Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Tsolum River: A Stark Reminder of the Damage Mining Leaves Behind

The Tsolum River on Vancouver Island was once among the most prolific producers of salmon and steelhead in the area. However, by the 1990's acid mining waste leaching from the Mount Washington Copper Mine had turned the river into a toxic wasteland. Salmon and trout populations were extirpated from the watershed, and in the 1990s the province of British Columbia declared the Tsolum the most threatened river in BC. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans declared the Tsolum a "Dead River" and all future funding for fisheries restoration and monitoring in the watershed was pulled.

However, thanks to the hard work of government ministries, the Tsolum River Restoration Society, as well as a $4.5 million dollar investment of tax pay money in remediation and water treatment at the abandoned mine site, fish are returning to the Tsolum once again. Fish populations, particularly those with prolonged stream rearing such as coho, steelhead and cutthroat, face a steep uphill climb, but the remediation has provided hope that salmon and trout populations may someday recover some semblance of their former abundance and diversity.

The destruction of the Tsolum River's fisheries and the evolutionary legacy of salmon and steelhead in the watershed was wiped out by a mine that operated for fewer than 10 years. But like so many mining companies, when the site was abandoned the company cut and run, leaving behind an environmental catastrophe to be cleaned up by non-profit groups and government agencies. The legacy of mining in salmon country is clear and the reality is, in many ways the industry operates under the same social contract it always has, extracting profits and creating jobs for a few years before abandoning the site and leaving society to clean up the mess. It is critical that examples like the Tsolum are remembered when the discussion turns to contemporary proposals for mine development.

More information from the Tsolum River Restoration society:

and check out this video on the restoration of the Tsolum:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Washington State Releases Update on Salmon Recovery

This month the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board released its update on the status of salmon in the state of Washington. The website has a variety of tools including easy access to data on salmon population abundance throughout the state and recovery activities in each region. While the report tends to paint a picture that is slightly more friendly towards the state's track record on wild fish recovery, incremental progress is being made. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on salmon recovery throughout the region, and as the good people at the Salmon Recovery Funding Board remind us, this spending has had tangible benefits to local communities and in some cases has resulted in real improvements in salmon habitat and population status. 

Check out the website here:

and a summary of their findings here:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

One More Week to Submit Comments on Washington State Regulation Changes

The latest round of rule change proposals is coming to end and there is one more week for the public to give WDFW input on which of the proposed rule changes they would like to see adopted. Despite a concerted effort by a coalition of groups led by the Wild Steelhead Coalition to encourage proactive changes in sport fisheries, the state appears poised to continue with the status quo. Please follow the below links and tell the state you support these rule changes. It is also important to note that for all the rule changes regarding No Fishing from a Floating Device, boats could still be used for transportation and anglers would still be able to fish with whatever method they choose, however fishing from the boat would be restricted. These types of regulations have been successfully implemented on several of the more popular steelhead rivers in Oregon and BC.

1. Mandatory Hatchery Steelhead Retention Statewide. harvest of hatchery steelhead is a vital tool for the conservation of wild stocks.

submit comments in support of this rule change

2. Selective gear only February 1-April 30th on Westside Rivers: February through April corresponds with the time of year when the majority of wild winter steelhead return to rivers on the West side of the state. The use of bait and barbed hooks is still allowed in some locations despite the fact that they can cause significantly higher catch and release mortality. Selective regulations (no bait, barbless hooks) should be uniformly adopted.

submit comments in support of selective regs. February 1-April 30:

3. Hoh River: No fishing from a floating device February 1 - November 30 above Morgan's crossing: Pressure has grown immensely in recent years. This is the primary spawning area outside of the Olympic National Park (where fishing from boats is already banned). In light of growing sport fishing pressure and declining returns in the Hoh River, proactive management is needed to ensure that fish are not being hooked repeatedly and harassed during spawning.

submit a comment in support of this rule change:

4. Sol Duc River: No fishing from a floating device February 1 - November 30 above the Sol Duc Hatchery. This area supports  much of the spawning and staging of wild Sol Duc steelhead, particularly the fragile early run component. The River above the Sol Duc hatchery is relatively small and a ban on fishing from boats would give the fish much needed refuge from growing angling pressure.

submit a comment in support of this rule change:

5. Klickitat River: No fishing from a floating device September 15th to June 30th above the Little Klickitat confluence. Steelhead in the Klickitat are listed as Threatened as part of the Middle Columbia DPS. Not much is known about the status of this stock as monitoring estimates have been highly unreliable, however angling pressure has exploded  in the last decade. Many summer run steelhead in the Klickitat enter the river in the late spring or early summer and have protracted residence in the portion of the river that is open to fishing prior to spawning. This leaves them subject to repeated hookings, harassment and an increased probability of catch and release mortality. Closing the Klickitat to fishing from boats would be an important step towards reducing the overall exploitation of steelhead in the watershed while allowing more anglers to enjoy a quality fishery. Under these rules anglers could use boats for transportation but could not fish from a floating device.

