Saturday, March 31, 2012

Homewaters Require Vigilance: 16th Annual Native Fish Society Auction

There are just a few more days to buy your ticket to the Native Fish Society's annual auction. The event which is held in Portland offers a great way to enjoy a night out while supporting one of the most effective wild fish advocacy organizations in the Northwest. The Native Fish Society brings together a diverse group of people dedicated to the conservation of wild steelhead and there are a variety of worthwhile items up for bid this year. Visit the NFS website to learn more:

and check out some of what they're doing in the winter edition of their newsletter Strong Runs

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Run of River Hydropower Proposed for the South Fork Skykomish

A proposal by Snohomish County to build a run of river hydropower facility on the South Fork Skykomish is meeting major opposition from members of the community. The plan, which calls for the building of a diversion dam on the South Fork Skykomish above Sunset Falls would divert water more than a mile of river running it through turbines before releasing it below the falls. Sunset falls has historically blocked the migration of salmon into the South Fork, however since the 1950s a trap and haul operation run by WDFW has transported fish above the falls to spawn and since that time large populations of pink and coho salmon as well as smaller populations of steelhead and chinook salmon have colonized the river above the falls. While the affected portion of the South Fork Skykomish is not a major fish bearing reach, dewatering the river could potentially reduce the rearing capacity for stream rearing salmonids such as steelhead and coho. Furthermore, the diversion dam and the dewatered reach of river below it have to potential to impact the downstream movement of outmigrating smolts.

Equally important, unlike British Columbia where there are currently almost 700 proposed projects, run of river hydropower has yet to take hold in Washington State. After three decades of fighting to remove aging and destructive dams the last thing we need is another wave of hydroprojects further impacting our watersheds.

Visit the Save the Skykomish website to find out more and to sign their petition:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Managers Forecasting Large Returns for Oregon and California Coasts

Buoyed by strong ocean conditions, managers are predicting strong numbers of Chinook and coho bound for rivers along the Oregon and California Coasts this summer, prompting longer fisheries than have been seen in recent years. Fisheries south of the mouth of the Columbia are supported in large part by three major salmon producing rivers, the Rogue, Klamath and Sacramento and all three are predicted to see much better than normal returns of Chinook this summer and fall. Despite the good news managers should remain cautious when setting seasons for sport and commercial fisheries off the coast. Preseason forecasts are made in part based on the number of jacks - fish which have spent only one summer in the ocean - that returned in previous years. Since most chinook return after 2, 3 or even 4 years at sea managers can then use jack numbers to create a rough estimate of marine survival for each outmigrating cohort of fish. However, these estimates rely on the assumption that the proportion of any given cohort returning as jacks is constant and in recent years higher than normal returns of jack salmon have led to a high degree of uncertainty for preseason forecasts.

More info in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rally Next Monday March 26th In Vancouver in Opposition to the Enbridge Pipeline

Next Monday, March 26th a coalition of First Nations groups and environmental organizations are hosting a rally in downtown Vancouver to oppose the planned Enbridge Pipeline. The pipeline proposal would carry bitumen (unprocessed tar sands oil) from Alberta, across the Fraser and down the Skeena to the Northern Coast of British Columbia where it will be loaded onto mega-tankers 10 times the size of the Exxon Valdez and shipped out through the Douglas Channel, one of the worlds most treacherous shipping routes.

If built the Enbridge pipeline would pose an imminent threat of a disastrous spill in the Skeena or on the remote Central Coast. The Canadian Federal government, doing the bidding of their backers in the oil industry, is intent on ramming the pipeline down the throats of the Canadian people and is doing everything in their power to undermine organizations that oppose the pipeline and water down the federal fisheries act that protect these crucial ecosystems. The government has offered the false choice between economic growth and environmental protecting, asserting that the rapid extraction and export of Canada's natural resources is vital to the national interest despite the fact that the oil will be refined overseas and the majority of British Columbians oppose the pipeline. Please add your voice to the opposition by rallying in support of the Fraser, Skeena and Central Coast.

The rally begins at 10:30 AM at the Great Bear Initiative Office at 409 Granville St. in Vancouver and will proceed to the Vancouver Art Gallery at 11:30 AM.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Elwha River Flowing Through it's Native Channel Again

photo of the former Elwha Dam site courtesy of the Elwha River Restoration

Less than half a year after dam removal began on the Lower Elwha last fall, the river is flowing through its original channel at the former site of Elwha Dam. While progress on Glines Canyon dam as been slower the removal of Elwha dam means that this summer and fall wild salmon should be able to migrate freely to spawn in the middle Elwha and tributaries. This is significant because two large tributaries, the Little River and Indian Creek are expected to provide important spawning areas for colonizing fish, particularly while sediment loads in the mainstem remain high from dam removal.

Track the progress of dam removal at the Elwha River Restoration Video Monitoring website.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Freeing the Calapooia

Check out this short documentary film, highlighting the removal of three small irrigation dams on the Calapooia River in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Like many dams in the region the impact of these three small dams were not well publicized, and while they did not fully obstruct fish passage, they did create substantial barriers to migration for adult salmon returning the watershed and altered the ecological function of downstream habitats by limiting the transport of sediment and wood. Like many watersheds in the Willamette Valley the Calapooia has been heavily impacted by agriculture and urban development in its lower reaches but offers a large amount of relatively intact habitat above the valley in the cascade foothills. Removing these three dams will facilitate fish access to these quality habitats.

Freeing the Calapooia from Freshwaters Illustrated on Vimeo.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Water Fluctuations at BC Run of River Hydro Plants Killing Fish Downstream

An article out this week in the Vancouver Sun confirms what many have long suspected, run of river hydroprojects are taking a toll on fish populations in watersheds where they've been built and the companies operating them have been disregarding guidelines for operations designed to minimize the harm done to wild salmon and steelhead. The article reports on information obtained by freedom of information act request documenting repeated, wild fluctuations down stream of hydro projects on the Mamquam and Ashlu Rivers in the Squamish watershed. While operators are supposed to limit the rate at which they ramp flows up and down, the reports show evidence of repeated abuse of these regulations and the stranding and subsequent death of juvenile fish that become trapped in shallow water areas when the river drops. The government is now considering whether or not to bring charges against the companies for violation of the fisheries act.

A proposed Run of River hydro project on the Kokish River which would take water from 9 of the 10 its kilometers of anadromous accessible stream has received preliminary approval and is awaiting approval by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The Kokish is home to one of only a handful of summer steelhead populations on the East side of Vancouver Island.

Learn more about the Kokish

More in the Vancouver Sun

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In Case You Missed It: NOAA Scientist George Pess Talks Elwha Salmon Recovery

Seattle's public television station KCTS 9 and the Seattle Science Center have teamed up to bring important scientific discussions to the public through a free public lecture series called Science Cafe. Last month they hosted NOAA scientist Dr. George Pess to talk about the Elwha River dam removal, how they expect the river and it's native salmon populations to respond and how they're tracking progress. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Harper Government to Undermine Habitat Protection in Canadian Fisheries Act

The conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has continued its wreckless assault on Canada's environment. Eliminating important habitat protection provisions from the federal fisheries act without consultation by slipping it through parliment in the Budget Omnibus spending bill. More in a press release from former federal and provincial fisheries biologist Otto Langer:

Press Release

March 12, 2012

Harper Government to Eliminate Habitat Protection Provisions in the Canada Fisheries Act

To date the Harper government has shown little regard for the protection of the environment and over the past few years has supervised the almost total elimination of enforcement of the habitat protection and the pollution provisions of the Canada Fisheries Act (Sections 35 and 36 respectively). During the Cohen Inquiry in 2011 data was presented to show that pollution and habitat violation investigations have been greatly reduced and convictions of violations in BC and indeed throughout Canada is now almost non-existent.

The Fisheries Act of Canada was put in place in 1868 and is one of the oldest and most tested pieces of environmental legislation in the world. In 1975 many people worked hard to get a proper section added to the Act to protect fish habitat in Canada. Section 35 (habitat protection) was passed by Parliament in 1976 and has been extensively used across Canada over the past 36 years. In B.C., the Federal and BC governments largely quit enforcing the pollution and habitat sections of the Act in favor of allowing industry to self govern their own environmental project’s ‘needs’ and monitor their own self compliance. This has proven to be a disaster wherever it has been attempted elsewhere in the World.

I have just been leaked a confidential copy of proposed changes to the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act as directed by the political levels within the Harper Government. The government is totally re-writing the habitat protection provisions of Section 35(1) so as to remove habitat protection out of the Fisheries Act. This is a serious situation and will put Canada back to where we were in the pre 1976 period where Canada had no laws to protect fish habitat and no way to monitor the great industrial expansion that occurred in Canada with the consequential loss of major fish habitat all across Canada.

Fish habitat includes the lakes, rivers and oceans and their water flows, life processes, the banks and the riparian vegetation along a water way, marshes, gravel beds and the diversity of habitat that allow a rich and diverse population of life to live in our waterways that supports a large economic, cultural and recreational fishery. Also this habitat produces healthy and robust populations of fish that are essential to the feeding and maintaining the health of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems e.g. the bears, eagles, otters, grebes, herons, etc.

Section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act now states:
35(1) No person shall carry on any work or undertaking that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.
(2) No person contravenes subsection (1) by causing the alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat by an means or under any conditions authorized by the Minister or under the regulations made by the Governor in Counsel under this Act

The proposed new subsection 35(1) of the Fisheries Act is as follows:

35(1) No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity, other than fishing, that results in an adverse effect on a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.

(2) No person contravenes subsection (1) if

(a) the adverse effect is authorized by the Minister and is produced in accordance with the conditions established by the Minister;

(b) the adverse effect is authorized by a person prescribed by the regulations and is produced in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the regulations;

(c) the work, undertaking or activity is carried on in accordance with the conditions set out in the regulations or with any other authorization issued under this Act;

(d) the work, undertaking or activity is carried on in, on, over, under, through or across any Canadian fisheries waters, and

(i) the work, undertaking or activity falls within a class of works, undertakings or activities, or the Canadian fisheries waters fall within a class of Canadian fisheries waters, established by regulation, and

(ii) the work, undertaking or activity is carried on in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the regulations.

The existing effective and essential piece of legislation is to be changed to apparently just protect fish - something that the Act already does. The lack of mention of ‘habitat’ in the proposed draft law and the number of subjective and ambiguous words inserted into this major amendment will make any enforcement of this new law very difficult. For instance what is a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value? If is has no economic value, can it now be needlessly destroyed? This newly drafted provision is not intended to protect fish habitat in any manner whatsoever. To support the habitat provisions in the Act, in 1986 DFO developed the National Habitat Policy with it’s central theme of ‘no net loss’ and it was once heralded as one of Canada’s first policies promoting sustainable development. Will that now also be withdrawn?

Also the above drafted section is enabling the making of regulations and, as with CEAA, the government may pass many regulations that restrict the intent of that section of the Act. That is double jeopardy. First the Canadian government amends the legislation to eliminate the protection of fish habitat and then it may undermine that new questionable fish protection legislation by allowing the passing of regulations that will create loopholes in what is left in the Act.

DFO used to hand out pencils and pens with the slogan embossed on their sides – No Habitat – No Fish. The Prime Minster and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must realize that the Government has not replaced nature and has not changed the ecological and natural laws that create habitat and maintain ecological functioning in our essential life supporting aquatic ecosystems. They cannot replace living forms of life and their habitats and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Why at this key time in our history of ongoing industrial development pressures on our rivers, lakes and oceans, do we turn away from responsible aquatic habitat protection responsibilities? Where is the ethic and moral responsibility for our children and future generations and those that cannot be heard or cannot vote – our fish and wildlife resources?

This proposed move by the Harper government is a travesty for our fishery resources and the health of the entire ecosystem and it ignores the needs of our future generations. It is little less than another attack on the biological systems that allow life to exist on this planet. To make matters worse, the political level has decided to not consult with DFO staff or the public on these proposed changes. The Harper government will attempt to sneak this neutering of the Fisheries Act through Parliament within the next two weeks by tacking it on to the end of the up coming Budget Omnibus Bill.

This is disgraceful and the movers of this legislative change are urged to reconsider their planned reckless and irresponsible actions. All sport fish groups, fishermen, First Nations, ENGOs and the public must say enough is enough and oppose what Mr. Harper is planning to do.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hatchery Programs Mask Declines in Wild Salmon Populations

While there is broad consensus in the scientific community that large scale hatchery supplementation undermines the productivity of wild salmon populations, some in the fisheries management world remain convinced that hatchery programs can facilitate the recovery of wild fish. For instance, last year an article titled Tribes Detail Success, Promise of Supplementation to Boost Natural Spawning Salmon Populations in the Columbia Basin Bulletin quoted Yakama Tribal Biologist Bill Bosch as saying that hatchery programs in the Upper Yakima River had resulted in a 245% increase in the abundance of wild chinook. However, these estimates were derived from redd counts and biologists counting redds have no ability to distinguish between redds constructed by hatchery fish versus wild fish. The vast majority of these redds are in fact constructed by hatchery origin chinook, which now vastly outnumber wild origin fish in the Upper Yakima and have in a few generations effectively undermined thousands of years of natural selection, causing profound shifts in the life history distribution of chinook within the watershed.

This problem is not unique to the Yakima, and in many heavily supplemented systems an inability to distinguish between hatchery and wild fish allows managers to claim that they have successfully restored wild populations while continually undermining their productivity and genetic integrity. A new scientific paper out recently in PLOSone, highlights these concerns in the Mokelumne River in California's Central Valley. Using sulfur isotopes researchers were able to distinguish between hatchery origin and naturally produced chinook and found that while managers have long considered the Mokelumne one of the healthiest Fall Chinook runs in the region, only 10% of the returning fish were of natural origin. Instead, hatchery production has masked (and likely contributed to) the decline of wild chinook in the basin. This situation is not unique to the Mokelumne and highlights the need to view claims of hatchery driven "recovery" skeptically.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Researchers Forecasting Future Climate Impacts on Salmon

Researchers led by Nate Mantua from the UW Climate Impacts Group (coincidentally also a long time member and former science director with the Wild Steelhead Coalition), are using computer models to forecast changes in summer stream temperatures over the next century. Their findings paint a troubling picture for salmon in Washington State where in many watersheds peak summer stream temperatures are expected to rise significantly, stressing both rearing juveniles and migrating adults. In the Columbia system the predictions are particularly dire. Already plauged by dangerously high temperatures during summer, model predictions for the basin indicate that by the end of the century, most if not all of the mainstem Columbia and Snake Rivers will reach lethal temperatures during mid-summer. Salmon and steelhead are remarkably adaptable and resilient animals, however they can only be pushed so far.

Predictions like these are nothing new and highlights the urgency of removing the four Lower Snake River Dams which currently delay the migration of fish through the system and create several hundred miles of warm, slack water in areas which experience some of the hottest summer time temperatures in the region. Among the many benefits, dam removal would help maintain cooler, more salmon friendly water temperatures during mid-summer and would allow populations of wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake to recover significantly before the major impacts of climate change begin to unfold in the latter half of the 21st century.

More information in NOAA's climate watch magazine.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Urgent: Help Save the Kokish River!

The Kokish River, located on northeast Vancouver Island, is one of just three streams on the east coast of Vancouver Island that still have a rare run of wild summer-run steelhead.

The fish rich river is also home to five species of wild salmon, as well as coastal cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden. The Kokish rushes through a series of steep canyons, alternating between waterfalls and clear pools, making it an ideal destination for anglers, kayakers and nature lovers alike.

But the Kokish is at risk from a private power project that plans to put over 9 km of this 10 km wild river into a pipe, changing this bit of paradise forever.

The last hurdle this project faces is a permit from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

That is why we are asking you to write three federal politicians, and tell them how much you want the power project to be turned down and the Kokish River to remain wild:

Write Now!

Political Minister for BC, James Moore 604-937-5650

Local MP and Cabinet Minister John Duncan 250-338-9381

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield 613-992-1067

DFO Regional Director General Susan Farlinger 604-666-6098

Here are some points to you should add to your email:

  • The amount and quality of fish habitat will be severely reduced as a result of decreased stream flow.
  • Adult fish migrating upstream will be blocked or delayed.
  • Juvenile fish migrating downstream will encounter blockage or delay when migrating downstream by the water intake, and further delay in the reduced-flow diversion reach.
  • Rapid changes in water flow during project operations can damage fish and habitat by dewatering habitat and stranding fish.
  • The trapping of bed load behind the dam can prevent gravel from moving downstream and negatively impact fish rearing, spawning and incubation.
  • The intake weir will create an obstacle to migrating fish and the technology to mitigate this obstacle has not been proven on a river like the Kokish which has high flows and large volumes of debris.
  • Operational failure is a big concern at river diversion projects. When combined with reduced instream flows, delayed or blocked fish migration and reduced fish habitat the results can be significant.

Government’s sit up and take notice when people take the time to write a letter or phone about something they care about. Contact government officials NOW and encourage your friends and family to do so too. Together we can save the Kokish River!

You need to email your letter before March 10, 2012. In fact the sooner you write your letter the better, because the federal government is expected to come out with a decision any day.

Thanks for taking the time to stand up for the Kokish!

More information at the Save the Kokish website:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Editorial in the Journal Nature Criticizes Canadian Government for Muzzling Science

An editorial out today in the journal Nature calls attention to the troubling trend of muzzled science and tight information control by the Canadian Government in recent years. An open scientific process is a fundementally important aspect of a free democratic society and draconian actions by the Harper government have undermined the ability of government scientists to conduct objective science and disseminate their findings to society at large. Of particular concern in British Columbia has been the governments utter unwillingness to explore or discuss the possibility that open net pen fish farming could be having a detrimental impact on wild salmon in the province, leaving university researchers and non-profits to pick up the slack.

Read the article at Nature's website.