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: