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[1] New Problem For Northwest: Too Many Fish!
[2] WA Knocks Federal Fish Recovery Planning
[3] President Threatens Veto Over Fish Issues: Dam Study Rider Dumped
[4] Hatchery Fish Will Seed Barren Streams

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Columbia Basin fish managers got together last week with tribal and non-treaty harvesters and a sprinkling of mid-level NMFS policy folks to air concerns about next year's big harvest headache--the likelihood of dealing with huge numbers of spring chinook, and how to catch a lot of them while letting the small numbers of ESA-listed fish pass safely to spawning grounds.

ODF&W harvest manager Guy Norman was the only speaker who actually put a number to the size of next year's run. He said that more than 300,000 springers could show up at Bonneville Dam. Actually, it might be a lot worse than that--or better, depending on your perspective--since this year's jack count may signal a spring run of more than half a million fish.

It was something of a fluke that the two-day Portland meeting even took place. Before lower Columbia tribes would join in on the workshop--a pet project of Rob Walton, assistant director of the Public Power Council--organizers gave them a whole day to express their policy concerns over the future of basin-wide hatchery production.

Since the US v. Oregon process has not been renewed, efforts to come up with a new long-term management plan for tribal harvest and hatchery production have stalled. The tribes feel that harvest talks should not be de-coupled from issues of artificial propagation and fish supplementation. Their vision was expressed by Don Sampson, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, who told the gathering that "our goal is five million fish in 25 years." Sampson also pushed for more use of appropriate hatchery stocks to supplement wild runs, a strategy both NMFS and the states feel is not yet proven. "The states are playing games on production," Sampson said.

But the region may have a hard enough time dealing with only 500,000 fish. One possibility is to catch fish "selectively," that is, by harvesting salmon in ways that would allow the endangered ones to be released alive. To accomplish this, all hatchery fish targeted for harvest would be marked to differentiate them from wild fish, usually by clipping a small fin near the tail.

NMFS policymaker Larry Rutter said there is still an open debate about the value of selective fisheries "and harvest will be constrained for a considerable amount of time." He was hopeful that selective fishing could benefit both fisheries and listed fish.

The whole situation has state fish agencies nervous. WDF&W head Jeff Koenings said politicians want answers to two important questions--"Why are we funding hatcheries if we can't catch the fish, and why can't we put hatchery fish in the wild?"

He said his department is working with tribal biologists to study new ways to catch fish selectively by using tangle nets and floating trap nets, and they are experimenting with a prototype fish wheel on the Skagit River--all different ways of catching fish live, rather than using the traditional gillnet.

But Koenings cautioned the group about the possible downsides. Released fish could be over-stressed from the process, for example, even to the point that the stress of catch and release could affect the viability of the eggs later deposited on spawning beds.

Fish managers are already overstressed at the thought of potential funding cuts if they don't solve the hatchery surplus question soon. Attorney Jim Waldo, who facilitated a recent regional process on hatchery reform, chided CRITFC representatives for "missing the point," and told the parties they were getting in each other's way.

"A lot of you are fighting wars from a couple of years ago," Waldo said. "You might not have money in the future if you don't have consistency...If you don't get your act together the feds will come up with a new way to run the Basin," he warned. "There never was a better time than now to focus on habitat," Waldo added. "But if you're off fighting these old issues you'll lose your chance...You know enough to make sure nobody reaches an agreement if you choose to."

The second day was devoted to the nuts and bolts of selected fisheries and problems associated with marking all hatchery fish while maintaining the integrity of the coast-wide coded wire tag program. Until recently, only CWT fish were marked by clipping the adipose fin. Currently, about 32 million chinook are tagged yearly, along with 9 million coho.Other biologists were concerned about uncertainties regarding the level of incidental fish mortality associated with harvest--which in some fisheries, like gillnetting, has been estimated as high as 60 percent.

A contingent of Canadian fishermen explained their experiments with selective fishery techniques, part of a $20 million program developed to look at new ways of harvesting salmon after the crash of BC's coho stocks several years ago. The Canadians are investigating fish wheels, floating traps, and beach seines. Some are already working with their US counterparts to develop these techniques in the Northwest.

One intriguing possibility was a fish wheel was developed by Canadian tribal fisheries folks. It is based on a design now used on the Yukon River, said Craig Orr of the BC Aboriginal Fish Commission, who pointed out that the fish wheels of the Yukon were based on the designs originally used in the Columbia River.

Some researchers privately expressed concern about the region's extensive PIT tag research effort if a large selective in-river fishery is developed. But with years of evaluation needed for the new harvest techniques, a large fishery isn't likely to happen by next spring. NMFS harvest manager Peter Dygert said the inriver harvest may bump up a few points, but presently, the lower river tribes only catch about 8 percent of the spring run, and most of that is for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Still, with the large numbers of fish expected, tribal fishermen may have their hands full--even at the 8 percent level.

Though most of their catch last spring was for ceremonial and subsistence use, tribal fishers caught several thousand chinook which they sold "over the bank." Next year's run could put them in more of a production mode, with the possibility of dealing with tens of thousands of spring chinook for harvest. The early run could command high prices, since the only other fresh wild chinook on the market at that time of year is the highly hyped Copper River chinook from Alaska. Last year, only 32,000 Copper River kings were landed, but prices to fishermen reached as high as $4 per pound in the early part of the May fishery. -Bill Rudolph


Washington state is officially at odds with several main ingredients in the new federal recipe for saving Northwest salmon. State officials don't like the Clinton Administration's effort to hand off habitat mitigation efforts to the Power Planning Council. As spelled out in the draft hydro BiOp, it's a huge undertaking with unknown costs that's designed to get the hydro system out of a jeopardy ruling by improving ESA-listed fish runs. The feds have said strategies like removing the four lower Snake dams aren't likely to recover runs without an intensive "off-site" mitigation effort involving all the other H's of habitat, hatcheries and harvest.

The state also took a stand at odds with the feds over harvest. NMFS has prioritized tribal harvest of salmon, citing treaty trust responsibilities. But Washington says that court orders have ruled that non-treaty fishers shall share equally in harvest opportunities.

In comments submitted late last month on the federal caucus' draft recovery strategy for the Columbia Basin (aka All-H, and 4-H), Curt Smitch, special assistant to Gov. Gary Locke, didn't pull any punches.

"Washington strongly disagrees with the Strategy's statement that the Council's sub-basin initiative is the 'best opportunity' for multiple jurisdictions to reach agreement," Smitch said. "To avoid jeopardy for the federal hydro system, agreements on off-site mitigation measures need to be made with each state, consistent with their respective strategies for salmon recovery, not with 'multiple jurisdictions.' The Council is a regional entity, not a state entity, and a regional entity does not have authority over water and land use decisions that are essential components of any effort to recover salmon in the Columbia Basin. This jurisdiction resides with state and local governments."

Smitch was also concerned about the Council's way of measuring potential fish productivity by a complicated computer analysis called EDT [Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment]. He said there is no guarantee that NMFS' ESA concerns, which focus on specific weak stocks, will be satisfied by the Council's ecosystem-based approach to fish recovery.

Power Planning Council chair Larry Cassidy, who hails from Washington state himself, said the state supports subbasin planning, just not the subbasin planning "process" that's being pushed in the Council's draft program. "Frankly," Cassidy said last week, "I'm surprised the other states aren't as concerned about this."

As for harvest, the state does not seem to support a Secretarial Order signed by the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior in June 1997 that describes guidelines for dealing with ESA issues that affect tribal entities and clarifies the responsibilities of the two Departments when ESA actions may affect Indian lands, tribal trust resources, or exercise of tribal rights.

This little-known order is titled the American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act; and its purpose is "to ensure that Indian tribes do not bear a disproportionate burden for the conservation of listed species, so as to avoid or minimize the potential for conflict and confrontation."

"We don't necessarily agree with everything in the secretarial order," Smitch told NW Fishletter.

The order also says that any conservation restrictions directed at a tribal activity must meet certain standards, including "the conservation purpose of the restriction cannot be met by reasonable regulation of non-Indian activities," and another that makes sure any restrictions do not discriminate against Indian activities.

But Washington's comments are at odds with the federal policy, which some tribal attorneys have interpreted to mean that all non-tribal harvest must cease before tribal fishing efforts are curtailed.

"Washington does have a concern that the Strategy expresses federal trust responsibility to tribal fisheries as a priority right, superceding non-tribal fisheries," Smitch's letter says. "Court orders have established that treaty and non-treaty fisheries shall share equally in the opportunity to harvest fish not needed for escapement. The 'conservation necessity' limitation on the state's authority to regulate treaty Indian fishing does not require that non-Indian fisheries be restricted more than treaty fisheries to provide adequate escapement."

Washington state policymakers feel additional harvest restrictions would do little to help recovery efforts, and they say the focus needs to be on modifying the hydro system, hatchery improvements and "substantial work" on tributary habitat. But they also support the increased use of selective fishing tools that would allow the harvest of abundant hatchery stocks while decreasing impacts on weak ESA-listed fish. The state says these policies should be implemented through a revised Columbia River Fish Management Plan--a policy venue of states, tribes and feds that has expired. But attempts at negotiating a new plan have stumbled over differences about the future of hatchery production. Tribes said last week the plan is stuck because the states are playing games over production.

But Smitch says there won't be any progress on hatchery issues until NMFS gives the region "guidance" on genetic issues--to resolve the debate over the relative value of hatchery and wild fish. Smitch said the state has tried for five years to get an answer from NMFS. "It's not our call," he said. "In the final analysis, it's going to be a federal judge."

Smitch says the state is not happy with the way NMFS is handling ESA harvest issues, either. By using Section 7 of the act for the tribes and Section 10 for the states, he said the federal agency is misguided. "It's bad public policy and illegal," Smitch said.

The letter also brings up the issue of recent power shortages on the West Coast. It says the Strategy should deal with "how dam operators are to manage salmon recovery in the face of emergency demands for power."

Washington also expressed frustration at not being involved in earlier discussions with the feds since a large part of the off-site mitigation burden will fall to the states. Some of that frustration comes from the feds' unwillingness to provide an "overview of the basic funding allocation issues, including how they will be resolved." According to Smitch's letter, that includes sorting out BPA vs. Congressional appropriations; federal vs. state responsibilities; allocations between planning vs. implementation, and between ESA and non-ESA species.

"Idaho and Oregon all share our concerns," Smitch said, noting that BPA, which funds the lion's share of the Columbia Basin's recovery effort, has to decide whether to bet on the Council's fish and wildlife program to satisfy ESA concerns or deal with the ESA directly. "The ESA is going to trump the Council's program," he said.

The Power Planning Council is voting this week on amendments to their old fish and wildlife program, including the draft program which spells out, in general terms, how the subbasin planning effort will be implemented. With only five votes needed to pass an amendment, it seems unlikely the eight-member Council will suddenly vote to begin the entire process over again. As one member put it, "It's a start." -B. R.


As this year's Congressional session winds down, appropriations measures continue to slowly make their way to the White House. The $23.6 billion Energy and Water Appropriations bill won congressional approval, but faces a veto from President Clinton. A fracas over Administration plans to alter the flow of the Missouri River is threatening the measure, which also contains $81 million for Columbia River fish mitigation. Clinton wants to return the Missouri River to seasonal ebb and flow water levels, a plan that has met strong opposition in that state. In a statement issued from the White House, Clinton also said the measure "fails to provide sufficient funding for...our strategy to restore endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest."

In addition, the President criticized the bill for "[failing] to fund efforts to research and develop non-polluting sources of energy through solar and renewable technologies that are vital to America's energy security." In a press release, he promised to veto the measure when it arrives on his desk.

While the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 57-37, supporters were 10 votes short of the 67 needed to override a veto. Sources say Congress will likely remove the offending elements of the bill following the expected veto. The amended measure could be back on the President's desk by the end of the week.

Another appropriations bill barely escaped the President's veto pen. Clinton had indicated that he would refuse to sign the $18.7 million Interior appropriations bill because of a controversial rider banning research on breaching Snake River dams. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) authored the rider, but he withdrew it following the veto threat and criticism from environmental groups and some members of Congress. Clinton is now expected to sign the Interior bill. -Lynn Francisco


While the debate over using surplus hatchery fish to rebuild natural runs is still raging among regional biologists, Northwest salmon policymakers have decided to use some extra hatchery fish to seed areas where wild runs have disappeared.

The federal proposal to remove non-native spring chinook from northeastern Washington's Winthrop Hatchery is the scene of the latest controversy. Tribes, irrigators and local politicians all complained after the feds decided that only one of two composite stocks which return to the hatchery could be used to help rebuild the ESA-listed stock in the Methow River--the so-called "Methow composite."

The other stock is named after Carson hatchery in the lower Columbia where it was cultivated in the 1970s from broodstock captured in the fishladder at Bonneville Dam--a mixture of upper Columbia and Snake River spring chinook.

Since then, the Carson stock has been the hatchery stock of choice for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; it's still being released at the agency's Leavenworth Hatchery on the Wenatchee River. It was also used extensively in Idaho and Northeast Oregon, a practice now ended, partly because its performance was so poor, partly to provide better protection for ESA-listed native spring chinook in the Snake Basin-a strategy also criticized by Basin tribes.

A three-year phasing out of the Carson stock has been planned at the Winthrop Hatchery, an agreement supported by NMFS, USF&WS and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The hatchery will only use the Methow River "composite" chinook, which is actually a blend of native Methow River fish and the Carson stock. According to NMFS, the earlier, enthusiastic use of the Carson Hatchery chinook resulted in a blended fish with 40 percent of its genetic makeup coming from the Carson stock.

Knowing this key fact, the tribes say the Carson Hatchery chinook should stay in the Methow to boost salmon numbers by supplementing the ESA-listed wild springers. After considerable consultations, the federal agencies and tribes have reached an agreement over what to do with the surplus fish.

"The agreement will result in experimental releases of spring chinook into two Washington streams where they've been extirpated: the Walla Walla River and Omak Creek, a tributary of the Okanogan River," said a Sept. 22 USF&WS press release.

"A total of two million excess salmon eggs will be raised at Winthrop, Leavenworth and Entiat national fish hatcheries. Some of the fish will be marked and released into the Methow River and Omak Creek. The majority of the marked fish will be sent to Ringold State Hatchery, where they will be reared and released as smolts. Returning adults from Ringold will be transferred to the South Fork of the Walla Walla River and allowed to spawn naturally. The remaining eggs will be sent to Big White Salmon Ponds on the Lower Columbia River where they will be reared and released as smolts and fingerlings."

Charles Dunn of US Fish and Wildlife's Portland office said his agency has coordinated well with tribes and others to address harvest related impacts and interactions with wild, ESA-listed salmonids. "We have not officially consulted with NMFS yet on this issue," said Dunn, "but that will lead to a biological opinion on this release. This is where concerns will be identified, and we are relying on feedback from NMFS."

The Carson spring chinook will be moved from Winthrop Hatchery to the Ringold Hatchery (near Pasco) and to Big White Salmon for release. Ringold will get about 2.4 million eggs and one million smolt and Big White Salmon will get one million eggs and 300,000 smolt.

Both these facilities were targeted for closure from reduced funding for Mitchell Act hatcheries, but Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) promised to find $184,000 to raise the Carson spring chinook at the Big White Salmon ponds. The state of Washington will have to come up with funding to support rearing at Ringold Hatchery. The NMFS and the USF&WS both agree that these fish should be marked so they can be identified when upon their return.

"We're thrilled to have reached an agreement that avoids destroying any eggs--and meets Endangered Species Act requirements and our tribal trust responsibilities," said Anne Badgley regional USF&WS director. -Bill Bakke

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