Thursday, December 19, 2013

Canadian Petrostate: the Fight Continues for Canada's Soul and the Future of Our Climate

Today in Calgary the Joint Review Panel (JRP) convened by the Canadian National Energy Board (NEB) gave the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline the green light, contingent upon the company meeting a number of conditions. The Northern Gateway pipeline would carry bitumen (heavy unrefined oil) from the Alberta Tar Sands to Kitimat on the North Coast of BC for export to Asian markets. Along the way the pipeline would cross the Fraser River before running down the Skeena watershed to Kitimat, with hundreds of stream crossings in its path. Then, at Kitimat the oil would be loaded onto supertankers and shipped down Douglass Channel, threatening the entire North and Central Coast of BC with a potentially catastrophic spill. Importantly, the JRP found that the risk of an oil spill would be significant, but still deemed the project to be in the public interest.

All told the project would bring the threat of oil spill to all of BC's most significant salmon bearing ecosystems, without any major economic benefit to the province. Further, it would expedite the extraction of bitumen from the Alberta Tar sands, the dirtiest, most environmentally harmful oil on the planet, for export to Asian markets. In short, the Enbridge Pipeline and others like it represent a blatant disregard for the environment that permeates the current Canadian regime. In the event of a spill it could unleash untold harm upon the freshwater and marine environments that are essential to BC's economy and to First Nations food harvest, and will move our planet ever closer to climate catastrophe.

With unanimous First Nations opposition to the pipeline, the fight is far from over, but the JRP approving the project is the latest in series of actions taken by the Canadian federal government to undermine environmental protections and expedite resource extraction projects no matter the cost. This year, the government made sweeping changes to the Fisheries Act, removing protection for habitats that do not currently support commercial, aboriginal or sport fisheries. That simple change removed habitat protections from a vast majority of aquatic habitats in Canada. The government also moved to streamline the Environmental Assessment process, and many potentially harmful projects are no longer subject to environmental scrutiny. Then this week, it was announced that the NEB not the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would be in charge of reviewing impacts to fish and fish habitat when energy projects are concerned, effectively bringing the politicization of the environmental review process right out in to the open.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Beautiful Footage from Bristol Bay's Iliamna Lake

Iliamna Lake is the largest lake in the Bristol Bay watershed and has historically supported one of the largest populations of sockeye in the world. Since 1946 researchers from the University of Washington's Alaska Salmon program have been studying and documenting salmon populations in the Bristol Bay region, producing a tremendous body of foundational  research and providing data that has supported the management of the worlds most sustainable salmon fishery.

The vast majority of you are probably well aware of Pebble Mine, a massive open pit mine proposed for the headwaters of the Iliamna system. However, many of us who have opposed the mine we have never been fortunate enough to experience the Bristol Bay region first hand. A new short film by Jason Ching, a staff biologist with the UW Salmon Program provides a stunning glimpse into the wonders of Iliamna Lake and the work being done by UW in the watershed.

Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013 from Jason Ching on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Documentary Film Highlights First Nation's Salmon Stewardship

In the interest of full disclosure, we'll be upfront in telling you that our chair Will Atlas is the lead biologist on this project. 

Across the BC, First Nations are increasingly taking a leadership role in the monitoring and stewardship of resources within their traditional territory. On the Central Coast of BC, where the Canadian Federal government has cut the DFO budget to the bone, the Heiltsuk and other Central Coast Nations are taking the opportunity to take charge of monitoring culturally and economically important populations of salmon in their territory. 

In 2013, working with the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD), Qqs Projects Society, a Heiltsuk driven non-profit based in Bella Bella, built a traditional fish weir on the Koeye River to monitor sockeye as they migrate upriver to tributaries of Koeye lake. The Koeye is one of the largest rivers in the territory, and monitoring had previously been sporadic and unreliable at best. 

To tell the story of the pilot season of the weir project and its role in strengthening Heiltsuk stewardship, and to spread the word both within First Nations communities and more broadly, Qqs is working on a documentary film on the project. The film is due out in January and they are currently running a crowd funding campaign to support the costs of editing and post production. 

This is a great story that's all about what's right in the world of salmon conservation, local communities taking the lead to monitor and project salmon populations. So check it out, and please consider supporting the project. Even small donations help and they've got a some great rewards for their supporters, including unique prints of BC's Central Coast, a dozen mojo laden flies tied by our very own Will Atlas, and a hosted week at the Koeye River during the summer of 2014. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Five More Days to Comment and Help SW Washington Steelhead

The Washington Department is accepting comments on the proposed creation of three wild steelhead management zones in SW Washington until December 13th. The proposal would remove all hatchery steelhead from three watersheds, the Green and North Fork Toutle, East Fork Lewis and Wind Rivers, and would be a major step forward for wild steelhead in the region. While the plan isn't perfect, in that it allows the status quo to continue in several watersheds, it is a good start for WDFW as they seek to reform hatcheries and recover wild steelhead in our state. It is critical that WDFW hear from citizens of the state of Washington that they support the designation of these and other wild steelhead management zones, and now its never been easier to submit your comments. The Native Fish Society has set up an Action Alert, and all you have to do is fill in your personal information and press send. If you haven't already commented, please take 20 seconds to make your voice heard for wild steelhead.

Friday, December 6, 2013

NFS Action Alert: Keep Toxic Mining out of Southern Oregon's Pistol River

The devastation from Nickel mining lasts for centuries and is impossible to clean up

Thanks to the Native Fish Society it's never been easier to make your voice heard. The Rogue River-Siskyou National Forest is accepting public comment on a proposed Nickel strip mine in the headwaters of the Pistol River and Hunter Creek in southern Oregon. Both watersheds are important habitat for steelhead and salmon, and Nickel strip-mining would certainly have a devastating impact on water quality, and hydrology for centuries. Please take two minutes to submit comments through the Native Fish Society's website:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Make Your Voice Heard, Support Wild Steelhead in SW Washington!

In fall 2012 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) issued a Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP) for steelhead hatchery programs on the Lower Columbia. In it, WDFW outlined plans to maintain the status quo of hatchery releases and outplanting in several rivers with important populations of wild summer and winter steelhead. After an outpouring of opposition against this plan, including almost 500 written comments from wild fish advocates, WDFW decided to go back to the drawing board on the HGMP and initiated a stakeholder driven planning process that focused on the identification and establishment of thee Wild Steelhead Genebanks. These genebanks, also commonly referred to as Wild Steelhead Management Zones (WSMZ), would eliminate all releases of hatchery steelhead within a watershed,  setting aside the entire river system for wild steelhead populations and the fisheries they support.

On November 25th of this year WDFW released a document outlining their plans for the establishment of three wild steelhead genebanks in the SW Washington region. These include the Green River, a major tributary of the North Fork Toutle, the East Fork Lewis, an important watershed for both winter and summer-run steelhead in the region, and the Wind River, a watershed that has been managed as a de facto wild steelhead genebank since the 1990's when releases of hatchery summer-run steelhead were eliminated. Taken together, setting aside these three watersheds for wild steelhead is a major step forward for the department and for wild steelhead recovery in Washington. 

The plan does have flaws, including continued/increased hatchery releases on the Coweeman and South Fork Toutle without adequate collection facilities which means that these watersheds will continue to suffer the impacts of high numbers of hatchery fish spawning in the wild. Further, continuation of the status quo on the Kalama, and in particular the mining of wild summer runs for a broodstock program that has failed to create any detectable benefit to wild fish is ill-advised. 

WDFW is accepting comments on the proposed Wild Steelhead Genebanks until December 13th. Please take 5 minutes to submit comments and support wild steelhead in SW Washington!

Submit comments to:

In your comments tell them:

1. You wholeheartedly support the designation of the Green, East Fork Lewis and Wind as Wild Steelhead Genebanks. This is a major step forward for WDFW and for steelhead recovery in our state. 

2. You are concerned about plans to continue hatchery releases in the Coweeman and to expand the number of non-native summer-run steelhead planted in the South Fork Toutle. In both of these systems inadequate collection of returning hatchery fish means that WDFW is dangerously out of compliance with the recommendations made by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), threatening these ESA listed steelhead populations with introgression, reduced fitness and productivity as well as numerous ecological impacts of hatchery fish. 

3. You believe that the wild-broodstock hatchery program on the Kalama has not benefited wild summer-run steelhead, and should be discontinued immediately. 

4. You would like to see the department initiate more rigorous monitoring of hatchery impacts on wild populations in SW Washington and if there is evidence that hatchery programs are failing to comply with HSRG recommendations take swift action to eliminate hatchery plants. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Elwha Exhibit Opens at the Burke Museum

For the next three and a half months the Burke Museum will be hosting an exhibit celebrating and documenting the removal of the two dams on the Elwha River. The vast majority of the habitat on the Elwha is protected within the boundaries of the Olympic National Park and for over 100 years Elwha and Glines Canyon dam have obstructed salmon passage into all but the lower few miles of river. Removal of Elwha dam was completed in 2012 and Glines Canyon dam will be gone early next year. While the recovery process will take decades, already salmon and steelhead are using the 8 miles of mainstem as well as two major tributaries (the Little River and Indian Creek) made accessible by the removal of Elwha Dam and recovery should accelerate dramatically when fish are able to freely access the entirety of the basin.

While these are major victories, concerns remain about the role hatcheries are going to play in the recovery and the lack of a biologically defensible plan for ending hatchery programs meant to bridge wild populations through the stressful dam removal period.

Despite the shortsighted dependence on hatchery programs in the Elwha basin, wild fish will recover given the opportunity. However, media outlets reports linking "record" Chinook returns in the Elwha to dam removal are misleading and reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the Chinook life-cycle. Adult Chinook returning this fall will have mostly spent 3 summers in the ocean meaning they would not have benefited from the Elwha restoration. Indeed, this years excellent returns of Chinook are consistent with a coast wide trend of strong chinook returns (the Columbia is also seeing record runs of fall Chinook.). Regardless, with Glines Canyon dam gone this year it's a safe bet that with every passing generation of fish in the Elwha we will see a new "record" return, at least for the next 30 to 40 years.

More info on the Burke Museum exhibit:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Progress Towards Deschutes Recovery but Challenges Remain

Ryan Nathe photo

The Deschutes River is one of Oregon's most iconic rivers. Each year the watershed draws thousands of visitors from around the region to fish, raft and enjoy the Wild and Scenic river. Once one of the most productive wild salmon and steelhead rivers in the world, today the system is greatly diminished following a century of dam building, irrigation withdrawals and habitat degradation in key spawning tributaries. Both summer-run steelhead and spring Chinook in the Deschutes are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and sockeye had been extinct in the basin until recently. In an ambitious effort to recover depressed and extirpated populations of wild fish in the basin, Portland General Electric (PGE) and a host of partners created a state of the art fish passage facility at the Pelton-Round Butte hydroelectric project which has been operating since 2010.  The project provides access to the Crooked, Metolius, and Upper Deschutes Rivers three of the largest tributaries in the basin, and fish born in the upper watershed began returning in 2012.

However, gains made by reintroduction of steelhead, Chinook and sockeye were immediately undermined when NOAA bowed to pressure from local irrigation and development lobbies and designated the reintroduced fish a "non-essential experimental population" all but eliminating the protections afforded by their ESA listed status.

This fall Stearns Dam on the Crooked River was removed opening an additional 12 miles of high quality steelhead and chinook habitat downstream from Bowman Dam. But flow releases into the Crooked at Bowman Dam remain a fraction of their historic magnitude with the vast majority of water being diverted for federally subsidized irrigation.

Further upstream, flows in the Upper Deschutes are being managed without any consideration for salmon and trout. Every fall managers drop flow releases from Wickup Reservoir from summer time irrigation flows of over 1000 cfs to less than 50 cfs in just a few days resulting in a massive fish kill. So far little is being done to address the antiquated flow management.

With hundreds of millions of dollars invested in recovery, the Deschutes is on the brink of an unprecedented recovery. However, it remains to be seen whether Oregon's agencies and lawmakers have the political will to make it happen. Until then, the Deschutes will be tantalizingly close, but still so far from its potential.

Friday, November 15, 2013

BC Ministry of Environment Proposed Bait Ban for Thompson River

The Thompson River is among the most storied, and well loved steelhead rivers in the world. However in recent years the population has declined dramatically and at present the population is hovering at around 1000 fish. Despite the seriously depressed state of the run, the province opens the fishery to catch and release in most year and the Thompson still draws very high interest from anglers in BC and beyond. Unfortunately, until now the use of bait has been allowed meaning that anglers can repeatedly catch fish that are overwintering in the Thompson waiting to spawn the following spring. After decades of lobbying by conservation minded anglers, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) is finally taking action, proposing a suite of rule changes that would include a ban on the use of bait, hook size limitations, and a change in the timing of the fishery such that it would be open until the end of October in all years and would be open in November and December if the run size was deemed adequate to support the extended fishery. The Ministry has posted the full suite of rule changes, and their justification for each change, and they are asking for public feedback.

Check it out and submit your comments telling MOE you support the Thompson bait ban:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Article in American Fisheries Society Magazine Rips Canadian Federal Government for Changes to Fisheries Act

Last year, against the backdrop of major public concern and an outcry from scientists across the country, the Canadian Government enacted sweeping changes to the Federal Fisheries Act. The Fisheries Act has long been the most important piece of legislation protecting freshwater habitats in Canada, but the changes to the act, notably only providing protection to habitats which currently support commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries mean that the vast majority of freshwater bodies in Canada are no longer afforded any legal protection. This month the American Fisheries Society published an article by noted Canadian scientists Jeff Hutchings and John Post titled, Gutting Canada's Fisheries Act: No Fishery no Fish Habitat Protection. In it the authors outline the many ways the changes to the Act have undermined habitat protection and some of the ways it will likely impact the conservation of freshwater systems in Canada. Check it out:

Read the article on pg. 497 of this months Fisheries magazine:

and listen to an interview with one of the authors with CBC's As it Happens:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cohen Commission: $26 Million and One Year Later Still no Action From Canadian Government

This week marked the one year anniversary of the conclusion of the Cohen commission, the $26 million dollar judicial commission assigned to investigate the decline of the Fraser sockeye run. Despite the massive cost to the public purse and the numerous recommendations made by the Honorable Justice Bruce Cohen, the Canadian federal government has taken action on exactly zero of the commission's recommendations. Watershed Watch and SFU organized a press conference this week calling attention to the egregious disregard shown for this precious resource by the government. Here's a press release from Watershed watch:

Media Release
October 30, 2013

Vancouver—A press conference today marked a full year since Justice Bruce Cohen released the Final Report of the $26M “Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.” Despite the impressive strength of Cohen’s findings and the solid 75 recommendations tabled to protect Fraser River sockeye, government has taken no meaningful action on the Report or towards rebuilding salmon numbers. In fact, as representatives from science and First Nations expressed today, government has instead weakened protection of salmon and habitat.

Although federal government officials say they’re taking positive steps “consistent with the recommendations,” many deadlines laid out in the Final Report have lapsed with no action or response from government. A few examples suggesting that government is acting counter to the recommendations include:

Degrading habitat protections in the Fisheries Act
Cutting significant numbers of biologists and other Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff
Still refraining from public reporting of disease and virus data from open-net salmon farms

Dr. Craig Orr—an ecologist and expert witness during the Inquiry—spoke at a press conference today outlining what needs to be done to protect wild salmon into the future. “A year has passed and the public and wild salmon deserve a response,” said Dr. Orr, Executive Director of Watershed Watch. “Recommendations have been ignored around the Wild Salmon Policy—a progressive government initiative that promises to safeguard wild salmon. The public is left wondering just where wild salmon are in government priorities.”

Stan Proboszcz—a fisheries biologist and participant with standing in the Inquiry—has tracked the lack of action on the Inquiry over the last year. “Government has ignored specific inquiry recommendations and missed about 14 deadlines,” said Mr. Proboszcz. “Although officials say they’re acting “consistently” with the recommendations, it’s unclear what they’re doing and how it’s connected to the judicial synthesis of countless experts from the Inquiry.”

Justice Cohen’s Final Report highlights viruses and diseases in open-net salmon farms as a risk to wild salmon. One of his recommendations states Fisheries and Oceans Canada should give non-government scientists timely access to disease outbreak data from salmon farms. “New evidence on viruses has come to light since the Inquiry ended and we need to tackle this issue seriously to protect wild fish,” said Dr. Orr. “We need to have timely access to primary virus and disease data from open-net salmon farms.”

The Inquiry was spurred by concerns from many groups about low salmon returns to the Fraser River in 2009, drawing wide participation from First Nations, scientists, recreational fishers, conservationists and many others looking for answers and solutions. Justice Cohen mindfully examined volumes of evidence and designed thorough and thoughtful recommendations to protect salmon for the future. “It’s still apparent to everyone the Cohen Inquiry matters, and those that care about wild salmon care about measured implementation of its recommendations,” said Mr. Proboszcz. “Watershed Watch launched a petition to allow the public to voice their opinions on implementing the recommendations in order to protect salmon for the future.”

Sign the petition at Watershed Watch's website:

Monday, October 28, 2013

New Book From Jim Lichatowich

Jim Lichatowich is among the leading experts on salmon biology and policy in our region. Among other things he authored the acclaimed book Salmon Without Rivers, documenting the decline of salmon in our region over the last century, and has served on countless scientific panels as an expert in the field. His new book, published recently by the Oregon State University Press is titled Salmon, People and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery, and offers a unique and well informed perspective on a way forward for salmon recovery in the 21st century. It is a must read for anyone with an interest in salmon and can be purchased online from the OSU press:

Read a story on the book here:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Huge Step Forward in Fight Against Pebble Mine

On Monday Anglo American, a major mining company and partner in the proposed Pebble Mine project announced it was pulling out of the project. The company will take a $300 million hit on the project, which has faced stiff opposition from both local and national fishing and conservation groups, and from Native Alaskan communities in the Bristol Bay region. Bristol Bay supports the largest, most sustainable commercial sockeye fishery in the world, and the proposed Pebble Mine, situated in the headwaters of Iliamna Lake, would pose a direct threat to the regions ecological bounty. Indeed, an EPA commissioned report found that project posed major risks to wildlife and fisheries values in the region. With the largest financial partner exiting the Pebble Partnership, momentum is on our side. The public has overwhelmingly and emphatically stated their opposition to the Pebble Project and the exit of Anglo American will place further pressure on the Federal Government to protect Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act. 

The Huffington Post on Anglo American's decision: 

More information from Save Bristol Bay:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Despite Provincial Protections Coal Mine Proposed in Sacred Headwaters

Just a few short months after the province of British Columbia announced a landmark ban on oil and gas drilling in the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine, the province is considering a proposal from Fortune Minerals to build a massive coal mine in the region. The proposal has been adamantly opposed by the Tahltan First Nation, whose traditional territory falls within the Sacred Headwaters region. The Skeena, Nass and Stikine are among the greatest salmon bearing watersheds remaining on earth and this is just the latest in an ongoing saga in which resource extraction companies have sought to exploit the sparsely populated region, often with the support of the provincial and federal governments. Fortunately First Nations in BC have not hesitated to stand up to government and industry, otherwise these environmentally devastating projects would be proceeding at breakneck speed.

More from the Globe and Mail:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

LLTK and PSF Launch Salish Sea Marine Survival Research Initiative

Last month, Long Live the Kings and the Canadian based Pacific Salmon Foundation officially launched their Salish Sea Marine survival project. The project, which seeks to bring together key research capacity from both Canada and the US has been in development for several years with research proposals and workshops with leading scientists from Canada and the US. To identify key data sets, gaps in our knowledge and to develop research proposals that will expand our understanding of factors which have contributed to reductions in marine survival observed in the Salish Sea during the last 20 years.

The program, which is slated to last 7 years is estimated to cost about $20 million. To date about $2 million has been raised. Visit the LLTK website to find out more about this program.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dean River Bycatch in Globe and Mail

With a high intensity gill net fishery taking a heavy toll on returns of steelhead, coho and chum salmon to the Dean River, outrage is spreading like wildfire through British Columbia. The Dean, with its unique run of wild summer steelhead is one of BC's most beloved watersheds and people are getting very tired of unsustainably high rates of incidental harvest being allowed by DFO in a non-selective Area 8 chum fishery. It is particularly outrageous because voluntary reporting means tthat DFO has no way to actually estimate exploitation rates on what is arguably BC's most valuable sport fishery. In the absence of good data, DFO insists nothing is wrong and maintains business as usual allowing gill netters and seine boats to pound wild salmon and steelhead populations into oblivion (see 24 commercial openings already this summer). Now Mark Hume, veteran environmental reported from the Globe and Mail has gotten in on the act with this story on Dean River bycatch and the concern it is generating. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nez Perce Standing up to Big Oil on Clearwater and Lochsa

In the latest fight over shipping mega-loads of oil mining equipment to the Alberta Tar Sands over Idaho's wild and scenic highway 12 corridor, the Nez Perce are leading the fight. Earlier this month, the Idaho government and Oregon based industrial moving company Omega-Morgan defied Forest Service regulations and a resolution from the Nez Perce tribe that should have blocked future megaloads from the highway 12 corridor. So on August 5th, Nez Perce tribal members took to the highway, blockading the Alberta bound load under the threat of arrest.

At issue is the future of the Snake River, the Wild and Scenic Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers, and our planets climate. With barging companies desperately grasping at any opportunity to save their heavily subsidized industry, they are partnering with oil companies in Alberta seeking to save a few dollars on shipping heavy equipment from Asia. In allowing the Snake river to become a conduit for oil extracting equipment, we are tacitly supporting an industry that has already devastated millions of acres of boreal forest, poisoned ground and surface water throughout much of northern Alberta, wreaked havoc on wildlife and blatantly disregarded the rights and well being of indigenous communities throughout Alberta and BC. We are also allowing the barging industry on the Snake River, a toehold to ensure that the four dams on the Lower Snake river will not come out in our lifetimes.

More information on the struggle to stop megaloads in a column in the Idaho Statesman:

and from Save our Wild Salmon:

Monday, August 26, 2013

PIQUE Magazine Piece on BC Run of River

Over the last decade, British Columbia has seen a virtual gold rush on Run of River hydropower. With BC's liberal goverment imposing industry friendly pricing and private power mandates for BC hydro the industry literally sprang up overnight with more than 700 proposals currently on the table. While the stated intentions of BC's push for run of river hydro (energy independence and reduced carbon emissions) are admirable, the rush for development on BCs rivers has many concerned over the potential impacts reduced instream flows, small diversion dams and artificial ramping flows may have on river ecosystems. In many instances what has been lacking in the discussions from both sides has been well reasoned debate, and fact driven decision making and Whistlers PIQUE magazine took a very comprehensive look at the issue recently. 

Check out the article here:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Concern Mounting Over Dean River Steelhead Bycatch

The last two summers the Dean River has seen some of its best steelhead returns in decades. Unfortunately, this summer it sounds as though numbers are down considerably, and anglers are concerned that the commercial gillnet fleet is adversely affecting already low numbers of steelhead returning to the Dean. Apparently, observations of gillnet scarred steelhead are higher than normal this year, prompting calls for reduced fishing intensity and changes in gear types to make the fishery more selective. While a number of factors, including variable ocean conditions contribute to year to year variation in steelhead returns, non-selective fishing methods like gillnets can impose unsustainable harvest rates, hurting steelhead populations and BC's economy in the process.

More information from the Steelhead Society of BC:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mining Threatens Smith and Illinois Rivers

The Illinois and Smith rivers, in Southern Oregon and Northern California are two of steelhead country's gems. Both rivers are protected under Wild and Scenic designations and both support relatively healthy runs of wild steelhead, chinook and coho. Despite their ecological and cultural significance, these watersheds are threatened by proposed nickel mines, which if approved would create certain ecological catastrophe. These mines unleash toxic tailings that poison surface and ground water, and would building roads into these remote watersheds, degrading all ecosystem values other than short term extraction of nickel ore. 

With the watersheds theoretically protected under the Wild and Scenic rivers legislation, the only reason proposed mines have gained any traction is because of an antiquated mining law dating from 1872 which allows mining claims on federally managed lands. American Rivers has set up an online letter allowing citizens to send a letter to the Obama administration in about 2 minutes. Please take the time and send your comments by following this link: 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Clashes Over Water Continue in the Klamath

With Northern California in the grip one of the worst drought summers in a decade, the fight over water in Klamath basin has been raging this summer, with no sign of letting up this year or for the foreseeable future. The Klamath, which suffered a massive fish kill in 2002 when drought conditions and irrigation releases combined to starve the basin of adequate flows, continues to be a flashpoint between irrigators, long accustomed to cushy publicly subsidized water deals, and Native Tribes and fishermen who depend on salmon in the Klamath. 

This week a US district court Judge in Fresno put a temporary block on water releases from the Trinity Dam that were intended to prevent a major die off of salmon in the lower Klamath. In a classic gate of California's insane water diversion landscape, water is taken from the Trinity which flows into the Klamath and piped into the Central Valley, where irrigators have been receiving approximately 20% of their normal water deliveries. Now we will have to wait and see what comes for salmon in the Klamath, but one thing is for sure, with a changing climate and entrenched irrigation lobbies in California finding water for salmon isn't getting any easier.

More info on the Judge's decision:

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fish Kill in John Day a Reminder of Risk Posed by Climate Change

Earlier this month, with drought conditions gripping the interior Columbia and Snake river basin, a hot spell and the associated spike in water temperatures resulted in a catastrophic fish kill in the Middle Fork of the John Day River. ODFW biologists estimated that a total of 183 fish, 60% of this summers return, died when water temperatures rose into the upper 70s. While these type of random events are a fact of life for salmon in the arid west, they are exacerbated by land use changes and water extraction that further stress fish. And with our climate that is rapidly changing it is not impossible that water temperatures in systems like the John Day may soon reach lethal temperatures frequently enough to make life impossible for over summering chinook salmon.

More information in an article from the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Columbia Science Panel Remains Critical of Klickitat Hatchery Expansion

It has been two years now since the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) was issued for the Yakama Nation's proposed expansion of hatchery operations in the Klickitat River basin. While a final EIS has yet to be issued, significant concerns arose, both from the conservation community, and from the Columbia River Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) about the potential impacts of the proposed hatchery expansion. This spring, the ISRP issued its latest review of the hatchery plan on the Klickitat, and raised significant concerns over the ongoing and proposed steelhead hatchery programs. 

More information is needed on how a balance between conservation and harvest objectives will be achieved. There is not enough information to conclude that the proposed segregated steelhead hatchery can be operated in a manner that protects and conserves the ESA-listed natural populations in the Klickitat. 

The Klickitat has some of the best habitat in the Middle Columbia DPS, however wild steelhead and spring chinook populations in the basin remain depressed, likely below 10% of historic abundance. Data collected by the Yakama Nation has repeatedly shown high numbers of hatchery fish are spawning in the wild among native ESA listed summer steelhead. This serves to depress the productivity, abundance of the wild stock and undermines the evolutionary legacy of wild populations forged over thousands of years in the Klickitat watershed. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available. 

