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: