild salmon in the basin. A recent report by the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commission (CRITFC) identified genetic introgression between introduced fall chinook and native spring chinook and revealed that at present wild steelhead are outnumbered by their hatchery counterparts approximately 5:1 in the Klickitat. Both situations are extremely disconcerting and do not bode well for the genetic integrity or productivity of the river's wild stocks.
The proposal to reduce the number of non-native smolts released into the Klickitat is a tiny step in the right direction however the idea of releasing non-native species into the river at all is lunacy, particularly when it has been established that fall Chinook are swamping the indigenous genetic material of the native spring Chinook stock. At an absolute minimum all fall Chinook and hatchery coho should be sorted out of the upriver population at the Lyle Falls fishway, making them available for tribal harvest and eliminating any risk that they spawn in the wild.
Policy makers at the Yakama nation appear fixated on hatchery reform as a cure all to the well known ills of hatchery supplementation, however their hope that moving the steelhead program to a "state of the art" integrated program will somehow reduce the risks posed by the hatchery program is not rooted in reality. Instead it's another expensive hatchery program that doesn't address the problem of the hatchery fish being there in the first place. Furthermore it would likely increase the total number of steelhead being released in the basin by 80,000 fish and increase the number of spring chinook released by 200,000, implementing a production hatchery using broodstock taken from an ESA listed population of wild fish. This is a terrible idea and frankly might be a step back from the current conditions on the Klickitat. Furthermore, despite the assertion that the new program would address the threat posed by fall chinook the plan calls for the continued release of 4 million non-native fall chinook into the Klickitat each year.
The proposed hatchery upgrades on the Klickitat are nothing more than an expansion of hatchery operations in the watershed, veiled in the misleading language of its purported and clearly farcical "conservation benefits". None of the 3 options on the table lead to a reduction in the overall number of hatchery fish released into the Klickitat.
A public meeting on the draft EIS is being held this Weds August 10th from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.
at the Lyle Community Center. 5th Street and State Highway Lyle, WA 98635
If you fish the Klickitat or live in the area please turn out and tell the BPA not to fund any new hatchery facilties in the Klickitat until the underlying problems are fully addressed. This plan is an abomination against wild fish in the basin and highlights the BPA and YKFP's singular focus on hatchery production and lack of interest in instituting policy that will lead to real recovery of wild fish in the watershed.
The BPA is accepting comments on the Klickitat EIS, place let BPA know that we wont tolerate the wild and scenic Klickitat being managed as yet another hatchery raceway.
An new bill proposed by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden would exempt logging roads and the sediment they pour into watersheds throughout the west from regulation under the Clean Water Act, posing a threat to the recovery of depressed salmon populations throughout the region. Logging and the attendant road construction has been a major factor in the degradation of freshwater habitat critical to the survival of wild salmon and any path towards salmon recover in the Northwest MUST include more sustainable logging and road building practices. Erosion from logging and logging roads dramatically increases the quantity of fine sediment in watersheds, smothering incubating salmon eggs, reducing habitat diversity as well as pool depth and frequency and increasing water temperatures. Logging has been implicated in salmon declines for decades and some of our most tragic case studies of decline; from Oregon's coastal coho to the utter collapse of the Deer Creek summer run on Washington's North Fork Stillaguamish were driven largely by terrible logging practices. More information in a letter to the editor by a group of preeminent Oregon fish conservationists.
Take Action at Oregon Wild's website:
Thursday, August 4, 2011
On Tuesday Judge James Redden issued his final ruling on the latest round in the battle over the Columbia River Biological Opinion. For the third time he deemed it illegal; unlikely to save the Columbia's 13 ESA listed stocks of salmon and steelhead from extinction. The Biological Opinion is supposed to lay the ground work for the species recovery, bringing together the best available science to adopt policy that will foster the recovery of the species in question. So far the federal government has yet to live up to its responsibility in that regard, and after three tries and more than 15 years in court it's time for something to change.
In trying to pass the latest iteration of the BiOp the Obama administration all but photo copied the Bush plan already deemed illegal, adding some hypothetically beneficial habitat restoration projects and increased monitoring. On Tuesday Redden ruled that those habitat projects which are yet to be identified and are unlikely to occur to the full extent promised in the BiOp would not have done enough to improve survival for Columbia River salmon as they migrate to sea.
The current BiOp will stand until 2013 however Redden will retain jurisdiction over the case given the federal governments, "history of abruptly changing course, abandoning previous (biological opinions), and failing to follow through with their commitments to hydropower modifications proven to increase survival." The Judge also ordered the Federal government to submit a plan that can pass legal muster by 2014. To do that, he said the federal government must be more specific about habitat improvements and their benefit to wild salmon and most importantly, must consider "more aggressive" actions such as changing the way the hydrosystem is managed to removing some dams altogether.
The 14 mainstem dams, which have turned the Columbia and Snake Rivers into a series of lakes spanning hundreds of miles remain the most significant impediment to wild salmon recovery. Any Biological Opinion which seeks to ensure the long term recovery of salmon in the Columbia system must at least consider and weigh the benefits of dam removal. Going forward it is critical that the Federal Government adopt a more inclusive, open stance in planning the future of the watershed, bringing all parties and stakeholders to the table to get a recovery plan that works for the region. Visit Save Our Wild Salmon's website and take action.
More information in the Oregonian:
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Another editorial on the shortcomings of the Elwha Recovery plan and why hatcheries aren't the solution. With a longer format than the previous Seattle Times editorial we were able to give more a detailed view into the science of hatchery impacts and why the river can and will recover without them.
Elwha River salmon, steelhead better off without hatcheries
With the dams being removed, a massive hatchery program threatens to impede effective use of the millions spent to open up the river and help salmon and steelhead runs recover.
This summer, the longawaited dam removal on the Elwha River finally gets underway, marking the culmination of a two-decade effort toward restoring salmon to one of Washington’s most pristine rivers. The Elwha, in many ways, is a chance to rewrite history, undoing a century of destruction wrought by two dams that block migrating salmon from 90 miles of their historic habitat. By all accounts, removing the dams from the Elwha watershed is an extraordinary opportunity, one that will bring about the rebirth of a river, which was once home to some of the largest Chinook ever documented and where a 65-pound salmon was more the norm than a rarity. Throughout their evolutionary history, wild salmon and steelhead have recovered from a range of catastrophic disturbances.
Despite the capacity of these fish to recover naturally, state, federal, and tribal fisheries managers are poised to squander the opportunity. They’ve opted to build a $16 million hatchery that will flood the river with more than 4 million juvenile salmon and steelhead each year, including more Chinook and steelhead than are released on the entire northern coast of Oregon. This is despite 20 years of research demonstrating conclusively that hatchery fish are a major contributor to the decline of wild salmon in our region.
Domestication alters salmon so dramatically that a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) revealed that even when hatchery fish are only one generation removed from the wild, wild fish produce approximately twice as many offspring as their hatchery counterparts. The current plan on the Elwha will domesticate a majority of the remaining wild salmon in the basin, reducing their productivity, and threatening their ability to build locally adapted, abundant wild populations.
Despite all the public interest, decisions on the Elwha recovery plan have been made largely without public input, driven instead by the millions of dollars set aside for a misguided and counterproductive hatchery. Meanwhile, research and monitoring critical in tracking the progress of the recovery remains woefully underfunded. The recovery plan claims that hatchery releases will be phased out as wild fish recover in the watershed, yet to date no benchmarks for wild recovery have been set, giving hatchery managers a blank check to continue harmful hatchery programs in perpetuity.
For nearly 60 years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has followed the “more is better” hatchery paradigm, releasing hundreds of millions of fish annually in almost every flowing piece of water in the state. Last year the state spent $52 million on hatcheries alone. What have we gotten for our investment? Thirteen ESA listed stocks in our state alone, coho extinct in the Upper Columbia and Snake Rivers, and most populations of salmon and steelhead hovering between 1 and 10 percent of their historic abundance.
To be fair, a litany of factors, including dams, overharvesting and habitat degradation, share the blame, but if hatcheries were at all effective in sustaining wild salmon, the fish would be thriving. In fact, throughout the state WDFW is trying to reduce the number of hatchery fish spawning in the wild as a means of recovering fragile wild stocks. So why, on the pristine Elwha River; where we’re about to spend millions of dollars to remove two aging dams in order to recover wild salmon, would we ever consider a recovery plan almost entirely contingent on hatchery releases?
Managers are convinced that as reservoir levels drop, fish in the lower Elwha will be subject to catastrophically high sediment loads. During the fall when the first heavy rains fill the river with a summer’s worth of eroded material, there is concern that there could be potentially lethal levels of suspended sediment passing through the lower river. Consequently, some believe that without major hatchery intervention there will be catastrophe, and they’ve pushed a plan that takes a significant portion of returning wild fish into captivity to raise their offspring in a hatchery. Yet an overwhelming body of science suggests hatchery fish will produce fewer offspring, undermine the genetic integrity of wild populations, compete for resources, attract predators, and spread disease to their wild counterparts.
Equally concerning is a plan by the Elwha Klallam Tribe to continue releasing non-native Chambers Creek winter steelhead into the Elwha despite written requests from the every co-managing agency asking that they discontinue the program. Originally native to the south Puget Sound, Chambers Creek steelhead have been released for decades throughout the state to supplement fisheries. These fish are so far removed from their original, wild ancestry that when spawning in the wild they produce close to zero offspring (and, in fact, the original wild Chambers Creek steelhead population is now extinct). On top of this, a five-year fishing moratorium will be in place during the dam removal period, so none of these fish will be caught in tribal or sport fisheries, yet they will return to the Elwha, possibly spawning with one of the few hundred wild steelhead that remain. That would effectively nullify the reproductive investment of the wild fish, which are the backbone of the river’s recovery.
With the all newly available habitat above the lakes, simply transporting wild fish around the dam removal locations would be a simple and cost-effective approach to start the recovery processes, while simultaneously ensuring that fish are not subject to dangerously high sediment loads in the lower river. Such “trap and haul” operations are commonplace throughout the state, and given the opportunity, the fish will be successful. Moreover, the history of the Toutle River in the years immediately following the explosion of Mount St. Helens shows the wild salmon and steelhead can deal with such short-term catastrophic disturbances of their native rivers.
On the Cedar River near Seattle, a far more heavily impacted watershed, fish passage was constructed at Landsburg Dam in 2003. Enlightened managers opted not to release hatchery fish into the upper river and simply allowed fish from the lower river to stray into the newly opened habitat. In the first year, 150 coho found their way into the upper Cedar. Three generations later, in 2009, almost 800 fish passed the ladder and the population continues to grow.
Salmon are uniquely capable of such rapid population growth during periods of low abundance, because lower competition between rearing juveniles leads to excellent survival. Swamping the upper Elwha with thousands of hatchery fish is not only expensive, it’s counterproductive, conflicting directly with the stated goal of recovering healthy wild populations.
All eight of the salmonid species historically found in the Elwha remain; from kokanee and rainbow trout (the landlocked forms of sockeye and steelhead respectively) to winter steelhead, Chinook, coho, chum, and pink salmon in the lower river. If allowed to migrate freely through their natal watershed again, they will thrive, but only if unimpeded by industrial scale hatchery intervention. Wild fish have been the backbone of our Northwest ecosystem for 10,000 years. Only in the last century have population growth, resource extraction and failed hatchery intervention driven populations to their current depressed levels.The Elwha has a chance to rewrite the manual for salmon management, leading us into a future less dependent on an expensive and failing hatchery system that squanders tax dollars and undermines wild fish recovery. With a majority of the watershed protected within the Olympic National Park, the habitat remains pristine throughout most of its length, giving the river the capacity to one day support abundant runs of wild salmon once more. Dam removal on the Elwha means that we’re investing in an integral part of our region’s tremendous natural wealth, wild salmon.
Monday, August 1, 2011
With spawner escapement estimates in for the 2010 run year, returns are looking disconcertingly poor for the Thompson River and other summer run stocks in Chilcotin Region. All stocks were at or near record low abundance this past year as numbers continue to slide, despite aggressive efforts to curb bycatch and severely limited sport fishing opportunity. Throughout the 1980's bycatch often took in excess of 50% of the Thompson-Chilcotin run, yet the population remained fairly productive. However beginning in the mid-1990s bycatch of steelhead in Fraser River salmon fisheries was curbed sharply. Since then the productivity of the stocks has continued to slide.
The Thompson's woes are a reflection of the generally poor survival trends for steelhead throughout the Georgia Basin. Over the last 5 years many rivers in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin have seen record low steelhead abundance. Poor early marine survival is thought to be a major driver of these declines, yet our understanding of the factors associated with poor steelhead survival in the sound remains dismal. More information in the Thompson Fisheries Blog: