Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NOAA opts for new approach on Columbia Salmon

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is reaching out to stakeholders on both sides of the Columbia/Snake salmon restoration issue in hopes of reaching concensus over a salmon recovery plan in the long divided region. Advocates for wild fish and sustainable fishing and tourism industries in the region have called for the removal of the four lower Snake River dams, pointing to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence in support of dam removal and the relatively minimal power generation capacity of the four dams. However, irrigatiors and those dependent on the in river shipping industry have thus far won out and to date none of the Biological Opions (BiOps), documents issued by the federal government guiding the recovery of ESA listed salmon and steelhead, have included dam removal as a realistic possibility. 

While the success of a stakeholder dialog remains to be seen, NOAA appears to be sincere about bringing people together to craft a lasting solution on the Columbia, hiring conflict resolution experts from Portland State University and the University of Washington to seek consensus. The university teams  will conduct interviews with up to 200 people representing stakeholders from across the board, and will seek to guide NOAA in crafting solutions that best balance the needs and interests of all groups. Given the long standing legal battle on the Columbia and the painfully incremental progress, the plan comes as a welcome change for fish advocates on the Columbia and Snake, but of course the devil is always in the details. 

More from the Oregonian:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Victory! BC Government Bans Oil and Gas Development in the Sacred Headwaters

Today, on the day that the 4 year moratorium on oil and gas development in the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers was set to expire, the government of British Columbia announced it had reached an agreement with Shell Oil and First Nations to permanently protect 400,000 acres from oil and gas development. The move is a major victory for First Nations and conservation groups who have struggled for almost a decade to ensure that the three watersheds, globally significant for their intact habitat and salmon populations, are protected permanently from destructive oil and gas extraction. Thanks to everyone who signed petitions, wrote emails, and called the premier's office, victories like there remind us that through our collective voices we can make change, and that while progress may seem frustratingly slow and incremental we can do better for wild fish. 

More information in the Globe and Mail:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sacred Headwaters Drilling Moratorium Expires in 5 Days

The Sacred Headwaters of three of North Americas most important salmon rivers, the Skeena, Nass and Stikine, are under threat again from coal bed methane drilling. In 2004 Shell Oil was granted a tenure by the BC government to drill in the region, however following massive local opposition the BC government granted a 4 year moratorium on Shell's development of the gas tenure. Now that moratorium is set to expire on December 18th, threatening the future of three of the most productive and diverse salmon watersheds on the planet, and the culture and economy they sustain. Coal bed methane extraction in the Sacred Headwaters would bring massive industiralization into one of the most remote, pristine regions of British Columbia. 

The gas is extracted using fracking an extremely water intensive process that would not sap water from the vital headwaters of these three systems, but would pump toxic fracking fluid into the groundwater. All told the project would produce millions of gallons of waste water per year, water that will have devastating effects on fish and wildlife in the Sacred Headwaters. 

The bottom line is THIS CANNOT happen. Fracking has never been done in a salmon bearing watershed and this isn't the place to start. First Nations and other residents in the region have been adamant that this project will not go forward, but they need our support. Please take a few minutes to sign the online petition from Forest Ethics:

and email BC Premier Christy Clark to let her know you oppose drilling in the Sacred Headwaters

More information at the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition's website:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hearings on Proposed Cherry Point Coal Terminal This Thursday Dec. 13th in Seattle

This Thursday the Army Corps of Engineers are hosting a scoping hearing on the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point in Bellingham at the Washington State convention center in downtown Seattle. If you have time PLEASE turn out for this. The Puget Sound is among the most endangered marine ecosystems in the United States and the last thing it needs is this massive expansion in coal shipping. Historically Cherry Point, where the coal terminal will be located, has supported one of the largest spawning aggregations of Herring in Puget Sound. Herring are a vital part of the Puget Sound food web and the massive expansion in shipping, associated pollution and the potential for invasive species coming into Puget Sound through increased tanker traffic make this project completely unacceptable. That's not to mention the global impacts of the coal industry, one of the dirtiest sources of energy on our planet that produces acid rain, and some of the highest outputs of climate warming carbon dioxide.

Please turn out this Thursday and make your voice heard for Puget Sound.

More info from People for Puget Sound:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Idaho Statesman Editorial on Snake Sockeye

The Idaho Statesman, long a voice of reason in the debate around the future of the Snake River's four lower dams published an editorial this week highlighting the cost of the status quo for ratepayers and for Snake River sockeye. While sockeye returns have crept up from their critically low abundance in the mid-1990s when the species appeared destined for extinction, the average sockeye returning to the Snake costs $9000 to produce, and populations remain critically depressed. As the statesman points out, the only way to truly recover salmon and steelhead in the Snake is to remove the four lower Snake River dams, something which the federal government has yet to seriously consider. Until then, sockeye and other species will continue limping along on astronomically expensive hatchery life support, something which delays, but does not stop the extinction of wild salmon in the Snake River over the long term. It's time for a new set of solutions in the Columbia, and among those solutions MUST be the removal of the four lower Snake dams.

Monday, December 3, 2012

In Washington, Focus Turns to Ocean Acidification

While the effects of carbon emissions into our atmosphere are often discussed in terms of their impact on our planet's climate, the consequences of our exponentially growing emission of fossil carbon goes beyond the warming impact of carbon as a greenhouse gas. By fundamentally altering the balance of carbon storage, we are recklessly playing with planetary systems in a way that threatens to undermine the ability of our planet to sustain biodiversity, and human life. No where is this growing accumulation of carbon emissions felt more destructively than in our oceans where rising levels of atmospheric carbon are resulting in rapid rises in the acidity of the oceans water. Because many marine organisms have shells or exoskeletons made of calcium bicarbonate which dissolves readily when exposed to more acidic water conditions, even minor increases in ocean acidity can have drastic effects.

Scientists predict that by the middle of the 21st century the majority of the planets coral reefs may be in locations where ocean water has become too acidic for their survival. Closer to home many of the zooplankton that juvenile salmon rely on as prey are threatened by rising ocean acidity and our regions multi-million dollar shellfish industry has already begun to feel the effects. A blue ribbon panel of scientists and policy makers convened by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire released a list of recommendations and the governor has promised a $3.3 million investment in an ocean acidication research center at the University of Washington. Kevin Ranker, a state Senator from Orcas Island, and the chairman of the State Senate's Natural Resources committee has proposed a carbon tax similar to the one in place in British Columbia as a means of curbing carbon emissions within our state, a move that could dramatically reduce emissions in our state and place pressure on the federal government and other jurisdictions to take a more proactive to dealing with the rising cost of climate change and ocean acidication.

More information from the KUOWs earthfix:

and from the Crosscut:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Reminder: May the Rivers Never Sleep, reading and book signing next week

Next Friday, December 7th Bill and John McMillan will be doing a reading and book signing for their new book titled May the Rivers Never Sleep at the Seattle REI. The father and son McMillan's bring a rich knowledge of our northwest rivers and the wild fish they support, forged through a lifetime of passion for angling, conservation and science. The book signing at REI is a rare opportunity to meet both men and hear some of their stories and insights gained from a life on the river. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ottawa Reaches New Low in Suppressing Science

The Canadian Federal Government has moved to strip the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island of it's credentials as an international reference laboratory for veterinary pathogens, including Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv). The lab which is run by internationally acclaimed expert Fred Kibenge, was the first to reveal the presence of an ISAv like virus o the West Coast of Canada, prompting backlash from the Canadain Federal Government and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in particular. Since that time Dr.Kibenge has continued to collaborate with independent researchers, screening tissue samples from salmon taken on the West Coast for diseases ranging from ISAv to Heart and Skeletal Inflammation (HSMI) and IHN. He also served as an expert witness for the Cohen commission, a judicial review that revealed deep flaws and conflicts of interest in management of wild salmon and the way that the federal government has balanced the development of salmon aquaculture with it's paramount duty of conserving wild salmon. The latest move by the CFIA is clearly intended to discredit Dr. Kibenge and silence their critics, a troubling continuation of the trend in Ottawa to suppress science in instances when it may challenge their economic agenda.

More information in the Globe and Mail:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Seattle Times Article on Snake River Sockeye

Last weekend the Seattle Times featured an excellent article on challenges facing Snake River sockeye and the political and economic realities hindering their recovery. Reporter Lynda Mapes offers a well rounded, insightful take on the issue that gives readers a realistic perspective on both the successes of recovery efforts on the Snake and the cost of these programs which are in some ways protecting the status quo in the Columbia Basin. In the 1990's Snake sockeye were critically endangered, and in 1992 only a single fish, dubbed Lonesome Larry, returned to Redfish Lake, a once prolific producer of sockeye on the western slope of the Idaho Rockies. Since that time, a federal program to rescue the nearly extinct populations of sockeye has managed to save the unique genetic legacy of snake river sockeye. However, recovery of Snake sockeye has reached a critical juncture. 

With as many as 1000 fish returning to the Snake in good years (around 250 returned this year), sockeye populations are no longer on critical life support, and it is time to phase out hatchery production and allow fish to spawn in the wild, maintaining the fitness and genetic diversity of these fragile stocks. Instead managers have opted to spend $14 million dollars on a new production hatchery, that will preserve the status quo allowing the BPA to continue operating the four lower Snake River dams that are the primary impediment to true recovery in the Snake basin. 

More from the Seattle Times: 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crooked River Water Bill Could Sabotage Steelhead Recovery

A contentious bill on the future of water management in the Upper Deschutes is working its way through the US Congress. The bill, drafted by Senator Jeff Merkley would guarantee first fill priority in Crooked River (Prineville Reservoir) be allocated to irrigation regardless of water levels (ie. how much water is available for fish), squandering the opportunity afforded by a nearly $130 million dollar outlay by Portland General Electric to provide fish passage into the Upper Deschutes by creating conditions in the Crooked River that are inhospitable to steelhead and other anadromous fish. Flow regimes on the Crooked have been altered tremendously since the construction of Prineville Reservoir and with very little water left in the system to support fish, harming the productive potential of an otherwise potentially excellent spawning area for salmon and steelhead.

The proposed bill would make things even worse, and the ball is in the court of Oregon's other Senator Ron Wyden. Should he choose to support the bill, recovery of ESA listed steelhead and salmon in the Crooked will never even approach it's full potential. On the contrary, if this bill is scrapped, and legislators go back to the drawing board to adopt a plan based on credible scientific input which balances the needs of other users of the Crooked River (as well as ESA listed fish) with those of irrigators, the future is bright for wild fish in the Upper Deschutes.

Please call or email Senator Wyden's office and let him know how you feel about this bill.

Below is a letter drafted by a coalition of retired scientists to Senator Wyden:

The Honorable Ron Wyden
221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C., 20510

Dear Senator Wyden:

We are writing to inform you that we represent a growing number of non-affiliated retired scientists who do not support the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act for the reasons stated below.

Fundamentally, this bill contains too many huge uncertainties with respect to obtaining the critical seasonal flows needed to support fish.  We therefore urge introduction of a modified alternative bill approving the City of Prineville request for 5,100 acre feet of water, the Portland General Electric request for constructing a hydroelectric plant at Bowman Dam and the McKay Creek exchange of 2,740 acre feet of water.  Our primary reasons for opposing the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act are stated below.

• Our most serious objection is that the bill mandates first-fill priority for the release of irrigation water regardless of Prineville Reservoir water levels.  Linked with this objection is the equally serious concern that the bill does not include a meaningful Drought Management Plan.  Historical river flows and reservoir water levels show that every 3 out of 4 years the reservoir has contained enough water to meet the needs of irrigation, the City of Prineville, downstream flows to support fish, and reservoir levels associated with fishing and other flat water recreational endeavors.  Unfortunately, what is overlooked in your bill (and the Walden bill) is that the primary future problem that needs to be addressed is how to allocate water for fish survival during those years when the reservoir does not contain enough water to meet all desired requests.  With multiple year droughts becoming more common as global warming continues a strong Drought Management Plan is needed to ensure the successful re-establishment of Chinook salmon and threatened Steelhead in the Crooked River and its tributaries. Clearly, in this high desert ecosystem a first order priority for a Crooked River bill needs to mandate preparation of a Drought Management Plan that requires that during periods of drought all water users shall receive proportional reductions in their water allocations. 
Unfortunately the evasive language presented in points 2 and 3 of the bill’s Dry-Year Management Plan (P-12) is clearly crafted to ensure that irrigators will not have to participate in a plan that mandates proportional reductions in water allocations during periods of drought.  The bill even states that if water needs to be released to meet ESA requirements for threatened fish it cannot be taken from irrigation allotments. 
The first-fill mandate for irrigation water during periods of drought will result in the worst case scenario for being able to receive instream water flows necessary to maintain the re-introduced anadromous fish, and to maintain adequate water in the reservoir to support fisheries and other flat water recreational activities.  When one or a series of low water years will be a certainty in the future, an Adaptive Drought Management Plan based on the best available science needs to be the strongest, not the weakest, part of an overall reservoir and stream water management plan.  Unfortunately, as the bill is written, when reservoir water levels decline to critical lows associated with periods of drought the first-fill mandate for irrigators will leave little or no water for fish below the irrigation diversions above the City of Prineville.

• Another key concern we have is that we see no evidence that the best available science was used in crafting this bill.  It seems apparent that the expertise of fisheries biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) – those most qualified to make critical flow decisions – was not sought during the planning process.  Furthermore, the bill basically eliminates their participation in future decisions about flows released to support the survival of fish. Instead it is projected that such critical decisions are to be made by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) and the State of Oregon (which aside from ODFW, will include representatives from the Oregon Department of Water Resources, the Department of Parks & Recreation, and the Department of Environmental Quality). As only the ODFW employs fisheries biologists knowledgeable about the needs of fish, we are aware of no rationale that supports the inclusion of individuals from the other State agencies to be involved in fish flow decisions.  The ODWR, in fact, has a long history of supporting irrigation interests – not those of fisheries. Contrary to what is stated in the bill we believe that reservoir fish flow decisions need to be made by a Commission of equals including members from ODFW, CTWS, USF&WS, NMFS and BOR, with all representatives having expertise in fisheries biology and ecology.  Such a commission could make yearly flow decisions, including during periods of droughts.

• Another key concern we have is that there is no evidence that those who crafted the bill had the knowledge to assess and understand the flow models developed by the ODFW fisheries biologists or the Reservoir Management Model developed by BOR scientists. Both of these flow models were prepared by scientists who used the best available scientific data to model minimum flows needed to support fish in the Crooked River under a variety of scenarios.  Instead of using these models in making decisions reflected in the bill the writers relied on a Excel spread sheet scheme proposed by an ODWR retired Watermaster employed by the irrigators.  This simplified spread sheet proposal sets back science about 50 years.  In the present century plans and decisions should be made on the basis of the best available science.  For example, if the ODFW flow model for the Crooked River had been used people now learning about the contents of the bill from newspaper articles would have few or no concerns about seasonal flow levels for fish being inadequate or the reservoir being drained to support fish flows in the river. The ODFW flow model illustrates how flows from the reservoir can be managed to provide water for all needs when the reservoir contains various amounts of water.

• Up to the present time there has been no opportunity for impartial review of either your bill or the Walden bill by scientists with expertise in fisheries biology. We hope you will be agreeable to delaying movement of your bill in the Senate until after you are able to appoint a committee of independent scientists with expertise in fisheries biology to review and provide comments on it.  The other alternative is to introduce a minimal bill like that described on page 1 of this letter.  In any event we encourage a review process similar to that associated with the recent Sage Grouse Conservation Objectives team appointed by Ken Salazar of the Department of the Interior.  This is a standard process for identifying scientific solutions that was lacking in the preparation of your bill.  Nearly 100 million dollars have thus far been invested to re-establish anadromous fish in the Crooked River and certain tributaries, and no water for fish during periods of drought would be disastrous for this program.

Thank you for considering our remarks.


John R. Anderson, Emeritus Professor and Associate Dear for Research, College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, California
William D. Davies, Emeritus Professor, Dept. of Fisheries and Allied Aquatics, Auburn
University, Alabama
H. Tom Davis, Retired Hydrologist, Montgomery Watson Consulting Engineers
Phil Havens, Retired Biologist, Bonneville Power Administration
Clair Kunkel, Retired Fisheries Biologist and Manager, Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
Bill Merrill, Retired Fishing Guide & Past President, SunRiver Anglers
Max Johnson, Retired Fisheries Biologist, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources
William L. Robinson, Retired Regional Director, NOAA Natl. Marine Fisheries
William Seitz, Retired Director of the Alaska Integrated Science Center, and Deputy Regional Director of USGS in Alaska.
Gene Silovsky, Retired Fisheries/Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Forest Service
Marv Yoshinaka, Retired Fisheries Biologist, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

* (The above scientists have resided in Central Oregon for 10 to 20+ years and are particularly knowledgeable about the Crooked River). 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Condit Dam All the Way Out, White Salmon Flows Free Again

Condit Dam is now completely gone

The restoration of the White Salmon River started with a blast last fall when engineers blew a hole out of the base of Condit Dam, and will continue for the next several years, but recovery of the White Salmon reached an important, if mostly symbolic milestone last week. The last remnants of the dam were removed, meaning for the first time in more than 100 years the river is completely free of the dam which once obstructed salmon passage. Fish have been naturally migrating above the dam since last spring and good numbers of chinook and steelhead are thought to have migrated into the upper river this year, filling more than 30 miles of habitat that had been vacant for a century. While the rebuilding of salmon populations in the White Salmon will take a few generations, the dam removal project is expected to have major benefits for chinook and coho as well as winter and summer steelhead.

More from the Seattle Times:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion, Public Meetings in Vancouver

Kinder Morgan, a US based energy giant, is  proposing to twin their Transmountain pipeline doubling the amount of oil shipped from Edmonton with the Port of Vancouver and will be holding public town hall style meetings on the proposal over the next couple of weeks around Southern BC. Communities along the pipeline's route have voice serious concerns about the potential impacts and limited benefits of the expansion to local economies and ecosystems, prompting calls for the company to abandon the proposed twinning. Chief among the concerns are the possibility of a pipeline rupture or spill along the pipeline route, which parallels much of the Fraser River watershed, and a doubling of oil tanker traffic out of the port of Vancouver, increasing the likelihood that a catastrophic spill could occur in the Georgia Strait. While the company and the Canadian federal government have so far been dismissive of concerns over oil spills, the fact is spills have already occurred along the route, including one last year at the company's Sumas terminal, and local communities will bear the brunt of the impacts in the event of a spill. 

Town hall style meetings will be held in a number of venues throughout Vancouver and on Vancouver Island over the next couple weeks, here's the schedule:

7 Nov. - West Vancouver Kay Meek Centre, 1700 Mathers Ave., 4 – 7 pm
10 Nov. - Bowen Island, Bowen Island Community School 1041 Mt Gardner Rd., 2:30 – 4:30 pm
13 Nov. - East Vancouver Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), Hastings Room 2901 East Hastings Street, 5 – 8 pm
15 Nov. - Downtown Vancouver Harbour Centre, Segal Hall 515 West Hastings Street, 5 – 8 pm
17 Nov. - West Point Grey Aberthau Mansion, 4397 West 2nd Ave., 5 – 8 pm
03 Dec - Victoria - Location, Date & Time to be confirmed
03 Dec - Saanich - Location, Date & Time to be confirmed
03 Dec - Nanaimo - Location, Date & Time to be confirmed 

More information from the Georgia Strait Alliance:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Suit Challenges Suction Dredging in Oregon

A coalition of three environmental groups, Cascadia Wildlands, Rouge Riverkeepers and the Klamath-Siskyou Wildlands Center have filed suit against the Rogue River-Siskyou National forest for failing to protect ESA listed coho from the impacts of suction dredge mining.  In recent years, the rising price of gold has created an explosion of small scale suction dredge mining in southern Oregon and northern California, prompting major concerns over the impact of the industry, and it's legality given the consequences for  ESA listed coho salmon and other anadromous fish. The three groups, as well as other concerned organizations and citizens are argue that  the government must conduct reviews of proposed suction dredging operations to evaluate their impact on listed salmon, and in the meantime have asked them to suspend all ongoing operations. Ultimately though, the practice is fundamentally inconsistent with society's values. Having spent millions of dollars on recovery and restoration of wild salmon in the region it is ridiculous to allow a few individuals benefit from a practices that can result in severe harm to salmon populations.

More information from Cascadia Wildlands:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Burke Museum, Wild Steelhead Coalition partner to raise awareness of “The Magnificent Steelhead”

A press release from the Wild Steelhead Coalition, about their new Burke Museum exhibit and upcoming event  

SEATTLE – Anglers know it as the “fish of a thousand casts." Washingtonians know it as their state fish, symbolizing the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. And through November 15th, the steelhead will be celebrated in an exhibit at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum to raise awareness and support for this iconic, and threatened, fish.

Titled “The Magnificent Steelhead,” the display will culminate with a reception and art sale on November 8, with all proceeds benefiting the Wild Steelhead Coalition, an organization dedicated to increasing the return of wild steelhead to the rivers and streams of the Pacific Northwest.

Works in the Burke exhibit include photographs printed on canvas, as well as mixed media pieces from individuals in the angling community, including Andy Anderson, Jeff Bright, Keith Douglas, Brian Huskey, Brian O’Keefe, Jonathan Marquardt, Dave McCoy, Ken Moorish, Tim Pask, Steve Perih, Mike Savlen, and Bob White.

Visitors can also learn more about steelhead, as well as conservation efforts being taken by the Wild Steelhead Coalition to support the species through hatchery reform, scientific research and policy changes on behalf of wild fish.

The event runs from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. and includes hors d’oeuvres from the Steelhead Diner and beverages from Precept Wine.

Burke Museum Exhibit Reception & Sale: A Benefit for the Wild Steelhead Coalition
November 8, 2012 | 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. | Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture

On the UW Campus - 17th Ave NE & NE 45th St

Burke Museum Exhibit Info:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cohen Commission Releases Final Report

The $26 million Canadian federal inquiry led by Justice Bruce Cohen into the decline of Fraser River Sockeye released it's final report today. While the Justice correctly stated that there is no single "smoking gun" in the decline of Fraser sockeye he did raise major concerns about the impact of open-net pen aquaculture and the transmission of pathogens from farmed fish to wild salmon, suggesting that the federal government should now invest in research that can provide definitive and scientifically credible answers on what role fish farms are playing in sockeye declines. He also touched on the lack of resources and conflict of interest faced by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as government has slashed funding to the once proud ministry and asked them to promote a salmon farming industry that conflicts directly with their core mandate to protect wild salmon and the fisheries they support.

Justice Cohen provided several concrete recommendations including placing a cap on new fish farm developments in the Discovery Islands - the primary migration route for outmigrating Fraser sockeye smolts - requiring fish farm operators to provide DFO with as many samples as the department deemed necessary for monitoring and research, and limiting farm tenures to one year. If by 2020 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has concluded that fish farms pose more than a minimal risk to Fraser River sockeye, Cohen concluded that DFO should prohibit open net pen aquaculture in the Discovery Islands altogether.

While the strongly worded findings left commercial fishermen and wild fish advocates elated, representatives from the BC salmon farmers association sought to downplay the findings. The Federal government also remained non-committal about taking action saying only that they are "studying" the findings, but for the time being there is hope that the costly, high profile judicial review will help bring about positive changes for salmon in the Fraser.

Read more in the Tyee:

and check out the full 1200 page report for yourself:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Salmon Spawning In Upper White Salmon and Deschutes Following Major Fish Passage Projects

Managers on the White Salmon have opted for a recovery plan that relies on wild fish 

It's been an exciting few years for proponents of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. With several high profile dam removal projects changing the landscape of salmon recovery both literally and figuratively. Two of the more high profile projects on the Columbia include the removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River last fall, and the construction of a state of the art fish passage facility at the Pelton Round Butte dam on the Deschutes. Both projects are providing access to habitat not seen by fish for the better part of a century, and this fall both investments are starting to pay dividends.

This month the Columbia Basin Bulletin featured stories on recovery efforts on the White Salmon and the Deschutes. In the White Salmon, Tule Fall Chinook are spread out and spawning from the mouth to the base of Husum Falls, the historic upstream limit of their distribution with summer steelhead and spring chinook spawning above the falls. In order to expediate the recovery of ESA listed wild salmon and steelhead in the basin biologists and managers have opted for a recovery plan that relies entirely on wild salmon recolonizing historically accessible habitats.

On the Deschutes managers have been surprised by the number of Kokanee that have reverted to their original sea-going life history. In 2010, the first year of operation on the Pelton Round Butte passage project nearly 45,000 juvenile Kokanee made their way downstream as smolts and the following year more than 205,000 fish made their way to the ocean. Sockeye typically spend either 2 or 3 years at sea and this year biologists are witnessing the return of the first adult sockeye, fish which arose from an entirely wild resident population of kokanee.

More information on the White Salmon recovery in the CBB:

And more on the Upper Deschutes passage project as well:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha is Almost Gone

Photo from the Elwha River Restoration Facebook page

The historic dam removal and restoration of the Elwha River has proceeded faster than most experts expected, and today for the first time since 1926 the river ran freely through what was once Lake Mills. Removal of Glines Canyon dam, the upper of the two dams has proceeded nicely this fall and today that last remaining standing water drained out of the Lake Mills reservoir. Elwha dam was removed this spring. As dam removal continues, sediment that has been trapped behind the dam for almost a century is working its way down river, shaping habitats, and restoring the lower Elwha's sediment starved floodplain and delta as it goes. The dam should be gone entirely by late spring 2013. 

While all the parties involved in the dam removal deserve a hearty congratulations, much work remains to be done to ensure that the rivers once robust populations of wild salmon and steelhead are able to make a full recovery. The recovery plan for the Elwha remains woefully inadequate, relying heavily on hatchery supplementation, ignoring the abundance of newly available habitat and the inherent ability of wild salmon and steelhead to recolonize habitats opened by dam removal. As long as industrial scale hatchery supplementation continues in the basin wild fish will never meet their full potential, a terrible shame considering the more than $300 million of taxpayer money that has funded the dam removal project.

More information in the Seattle Times:

and check out the progress at the Elwha Restoration Project website:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Help the Skagit, Get Beautiful Hand Made Drift Boat!

Want to support efforts to recover the Skagit River's legendary wild winter steelhead? Now's your chance to make a big impact and walk away with a beautiful hand built driftboat. The Wild Steelhead Coalition is auctioning off a custom built driftboat, built by craftsman Ross Duncan. The one of a kind boat comes with all the bells and whistles and could be yours. The boat would normally retail for $12,000 but the bidding is set to start at only $5,000, a steal for a boat of its kind. Bids are currently being accepted at the Orvis website, check it out, and if you've been thinking of buying a drift boat, or you just so happen to love wild winter steelhead, put a bid in. It's a win-win for you and for the Skagit.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Northwest Tribes Joining the Fray on Big Environmental Issues

A couple of really cool articles out recently highlight the growing involvement, and vital role that the Northwest Tribes are playing in some of our most pressing environmental challenges. Because of the rights guaranteed to many of the tribes by treaty, they are in a unique position to influence government on environmental policy. A recent article in the New York Times explores the role the Lummi and other tribes are playing in shaping the debate over proposed coal terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Another article from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Magazine highlights work the tribes are doing on climate change.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Four More Days to Help Lower Columbia Steelhead

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has extended the comment period on the draft Lower Columbia Hatchery Genetic Management Plans (HGMPs) because technical problems prevented them from receiving comments sent during the first week of the comment period.

The HGMPs outline plans for hatchery management in the Lower Columbia, where wild steehead are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Among the problems with the draft HGMPs is the fact that the department plans to continue releasing hatchery steelhead into several systems where they do not operate collection facilities. This is against the department's own policy as outlined in the Statewide Steelhead Management Plans, and all but ensures that the productivity and diversity of these vital wild steelhead populations will continue to be undermined by high numbers of hatchery origin spawners.

Please take a minute or two to submit comments, we worked with the Wild Steelhead Coalition to set up a quick and easy form for you to comment. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Landmark Victory for Skeena Sockeye!

In the latest issue of the Osprey we brought you an article on the perils of a proposed mine in the Morrison Lake watershed. The Morrison is a tributary of Babine Lake, BC's largest sockeye producer, and is home to an abundant and ecologically unique sockeye population. Despite a troubling recent history of steamrolling projects through, the BC Ministry of Environment denied Pacific Booker Minerals an Environmental Assessment Certificate for the proposed mine citing the unacceptable risks posed by the mining project. This is a huge victory for the Skeena watershed and a rare and precious victory for wild salmon in British Columbia lately.

More information:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reintroduced Sockeye Spawning in Cle Elum Lake

A landmark effort to reintroduce sockeye into the Upper Yakima watershed is entering its fourth year, and a banner run of sockeye on the Columbia means that 10,000 fish will spawn in the Upper Cle Elum this year. A part of a pilot project assessing the feasibility of reintroducing sockeye to the Cle Elum Lake system began in 2009 when biologists with the Yakama Nation, US Bureau of Reclamation, Washington State and Grant County PUD trapped 1,000 fish at the Priest Rapids fish ladder on the Columbia and transported them to Cle Elum lake. Since then the number of fish transported to Cle Elum has increased steadily, including 2,500 fish in 2010, 4,500 last year and 10,000 this year. An agreement between Grant County and the Yakama Nation allows 3% of the fish at Priest Rapids to be taken for the reintroduction.

Offspring of fish which successfully spawn above Cle Elum Lake have been transported downstream of the dam by a temporary wooden flume in the spillway. While the situation isn't ideal for getting juveniles past the dam, recent high water springs have aided downstream passage and biologists expect the first offspring of reintroduced sockeye to return next fall. Sockeye typically have a 3-4 year lifecycle, rearing in lakes for one year before migrating to sea for 2-3 years. Like many of the lakes in the Yakima irrigation project, Cle Elum historically supported a large run of sockeye and the pilot reintroduction project is an important first step towards reintroducing the once prolific fish.

More in an article from the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Seattle Times Op-Ed: EPA Must Stop Pebble Mine

A good Op-Ed published in the Seattle Times this week joins Senator Maria Cantwell in calling for the EPA to use their veto authority to stop the proposed Pebble Mine. The mine would be built in the heart of Alaska's productive Bristol Bay region threatening the largest, most sustainable sockeye fishery on the planet. The fishery provides thousands of jobs, and much of the commercial fleet is based in Seattle, making the protection of the Bristol Bay region vital to the region's economy.

Read the editorial here:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kitz Weighs in on Columbia Salmon

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has had a busy late summer and fall working on salmon issues. Not only is he spearheading a solution to the stand off between sport fishing, conservationists and commercial gillnetters in the Columbia, last weekend he weighed in on the long running battle over the future of Columbia and Snake River salmon. The state of Oregon is a litigant in the long running lawsuit challenging the validity of the Columbia BiOp, and in a guest editorial to the Oregonian, Kitzhaber calls for an end to the litigation and a collaborative process between all stakeholders that can lead to a lasting solution for the Columbia.

Read his editorial at the Oregonian website:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Klamath Seeing Record Chinook Returns

The Klamath River was once one of the worlds greatest Chinook producing rivers, and while a century of dam building, irrigation withdrawls, and over harvest has diminished the system, it remains a prolific  producer of the King of Salmon. This year, buoyed by a strong parent cohort, and good marine conditions, the Klamath is expected to see a total run of around 1.6 million Chinook, with an estimated 380,000 fish expected to make it through the fishery.

More information in the Eureka Times-Standard

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Away in the Field...In the Meantime

Apologies for the lack of updates, we're away in the field this month chasing salmon around the Central Coast of British Columbia. Rest assured we'll let you know how it goes when we return. In the meantime keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming September/October issue of The Osprey. The upcoming issue features some excellent content. Here's a summary of the content:

  • Benefits of Columbia River Spill by Margaret Filardo of the Fish Passage Center
  • Fraser Sockeye Research Providing Insight into Decline by Doug Braun and Brendan Connors
  • Anadromy in Rainbow/Steelhead by John McMillan
  • Mining Threatens BC's Babine Lake by Will Atlas and Ken Rabnett
  • The Way Forward for Wild Salmon by  Jim Lichatowich  and Bill Bakke
Visit our website to check out back issues and learn how you can subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue of the Osprey. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oregonian Article on Columbia River Tribal Fishery

An interesting article out Tuesday in the Oregonian tells the story of tribal commercial fishermen on the Columbia. The feature article which includes some nice photos, explains that the tribes are increasingly focused on improving the quality of their product and marketing their fish effectively throughout the region. This years projected return of fall Chinook to the Columbia is around 660,000 and tribal fisherman hope to harvest about 150,000 of the returning fish. However, the harvest goals must also be carefully balanced with the challenge of limiting by-catch of other, more fragile runs in the Columbia and Snake.

More information in the Oregonian:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

WDFW Issues Draft Hatchery Plans for Lower Columbia, Comments Due October 5th

Last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issued draft Hatchery Genetic Management Plans (HGMPs) for hatchery operations on the Lower Columbia. The plans outline WDFW's intended hatchery activities that may impact ESA listed salmon and steelhead stocks in the Lower Columbia region. While it may seem like run of the mill bureaucratic process, HGMPS are intended to provide assurance to the Federal Government (NOAA) that WDFWs hatchery operations will not jeopardize wild populations and as such HGMPs should be held to the highest biological standards.

Among the proposals that don't pass the sniff test on the Lower Columbia are continued releases of non-native hatchery fish into the Coweeman, South Fork Toutle, and East Fork Lewis. Each of these systems lack collection facilities for returning hatchery fish meaning that any fish that go unharvested in sport fisheries spawn in the wild, reducing the productivity, diversity, and long term viability of threatened wild steelhead in the Lower Columbia. Hatchery releases in watersheds without collection facilities are supposed to be prohibited by the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, and have been eliminated in Puget Sound following the listing of steelhead under the ESA. Unfortunately on the Lower Columbia, the epicenter of Washington's crazed hatchery addiction, similar measures have not been taken despite the ESA listing.

The state's own data suggest that large numbers of hatchery fish are likely spawning in the wild, and recent estimates have suggested that as many as 70% of spawning steelhead in the East Fork are of hatchery origin.

WDFW is accepting comments on the draft HGMPs until October 5th at 5PM. Please take a few minutes to tell the state to discontinue hatchery outplanting in the Coweeman, SF Toutle, and EF Lewis to protect ESA listed wild fish. 

Comments can be sent via email to

OR mailed to WDFW at

Hatcheries Division
600 Capital Way N.
Olympia, WA 98501

Read all the Lower Columbia HGMPs here:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

May the Rivers Never Sleep by Bill and John McMillan

From the Amato Books website:

Bill and John McMillan share a view of rivers, salmon, steelhead, and the Pacific Northwest. The father and son have found a common bond in rivers, and this bond is clearly reflected in their writing and photography. Few people are so enamored with the life and history of rivers and salmon. 

The essence of May the Rivers Never Sleep is the physical and biological tapestry of river time—month by month, a concept fostered by Roderick Haig-Brown. Well-respected anglers in their own right, Bill and John have spent thousands of hours viewing rivers and fish, above and below water. Their revelations from snorkeling in rivers have led to its spread as a tool of science to protect fish, rivers, and related wildlife. The essays and gorgeous photographs in this book reflect Bill and John’s lives largely spent on rivers as anglers, naturalists, and scientists—men struck by the wonder of the life of rivers. Pick up this book and be transported to the lush rivers of the Pacific Northwest—anytime, anywhere. 

In a not to be missed event, Bill and John will be doing a book signing and reading December 7th at REI in Seattle. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Video Online from Latest Salmon Restoration Federation Meeting

Video from the talks from the latest Salmon Restoration Federation meeting which brought together experts and luminaries in the field to discuss the growing dam removal movement is now available online. Among the more interesting talks are one by USGS Scientist Jeff Duda on the Elwha dam removal process and some of the science that's being used to inform our understanding of fish recovery in the basin. The website also has good talks on dam removal in the Rogue, Sandy, and Klamath. 

Check the video out here:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Paradise Lost by Craig Orr

Searching through the archives and came across this piece by Craig Orr. Originally written in 1994 for the premier issue of the now defunct Wild Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon Magazine. Orr examines the history of Vancouver Island's many steelhead streams beginning with the untrammeled and bountiful wilderness first encountered by Roderick Haig-Brown as a young man to the modern day. Vancouver Island has been ravaged by logging, most of which occured between the 1960s and the 1990s when the impacts of logging were already well understood. Despite the concerns of anglers and conservationists that the many unique and precious runs of salmon and steelhead would be wiped out, logging practices were atrocious, and many streams were logged right to the banks.

Despite the damage done by the logging industry some systems have begun to recover and there is hope that the lessons learned from the last wave of destructive timber harvest will limit damage in the future.

Paradise Lost by Craig Orr

Friday, August 31, 2012

Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead in Hot Water

So far this summer, the water temperatures in the Columbia River have exceeded 70 degrees for 80 days. Water temperatures above the mid-60s place tremendous stress on migrating salmon and steelhaed and 70 is considered the critical threshold where water temperatures become lethal to fish. Under these conditions fish are forced to delay migrations and seek cool water refugia, typically in tributaries of the Columbia which run cooler than the mainstem. Even with the available temperature refuges, many fish fall victim to the high water temperatures, and prespawn mortality in the Columbia system is thought to be high for summer migrating species. 

While the Columbia has always been warmer than many coastal rivers, dams which slow the flow of water and increase the river's surface area have exacerbated the problem tremendously. Combine that with the changes already underwater from climate change and we can expect warmer temperatures and reduced flow during summer. That means, unless something changes the future looks pretty bleak for salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers. 

Removing the four Lower Snake River dams is the only way to ensure the survival of anadromous fish in the basin and must move forward. Unfortunately, entrenched politicians and lobbying interests continue to see the Columbia system as nothing more than a conduit for their economic aspirations, a means to and end which is cheap subsidized barging, freely flowing irrigation water, and hydroelectricity. While no one can deny the important benefits of irrigation and hydroelectricity, we must seek to strike a more healthy balance between these uses and the need to restore and protect salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake. The lower four Snake River dams have got to go and we better move fast, otherwise wild salmon and steelhead will find themselves in increasingly hot water. 

More information in a good write up from Save our Wild Salmon:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Proposed Kitimat Oil Refinery Doesn't Change the Facts about Enbridge

Last week, millionare newspaper mogul David Black caused a stir in the media when he went public with his proposal to build an oil refinery in Kitimat that would process oil from the Enbridge pipeline. One of the longstanding criticisms of the Enbridge Pipeline has been that it would provide very few jobs in British Columbia, but would require the province to should the burden of the environmental risks and the the jobs that a spill could cost coastal communities in sustainable tourism, fishing and other industries. Black's plan makes the calculation that British Columbians - of whom 80% oppose the Enbridge Pipeline - would support the Enbridge Pipeline if, rather than pumping raw bitumen for export to China it provided oil for a Canadian owned refinery.

While the logic may be tempting to some in light of the few thousand jobs a refinery would support, the reality is, refining the oil in Kitimat doesn't reduce the environmental risks one iota. The oil would still have to be piped over the Fraser, down the Skeena and loaded onto tankers before being shipped out Douglas Channel. That means it still has the potential to unleash catastrophic environmental damage that would not only ruin some of the most intact and productive salmon bearing ecosystems for decades, it would jeopardize a huge number of jobs in sustainable industries on the BC Coast. That's not to mention the air quality issues posed by a massive refinery in a Coastal Valley.

Sorry David Black, sorry Enbridge, looks like the project is still a bad idea.

Here's a good write up from the David Suzuki foundation:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Last Salmon Forest

Check out this award winning short film on the Alaska's Tongass National Forest and visit this website about the Tongass and the challenges facing SE Alaska. Makes us wonder if they're planning on making a feature length film.

"The Last Salmon Forest" The Drake awards submission from Detonation Studios on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Elwha Chinook Return to Olympic National Park

For the first time in almost a century, Chinook salmon are able to access the Elwha River within the boundaries of Olympic National Park. On Monday, park biologists spotted summer Chinook salmon rolling in the Elwha River about 2 miles above the park boundary. The presence of Chinook, which were once abundant in the Elwha marks a major milestone in the recovery. Earlier this spring, biologists tagged and tracked several wild steelhead into the river above Elwha Dam where they spawned, primarily in two tributaries the Little River and the Indian River.

More information from the Seattle Times:

Track the dam removal and recovery on the Elwha:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Worst Dam Bill EVER

Earlier this month we brought you news of a bill brought forth by eastern Washington Congressman Doc Hastings. The bill which has been titled the Saving our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act has been renamed simply the Worst Dam Bill Ever by sane observers. After 20 years of fighting for river restoration and salmon recovery this bill would take us back to the hydropower stone ages, a time when the federal government squandered millions of taxpayer dollars building hydropower and irrigation dams which not only blocked thousands of miles of salmon and steelhead habitat but also produced only a few cents on the dollar of tax payer investment.

Hastings who hails from Eastern Washington is a long time crusader for a return to the era of pork barrel dam projects and has a more than cozy relationship with the irrgation and hydropower lobbies. Among the highlights of the bill are:

  • Jeopardizes “spill” at the Columbia and Snake River dams – a salmon protection measure that significantly increases salmon survival.
  • Prohibits any federal money from being spent on removing, partially removing, or even studying the removal of any dam in the United States (public or private) that currently generates or at one time generated hydropower (without explicit approval from Congress).
  • Prevents any federal money from being spent on dam removal mitigation or restoration measures (without explicit approval from Congress).
  • Requires that Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) define “foregone revenue” as a fish and wildlife compliance cost.
  • Prevent any federal funding for important energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and initiatives proposed by the Department of Energy
Hastings and his cronies, troubled by the growing momentum of the dam removal movement are lashing out, flailing in hopes of defending their beloved slab of federal pork. This is the classic congressional dog an pony show, trotting out a bill that is ideological and destined to fail for the purpose of political credibility. However, its important that the residents of the Pacific Northwest speak out loudly against this bill and let our representatives and senators know that we want a future with wild salmon and steelhead. 

More in an editorial to the Spokane Spokesman Review:

Take action at Save our Wild Salmon's website:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Just Two More Weeks to Weigh in on Enbridge Pipeline

There are just two more weeks before the public comment period on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Please take a few minutes to speak up against the pipeline, which if approved, would be among the greatest environmental travesties of our time. The pipeline path crosses the Fraser, runs down the Skeena, before being loaded onto tankers 10 times the size of the Exxon Valdez at Kitimat. The unprocessed crude bitumen (an oily slude mined in the tar sand) must then be shipped out the Douglas Channel en route to markets in China. A spill anywhere along the proposed route would spell catastrophe, and even Enbridge admits that there is not guarantee against such a disaster. It really is only a matter of time if the pipeline is approved. First Nations along the route are understandably alarmed and unanimously oppose to the proposal. Polling also suggests that the residents of British Columbia do not support the pipeline with more than 70% of respondents in recent polls saying they do not support the pipeline proposal.

The bottom line is, the Enbridge Pipeline poses potentially catastrophic environmental risks to a huge swath of British Columbia, including  three of the most productive salmon bearing ecosystems on earth. Furthermore, opening up a massive artery for the export of fossil fuels mined from the boreal forest of Alberta puts our planet's climate on an extremely dangerous trajectory providing only a few hundred jobs in British Columbia.

The Enbridge Pipeline is not only unethical, it risks many of the sustainable resource based industries which are the backbone of Coastal BC's economy. Yet, in the rush to appease their allies in the oil and gas industry the federal government has done everything they can to pave the way for the project, cutting funding for oil spill first responders, gutting the Federal Fisheries Act, and eliminating the Ocean Pollution Monitoring program. By all accounts the Joint Review Panel process has been a fiasco with Enbridge's representatives and the JRP panel members treating community members with an unprecedented level of contempt and disrespect, reflecting the disregard the Canadian federal government has for local communities.

Please take a few minutes to submit comments on the pipeline, and help stem the tide against the destruction of British Columbia's wild salmon and the communities that depend on them.

More information from the Steelhead Society of British Columbia:

Note: the bulletin from the Steelhead Society lists the deadline as March 2012, but the comment period was extended.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Oregonian Coverage of Oregon Gill Net Ban Initiative

This November Oregon voters will weigh in on Measure 81, which if passed into law would ban the use of gill nets in non-tribal fisheries.  Opponents of gill nets point out that they are non-selective, meaning they kill ESA listed wild salmon and steelhead while targeting more abundant hatchery origin fish. With a rash of ESA listings in the Columbia during the last 20 years, gillnetters have seen their opportunities sharply limited, and both Washington and Oregon have sought to develop more selective fisheries which allow the release of wild fish.

While the implications of the law for the Columbia River which forms the border between Washington  and Oregon are somewhat unclear, the fact that Oregon voters could vote to outlaw gill netting is pushing the issue to the forefront and forcing Oregon's governor John Kitzhaber into the fray. Kitzhaber last week released his plan which would move gill net fisheries out of the mainstem Columbia and into sloughs where gill netters could conduct terminal fisheries for hatchery fish. The governor further called for ODFW to prioritize selective recreational fisheries in harvest management on the mainstem Columbia.

More information in the Oregonian:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beyond River Mile 5 - A short film on Elwha recovery

Check out this interesting short film about some of the research efforts that are tracking salmon and steelhead recolonization in the Elwha. The film gives viewers a good idea of what researchers do in the field and how their work will help inform recovery actions on the Elwha and elsewhere.

Beyond River Mile Five from Alan Lovewell on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

CRITFC Refuses to Acknowledge Hatchery Impacts

The Columbia and Snake watersheds are home to more than 80 hatchery programs which release almost 150 million hatchery juveniles each year. Many of these hatcheries are intended to provide harvest opportunity and fish are adipose clipped to allow selective harvest. However, for other programs, the stated purpose is to "recover" wild populations. In a tiny number of cases conservation hatcheries may be a valuable tool in preventing the extinction of fragile populations which are teetering on the brink, but as a widespread strategy for the recovery of ESA listed wild stocks managers couldn't pick a more costly, ineffective and ultimately harmful recovery plan. Unfortunately many of the tribes in the Columbia Basin have lined up behind these "recovery" hatcheries and are increasingly pushing for expanded hatchery programs on the premise that integrated hatcheries can help recover wild fish.

With more and more science each year suggesting that hatcheries are a major impediment to the recovery of productive, locally adapted wild stocks, there is understandably skepticism on the part of managers and scientists and an increasing recognition that hatchery programs in the Columbia may need to be scaled back to facilitate recovery of wild populations.  The Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP), an independent body of scientists tasked with review fish management plans in the Columbia, has been particularly eloquent in their critiques of several planned hatchery programs and consequently have drawn the ire of the hatchery loving Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). 

In an article published in the latest edition of the Northwest Fishletter titled "Tribes offer Spirited Defense of Hatchery Supplementation",  Paul Lumley the executive director of CRITFC dismisses the multitude of recent scientific evidence demonstrating the reduced fitness and productivity of hatchery fish when spawning in the wild, arguing that researchers are biased because, "by bashing hatcheries, you can say that we need to keep the wild fish and the hatchery fish separated." He goes on to assert that the scientists conducting the research essentially sought to preserve the status quo of intensive segregated hatchery supplementation in the Columbia Basin, but the reality is research have been equally unforgiving on the impacts of segregated programs, particularly because the number of hatchery fish spawning in the wild almost always eclipses 5% guideline laid out by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group. The reality is, hatchery reform is going to have to be a part of recovery on the Columbia and whether or not CRITFC believes the science unchecked hatchery supplementation, whether it is in the form of integrated or segregated hatcheries is fundamentally incompatible with the recovery of ESA listed wild stocks. Fortunately the federal government seems to be getting the message at least in part, and a number of options outlined in the latest EIS for the Columbia Hatcheries could make significant steps towards recovering wild salmon and steelhead in the basin. The final EIS with the feds preferred alternative has yet to be released but is due out by the end of the year. 

Read the whole article in the Northwest Fishletter:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Despite Record Returns, Snake River Sockeye Returns Remain Poor

In a year of record sockeye returns to the Columbia Basin when more than 500,000 sockeye have passed above Bonneville Dam, counts of Sockeye returning to the Snake River remain poor. As of last week only 429 sockeye adults had passed Lower Granite Dam on the Lower Snake River. Historically the Stanley Basin in Idaho supported between 25 and 30 thousand sockeye annually, but by the 1990's the run was nearly extinct and between 1991 and 1998 only 16 fish returned including the now famed Lonesome Larry. Returns in recent years have been buoyed slightly by court ordered spill, improved ocean conditions and largescale hatchery supplementation, and more than 1000 fish have returned each of the last three years breaking modern records.

Fortunately these efforts appear to have dramatically reduced the risk of extincction in the near term, but the reality is Sockeye in the Snake River basin are far from recovered. The vast majority of returning fish originate in the Redfish Lake Captive Broodstock program, and until the four Lower Snake River Dams are removed the future remains grim for the once abundant Sockeye which migrate  900 miles from the Pacific to their spawning grounds more than a mile above sea level.

More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Follow the runs at the Columbia River DART website:

Monday, August 6, 2012

More IHN in Clayouqot Fish Farms

Testing conducted by the British Columbia's provincial animal health lab last week con confirmed the presence of the Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis virus in an Atlantic Salmon farm located in Millar Channel. The findings follow the detection of IHN at farms in Clayoquot in the spring which resulted in the culling of more than half a million fish. Mainstream operates 17 fish farms in the area and in recent years wild salmon populations in the Clayouqot Sound region have collapsed, sparking concern that high densities of fish farms and the pathogens and parasites they transmit to wild salmon may be contributing to the declines. 

More info from the Vancouver Sun:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hastings Introduces Dangerous Pro-Hydropower Bill

Congressman Doc Hastings long time dam hugger and Republican Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee introduced a bill today called the Saving our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act. Hastings who hails from eastern Washington, is a long time ally of dam advocates and has fought tirelessly over the last decade to ensure that the discussion on the removal of the four lower Snake River Dams does not move forward. 

While this bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, it would cripple progress towards dam removal and the recovery of wild salmon. Among the more heinous provisions are those that would 
  • Prohibits federal funding for studying or removing dams unless explicitly authorized by congress
  • Prohibit federal funding for organizations that have engaged in legal actions against federal dam projects
  • Prioritizes hydropower generation above other more sustainable energy sources. 
  • Allow private hydropower development 
  • Cutting the cost and regulations associated with dam re-licensing
All in all this bill would spell catastrophe for the nascent dam removal movement and it is critical that it not pass. While it is likely to pass in congress, it is far less likely to pass once it reaches the Senate. We'll keep a close eye on the proceedings and update you as needed. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hatchery Supplementation Decreases Genetic Diversity in Salmon Populations

Over the last several years, a string of science papers have come out of more than a decade of research that was done on the Hood River prior to the removal of Powerdale Dam. By sampling every fish passed through the fish ladder to spawning areas above the dam for multiple generations researchers were able to track the reproductive success of individual fish, comparing the number of adult offspring produced by both wild and hatchery fish. 

The work has served to strengthen the argument against the use of hatcheries in restoring wild populations and provided compelling evidence that wild broodstock hatcheries are not a viable solution to the problems associated with hatchery programs. Among the papers that have come out of the research on the Hood are several publications that have demonstrated the rapid decline in fitness that results from domestication of steelhead in a hatchery environment. Now Mark Christie, a researcher at Oregon State University and a group of colleagues have published another piece of their work which examines the impact of the wild broodstock hatchery program on effective population size, a metric that reflects the effective number of fish that contribute to the next generation. Effective population size is a good predictor of the ability of a population to maintain crucial genetic diversity. 

They found that despite the fact that the total number of spawners was enhanced by the presence of hatchery fish, hatchery supplementation actually served to decrease the genetic diversity of the wild population. This is critical information for managers who may be temped to resort to using hatcheries as a means of increasing the size of spawning populations over the short term. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mark Selective Fisheries are an Essential Tool for Conservation

A neat write up in the most recent issue of the Columbia Basin Bulletin summarizes a recent publication on mark selective fisheries with a particular focus on the differences in hatchery management between California, Oregon and  Washington. Unlike Oregon and Washington, the vast majority of hatchery chinook that are released in California are not marked with an adipose fin clip. While there are significant commercial and sport fisheries for Chinook in California, an inability to distinguish between hatchery and wild fish remains a challenge in managing harvest and limiting impacts on wild populations. More than 35 million juvenile hatchery Chinook are released each year in the Sacramento River system, and hatchery fish make up almost 90% of returning adults. 

More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Away In the Field...In the Meantime

photo courtesy of Yakama Nation Fisheres

Apologies for the dearth of updates of late. In case you were wondering, the Osprey does continue exist and while we look forward to continuing to provide timely news on wild fish science, policy and conservation we're away in the field until the end of the month. In the meantime enjoy this photo of a steelhead leaping at BZ Falls on the White Salmon. The river had been blocked for a century by Condit Dam which came down last fall.

While we're away, please check out the Wild Steelhead Coalition website
The Wild Fish Conservancy
and The Native Fish Society

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Damnation Trailer Released

The makers of Damnation, a film which tracks the growing momentum behind dam removal and some of the ecological and cultural context around the issue, have released a trailer for the film which is set to be out in the Fall of 2013. If the trailer is any indication, the film which is supported in part by Patagonia, should be a well made and visually stunning documentary. Check out the trailer with footage from Marmot Dam, Elwha and Glines Canyon Dam, Condit and many of the Snake and Columbia River dams.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Steelhead Spawning above Elwha Dam

A cool piece from the Seattle Times on wild steelhead spawning above Elwha Dam. With the Lower Elwha turbid and largely unsuitable for spawning in the near term biologists have been capturing fish that are congregating at the clear water outlet of the hatchery, tagging them and transporting them to the Little River. Some fish have apparently also found their way to the Little River and Indian Creek without the help of the recovery team. Check out the article from the times which also includes some very cool photos from biologist John McMillan.

Removal of Glines Canyon is proceeding faster than expected and the dam should be gone by next summer. The dam which once stood 210 feet has been cut nearly in half already with much more predicted to be gone by the end of this month when crews will be conducting a series of controlled blasts. Track the progress on the Elwha River webcam.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Okanagan Sockeye Thriving Without Hatcheries

In a summer of banner sockeye returns, the Okanagan River which straddles the US-Canadian border in North Central Washington is expected to see record returns of more than 400,000 sockeye. Sockeye returning to the Okanagan migrate more than 500 miles from the ocean, passing 9 mainstem Columbia River dams on the way to their spawning grounds.

The Okanagan run is also unique in another way, there is no hatchery production in the Okanagan basin. Instead co-managers with the Colville Nation and WDFW have focused on habitat improvements. This work, coupled with court mandated flow improvements in the Columbia and favorable ocean conditions have led to dramatic increases in the productivity and abundance of Sockeye in the Okanagan and should provide a template for other recovery efforts in the Columbia system where millions of dollars are spent each year funding hatchery programs that ultimately undermine the productivity of listed wild stocks in the basin. 

More information in the Bellingham Herald: 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lake Washington Sockeye off to a Strong Start

With almost two weeks to go before the peak of the run has historically passed through the Ballard Locks, the Lake Washington sockeye run is off to a strong start despite a poor preseason forecast. The Lake Washington sockeye fishery has an escapement goal of 350,000 fish and the lake hasn't been open to fishing since 2006. This years run was expected to be a mere 45,871 but as of Sunday 31,368 fish had passed through the fish ladder at the locks. With thousands more streaming into the lake each day the run appears certain to surpass the poor preseason forecast and Seattle area anglers are hopeful that there may even be a fishery. 

The article from the Seattle Times also features some discussion of the possibility of lowering the escapement goal to allow fisheries more frequently. Sockeye are not native to Lake Washington and are descended from Baker Lake sockeye in the Skagit Basin. 

More in this article from the Seattle Times: