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Reports on Fish Policy Development

[1] SCHMITTEN TELLS HATFIELD NMFS WILL NOT INCREASE BARGING :: The head of the National Marine Fisheries Service says the agency will not increase the numbers of fish being barged around Columbia River dams, in spite of potentially lethal levels of nitrogen gas in the river. Responding to a letter from Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR), Rolland Schmitten said NMFS "shares your concern regarding the harmful effect that high levels of water are having on salmon smolts." But Schmitten's letter argued that less than 3 percent of the fish are exhibiting signs of gas bubble trauma. That figure contrasts with information recently posted on the Fish Passage Center FTP site, which says closer to 10 percent of the fish have signs of GBT, rising to a high of 22 percent at Bonneville Dam on May 21.

Citing a recommendation from a panel of gas bubble disease experts, Hatfield had asked why NMFS wasn't barging from McNary Dam as well as the collector projects on the Snake River. In his response, Schmitten said the agency would rely on a report from state and tribal fish agencies which claims fish are better off in the river than in barges. "The [state and fish agency] report recommends that transportation of spring migrants [at McNary] not be implemented in 1996 under present and projected dissolved gas, spill and flow conditions," said Schmitten.

Meanwhile, the Columbia system continues to be plagued by high flows and spill. As in recent weeks, flows of 150,000 cubic feet-per-second were measured at Lower Granite and close to 400,000 cfs at The Dalles. The system remains in flood control operation, still waiting for the spring freshet to begin. Uncontrolled spill continues to boost gas levels as high as 130 percent, far above the 120 percent considered safe by state and federal experts. The Reservoir Control Center's Cindy Henrickson said the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to spread spill throughout the region and "running every unit we can." But she added, "There's not a lot we can do. Mother Nature is in control now" [Lynn Francisco].

[2] NMFS POSTPONES LISTING DECISION FOR STEELHEAD, COHO AND CUTTHROAT TROUT :: The federal government likely faces further legal challenges for postponing decisions on protection for West Coast salmon and trout. In a May 28 press release, the National Marine Fisheries Service said Endangered Species Act protection for steelhead trout would wait until December. A similar decision on Umpqua River cutthroat trout was postponed until September. Another petitioned species, West Coast coho, was not mentioned in the press release, but federal statutes call for a decision on that stock by July 26. NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said NMFS is concentrating on the two most imperiled stocks -- steelhead and cutthroat trout, all but guaranteeing that the deadline on coho will slip, possibly into 1997.

The delays brought a strong rebuke from the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which represents several groups that have sued to force listing decisions on all three species. "This is mind-boggling," said SCLDF salmon specialist Tryg Sletteland. "The refusal to protect these fish from extinction is the most outrageous example of government foot-dragging I've ever seen." Attorney Mike Sherwood, with SCLDF's San Francisco office, promised that his clients "will be opposing in court this latest attempt to delay even further giving legal protection to coho."

NMFS blamed much of the delay on a listing moratorium, which was recently lifted. Regional NMFS director Will Stelle said the agency would now concentrate on fish that are at the greatest risk. Warning that "time is not on our side," Stelle called on states and the private sector to work together on state-wide conservation plans to benefit the fish [Lynn Francisco].

[3] NWPPC COMPLETES 180-DAY REPORT :: The Northwest Power Planning Council has released the final version of its 180-day report to Congress. The report asks President Clinton for an executive order requiring all federal hydro and fish agencies act consistent with the council's fish and wildlife program. If Clinton balks at issuing the order, the report says Congress should approve legislation to accomplish the job. Under current law, as spelled out in the Northwest Power Act, only BPA has to follow the council program. The executive order would bring federal fish agencies--the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service--and hydro agencies--the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission--under that same requirement. Congress requested the180-day report last year, asking the council to recommend a better way to govern regional fish and wildlife recovery efforts [Lynn Francisco].

[4] RANKING OF F&W PROJECTS IRK CONTRACTORS; PPC LEADS COMPROMISE EFFORT :: Conflict of interest charges are being leveled at Columbia basin fish managers due to recent ranking of salmon restoration projects. Some of those who proposed projects claim the salmon managers gave their own projects high rankings, all but guaranteeing they would be funded by Bonneville. Projects proposed by outsiders were ranked low, claim the contractors, sharply reducing their chances for funding.

Those doing the ranking -- fish managers from agencies that belong to the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority -- gave high priority to what's called on-the-ground projects, programs geared toward improving salmon habitat. Many of the programs are operated by CBFWA members, leading to criticism from outside contractors, who charge CBFWA with ignoring research and data collection needs.

Fish managers have the clout of a recent court ruling behind them. In an earlier challenge of the Northwest Power Planning Council's salmon recovery plan, a federal judge told the council to give greater weight to fish managers' recommendations when devising salmon recovery strategies. Donna Darm, a policy specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, said fish managers "can't be removed from the prioritization process." Darm also defended the higher priority given to production projects over those promoting genetic diversity. "BPA money is supposed to mitigate for fish losses, especially to the tribes. [To] decide now to be pure about genetics and leave the tribes without fish to take would be an abrogation of the federal responsibility," she said.

The grumbling led to a recent session in Portland at which CBFWA members defended their actions. Rob Walton of the Public Power Council called the meeting in an effort to diffuse the bickering and convince all parties to come up with effective comments for the NWPPC. CBFWA's recommendations -- including those for resident fish projects -- are open to comment until June 17; the council will give its final recommendations to BPA by mid-July [Lynn Francisco].

[5] SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY BOARD BEGINS QUEST FOR INDEPENDENT FISH SCIENCE :: The Independent Scientific Advisory Board held its first meeting in Portland on May 28, the first step in a quest for scientific answers to the decline of Northwest fish runs. The 11-member group was appointed by the Northwest Power Planning Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to find consensus in fish recovery. NWPPC chairman John Etchart said the board should help settle the controversy generated by competing salmon plans. "The council and the Fisheries Service face substantial biological uncertainty in our efforts to protect and enhance fish and wildlife, yet we must act affirmatively...We must continuously improve scientific knowledge about which measures work and which don't, and so this panel is very important to the future of our fish and wildlife resources," said Etchart in a press release.

The ISAB is an expanded version of the Independent Scientific Group, a power council creation that recently completed a review of the science behind the council's salmon recovery plan. That report is under peer review and is due out by early July. The membership of the new panel and its assignments are outlined in the press release [Lynn Francisco].

[6] NEW REPORT SAYS ARTIFICIAL PROPAGATION DESTROYED NATURAL ECONOMY AND PRODUCTIVITY OF SALMON :: The Elwha Klallam Tribe of Port Angles, Washington has published a remarkable report that sets the stage for a new vision about salmon and our approach to their recovery. In this report, every stream -- from Queets River on the western edge of the peninsula to Chimacum Creek near Port Townsend -- is reviewed. The status of each salmonid population, factors limiting salmon production, and potential solutions are described. One of the report's strengths is that the present status of the salmon is given an historical context, so the reader can visualize the long-term causes of salmon decline.

To set the stage, the authors say, "Salmon restoration programs have a fundamental requirement: They must work in concert with the salmon's strengths. The failure of early restoration programs, especially those that emphasized artificial propagation, can be traced to practices that worked against the salmon's biological strengths. In the past, salmon restoration often tried to circumvent or eliminate the need for habitat. Hatcheries substituted for freshwater habitat, and they fostered the idea that rivers need only be channels to the sea for the artificially-propagated salmon rather than complex healthy ecosystems. The mass transfer of salmon from one river to another through hatchery programs weakened the relationship between the salmon and their native habitat, broke down the reproductive isolation and destroyed the salmon's natural economy and productivity."

A key factor in designing salmon recovery measures, according to the authors, relates to human intervention. The authors say, "The principle role for humans in the recovery of Pacific salmon is not to interfere further in the natural recovery process, but to control their own behavior in a way that lets natural recovery take place." There is a strong need for good stewardship which encourages the natural healing processes.

"A lot of time and much of the salmon resource was lost pursuing simple solutions and quick remedies", the authors say, and "simple solutions have a strong institutional appeal and they are still a part of the modern salmon mythology."

In a summary table the report lists 59 stocks of Pacific salmonids whose status is extinct, critical, threatened or unknown. Most salmonids have been affected by multiple sources of degradation. Fifty stocks have been impacted by timber harvest, 48 stocks by stream clearing, 41 by mixed stock harvest, 26 by channelization and 16 by hatchery practices and passage problems. The report is available from the Elwha Klallam Tribe, which has offices in Port Angeles [Bill Bakke].

***Document Annex***
Works Cited

DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 010 :: Below are listed available documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 010.

THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.

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NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData with grants from the Montana and Idaho offices of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the Bonneville Power Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Chelan County PUD, Douglas County PUD, Grant County PUD
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Last modified: May 30, 1996