See the ISRP review:

Our full comments on the DEIS from 2011:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Skeena Sockeye Fishery Closed Due to Low Returns

This summer's sockeye run on the Skeena River is shaping up to be one of the worst in 50 years. The Skeena and its many tributaries are home to the second largest sockeye run in the province behind only the Fraser. Last year the watershed saw a return of about 2.4 million fish, however this summers return is expected to fall short of 500,000, prompting managers to close both the commercial and recreational fishery. This years poor return is almost certainly the product of poor survival at sea for sockeye smolts, however conservation groups in the Skeena are also concerned that ongoing interception of sockeye in Alaskan fisheries may further depress spawner abundance this year.

More from the CBC:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pump Fails, Killing 200,000 Fish at Elwha Hatchery

Last week a pump feeding water into the Lower Elwha Klallam tribes hatchery on the Elwha River failed, killing about 200,000 juvenile coho and steelhead. The fish, which were largely spawned from returning wild fish, were intended for release next spring.

The hatchery program has been at the center of the lawsuit filed jointly by the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coaltion, The Conservation Angler and the FFF Steelhead Committee, and while we would rather not have seen a catastrophic failure in the hatchery at the Elwha, this incident highlights an important lesson on the risk posed by hatcheries in the Elwha. Instead of spawning in the wild, above the dams in miles of newly accessible, high-quality habitat, these fish were brought into captivity, their offspring reared in an artificial environment to "protect" them during the next few years as dam removal releases high sediment loads into the lower Elwha. Ultimately though, domestication of wild fish for conservation purposes will always fail, reducing the fitness, diversity and vitality of wild stocks, or in this case through immediately observable catastrophe in the hatchery environment.

More information from KUOW's earthfix: 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Northwest Fishletter: Judge Sides with Native Fish Society on Sandy Hatchery

This spring, judge Ancer Haggerty chose to walk a tenuous middle ground when he denied a temporary restraining order requested by the Native Fish Society and their partners the McKenzie Flyfishers that would have kept ODFW from releasing hatchery origin spring chinook this year. Based on his concerns over the inadequacy of the Sandy River Biological Opinion (BiOp), he did however order that they release only 132,000 spring Chinook smolts, far fewer than the typical 300,000. 

However, his concerns over the legal validity of NOAA's BiOp for the Sandy River remain strong and Judge Haggerty recently explained that unless something major changed on the governments end, the plantiffs would likely win their argument that the government's environmental assessment of the impacts of the Sandy hatchery are inadequate. 

Spring chinook in the Sandy are critically endangered and at present as many as 76% of  fish spawning in the Sandy are of hatchery origin, posing a major threat to the productivity, diversity and long term resilience of the population. To date ODFW has offered no credible plan for reducing the number of hatchery fish spawning in the basin. 

More information in the Northwest Fishletter:

and from the Native Fish Society:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Learning More about Disease and its Implications for Wild Salmon

Over the last few years, the role of pathogens in driving declines in salmon populations has come to the forefront of the conversation around wild salmon. In British Columbia in particular there has been a vigorous and often acrimonious debate between wild salmon advocates opposed to open net pen fish farming, and industry boosters including the BC and Canadian Federal Government. In 2011 the announcement from SFU researcher Rick Routledge and Wild Salmon Advocate Alexandra Morton that they had found Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv), a disease previously undocumented on the West Coast, caused a major stir and triggered a response both from the Canadian and US governments.

While the close ties between the Canadian government and the aquaculture industry have caused many to question whether they are acting in good faith when they insist that their disease surveillance  programs have turned up no evidence of ISAv. However, a recent report issued by US government scientists indicates that they have been unable to locate any sign of ISAv, at least in US waters.

Unfortunately, all this concern over ISAv may be a bit of a red herring. Pathogens, including those transmitted from salmon farms and hatcheries are almost certainly impacting wild salmon populations on the coast, and in the rush to determine whether or not ISAv is even here we have wasted valuable time and resources down what has amounted to a political rabbit hole. IHN remains a persistent threat to wild salmon and steelhead, and outbreaks continue to plague hatchery programs up and down the West Coast, and a suite of other pathogens including Bacterial Kidney Disease, and Heart Skeletal Muscular Inflammation Disease, and possibly a new strain of Parvo Virus have been identified as real risks to wild salmon populations.

For those interested NOAA's ISAv surveillance program and their findings, they are hosting a webinar tomorrow.

More information here:;jsessionid=abcz0BXB8Dzw0fTCgSe-t?id=114299430

Sunday, May 26, 2013

KUOW's earthfix on Elwha Salmon Recovery

In case you missed it a couple of weeks ago, we thought we would pass along a story from KUOW's earthfix on the ongoing efforts to remove dams and recover wild salmon and steelhead in the Elwha. The series provided an in depth look at the recovery, including some of the strategies being employed to help aid recovery of wild stocks and some of the decisions that remain to be made about the role of hatcheries in the recovery process, and the risks they pose to the long term recovery prospects in the Elwha.

Check it out:

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Check out Ryan Peterson's latest film piece, a stunning visual tribute to the Bristol Bay Region highlighting the risks posed by the Pebble Mine project.

sea-swallow'd from ryan peterson on Vimeo.

Action Alert: EPA Accepting Public Comments on Pebble Mine

The Environmental Protection Agency is accepting public comments on the proposed Pebble Mine project. The mine, which is proposed in the headwaters of Iliamna Lake and the Nushugak River in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, has been under review since 200?. Last year, a scientific review of the project concluded that it would pose a significant ecological and economic threat to the Bristol Bay region, and the EPA is expected to issue a final decision on the project this year.

Pebble mine would be among the largest open pit mines on the planet, located squarely in the heart of one of the worlds most productive sockeye bearing ecosystems. For more than 100 years Bristol Bay has supported one of the largest, most stable commercial sockeye fisheries in the world. The mine would have far reaching impacts on sockeye populations in the affected watersheds and the host of species and communities that rely on them.

Please take 5 minutes to submit comments to the EPA before May 31st and tell the EPA to protect the future of the Bristol Bay ecosystem and fishery: 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mining Company Suing Province over Decision to Protect Skeena Sockeye

In a landmark decision last fall British Columbia's Liberal government denied an environmental certificate to Pacific Booker Minerals for a proposed mine in the Morrison Lake in the headwaters of the Babine watershed. The Babine is the largest single producer of sockeye in British Columbia and sustains the majority of the commercial and indigenous fisheries in the region. A new open pit mining project would have spelled disaster for the Babine Lake ecosystem and the Skeena more generally, prompting even the pro-mining liberal government to conclude the risks far outweighed the benefits. Now in what is among the most outrageous, and obnoxious developments yet, the company has opted to sue the province over their decision on the project. This represents a troubling theme in Canadian resource development, with decision making power increasingly being taken away from local governments, and consolidated in the hands of the companies which profit from environmentally destructive resource extraction.

Stay tuned for more developments in this story.

More from the Globe and Mail:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Managers Putting an End to Summer Time Smolt Barging on the Columbia

After 20 years of investment in passage improvements and increased spill, managers are finally putting an end to controversial mid-summer barging of salmon smolts in the Columbia. Barging had been seen as a means of increasing outmigration survival for ESA listed salmon stocks in the Upper Columbia and Snake, with smolts collected at McNary dam loaded onto barges and literally shipped down stream to the Pacific. However barging came with its own set of problems, subjecting juvenile fish to the unnatural stress of confinement in high densities, and reducing the ability of returning fish to successfully home to their natal rivers. Indeed, some studies have suggested that barging increased the likelihood of straying more than 10-fold. So this year citing improvements in outmigration success through the dams resulting from passage improvements and increased spill, managers will be discontinuing the program. While it is a small step towards a more natural Columbia system lets hope its a sign of bigger changes to come.

More in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Friday, April 26, 2013

New Fish Passage on North Santiam Creates Wild Fish Refugia

On April 1st, a fish passage facility went online at Minto Diversion dam on the North Santiam River. The project is once small step towards stabilizing and recovering wild winter steelhead and spring Chinook in the Willamette system, and will provide access to about 4 miles of habitat upstream of Minto Dam. Further upstream, and biologists hope to eventually be able to trap and haul fish above the larger Detroit dam. Already, 50 wild stelhead have been passed into the habitat upstream of Minto dam. For now though, only hatchery spring chinook will be released above Detroit dam, as the US Army Corp studies how best to provide downstream passage for juvenile fish.

A similar project was built at Cougar Dam in the McKenzie basin in 2010, with spring chinook and steelhead successfully colonizing habitat upstream immediately.

The project is a part of a broad initiative to provide passage above dams in the Willamette Valley, as mandated by the 2008 Willamette Project biological opinion. In total the project will open

ODFW's Upper Willamette Recovery Plan:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Crosscut: Will the Feds Ever get their Act Together on Columbia Salmon?

A good article out this week in the Crosscut examines the question of what the next steps are for the Federal Government on Snake River Salmon. The Federal Government has yet to produce a Biological Opinion (BiOp) - a recovery plan - that has been able to wistand legal scrutiny under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Recently, there has been positive movement in some ways, with the government putting together a multi-stakeholder concensus project. However, there has yet to be any tangible evidence that they are prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure the survival and recovery of salmon in the Columbia and Snake,  the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. With eastern Washington congressman Doc Hastings, the BPA and utility districts scrambling to protect the status quo, wild salmon and steelhead still face a stiff uphill climb.

More from the Crosscut:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

WDFW's Regional Columbia River Conservation Endorsement Success: A Model for Expanding Opportunities and Improving Monitoring in Puget Sound?

Since 2010, Washington anglers wishing to fish for salmon or steelhead in the Columbia River have paid an additional $8.75 per year for a Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement. Since that time, the program which was originally initiated as a means of making up some of a $30 million state budget cut, has provided support for more than a dozen vital monitoring and fisheries management initiatives that are supporting continued and expanded opportunities for salmon and steelhead angling in the Columbia system. 

The fee, which was authorized by senate bill 5421, raised more than $2.3 million in just over a year, and continues to provide funding for vital population monitoring, creel surveys, enforcement and research. With the states fiscal situation continuing to threaten funding availability for WDFW, the conservation surcharge provides a model for funding key management functions. And, unlike license fees which go into the state's general fund, anglers interested in fishing for salmon and steelhead have assurance that funds from the surcharge are being funneled directly into providing support for conservation and management. 

In Puget Sound, state funding for monitoring and research remains fairly limited and a lack of quality population data, preseason forecasting, and in-season run updating remains as a barrier to providing fishing opportunity, particularly for wild winter steelhead. 

Anglers are increasingly calling on WDFW to develop a scientifically credible framework for re-opening catch and release sport fisheries for wild winter steelhead in the Skagit and other Puget Sound rivers. As the state works towards developing and implementing a recovery plan, having dedicated funds to support monitoring, improved run forecasting, creel survey and restoration would be a major benefit, and anglers in Puget Sound would undoubtedly be happy to contribute $10 a year if it improved the prospect of the state managing fisheries for wild winter steelhead on a regular basis.

More information on the Columbia River surcharge program can be found on WDFW's website:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Interior Department EIS Calls for Removal of Four Klamath River Dams

Last week the United States Department of Interior released a long awaited final draft of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the removal of the four Klamath River dams. After evaluating the costs and benefits of alternatives ranging from leaving the four dams in place to full removal and restoration they concluded that removal of all four dams on the Klamath is the best choice for the future of the Klamath. Support from the Department of Interior for dam removal is a major step forward for restoration of the Klamath and marks the latest chapter in a saga that stretches back more than a decade. In 2010 a coalition of Native American tribes, fishing and agricultural interests and governments signed off on the Klamath accords, agreeing to a framework for the removal of the four dams. Removal of the dams now awaits approval from Congress, which is unfortunately unlikely to be forthcoming in the near term given the current politics in Washington DC.

The four dams are privately owned by PacifiCorp energy and currently block Chinook, coho and steelhead from 420 miles of habitat in the Upper Klamath.

More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

and from the Klamath Restoration Agreement website:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Two Huge Legal Victories for Wild Salmon

So much for the old adage in like a lion and out like a lamb. The end of March was a flurry of activity when it came to court decisions benefiting wild salmon and steelhead. 

The first was a ruling from the US Supreme Court on a lawsuit brought by California's Karauk Tribe against the US Forest Service, alleging that they had been granting permits to suction dredge miners without adequate environmental review. The decision from the highest court in the land, reiterates what tribes and environmentalists have long been saying, conservation of endangered or threatened species trumps mining rights. 

The second ruling came last week when a US District court granted the Native Fish Society a preliminary injunction against the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's planned release of 300,000 spring chinook smolts into the Sandy River this spring. In the decision, the judge ruled that the agency could release no more than 132,000 fish this spring and found that the National Marine Fisheries Service likely violated the ESA in approving Oregon's hatchery plans. The ruling was a major win in an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Native Fish Society as a part of their Save Sandy Salmon campaign.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Federal Judge Rules on Expediting Removal of Culverts and Other Passage Barriers

The state of Washington has 17 years to remove or replace all of the culverts blocking salmon passage in the state.

In a landmark decision last week US District Judge Ricardo Martinez sided with the the 21 Treaty Tribes of Western Washington in ruling that the failure of the state to provide passage violated treaty rights. The state spent $23 million on culvert removal and repair in 2011, but that's far short of the $1.9 billion the state department of transportation previously estimated it would take to repair all of the impassable culverts in Western Washington.

Fish biologists have estimated that culvert removal in Western Washington could restore access for anadromous fish to more than 1000 miles of habitat. Culvert removal is particularly beneficial to coho salmon which return to freshwater anytime from September to January and often use small tributaries for spawning and rearing, but culvert removal would potentially benefit steelhead, sea-run cutthroat and other species as well.

Thanks to our friends at the Wild Fish Conservancy for bringing this story to our attention.

More information in the Kitsap Sun:

Friday, March 29, 2013

Congress Considering Removal of Wild and Scenic Designation for Merced River

In an effort to push forward a project that would increase irrigation storage in the Merced River watershed by raising the spillway on a downstream dam, representative Tom McClintock has put forth a bill in Congress that would repeal the national Wild and Scenic designation for the river. The Merced, which flows through the Yosemite valley epitomizes what a Wild and Scenic River should be. HR 934 would set a terrible precedent with governments being able to repeal the protections afforded by the federal wild and scenic, wildnerness or other designations every time it is economically convenient. Please write your representative and tell them not to support this short sighted and harmful bill. 

American Rivers have provided a quick and easy way to make your voice heard on this important issue:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Two Lawsuits That Could Reshape the Landscape on Hatchery Impacts

Over the last twenty years there has been a growing scientific consensus that hatchery supplementation undermines the productivity and diversity of wild salmon and steelhead populations. Hatcheries, once viewed as a panacea for salmon and steelhead recovery and enhancement of fishing opportunities are now understood to be an impediment to the recovery of threatened wild stocks throughout our region. Despite our growing understanding that large scale hatchery supplementation is fundamentally incompatible with healthy wild populations of fish, inertia at state and federal agencies and a lack of political will to substantively change hatchery practices has slowed progress.

Now two separate lawsuits challenging the legality of hatchery programs on the Sandy and Elwha Rivers under the Endangered Species Act are forcing the issue. Both watersheds have benefited from multi-million dollar dam removal and restoration efforts, however industrial scale hatchery supplementation and the robbing of wild fish to create broodstock for harvest continue to jeopardize the persistence of ESA listed steelhead and chinook as well as other species of salmon. Legal battles like these invariably take their time proceeding through the courts, but the reality is, these types of fights are a necessary part of changing the conversation surrounding hatcheries.

More information on the Elwha Lawsuit from the Wild Fish Conservancy's website:

More on the Native Fish Society's efforts in Oregon:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Stanford Owned Dam Threatens ESA Listed Steelhead

Stanford University has long been a global leader in research and conservation, unfortunately when it comes to walking the walk, the university has been dropping the bell. The University owned Searsville Dam on San Francisquito Creek blocks 20 miles of historic habitat for Threatened San Francisco Bay steelhead, and the downstream reaches are often dewatered. In past years steelhead have been killed when waterlevels dropped, and this year low water is again stressing the fish. A local group called Beyond Searsville dam has taken up the cause, and Stanford University as well as the National Marine Fisheries Service are currently studying the issue.

More information from Bay Nature:

Beyond Searsville Dam:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Occupy Skagit

For those unfamiliar with Occupy Skagit, it is a grassroots movement of anglers concerned with the ongoing closure of the Skagit River and the lack of proactive movement from WDFW and NOAA to  develop a plan to restore wild steelhead and the beloved spring time fishery on the Skagit and Sauk. It is refreshing to see a group of anglers catalyzed behind an issue, and while we are supportive of the goals at Occupy Skagit we thought we would share some thoughts on the bigger picture.

If you want to join the movement and Occupy Skagit, anglers will be meeting up April 6th on the banks of the skagit in protest to the ongoing closure of the Skagit and Sauk.

More info:

The following is an open letter to all anglers who care about the Skagit and Sauk, but is particularly focused on some aspects of the comments posted by an organizer of the Occupy Skagit group on our post last week:

Dear Occupiers,

While we respect and appreciate your passion for Skagit River steelhead and we share the view that a catch and release sport fishery could be opened on the Skagit through April without inflicting serious impacts on wild steelhead in the Skagit and Sauk, we have to take issue with a few things you have said. 

Our principle concern is that by asserting "All is well" on the skagit on the basis of an MSY goal of 3800 we are setting the bar very low. We agree that the Skagit is much better off than many other Puget Sound Rivers (hence our support for the idea of a catch and release fishery), but the reality is that as recently as the 1950s 30,000 wild steelhead returned each year on the Skagit and historic abundance in the basin probably ranged between 40 and 100 thousand fish annually. 

We hope that in advocating for fisheries on the Skagit and other Puget Sound rivers the Occupy Skagit movement and others will not lose sight of this big picture. In advocating for fisheries we must first and foremost advocate for the recovery of wild fish that support those fisheries and in the skagit that means protecting and restoring the habitat and importantly, discontinuing releases of hatchery fish at the Marblemount hatchery and managing the Skagit as a Wild Steelhead Management Zone.  

We need to acknowledge the full suite of impacts on wild steelhead in the Skagit. We also need to ask WDFW to invest in improved monitoring, pre-season forecasting, and research on the Skagit and other important watersheds. 

Thank you for caring about wild fish and the Skagit River. We all agree that wild fish are a treasured part of our regions cultural and ecological heritage and we look forward to working with you to advance the cause of wild steelhead recovery!

Will Atlas
FFF Steelhead Committee

ODFW Suspends Broodstock Collection on Lower Columbia Tribs

Thanks to a legal challenge from the Native Fish Society, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will be suspending their wild broodstock collection on the Sandy, Clackamas, McKenzie, Santiam and Middle Fork Willamette. Lower Columbia steelhead are listed as endangered under the ESA. There is broad scientific consensus that hatchery supplementation undermines the productivity, abundance and diversity of wild salmon and steelhead populations, and the NFS lawsuit challenges the legality of these hatchery programs on the basis that they jeopardize the persistence of Lower Columbia/Willamette steelhead. As a result of the ongoing legal action, ODFW has opted to discontinue broodstock collection for this year meaning that hundreds more wild steelhead will be spawning in the wild this spring. Great work NFS!

More information on the Native Fish Societies Save Sandy Salmon campaign:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ancient Landslides Shape Oregon's Coho Habitat

A new study published in the journal Geology documents the impact of large, ancient, deep-seated landslides in forming productive coho habitats in the Oregon Coast range. The paper, published by a group of researchers at the University of Oregon found that wide, low gradient areas of river valleys associated with large, ancient landslides produced hotspots for coho habitat in the Elk Creek drainage, a tributary of the Umpqua River. While we have long understood that coho thrive in low gradient areas with large intact floodplains, the importance of ancient geologic events in the formation of these habitats reminds us that many of the processes that create and sustain healthy salmon habitat are driven by the local geological history. Indeed, one might consider geology the canvas upon which ecological communities and fish populations are drawn.

Further north, in areas with a recent glacial history, the processes that have formed valleys and the factors which contribute to the formation of high quality coho habitat are likely to differ. However the fundamental message remains the same, rivers are defined by their geology.

More information in a press release from the University of Oregon:

Thursday, February 28, 2013

ESA listings and catch and release, the future of Puget Sound steelhead.

The following piece is Osprey Chair Will Atlas' column from our January 2013 issue. To subscribe to the osprey and receive your PDF copy of the issue visit our website at

This year for the fourth consecutive winter, the Skagit River, one of Washington’s most storied steelhead rivers will be closed to angling at the end of January. To the south the Stillaguamish, and Skykomish, both equally steeped in angling tradition have been closed during the peak months of the wild winter steelhead run since 2001. These closures are the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s understandable reaction to two decades of depressed steelhead abundance in Puget Sound, the product of more than a century of destructive overharvest, habitat destruction, hatchery supplementation and a turn for the worse in marine survival for steelhead entering the Georgia Basin. Like so many advocates for wild fish, my passion for their conservation began with angling. This evolution, from catch and release angler to tireless advocate was accelerated dramatically by many days spent fishing for, and occasionally catching wild steelhead on my home rivers in Puget Sound. And while I recognize the need to do everything in our power to recover steelhead in Puget Sound, I question the efficacy of closing catch and release fisheries, particularly when viewed in isolation as means of recovering wild steelhead stocks.

In their effort to reduce the risk of extinction within the Puget Sound ESU, NOAA and WDFW have opted to close the steelhead rivers of Puget Sound 3-4 months before the historic end of these fisheries. While their intentions are admirable, these closures are inconsistent with and far more severe than regulations in other areas where steelhead have been listed under the ESA. Take for instance the Lower Columbia and Willamette, there the vast majority of streams remain open to catch and release fishing until the end of March. On the many tributaries of the Snake steelhead angling remains open for most of the year and anglers may catch ESA listed steelhead anytime from August to March and on the Upper Columbia, an ESU where steelhead were only recently down-listed from Endangered to Threatened we have seen seasons lasting anywhere from 2 to 7 months during the last 4 years.

Given this disparity you might expect the situation in Puget Sound to be much more dire than in those areas currently open to sport fishing, however this is far from the case. While for the most part wild steelhead abundance remains depressed below escapement goals in Puget Sound, the Skagit was at or near its escapement goal of 6000 fish each of the last two seasons. Meanwhile, all of the aforementioned ESUs where fisheries impacting wild steelhead currently occur annually remain depressed below their ESA targeted recovery goals as well. Even more baffling is the inconsistency within Puget Sound. While steelhead fisheries remain closed entirely throughout the winter months, anglers are allowed to harvest ESA listed wild Chinook in parts of Puget Sound, and marine fisheries with much higher catch and release mortality are kept open 9 months of the year. The management of these Chinook fisheries is the result of harvest rates that have been agreed upon by both NOAA and WDFW, meanwhile we have lost our fisheries for wild winter steelhead almost entirely, depriving residents of Puget Sound of the opportunity to enjoy these iconic fish and starving economically depressed riverside communities of three months of economic activity generated by these once popular fisheries. .

The agencies have always fallen back on the argument that these populations may not meet their escapement goal, and thus allowing any fish to be killed, even incidentally by catch and release fisherman is not biologically defensible. This argument holds some water and their concern with maintaining abundance of ESA listed steelhead is warranted. However, as we have learned from steelhead monitoring projects in watersheds without angling such as Snow Creek in Puget Sound and the Keogh River on Vancouver Island, marine survival is above all else responsible for year to year fluctuations in adult population sizes. Indeed the “carrying capacity” of a watershed, the level of adult abundance often used as an escapement goal actually varies with changes in marine survival and in a large river such as the Skagit, Skykomish, Nooksack or Stillaguamish, catch and release angling would have a negligible impact on the trajectory of steelhead populations. Throw in the fact that the available data and run forecasts of steelhead abundance in Puget Sound ranges from poor and unreliable to non-existent and it is as though managers have been left to manage steelhead populations with a blindfold on.

As anglers and advocates in the 21st century it is incumbent upon us to put stewardship and conservation at the forefront, and if catch and release sport fisheries do indeed jeopardize the persistence of a population they should be closed. But the reality is, on some of the larger populations of steelhead in Puget Sound, catch and release managed under selective regulations would have a negligible impact on wild populations of steelhead while still allowing 3 months of angling opportunity a core part of WDFWs mission. This lost opportunity deprives depressed communities of economic opportunities and alienates one of the department’s core constituencies, steelhead anglers. State agencies are understandably under duress and in many instances managers are doing the best they can with limit data and resources. However, we need to ask more of WDFW. As our state fisheries management agency they must be advocates for the recovery of wild fish but also for sport fisheries. In a changing and evermore crowded world WDFW needs to recognize the importance and utility of catch and release fisheries as a means of providing angling opportunity while minimizing impacts on fragile populations of steelhead. We won’t see a steelhead fishery on the Skagit this winter but in starting this conversation now with WDFW we can work together with the state to ensure that we are providing opportunities while simultaneously working towards recovery of listed stocks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coming Fall 2013: Wild Reverance, the Plight of the American Steelhead

Shane Anderson, an independent film maker contacted us recently with a trailer for his upcoming documentary film on plight of wild steelhead in the US. The film looks to be one of the most comprehensive and well researched efforts to document the state of wild steelhead in the Western United States and features interviews with numerous scientists, conservationists and wild fish advocates united in the goal of recovering wild steelhead. We are eagerly awaiting an opportunity to see the finished product, but the trailer will have to do for now. Check it out...

Wild Reverence"The Plight of the American Wild Steelhead" Film Trailer from North Fork Studios on Vimeo.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Freeing the White Salmon River

Check out this great episode of OPB's Oregon Field Guide on the epic white salmon dam removal project. The episode was shot by filmmaker Andy Maser who has been keeping us updated on the dam removal at his blog

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Help Protect the Chetco River from Suction Dredge Mining

The Chetco River is among southern Oregon's crowned jewels when it comes to producing wild chinook and winter steelhead. Recently however, the rising price of gold and increased interest in suction dredge mining has posed a major threat to the habitat in the Chetco. Thanks to an outdated law written in the late 19th century which gives mining precedence over other values there is a need for action at the Federal level. American Rivers has put together a petition asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to suspend all mining on the Chetco for 5 years to give state and federal legislators time to  put permanent protections in place for the Chetco.

Please take 30 seconds to sign the petition and add your voice to the growing chorus of citizens asking our government to put the outstanding natural values of the Chetco River first:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

BC Statistics Show Value of Sport Fisheries

This one came across the wire at Osprey HQ from our friends at the Wild Fish Conservancy.

According to an economic review by BC Stats, British Columbia's legendary sport fisheries are worth slightly more to the province's GDP (approximately $325 million dollars), than commercial fishing, aquaculture, and fish processing combined. While sport fishing has long been an engine of economic activity in BC, the industry is all to often dismissed by policy makers in favor of other, often unsustainable economic activities such as logging, mining, and open net pen aquaculture.

The Skeena River is among the most important salmon and steelhead fisheries in the province, and on its own brings millions of dollars into BCs economy. However, bycatch of steelhead and other non-target species in commercial fisheries openings for sockeye on the lower river have raised concerns over the impact of the non-selective commercial fishery on the regions lucrative sport fishery. The report is yet more evidence in favor of reducing the impact of commercial fisheries and other industries on populations of wild fish.

More info: