Monday, April 30, 2012

Washington Legislature OKs $65 Million of New Hatchery Spending

Former WDFW director Bern Shanks once said that in Washington State as hatchery is what you get "when you cross a military base with a sacred cow." Despite an ever growing body of research demonstrating the detrimental impacts of hatchery programs on wild salmon and steelhead populations, multiple ESA listings, and unprecedented budget cuts by state government, the Washington Legislature last week approved $65 million dollars of new spending on state hatcheries. The increased hatchery expenditure comes even as recovery and enforcement activities around the state are woefully underfunded.

The fact is, the Washington State hatchery system a massive, inefficient way of providing fishing opportunity which directly conflicts with WDFWs mandate to recover wild salmon and steelhead. A recent state auditors report revealed that each blackmouth chinook caught in Puget Sound costs taxpayers almost $800 dollars. In an economic climate when the state legislature has been forced to make massive painful cuts to education, critical social services, and environmental protection programs we should be closing state hatcheries. Instead, not a single hatchery program has been closed during the recession and the state legislature remains convinced that pumping millions of dollars each year into an environmentally destructive hatchery wellfare system is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

WDFW and hatchery advocates have argued that the expenditure is required to implement hatchery reform in the state but the fact is the best way to implement hatchery reform is to close hatcheries entirely. Instead the state has allocated $65 million to costly improvements of hatchery infrastructure that allow them to maintain the status quo. It's time for sea change in the paradigms that guide our fisheries management and the state hatchery system should be the first thing on the chopping block.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Judge Redden, "Take those dams down"

Perhaps more than any other individual in the history of the Pacific Northwest's dam building era, Judge James Redden altered the course of salmon recovery on the Snake and Columbia for the better. From his position as a US District Court Judge in Oregon, Redden has presided over much of the long running legal battle which has pitted fishing groups, tribes and conservationists against the federal government and the entrenched economic interests in the Columbia Basin. With wild salmon populations in the Columbia teetering on the brink of extinction in the 1990's Redden took the case during a time of crisis and the decisions he's made during the course of the last decade, including court mandates for spill during the spring outmigration, increased monitoring and adaptive management, and improved habitat mitigation efforts have led to dramatic improvements in many populations of wild salmon in the Snake and Columbia Basin. Now in his early 80's, Redden stepped down from the case last fall, leaving behind a tremendous legacy of holding the federal government to the highest legal standards with regards to their responsibility to endangered salmon in the Columbia.

Having stepped away from the case, Redden is for the first time making his personal opinions public, and in a recent interview with Idaho public television Redden stated emphatically what many have long known; we need to take the four lower Snake River dams down.

Check out this video and visit OPB's website to see all three videos

Judge James Redden on NW Dams from EarthFix on Vimeo.

Telling Video on History of Dam Building in America

This short video depicts the rapid and dramatic transformation of US rivers wrought by dam construction since 1800. While several high profile dam removal projects in the Pacific Northwest have been major cause for celebration, there are literally hundreds of dams which still block salmon and steelhead from historic habitat. For instance, roughly half of the habitat in the Columbia Basin has been lost to dam construction, and the rest of the basin has been severely impacted by dams which alter hydrographs, increase river temperatures block the downstream transport of sediment, smother miles of habitat under slack water impoundments and impede migrations of juveniles and adults between the spawning grounds and the sea.  

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Proposal in BC Poses Increased Risk of Oil Spill to Puget Sound

The BC and Canadian Federal governments are currently considering a proposal by Kinder Morgan, a Canadian pipeline company, that would triple the capacity of their existing pipeline in British Columbia's Lower Mainland. The pipeline which runs from Edmonton to Vancouver delivers most of the oil that is currently shipped from Vancouver to foreign markets. However, the pipeline has not been without incident even in its current form, and earlier this winter a spill dumped more than 100,000 liters of crude oil at Kinder Morgan's Sumas terminal. If the pipeline proposal moves forward oil tanker traffic in and out of Vancouver area ports is expected to increase. Many of these tankers travel south from Vancouver and out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, threatening Puget Sound with the increased risk of an oil spill. 

The timing of proposal comes just as the Canadian Federal government has dramatically scaled back environmental review.

More at the CBC's website:

and from the Common Sense Canadian:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Undamming the Elwha

Check out this great documentary which aired earlier this week on Seattle's KCTS 9.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

YKFP Responds to Concern over Klickitat Hatchery Expansion

Last summer the Bonneville Power Administration, in conjunction with the Yakama Nation issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) outlining a planned expansion of hatchery operations in the Klickitat River. The plan includes an expansion and upgrade of the current hatchery on the Upper Klickitat, and new hatchery facility at Wahkiacus. While the agency and tribe allege that the hatchery expansion is necessary to reduce the impacts of hatchery programs on wild fish in the basin, the proposal fails to address the threats posed by non-native hatchery stocks that are currently released in the Klickitat. If the plan is adopted the number of non-native skamania stock steelhead released annually would actually increase from below 100,000 to 130,000. The plan also fails to address the ecological and genetic risks posed by hatchery programs for non-native fall chinook and coho by continuing to release both species into the Klickitat above Lyle Falls where they were never historically present. As many as 4 million juvenile fall Chinook would still be released into the upper river and while the plan does include provisions for reducing the number of coho being released from 3.7 to 1 million juvniles, these reductions would only take place if the combined harvest goal of 14,000 fish could be met with lower smolt releases. The plan also calls for a "conservation" hatchery program that would take 3-10% of the wild steelhead run for broodstock, releasing as many as 70,000 smolts into the river above Castile Falls, as well as a spring chinook broodstock program that would take as much as 30% of the current spring chinook run into captivity and expand spring chinook releases to 800,000.

The YKFP and BPA claim that this multimillion dollar expansion is necessary to meet hatchery reform goals in the basin, but the reality is they're funding an expansion of hatchery infrastructure in the Klickitat, giving up very little in terms of hatchery releases and calling it reform. They're talking out both sides of their mouths, claiming that hatchery reform is needed to reduce the impact of hatchery programs on wild stocks and then claiming that they need more hatchery programs to recover depressed wild populations, which are depressed largely because of the massive hatchery programs which have been on going in the Klickitat for decades.

So last summer a coaltion of groups that included the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Native Fish Society, FFF Steelhead Committee and the Washington Fly Fishing Club submitted comprehensive comments on the proposal, outlining our concerns and backing them up with the extensive body of scientific research which has demonstrated the impacts of hatchery programs on wild populations.

Since then we've been awaiting a response from either the BPA or YKFP and hadn't heard anything. However at this years Klickitat River Science conference Joe Zendt, a biologist with the YKFP gave a talk outlining the concerns surrounding the hatchery expansion and for the most part dismissing the threats posed by the hatchery programs. Here's a list of the criticisms and the YKFP response

1. We had suggested that fisheries managers removed non-native coho and fall chinook from the upriver population by taking them at the fish ladder.
Apparently this is not feasible since many fish leap the falls and never enter the fish ladder. However, if non-native fish such a fall chinook and coho were released into the lower river and, to the extent possible removed from the upriver population using the fish ladder it would likely result in dramatic reductions in the number of both species spawning in the upper river.

2. The expanded spring chinook hatchery program and taking upwards of 30% of the wild run for brood threatens the fragile wild population.

The YKFP points out that the population is currently very fragile, that it has not rebounded from its depressed state and that the hatchery expansion is necessary to recover wild spring chinook. This fails to acknowledge the fact that wild spring chinook in the basin are depressed and not recovering BECAUSE of the large numbers of hatchery spring chinook that currently spawn in the wild. Domesticating a significant proportion of the run and increasing the number of hatchery fish released in the basin will depress the productivity of wild spring chinook further.

3. Expanded skamania hatchery program and wild broodstock program for summer steelhead threatens the ESA listed wild population.

The YKFP points out that only 4% of outmigrating juveniles had Skamania parents. Furthermore, they argue that because there is still strong genetic differentiation between the Skamania hatchery population and wild summer steelhead in the Klickitat the amount of spawning between hatchery and wild fish is negligible.

4% of outmigrating juveniles is not inconsequential and this argument ignores the fact that hatchery offspring have worse survival than their wild counterparts at every stage in their life-cycle, meaning the actual number of juveniles that were spawned by hatchery parents was probably higher. The fact that the wild population remains genetically distinct from their hatchery counterparts is also no assurance that large numbers of hatchery fish are not spawning in the wild. Since the fitness of hatchery offspring is so low, their genetic material is unlikely to remain in the population over time.

This logic also entirely ignores the ecological impacts of hatchery fish spawning in the wild. Competition between juvenile offspring of hatchery and wild fish can be substantial. In the North Fork Clackamas River releases of non-native summer runs were discontinued in 2000, and since then wild populations have made a strong recovery.

4. The YKFP also uses radio telemetry data to suggest that there is very little overlap between hatchery spawning and wild spawning.

While it may be true that generally, fish from segregated hatchery programs spawn earlier that their wild counterparts, new scientific evidence has emerged suggesting that large numbers of hatchery fish from segregated hatchery programs spawn in the wild. Furthermore, wild steelhead populations from other nearby basins such as the Yakima and Wind have experienced marked increases in abundance over the last decade,
both systems do not receive plants of hatchery steelhead. While data on Klickitat steelhead is very poor, wild steelhead in the basin are not believed to have experienced substantial recovery over the same period. With an ESA listed population of summer steelhead in the basin, fisheries managers should be taking every measure possible to ensure recovery of wild stocks.

We're still a long way from resolving the issue, but not surprisingly the YKFP and BPA don't appear ready to concede the risks posed by their hatchery expansion. We're yet to see an updated EIS but when it's released we'll let you know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

LLTK Salish Sea Marine Survival Research Initiative

Figure from Long Live the Kings website

Over the last few decades populations of wild salmon and steelhead in the Puget Sound have experienced sharp declines in abundance and despite efforts to reduce harvest and improve freshwater habitat, they have remained depressed. There is now a strong scientific consensus that while factors such as over-harvest and freshwater habitat degradation have contributed to these declines, poor marine survival is driving the recent downturns which have resulted in ESA listings for Chinook and steelhead in the Puget Sound.

Despite the widespread acknowledgment among the scientific community that marine survival is driving short term declines in salmon populations and hindering recovery of ESA listed stocks, research to date has given us only limited understanding of the factors which contribute to survival at sea. So while we know from hatchery returns and a small number of long term monitoring programs for wild fish that marine survival has declined we know very little about how factors such as climate change, natural variability in marine productivity, predator populations, competition with hatchery fish, and disease may be contributing to poor marine survival. Having identified the pressing need for this research, Long Live the Kings a non-profit working in the Puget Sound area since 1986 is seeking to fund and facilitate research that brings together US and Canadian experts to address this critical gap in our knowledge. There is lots more information on their website about the initiative:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Action Needed: Spring Chinook Hatchery Facility Threatens Molalla River

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering whether to give the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) permission to build a spring chinook acclimation facility along the Molalla River. The hatchery would raise non-native, out of basin spring chinook which would be released into the Molalla for the expressed purpose of enhancing fisheries, while claiming falsely that the program would benefit wild spring Chinook. There are already plenty of hatchery Chinook fisheries in the Willamette valley and this is a terrible idea.

The Molalla River is home to wild spring Chinook that are listed as threatened under the ESA, and the proposed hatchery program would include no monitoring to aid in the evaluation of it's impacts on wild spring Chinook. When hatchery fish spawn in the wild they can dramatically reduce the productivity and genetic diversity of native populations and spring Chinook smolts often residualize in freshwater where they prey upon smaller juveniles and compete with salmon and trout parr for habitat and food.

Visit the link at the NFS website to take action now:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Skykomish Hydropower Project

Since we first posted the link to the Save The Sky River two weeks ago, we've had some conversations with local biologists, looked at the facts and determined that with proper regulatory oversight the project probably wont have a major impact on wild fish in the South Fork Skykomish. The fact is, while we're concerned about new hydroelectric development the legal mandate from the ESA and state regulations means that the project should be held to the highest biological standards. The reality is, we live in an energy hungry society, and there is an urgent need to find energy sources that do not contribute to climate change.

Run of river hydro has the potential to be a viable source of clean energy if the industry is held to an exceedingly high regulatory standard. In BC we've seen how damaging the industry can be when it is developed with a total disregard for anadromous fish. For example the Kokish River project plans to divert water from 9 of the rivers 10 fish bearing kilometers posing an existential threat to the river's already fragile fish populations. But, when done correctly, these projects can tap an important source of clean, affordable energy.

The regulatory landscape in the US is very different, and the age of simply throwing up a dam, disregarding fish passage and hoping for the best is over. The fact is any new hydroelectric project will be subject to intense scrutiny by both the state and federal regulators. It will be required to include state of the art fish screens to prevent mortality to juvenile salmonids, and meet stringent in stream flow requirements. Snohomish PUD has also committed to funding a much needed replacement of the aging fish trap used to transport anadromous fish above Sunset Falls, and the operation of the trap throughout the life of the project.

We've been extremely encouraged by the response of the community to this and other issues and it is very clear that there is group of committed local advocates who are concerned about the future of the Skykomish. But we can't fight everything, and in doing so in this case, we may actually be shooting ourselves in the foot, expending valuable time and energy fighting a project with minimal impacts to fish that would provide a large source of sustainable energy. The project is in the very preliminary stages and alot of decisions have yet to be made, so lets make sure that the project is held to the highest environmental standards, and that it doesn't pose a threat to wild salmonids in the Skykomish. In doing so we can ensure that Snohomish PUD can meet the energy needs of the community with green energy while protecting the future of wild fish in the Sky.

Lots more information on Snohomish PUD's website:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Documentary About the Damming of the Columbia Airing on PBS Tonight

Tonight at 8pm, PBS is airing a documentary based on the book A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia River by Washington native Blaine Harden. The documentary chronicles the history of the Columbia River from the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam to the present day legal battles surrounding the future of the Columbia. In recent years the consensus of biologists in the region has grown to view the removal of the four Lower Snake River Dams as the greatest impediment to the recovery of wild salmon in the Columbia.

More information in an article from The Crosscut