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