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: