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[1] Fall Chinook: The Good, the Bad, And The Ugly
[2] Science Panel on Salmon Recovery
[3] F&W Managers Ask For Moon: BPA Will Give Something Less
[4] Contingency Plan OK'd For Chums
[5] Terns Win Harassment Suit
[6] Lohn Named To Head Northwest NMFS Region
[7] BiOp Judge Suggests Mediation

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With fall chinook pouring into the Columbia River, and sports fishermen inundated with a huge coho run in the lower river, this year's bounty has had a definite downside for commercial fishermen--lousy prices--so low in fact, that Astoria-based fishermen boycotted several days' worth of openings to protest the 30 cents a pound they were offered by wholesale buyers for fall chinook bound for terminal area fisheries. To add insult to injury, the fall chinook run got its second wind. By last weekend, about 25,000 chinook were passing Bonneville Dam each day, a week after harvest managers had figured the run "plateaued."

Long-time Oregon gillnetter Don Riswick told NW Fishletter that fishermen met Sept. 6 to raise public awareness, get reporters interested and call for help from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. The fishermen want a tariff slapped on farmed fish, which has completely changed global salmon markets over the past five years. But a bumper crop of coho in Southeast Alaska has kept the West Coast awash in fish as well, buyers say.

The fishermen staged protests Sept. 10 in both Salem and Olympia against Chilean farmed salmon, which they said was being dumped illegally on US markets and depressing prices for locally caught fish. They passed out free salmon to make their point.

Meanwhile, the fish just keep on coming. By Sept. 10, more than 264,000 (out of an expected 240,000) fall chinook had been counted past Bonneville Dam where tribal fisherman finished their second fishing period. But they weren't finding prices any better upriver. Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said wholesale prices were only in the 30-50 cent-a-pound range for upriver brights bound for the Hanford Reach, but tribal fishers were fetching up to $2 a pound in over-the-bank sales directly to the public. The tribes were marketing fish mainly at Cascades Locks and Richland.

Hudson said preliminary figures showed that the Zone 6 tribal fishery above Bonneville Dam harvested about 17,000 fall chinook that were delivered to wholesalers and up to 8,000 more that were sold directly to the public, along with 3,000 steelhead. Their second fishing period was even better--by then, the tribes had caught almost 65,000 chinook altogether,

Hudson mentioned that tribal fishers were not getting much for fall tules--hatchery fall chinook raised at facilities just upstream from Bonneville--because the fish are nearly ready to spawn by the time they are caught. "The earlier tules are better quality," Hudson said, "but by now they are almost not worth the effort of catching them because of the damage they can cause to your nets." The mature fish, with snaggle teeth and hook noses can easily snag and tear gillnets.

Buyers were offering about 15 cents a pound for tules, said a spokesperson for Fishhawk Fisheries in Astoria.The fish are too ripe for the fresh fish case, and are sold to smokers.

ODFW harvest manager Pat Frazier said an earlier 5-night opening for non-Indian fishers upriver between Beacon Rock and the I-205 bridge yielded about 4,400 chinook, with 15 to 35 boats participating, depending on the night.

Harvest began about the same time NMFS revised downward its estimate of last year's return of fall chinook to the Snake River, where the wild fish have 'threatened' status under the ESA.

WDFW biologist Glen Mendel, based in Dayton, WA, said at a recent meeting between NMFS and state personnel, it was announced that the feds decided only 560 wild fall chinook made it over Lower Granite last year, instead of the 900 or so adults that had been reported in preliminary estimates. The difference, Mendel said was due to more accurate measurement of fish after initial examination at the dam, which put more of them in the "jack" category of smaller, yet sexually precocious males. A final report on the change should be out soon, he added.

Accurate counting is complicated by an intense effort to supplement the fall run above Lower Granite with fish supplied by the nearby Lyons Ferry hatchery. Many returning adults from this year's run may be sporting a coded wire tag deep in their heads, but are not displaying a clipped fin, which generally denotes a fish of hatchery origin. Others bear color-coded eye tags that signify where the fish were released above the dam.

WDFW harvest manager Cindy LeFleur, who heads the technical committee that oversees river harvest regimes, said the Snake estimates will be revised to account for the change, but she had not been officially informed of it yet.

LeFleur said the Snake fall run is considered a component of the upriver bright Columbia run, though it's much smaller in size, generally about only one percent of the main upriver run, which is currently harvested at a rate slightly over 30 percent in the river, with ocean fisheries accounting for another 20-25 percent. She said reducing last year's estimate would mean that only about 1,500 Snake fall chinook entered the Columbia last year.

But harvest managers are sticking to their guns for a larger return this year. Based partly on high jack counts last year, they expect about 2,700 wild fall chinook over Lower Granite by the end of season--that's a few hundred more fish than the number NMFS considered as a recovery threshold just a few years ago. But no more than 1,000 wild fish have been counted annually since the dam was built in 1974, the last of four projects on the lower Snake. In the last decade or so, the count has ranged from a low of 78 fish in 1990 to a high of 907 fish in 1999.

A recent harvest agreement between feds, states and tribes governs harvest rates of the upriver bright chinook run, with about 8 percent going to non-Indian fishers, and 23 percent for tribal harvesters.

"We don't get a lot of grief over Lower Granite return rates," said ODFW's Frazier," as long as we stay within the harvest rates."

The tribes are also allowed 17 percent of the late steelhead run, whose wild component is also listed. Last year, BPA purchased more than $300,000 worth of new nets for tribal fishers with a larger mesh size, to allow more ESA-listed steelhead through the Zone 6 fishery, but it was not yet reported how many of the nets were being used this year. Last season, about one-third of the more than 600 nets in the tribal fishery were of the larger mesh variety. In 2000, treaty fishers caught 52,000 fall chinook and more than 15,000 steelhead.

The tribes were getting more fishing time this week, as harvest managers met Sept. 10 to boost their estimate of the run size. ODFW's Frazier said it was going up to a total of 352,000 fish, with 190,000 fall chinook heading for Hanford Reach and 109,000 tules bound for Bonneville Pool. He said the managers were meeting again tomorrow to probably bump it up some more. Frazier said they had not revised the estimate for Snake-bound fish, but that run would most likely be up considerably from their original estimate as well. -Bill Rudolph


The Independent Science Advisory Board has released a report that takes a look at the major fish recovery documents dealing with the Columbia Basin and found them all wanting--from the massive NMFS hydro BiOp unleashed last December, to the more general, fuzzy recommendations of the Four Governors' Plan, the All-H Paper, re-christened as the Basinwide Recovery Strategy, and the Power Planning Council's partially completed Fish and Wildlife Program.

"The ISAB believes the overall answer to the question of whether the four documents will lead collectively to salmon recovery actions that have a high chance of succeeding is probably no, although we do not wish to diminish the scientifically sound recommendations contained in each of them," says the report. The groups calls for more details--"explicit and quantified"--so that the sufficiency of the recovery efforts can be evaluated. "We believe, the four documents, collectively, fall short of providing this detail."

The latest report was begun after a letter from environmental groups American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and others wrote to NMFS and the Power Planning Council, calling for the ISAB to review the latest hydro BiOp. The letter was forwarded to the scientific board, who then decided to expanded the review to include the other recovery documents as well, said Mike Schiewe, director of NMFS' Fish Ecology Division in Seattle.

They credit the fresh efforts that take a "functional ecosystem approach" to recovery, that use quantitative models to assess future actions, jeopardy to stocks and the different management alternatives. On the other hand, they fault the documents for shortcomings on the implementation front and the failure to spell out just how specific recovery strategies will be achieved.

They also find a basic problem with data gathering efforts. To create a newer, more reliable monitoring effort is a fine idea, they say, but it still may be difficult to gauge success. "...future comparisons to current data will have difficulty discerning whether population trends are due to real changes caused by management actions, or just reflect the inaccuracy of historical estimates"

The group takes a shot at the new BiOp when it calls "unrealistic" the 5-8 year time frame for monitoring strategies to assess "real changes." In fact, later in the report they say it may take 20 years or more before the results of habitat improvements or other management strategies can be teased out statistically from the natural variability of salmon populations.

They also call "noteworthy" some major issues the documents fail to address--including the assumption that fish supplementation efforts will succeed in rebuilding populations and that hatcheries will mitigate habitat loss. They raised the specter of global warming and increased population as two "probable trends" of environmental variation that the documents do not address.