submit a comment in support of this rule change:

6. No fishing from boats on the Wenatchee River above Cashmere: Steelhead in the Upper Columbia DPS are listed as Threatened under the ESA and the Wenatchee opened to fishing for the first time in a decade in 2007. Since then the fishery has grown in popularity with each passing year. During the fall the river typically runs clear and below 1000 cfs and water temperatures are ideal for steelhead activity. The combination of these conditions coupled with WDFWs current strategy of emergency openings in the fishery lead to extremely high effort and catch rates in the first weeks the river is open. While the fishery in the Wenatchee is intended to target hatchery fish for removal from the spawning population, wild fish make a majority of catch in most years. Restricting fishing in boats to the area of the river above Cashmere would give wild fish refuge from anglers in boats in the upper portion of the river while still allowing WDFW to meet its goals of removing hatchery fish from the population and providing a quality fishing experience for all anglers.

submit a comment in support of this rule change:

7. Methow River: No fishing from a boat above the Hwy 153 bridge in Carelton. Like the Wenatchee, the Methow sees a tremendous amount of pressure each fall. This rule change is designed to give ESA listed steelhead in the watershed a refuge from the constant onslaught of anglers fishing from boats while still providing a quality fishery and allowing WDFW meet its goal of harvesting surplus hatchery fish. WDFW has already flagged bad behavior by boat based anglers in the Methow as an issue and has closed a small portion of the river to fishing from the boat. It's time for this regulation to be more widely adopted.

submit  a comment in support of this rule change:

8. Grande Ronde River: No fishing from boats year round below Boggans Oasis. Like the Wenatchee and Methow, the Grande Ronde supports a very popular fall fishery. As pressure has grown on the Ronde there is a need for regulations that better balance WDFW's mandate to provide quality sport fishing opportunities with the need to minimize impacts on ESA listed wild stocks. A reminder, despite the apparent misunderstanding from the WDFW manager who drafted the agency response, boats would still be allowed for transportation but fishing from a boat would be restricted, reducing catch rates on wild fish while providing a quality fishery.

submit a comment in support of this rule change:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hatchery Area Closures: A Symptom of a Broken System

If you subscribe to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's email list you were probably notified last week that part of the North Fork Nooksack would be closing from now until January 31st to fishing. The hatchery like many in Puget Sound is seeing dismal returns and closing the area where most of the fishing for hatchery fish occurs in the Nooksack is a last ditch effort by the state to meet their egg take goal. Keep in mind, the number of females they need to meet their egg take goals tends to be pretty low, probably in the neighborhood of 50 fish. To date only 61 adult steelhead have returned to Kendall Creek hatchery. Assuming something like a 50:50 sex ratio, thats right around 30 females. Barely enough to keep the hatchery program running much less meet their smolt release goals.

The point of this ramble is to highlight the insanity of the current management paradigm guiding sport fishery management in Washington State, particularly in Puget Sound. Hatchery programs intended to bolster harvest opportunities at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year are producing such dismal returns that the state is forced to close the river to ensure these money wasting ventures can continue to sustain themselves. We are living in the era of emergency sport fishing closures on hatchery fish, to ensure we can continue throwing good money after bad, flushing money down the toilet for 2 month fisheries and a few hundred dead chambers creek fish in somebody's cooler.

Meanwhile fisheries for Wild Steelhead that cost the state absolutely nothing to sustain and could and should be supporting catch and release fisheries lasting 4 months every year, have been closed for the last 4 years in large part due to the complete absence of credible data on the abundance of most populations in Puget Sound. WDFW can and must do better, but it is a matter of shifting priorities in the department, we need laser like focus on what really matters: our collective obligation to do whatever we can to recover wild steelhead populations and the vibrant fisheries they support. Fighting to keep a struggling to keep the state hatchery system out of atrophy is a battle in which everyone loses, especially wild fish.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Two Good Articles from the Columbia Basin Bulletin on Ocean Productivity

Ever wonder why salmon returns fluctuate so much from year to year? As it turns out the vast majority of yearly variability in salmon runs is driven by their survival at sea which can be influenced by a variety of climatic and biological factors. No where in the world is the relationship between salmon and interannual variation in ocean conditions better studied than off the Oregon and Washington coast. Using a suite of physical and biological indicators ranging from sea-surface temperatures, the strength of upwelling to the composition and biomass of the zooplankton community off our coast, biologists and oceanographers with NOAA can predict with relatively high accuracy whether a year will be good or bad for the survival of juvenile salmon as they enter the ocean. According to these measures, 2012 was pretty good which should bode well for steelhead and coho returns this summer and chinook returns in the coming years.

More in the CBB:

Recently biologists at NOAA and Oregon State University have published research suggesting that Columbia River run forecasting could be improved even further by weighting variables relative to their importance and incorporating broader scale climate indicators.

More information in the CBB:

Or read the paper yourself at PlosONE:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Leaked Documents Reveal Oil Industry Role in Changes to Canadian Environmental Policy

It has long been suspected that recent, drastic changes to Canadian environmental policy were intended to expedite the development resource extraction projects and benefit their corporate proponents. However, recent leaked documents obtained by Access to Information request reveal that the Conservative government has actually gutted environmental protections at the request of the oil industry. A letter dating from late-2011 from a lobbying group representing Canada's most powerful oil companies identified six pieces of legislation that were impeding their desire to expedite the extraction of the country's fossil fuel resources. 

Among them were the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species-At-Risk Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Navigable Water Protection Act, all of which have been weakened in the past year to the benefit of the oil industry. While this revelation should come as no surprise, it highlights the extent to which the Canadian federal government is willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the interests of oil companies, even when it comes at a tremendous cost to the environment. While the public's skepticism over the intentions of the Conservative government has been growing over the past year this, perhaps more than any other revelation should cause Canadians to pause and consider who exactly their government is serving.  

More information

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What to Watch in 2013 #5: Gillnet Ban on the Lower Columbia

5. Gillnet Ban on the Lower Columbia: This year, a coalition of recreational fishing groups gathered enough signatures to put forth a ballot initiative that would ban all non-tribal gill netting on the Columbia. However, when a commission convened by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber recommended moving gill net fisheries into terminal areas, and increasing mark selective fisheries in the Lower Columbia the groups opted to drop their support for the ban. WDFW appears to be following suit, increasing the likelihood of significant changes in harvest management on the Columbia, reducing the bycatch of listed and non-target stocks.

Somewhat surprisingly, despite the fact that the new rules would improve the prospects for recovey of listed stocks and would not impact tribal fishing the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFIC) has been among the only voices of opposition to the gill net ban on the Lower Columbia. Their opposition appears to stem from a fundamental dislike of mark selective fisheries, which have proven a vital tool for fish management on the Columbia.

Lets hope that Washington and Oregon remain committed to banning non-tribal gill nets in the Lower Columbia, a move that will be of tremendous benefit to wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Crush the Barb from the Native Fish Society

Following on a recent decision by the Oregon Fish & Wildlife commission banning barbed hooks on the Lower Columbia and Lower Willamette, the Native Fish Society is calling for adoption of a barbed hook on all Oregon streams in the Columbia basin and on the coast. Rules like these are long overdue for fisheries that are more often then not targeting depressed (and often ESA listed) populations of salmon and steelhead. Furthermore, with the proliferation of catch and release and increased pressure on many streams, fish may be caught multiple times prior to spawning making regulations that reduce the likelihood of hooking mortality an essential part of the management toolbox.

As the good folks at the Native Fish Society point out, BC has had regulations requiring single barbless hooks across the entire province for two decade. Check out the link for their full discussion of the issue and a full list of citations on the benefits of barbless hooks:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What to Watch in 2013 #4: Changes in Rhetoric on the Columbia

4. NOAA's New Approach on the Columbia: After 20 years of acrimony and litigation over the federal recovery plan for ESA listed Columbia River salmon, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration indicated this fall that they would be taking a new approach. Taking a break from the ongoing legal battle over the Columbia, the feds have hired two University led consensus building teams to conduct interviews with as many as 250 of the most important stakeholders in the Columbia, from tribes and conservation groups to irrigators and shipping interests that rely on the dams in part for their business. While the success of the process remains to be seen, it represents a refreshing departure from the continuous legal wrangling and subsequent minor tweaking of the plan by NOAA to try and convince the courts they have a legally robust plan for salmon recovery. Having failed for 20 years it was clear a new approach was necessary and we hope this will be a first step towards a lasting recovery plan on the Columbia River.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Klamath Dam Removal Deadline Extended by 2 years

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), the landmark deal between governments, and stakeholders in the Klamath that will result in the removal the Klamath River dams originally were set to expire at the end of 2012. That is, if the settlement had not received congressional support, the groups would have to go back to the drawing board. However, last month with the deadline looming, and a congress unfriendly to dam removal giving no indication that it would make any progress on the Klamath the stakeholders agreed to extend the deadline to 2014. Sadly, this doesn't come as a surprise given the long history of delays in dam removal projects from the Elwha to the White Salmon. While the latest development is a blow to Klamath dam removal the delay in the deadline nullifying the KBRA provides more time for the politics of dam removal to change in Washington DC.

More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Friday, January 4, 2013

What to Watch in 2013 #3: Columbia River Hatchery Reform

3. The Mitchell Act EIS: In the summer of 2010 the Federal government issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) outlining potential alternatives for the way that hatcheries funded by Mitchell Act mitigation money on the Columbia would be operated. The draft EIS included many important changes in hatchery management on the Columbia including reduced hatchery production in areas that are unable to meet the guidelines laid out by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), and the construction of weirs to remove hatchery fish from the spawning population in many tributaries. However, since the draft EIS was issued the federal government has not issued a final determination on the EIS. With the final draft due out early this year, the future of hatchery reform on the Columbia system hangs in the balance.

We will keep you posted on the latest regarding the EIS, in the meantime lets hope that major reform is coming to hatcheries throughout the Columbia and Snake. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What to Watch in 2013 #2: Canadian Pipelines and Free Trade Deals

2. Pipelines and free trade deals north of the border: In the face of pro-resource extraction governments in BC and federally, we won a few surprising victories in 2012 with the BC government opting to protect the headwaters of the Skeena and Nass from shell gas drilling and the denial of an environmental certificate to a proposed copper and molybendium mine in the Babine watershed. However, the environment was also dealt significant blows by Stephen Harper's conservative government, including weakening of the Fisheries Act, drastic reductions in the number of navigable waterways afforded environmental protections, further budget cuts at government ministries tasked with monitoring and protecting natural resources and the outright elimination of the department tasked with monitoring ocean pollution. Finally, the Harper government is in the process of putting through a trade deal with China that would give foreign governments and corporations unprecedented powers to sue local governments in municipalities in Canada for economic damages if they oppose resource projects or enact policies that otherwise hinder economic benefits accrued to to foreign companies investing in Canada.

 The next year will be extremely important for the future of the Skeena, BC's Central Coast and the Georgia Strait (not to mention the future of our planets climate), as all are threatened by plans to massively expand oil exports from Canada to China via British Columbia.

By now you've probably heard of the Enbridge Pipeline proposal. A project that would pipe bitumen, a dense oily sludge, from Alberta's tar sands to the port of Kitmat. The pipeline would cross the Fraser, as well as several vitally important tributaries of the Skeena including the Morice and Copper, before being loaded into super tankers 10-times the size of the Exxon Valdez at Kitimat. Given the hazards associated with the pipeline and tanker route it is really only a matter of when, not if there will be a catastrophic spill, and as the Exxon Valdez spill demonstrated, ecosystems take decades to recover from these types of disasters. Understandably, First Nations throughout BC and Alberta are united in their opposition to the proposal, meaning the federal government will have to blatantly disregard the rights of aboriginal people to move the project forward, something they seem willing to do.

Yet another pipeline project is proposed for Southern BC, one which would bring bitumen from Alberta to a terminal in Metro Vancouver. The Kinder-Morgan pipeline would pipe oil hundreds of miles along the Fraser and would more than double the amount of tanker traffic in the Georgia Strait, dramatically increasing the risk of oil spills for these two already threatened ecosystems.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What to Watch in 2013 #1: Dam removal and wild fish recovery

1. Elwha and White Salmon Recovery: Condit dam is gone, entirely and the White Salmon River is already showing encouraging signs of recovery. The river has exported much of the sediment stored behind the dam and wild fish are colonizing the habitat above the dam. Last summer, steelhead were spotted leaping at BZ falls for the first time in a century.

On the Elwha, removal of the two dams is well underway. In March 2012, Elwha Dam, the lower of the two dams was removed. Shortly thereafter wild winter steelhead were spotted spawning above the dam in the Lost River and in Indian Creek, two large tributaries that are unimpacted by sediment from the dam removal. Glines Canyon dam is expect to be out in the first half of 2013 allowing fish access into miles of pristine habitat protected within the Olympic National Park.

While the dam removal process has proceeded as expected, the details of the fish recovery plan remain unresolved. In the fall of 2011 we joined the Wild Fish Conservancy, the Wild Steelhead Coalition and the Conservation Angler in a legal challenge to the fish recovery plan which had never gone for public comment, did not have approval from NOAA and had not undergone an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In the absence of a biologically and legally defensible process for planning fish recovery on the Elwha, NOAA, WDFW and the Lower Elwha Klallam had agreed on a plan which focused heavily on hatchery production, releasing nearly 4.5 million hatchery origin fish into the Elwha each year during the recovery period. Since our challenge, the tribe has agreed to curtail the release of non-native Chambers Creek stock steelhead, however hatchery releases remain a central part of the recovery plan despite their impact on the productivity and diversity of wild populations, and the co-managers have yet to put forth an adaptive management plan detailing how the massive hatchery programs will be phased out to allow wild fish to fully colonize the 90 miles of pristine habtiat now available to them.