The ISAB says that harvest regimes should include escapement goals for every unit, and be part of long-term conservation goals. "All of the documents support selective fisheries," says the report, "based on retention of marked fish, but there are potential conflicts between such fisheries and the region's coded wire tag program that has been fundamental to the management and conservation of wild stocks."

New Paradigm

The group says the initiatives that came out of the new paradigm "heralded" by the Independent Scientific Group's 1996 "Return to the River" are still largely feasibility studies, while past techno-fixes such as barging fish have a past momentum that "makes it more likely that they will be continued and even expanded upon incrementally, perhaps to the detriment of the newer ecologically oriented initiatives."

Though the group supports modeling efforts, they say the models sometimes get ahead of the data supply--and they point to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program's use of the EDT system as an example. The model will try to estimate salmon productivity for habitat restoration efforts in each watershed, but since EDT has not been calibrated--and uses "expert" knowledge rather than statistical science at its core, "...the degree of validity of its results is unknown." But they say it's better than nothing, though it's a calculated risk, and that validation of the model should be a high priority for the region.

The group still maintains a strong tie to the original ISG report. In fact, some ISAB members were part of the original group. Their latest report says "Return to the River became not just a functional plea but a literal one as well--to restore the free-flowing Snake River in its entirety from Hells canyon Dam to the Columbia. Despite the decision to withhold that option until other alternatives are more fully explored (2000 Biological Opinion), that most drastic of fixes hangs over the region as strong motivation to seek and implement less socially disruptive but ecologically effective approaches."

They state, rather proudly, it seems, that the drive to breach the lower Snake dams is the "most controversial manifestation" of the new perspective developed by the ISG--a view that considers the mainstem as an "essential support system for salmonids and other valued fish." -B.R.


BPA has re-iterated its commitment to funding fish and wildlife mitigation--to the tune of $186 million annually to pay for the direct costs of the Columbia Basin's fish and wildlife program. That was the word Bonneville's Bob Austin gave to members of the Power Planning Council at their work session in Portland on Aug. 29.

Austin said the $186 million was the figure cited in the rate case and his agency was sticking with it. That's more than $40 million above this year's funding, over 60 percent of which went to pay for anadromous fish projects.

But fish and wildlife managers presented their case for next year's Plateau province funding proposals without any budgetary restrictions in mind, which raised a few eyebrows when it added up to nearly three times the amount that BPA is spending in the region this year. The area is huge, including the John Day, Umatilla and Yakima basins, and covers hatchery operations, habitat restoration, land acquisition and other fish and wildlife mitigation efforts.

The managers, led by Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority director Brian Allee, had initially recommended $81 million in FY 02 proposals for the Plateau province. He brought in five volumes of paperwork to show the Council how much work had been done to examine the 164 proposals that were under review. He said the review was completed "in the context of no budgetary constraint," but "we will bring back a balanced budget."

After a review by the Council's panel of independent scientists, the winnowed proposals came in at $66 million, still nearly twice this year's budget for ongoing projects. The scientists agreed with CBFWA on the value of 138 proposals, about 84 percent, and only recommended not to fund 13 percent. During the process NMFS identified about 90 of the projects as "potentially" being consistent with the new hydro BiOp.

Carl Merkle, biologist for the Umatilla Tribes, said they were all "high-priority projects."

But the Council was clear that some serious cutting was in order. It was simply not certain who would hold the knife. "We cannot realistically fund all this and leave none for the rest of the provinces," said NWPPC chair Larry Cassidy. He commended the CBFWA managers for excellent work, "but there's more to be done."

So far, only two provinces have completed their initial review, the Gorge and Inter-Mountain regions, where proposals have added up to $18 million for next year. With eleven provinces in all, the rolling review will continue through the middle of next year. A large sub-basin planning effort will then get into specific needs for each particular area.

Montana Council member Stan Grace reminded the group that a previous BPA Administrator (Judi Johansen) under a different Administration committed to funding a "unified" plan. The newest Judi on scene, Judi Danielson, Idaho's recent addition to the NWPPC, said she would oppose spending more than the $186 million BPA has committed to.

How the Council's planning works with the ESA was a subject that NMFS biologist Tom Cooney addressed. After outlining how NMFS technical recovery teams [TRT] could mesh with sub-basin planning efforts to develop recovery plans, Cooney was clear about the need for a credible planning effort. "I don't think we're going to rubber-stamp lists from some old sub-basin plan," he said, adding that the plans must be defensible to a new scientific review panel that NMFS is setting up.

He cautioned that in 18 to 24 months' time, "we'll be well on the way to a policy of recovery planning," and noted that the TRTs could help sub-basin planning efforts with development of monitoring and evaluation programs. He said the real detail work won't come for another two years as teams complete population assessments, identify limiting factors to recovery and determine the most important part of each evolutionarily significant unit (ESU). A team that will tackle seven ESUs in the Snake and Upper Columbia areas is now being put together, he said.

Washington Council member Tom Karier pointed out that the sub-basin planning effort won't be completed until 2004, but the feds want 5-year plans ready for each ESU by September 2003. Cooney sounded amenable, though. "If it's far enough along, we might be OK," he told the Council. The TRTs could be utilized to "ground-truth" the sub-basin plans, he told the group, "so NMFS will at least buy off on interim goals." -B. R.


The Power Planning Council has OK'd funding to protect a group of ESA-listed chum salmon if low flows this fall and winter threaten the viability of their spawning area near Ives Island below Bonneville Dam. In addition to paying for an effort to improve spawning gravel in the Duncan Creek area on the Washington side of the Columbia, the Council gave thumbs up to a $170,000 program that would move fish to better spawning habitat in Duncan Creek and/or transport them to the Washougal hatchery, where the fish would be spawned and incubated, to be released later in areas where adult fish had returned.

NMFS came calling at the Aug. 28 Council work session with a significantly reduced proposal in hand. Originally, the agency had wanted over $800,000 to spend on chum habitat restoration and an expensive monitoring effort, but Council staff balked and suggested delaying the monitoring and evaluation until the provincial review for the Lower Columbia region is complete. By the time the figures were appropriately juggled to make everyone happy, $67,000 was coming out of the F&W placeholder budget to keep the total within the $420,000 already approved. The Council staff was concerned that without a review, "the region doesn't know if Duncan Creek is the best place to conduct these observations..." said an e-mail exchange between the parties.

If low flows keep the chums from reaching nearby creeks, WDFW personnel plan on capturing at least 120 pairs of chum to salvage the population, less if some creek access is available.

NMFS claims that the chum salmon ESU is made up of two genetic enclaves: Grays River, which is relatively large, and Bonneville. According to NMFS, the only Bonneville population left spawns in the Ives Island and Hamilton and Hardy Creek area just below Bonneville Dam, with another small group near the I-205 bridge, about 30 miles downstream.

Fish managers say that flows of at least 125 kcfs are needed below Bonneville to allow spawning chums access to the creeks--but allowing that much flow for chums could short spring and summer flow objectives for other ESUs about 25 percent of the time. With 9 MAF less in Canadian reservoirs than last year, they say it's likely that flows will be about 25 kcfs below what will be needed to maintain minimum mainstem spawning habitat.

But NMFS policymaker Jim Ruff was clear--"forgoing access to spawning habitat without intervention is not an option," he told the Council last week, because the fish are listed and their habitat is limited. NMFS said their rule of thumb is that 5 kcfs for one week equals one foot of elevation behind Grand Coulee, so bumping flows to aid chums could possibly drop the reservoir five feet a week--not too likely a scenario this fall with power reliability issues still a major concern for the region, not to mention saving water for adding to spring flows.

Last year, flow that was added to help chums lowered Coulee elevations by eight to ten feet, hydro managers said earlier this year. -B. R.


When Seattle District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled Aug. 9 to put a stop to the tern relocation effort in the Columbia estuary, the birds had already left for greener pastures. Rothstein agreed with bird groups who said the Corps of Engineers' environmental assessment didn't adequately address the long-term impacts to either the tern colony or salmon population.

A briefing at the NWPPC work session in late August revealed that next year the terns may very well be back at their old haunt--Rice Island--where they used to pick off millions of salmon and steelhead smolts annually until biologists began an effort to relocate them further downstream to reduce predation on salmon by expanding their diet to other types of fish. The researchers have been so successful that not one tern nested on Rice Island this spring.

But OSU researcher Dan Roby said unless vegetation is removed annually from the new nesting area at East Sand Island, the birds will likely end up at Rice again, because terns like to build their nests where little vegetation obstructs their view. Agencies said it would take at least a year to write an EIS. Meanwhile, some said the order applied only to federal agencies, but that the state of Oregon, which owns Rice Island, could still keep the birds from landing. East Sand, however, is federal property, and about 9,000 pairs of terns nested there in 2001.

Roby said bird lovers are pointing to this year's record steelhead runs as a signal that the birds have little effect on fish runs. But he said the relocation project has reduced the terns' smolt consumption by several million fish from just two years ago. -B. R.


Commerce Secretary Don Evans announced Sept. 6 the appointment of NWPPC staffer Bob Lohn to head the Northwest regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Lohn currently heads the Power Planning Council's Fish and Wildlife Division and was a prime mover in getting the Council's new subbasin planning effort under way.

Evans said Lohn "brings a native's understanding to his new position. The people of the region will quickly see that Bob is committed to working with them, to help the Administration create policies that bring people together on often thorny issues presented by fisheries management."

Lohn, an attorney, who served as general counsel to the NWPPC from 1987 to 1994, takes over the reins at a time when NMFS faces fresh lawsuits over fish protection from environmental groups who allege the agency is not doing enough to protect salmon. But he brings a wealth of experience to the job, having also served as manager of BPA's Fish and Wildlife Division from 1994-1999. He has worked at the Council in his present position since 1999.

The Administration also announced the appointment of William Hogarth to the top NMFS job in DC. Hogarth has served as the agency's acting assistant administrator since January, and previously headed both NMFS' Southeast and Southwest regional operations. -B. R.


The Oregon federal judge who is in charge of a lawsuit (NWF et al v. NMFS, et al) that challenges the new hydro BiOp has suggested that mediation may be a way to settle the case. In an Aug. 16 letter to all parties, Judge Garr King made the suggestion, and called for the parties to take part in an informal and voluntary assessment led by a mediator from the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.

"I believe this case may have the potential to better address the concerns of all the parties through such a process," said Judge King, in his letter. He outlined the process, which would not attempt to find solutions, but "merely evaluate the potential for parties working together to find them." The mediator would keep all information confidential from both the judge and other parties, including potential stakeholders, who may also be interviewed.

The suit filed by the National Wildlife Federation and other environmental and fishing groups makes broad claims that question the NMFS extinction analysis and the BiOp's call for offsite mitigation to help the hydro system dodge a jeopardy ruling. The Public Power Council and Northwest Irrigation Utilities have already been granted intervenor status, action they say was taken to make sure they had a place at the table if the case goes to mediation.

NIU's director John Saven said if major parties agree to mediation, his group would go along with it. "We don't like certain elements in the BiOp," he said, "but we agree to defend it." Saven expressed a willingness to work with agencies and tribes if the mediation process begins. "We are certainly available and interested to see if it has some legs to it," he added.

The four Northwest states involved have different takes on the subject. Michael Bogart, counsel to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, told the Power Planning Council recently that his state is contemplating joining the suit on behalf of NMFS because the plaintiffs are using the action as a way to attempt to breach Snake River dams, and cited the Earthjustice website as proof, where a headline in their "urgent cases" section reads "Suit Seeks Breaching of Snake River Dams."

Oregon Power Planning Council member Eric Bloch told NW Fishletter that, as a sovereign entity, his state believes it has a right to take part in mediation without taking an active role in the case. He said there's been no decision to support either side.

Bloch thought mediation could do some good, by making parts of the BiOp more specific about what activities will actually come about and be funded, and help resolve questions about where other federal agencies will get salmon recovery funding.

He made clear that Ore. Gov. John Kitzhaber supports the BiOp. "We don't want to see it set aside," Bloch said, who added that issues of implementation can be worked out. He said Oregon did not think it was productive to toss it out and go through "three or four more years of rancorous debate" to create a new BiOp.

Montana Council member Stan Grace was meeting with his Governor Judy Martz to discuss the issue. He said it was unlikely Montana would file to take part in the action.

As for Washington, the state's salmon advisor Curt Smitch was unable to respond by press time, but it was reported that he could not get a consensus from the state's natural resource cabinet to support NMFS in the case. -B. R.

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