BPA Says GAO Report Seriously Underestimates Fish Recovery Costs
 BPA Explains Last Year's Billion-Dollar Fish Costs
 Proposed Changes To Hydro Operations Could Save Millions
 RAND Report Stirs Dam Breaching Issue Back To Life
 Brogoitti Removal Hearing Canceled Indefinitely
 Debate Continues Over Steelhead Bycatch In Lower River Fishery
 BPA SAYS GAO REPORT SERIOUSLY UNDERESTIMATES FISH RECOVERY COSTS
A new report from the General Accounting Office that indicates the federal government has spent $3.3 billion in the last 10 years on Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead recovery seriously underestimates what has actually been spent, say critics of the review. Those critics include the Bonneville Power Administration, which has funded the lion's share of the basin's recovery costs for the past 25 years. The power agency reportedly spent about $1.5 billion last year alone on power purchases related to fish recovery efforts, but the GAO didn't include those dollars in its assessment.
The Aug. 26 report, commissioned earlier this year by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), pegs estimated recovery expenditures for 11 federal agencies at almost $1.8 billion (unadjusted for inflation) from 1982 through 1996, and about $1.5 billion (2001 dollars) from 1997 through 2001. Crapo said the report contained some key findings regarding the ESA consultation process and showed the federally-managed system needs more financial accountability.
Others said the big issue was what the GAO didn't count. "This report totally mis-characterizes the issue," said BPA spokesman Mike Hansen, who said his agency reviewed the draft report and made comments that reflected their concerns. Though the GAO responded to BPA's letter and included it in the report, Hansen said the GAO "didn't do a very good job of making our points" in its response.
He said that BPA ratepayers had paid for about $1.1 billion of the $1.5 billion in recovery efforts the GAO tallied up since 1996. But the report did not include what the power agency lost on foregone revenues and spent on power purchases during that time, a complaint BPA made in its critique of the GAO draft report.
Hansen said BPA has draft numbers for its last five years of foregone revenues and power purchase costs related to fish actions. These costs, incurred by the agency to satisfy BiOp-mandated reservoir elevations, along with flow and spill regimes designed to improve fish passage at dams, were tentatively estimated at $800 million and $1.3 billion, respectively.
A soon-to-be released Power Planning Council report on BPA's fish and wildlife costs pretty much tracks with the BPA numbers, pegging the 1996-2001 fish-related foregone revenue and power purchase costs at a whopping $2.3 billion, most of which was incurred during last year's drought. Though the numbers are preliminary, BPA spent about $1.5 billion in 2001 in that category, according to the report. BPA's 2001 annual report said total power purchases for the year added up to about $2.3 billion, with total sales of $3.56 billion. In 2000, these fish-related costs added up to about $337 million and in 1999, $252 million.
The GAO said it didn't include costs of foregone revenues from flow augmentation and spill strategies, or the added costs of replacement power "because they do not reflect expenditures for actual recovery actions and determining these costs is difficult to derive, since replacement power and lost revenues could result from other management decisions that are not related to salmon and steelhead recovery."
In its final report, the GAO agreed that BPA is a major supplier of fish recovery money. "However, we were not asked to provide information on the source of funds for salmon and steelhead recovery efforts but rather how much the agencies spent on such efforts. Therefore, the report reflects the funds Bonneville is referring to as expenditures by other federal agencies, such as the Corps, Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service."
But BPA's Hansen said the report downplays the fact that regional ratepayers, not the nation's taxpayers, pay for the lion's share of the recovery efforts. For instance, the report estimates the US Army Corps of Engineers spent about $598 million from 1997 through 2001 on recovery efforts. "About $450 million was funded by ratepayers," said Hansen.
The GAO report pegged BPA's expenditures for the same period at nearly $405 million, but the power agency's letter on the draft report says its costs were actually over $3 billion. The June letter also stressed that the final report should make clear that costs are not borne by US taxpayers. The final report does mention this issue, but says additional details were added to show how BPA covers other agency expenditures and how it reimburses the US Treasury for both capital and O&M costs by agencies' recovery efforts.
A Washington, DC-based tax lobbying group was quick to pick up the topic. "There is really no evidence that this massive federal investment has been effective at all," said Autumn Hanna, policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, in a news release issued by the budget-watchdog organization. "We are sending billions of dollars down the river with no clear results and no accountability for how these agencies spend our money."
Despite the many federal actions taken to recover the fish stocks, "the precise extent of their effects on salmon and steelhead are not well understood," the GAO report said. It was difficult to quantify benefits from the actions because of natural fluctuations in fish populations, ocean conditions, and the length of time for "some project benefits to materialize," the report continued. "However, federal agencies are confident that recovery actions are having positive effects and have resulted in higher numbers of returning adult salmon and steelhead than would have occurred otherwise."
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said the GAO remarks were an "oversimplification," and pointed out "extensive agency and published peer-reviewed science that documents at least the proximate effects of salmon recovery science." In a letter regarding the report, NOAA cited NMFS research that found major improvements in juvenile fish survival after 1993, when dam operators began an extensive series of modifications to improve fish passage.
But since the National Marine Fisheries Service did not quantify adult returns from the juvenile migrations, the GAO said its report makes a valid point because there is "little evidence to quantify the effects of recovery efforts on the number of returning salmon and steelhead." The report pointed to "other" studies that have shown that bypass facilities at dams increase fish mortality downstream.
Other federal agencies' 1997-2001 recovery costs were much more modest. The US Forest Service spent $105 million, mostly on ESA consultations and habitat improvement; US Fish and Wildlife Service funded salmon and steelhead hatcheries at a cost of $97 million; and the US Bureau of Reclamation spent $62 million on Columbia and Snake river recovery projects and for water enhancement in the Yakima Basin. Seven other federal agencies spent a total of $114 million.
Over the 1997-2001 time frame, the GAO report said that Northwest states received nearly $217 million in federal funds, and Indian tribes got $137 million for fish recovery projects. Bill Rudolph
 BONNEVILLE EXPLAINS LAST YEAR'S BILLION-DOLLAR FISH COSTS
It's now official: BPA spent about $1.5 billion last year on power purchases to make up for fish-related actions. The figure is going into an annual report on fish and wildlife spending that was unveiled at this week's meeting of the Power Planning Council in Spokane.
Sky-high market prices for power accounted for the huge expenditure. If average prices were at early 2000 levels, the agency would have spent about $106 million on the fish-related costs, according to a Sept. 4 NWPPC memo.
Since 1978, the draft report documents $6 billion in BPA fish and wildlife spending, with more than half, about $3.4 billion, spent on a combination of foregone revenues and power purchases to satisfy hydro operations required by NMFS to help migrating stocks of endangered salmon and steelhead. The document says only about $116 million was attributable to foregone revenues from fish-related actions last year.
BPA hydraulic engineer Roger Schiewe told council members how the agency estimated its costs using its monthly computer model. The estimates are required by terms of the 1996 MOA on fish and wildlife spending and is also necessary for BPA to get credit for power purchases.
The model was run two ways, said Schiewe, with and without fish measures. Fish measures change reservoir elevations from normal operating limits and reduce generation through spill at projects to aid fish migrations.
Due to last year's drought, spill was limited after BPA declared a power emergency, which suspended BiOp mandates to ensure the power system's reliability. In May 2001, about 270 MW-months' worth of water was actually spilled for fish; the BiOp would have required 1844 MW-months' worth. Over the migration season, the system only spilled about 20 percent of the BiOp requirement. BPA had earlier estimated that it would have cost the agency over $700 million to satisfy BiOp spill requirements last year.
Source: BPA (Click to Enlarge)
Using a series of graphs, Schiewe showed how holding scarce water in storage for fish measures affected last year's power operations. He said the 2001-2002 water year began with the federal hydro system at about 85 percent of full capacity, which didn't help matters as the drought worsened.
The system produced about 7000 aMW each month last winter--about 1000 aMW less than it could have if it had not been constrained by fish mandates. By the spring of 2001, when firm energy prices were averaging nearly $300/MWh , the agency was spending millions daily to make up for it.
By June 2001, when prices declined after FERC slapped on the West Coast price caps, fish measures had little to do with actual operations. By September, Dow Jones Mid-C average prices had declined to about $24/MWh.
The draft report to the Council also says that BPA has spent more than $1 billion to implement the Council's fish and wildlife plan. Other costs include debt service on federal bonds to pay for fish passage projects ($957.7 million) and repayment of part of other agencies' fish and wildlife expenses ($582.9 million), primarily the Corps of Engineers.
Since a recent GAO study on fish costs did not include power purchases and foregone revenues for fish-related actions, it pegged Columbia Basin fish recovery costs at significantly less than the draft report discussed last week at the council meeting. The GAO said it could not relate those power costs to any particular activity. But BPA has said the GAO study "grossly" understated the magnitude of its costs and expenditures.
In talking points related to the issue, BPA points out that the GAO's accounting method failed to consider the power agency's unique circumstances as a self-financing entity "that meets its obligations using ratepayer funds, through a combination of direct expenditures, reimbursements, and the costs of replacement power purchases and lost revenues." -B. R.
 PROPOSED CHANGES TO HYDRO OPERATIONS COULD SAVE MILLIONS
Recommended changes to the Power Planning Council's mainstem fish and wildlife program could save BPA millions of dollars every year, according to a preliminary analysis by the council staff. That's because Montana calls for jettisoning the BiOp flow targets now in place and reducing spill at dams to just above legal limits of gas supersaturation levels, staffer John Fazio told council members at their Sept. 11 meeting in Spokane. The proposed reduction would cut spill volume at federal dams from about 84 million acre feet to 49 MAF, he said.
According to the analysis, Montana's recommendations, which call for no spring flow augmentation at all for fish, could produce almost 4000 MW-months more power every year. At $27/MWh, that would add up to $56 million annually, said the council power analyst.
Idaho's proposed changes would have far less impact, with a projected energy gain of 70 MW-months, or about $2.5 million annually. The Idaho amendment would stick to most flow objectives in the BiOp, though the state said it "questions" them, and calls for releasing water out of its Dworshak reservoir through the end of September, a month longer than now practiced.
As for fish benefits, that analysis is still up in the air. Council staff will be collecting information from other agencies and doing some modeling of spill benefits through the mainstem reaches, but staffer Bruce Suzumoto cautioned that there isn't much data to collect on resident fish. That's a main reason for Montana's amendment, which would reduce river fluctuations below Hungry Horse and Libby reservoirs. Important information is also lacking in the mid-Columbia region and Hanford Reach.
Neither of the two states support current NMFS mandates for operation in their parts of the hydro system. Washington's Tom Karier was more cautious. His comments seemed to favor more testing of mainstem spill scenarios in conjunction with NMFS "to develop the most optimum set of operations at the lowest costs."
But Montana member John Hines said the new science questions the benefits of spring flow, and "good science" has documented the detrimental effects of spring water releases on Montana's resident fish populations, including bull trout. Hines said a balance has to be struck between upstream and downstream benefits.
Idaho member Jim Kempton pointed out that NMFS' call for more water from Dworshak comes without any demonstrated benefits to fish. He said the Idaho amendment would allow more flexibility for resident fish needs--with little change in BiOp flows at Lower Granite, according to the Council's own analysis.
"Let's not be the blind following the blind when it comes to the National Marine Fisheries Service," Kempton said. He supported more testing, but added that it should be planned beforehand, and not called a "test" as the fisheries service is proposing in asking for more water from Dworshak right now.
Washington's Spokane Tribe had recommended a change in target elevations at Grand Coulee, with no flow augmentation at all between June and December, to allow resident fish in Lake Roosevelt the unquantified benefit of more nutrient retention time. Flows downstream at McNary Dam would be about 8 percent less than the 50-year average during the first two weeks in August, and 4 percent less during the last two weeks of the month, Fazio said, while the strategy would add about 13 days' of nutrient retention time at Coulee.
Oregon's recommendations were going to be re-appraised for effects on the power side, Fazio said. The state has called for generally increasing flows and spill in mainstem operations, a policy that Oregon council member John Brogoitti has refused to support.
Though fired by Gov. Kitzhaber, Brogoitti remains in his position because the Oregon senate has refused to confirm Kitzhaber's new appointee, and it looks more likely that he will be serving for some time to come. Brogoitti told NW Fishletter he just hopes to stick around long enough to vote for the Idaho and Montana amendments. His vote could prove crucial if Washington's two members do not support them.
Other council members seemed ready to put the draft amendments out for public comment without more analysis. Brogoitti said he wanted to get the amendments out--with differences noted--"to make sure the public is aware of everything that's going on here." Idaho member Judi Danielson said a lot of valuable time has been lost during the process and pressed to get the amendments out for comment by October, so the Council could vote on them at its next meeting later that month.
If the council does vote for changes in hydro operations, NMFS would have to be convinced to make changes to its BiOp before dam operations could legally be modified for ESA fish considerations. Montana council member John Hines said the amendments are supported by the "best available science," and that's what the BiOp says it is based on--with the ability to adapt as new information is gained about fish survivals from various operations.-B. R.
 RAND REPORT STIRS DAM BREACHING ISSUE BACK TO LIFE
A report released last week by the country's oldest think tank has stirred the remnants of the dam breaching debate in the Northwest. The RAND Corporation report, commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trust, says the four dams on the lower Snake River could be removed "without negative consequences to economic growth and net employment." But Northwest critics of the $75,000 report say the findings are skewed by many assumptions, especially the future cost of natural gas. The report, which took eight months to complete, also does not deal with the biological consequences of breaching on ESA-protected salmon and steelhead stocks.
Environmental groups, along with RAND experts, fielded questions about the findings at a Sept. 4 press conference. But without a prior glimpse at the results, it was hard for mainstream reporters to separate the media hype from the report itself. Touting a future of clean air, saved salmon and new jobs, dam breaching advocates from Trout Unlimited, the Northwest Energy Coalition and Save Our Wild Salmon lined up to comment on the results. They did not mention the huge salmon returns from the past few years, which resulted primarily from improved ocean conditions that boosted many smolt-to-adult return rates tenfold or better.
"This treasured regional icon and economic mainstay of the Northwest continues to spiral towards extinction," the groups said in a press release issued on the same day that nearly 20,000 fall chinook were counted passing Bonneville Dam. Overall chinook counts are only a few thousand shy of last year's huge numbers, when over 600,000 spring, summer and fall chinook had been tallied by now.
The bounty has found its way to Idaho as well, where dam-busting rhetoric has been severely muted by the hundreds of thousands of salmon returning to that state as regional agencies struggle to put together the 199 "reasonable and prudent actions" called for in the 2000 hydro BiOp that gets the hydro system temporarily off the hook for jeopardizing ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.
But fish weren't part of the equation in the RAND study. Principal author Mark Bernstein was focused on power issues. Speaking at the press conference, he said as demand for electricity grows, alternatives to hydroelectric power will have to be developed, with the bulk of future power plants expected to be fueled by natural gas. Given such a future, the report developed three different scenarios. One called for meeting 20 percent of the new demand expected to be served by natural gas with energy efficiency and renewable energy; another looked at the impact of removing the lower Snake River dams and replacing the power they generate with either natural gas-fired generation, energy efficiency or wind power; and a third considered how to meet the power needs of direct service industries by "doing more energy efficiency to meet their demands."
"What we found," Bernstein said, "is that you can shift a moderate amount away from future business-as-usual expectations and have no impacts on the economy. In other words, one can take 20 percent of the new natural gas generation that's expected to come on line, and with that and energy efficiency and wind or solar power, and basically have no impact in the economy."
The RAND study used the US Army Corps of Engineers' environmental impact statement on the lower Snake dams to obtain estimates of costs and economic benefits from taking out the four dams. Depending on assumptions about costs, results would be slightly positive or negative, Bernstein said. "But in the big scheme of things, the differences that we're talking about--about plus or minus 2 percent of the gross regional product--we can't say that's any different than zero."
Job creation was a theme the environmentalists pushed in their press release on the RAND study, but the report itself was more cautious. Net employment impacts are in the range of 20,000 jobs by 2020, the report estimated, which would amount to only one-third of one percent of the potential jobs available in the region by then.
The study's methodology has raised some serious questions. "I had higher expectations for the level of review," said PNGC spokesman Scott Corwin. The RAND study "has little or no input from experts on Northwest power issues," he pointed out.
Corwin also had questions about the theoretical macro-economic impacts reported in the study. "If dams are breached, a specific set of industries will take the brunt of the hit," he said. "The links between those industries and the rest of the economy must be investigated. Just look at what has happened to the rural economy with the 50-percent rate hike."
"BPA agrees with RAND's primary conclusion that the Northwest should diversify its resource portfolio with energy conservation and renewables," said Lynn Baker, a spokeswoman for the power agency. "We're doing that now." But Baker said environmental claims that the report provides a "clear road map" for salmon recovery are "greatly overblown." She said BPA stands behind the Corps of Engineers' analysis and NMFS' assessment that dam breaching by itself won't recover the listed stocks, and pointed out the federal agencies are coordinating a huge effort that addresses all aspects of salmon survival--habitat, harvest, hydro and hatcheries.
BPA believes the RAND assumption that replacement power from renewable sources could be on line two years after the four Snake dams are removed is "unrealistic," Baker said, especially with the increasing difficulty in siting large-scale wind projects in the region. She said the study itself says it has "not attempted to assess whether the outcomes are achievable or how they could be achieved."
Baker also noted the difficulties in making assumptions about future resource supply. "Many natural gas plants proposed for the region when wholesale prices soared in 2000 to 2002 have since been cancelled or postponed," she said.
Economic Assumptions Questioned
NWPPC spokesman John Harrison said the report doesn't deal with a fundamental issue--whether power prices will support much of a switch to renewables. "If you can't make money, you aren't going to get a loan to build a plant," he said.
Future natural gas prices are an important factor, Harrison said, and they are likely to be much lower than modeled in the RAND study, which uses an economic model that estimates natural gas prices will more than double in 20 years, to $6 per million Btu. That's a far cry from the April forecast numbers, used in the NWPPC's latest analysis, which predicts natural gas prices will gradually increase to $3/mmBtu by 2005 as new gas-fired power plants come on line. After 2005, prices are expected to increase at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent through 2025, which is closer to a 14 percent increase from present prices.
Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the RAND report verifies CRITFC's own tribal energy vision that the future lies in diversity, conservation and renewables. Sampson said there are huge economic benefits to restoring tribal fisheries that weren't mentioned in the report. "Our belief is that the river's prosperity, from our perspective, has been siphoned off and shipped away for too long."
Sampson said the tribes continue to support the restoration of normative river conditions through "strategic" dam removals and enhanced flow and spill that is critical to salmon rebuilding. He said implementing recommendations in the RAND analysis "would go a long way to realizing the vision of the Northwest Power Act's mandate of an equitable treatment to fish and wildlife."
Nancy Hirsh, policy director for the NW Energy Coalition, said the RAND study "helps provide a marker for the NW Power Planning Council as it develops the fifth electricity demand forecast and sets a new vision for the region for the next 20 years, and for Bonneville as it looks at allocating federal power in the next period of 2006."
Hirsh called the study "very conservative" in its cost estimates and assessments of the potential for efficiencies and renewable energy. She thinks positive economic benefits, including job growth, could be even greater if the region displaced future gas generation by more than the 20 percent modeled in the RAND study.
"We're going to need strong proactive policies to promote renewable energy as a resource" at both state and federal levels, said Hirsh.
Trout Unlimited's Steve Moyer said the breaching debate is not going to disappear. "This study today shows the issue has not gone away and is not going away. It's going to be there and get louder and louder again, just as it did in 2000 when the Clinton Administration put out its 2000 biological opinion.
"We're going to come to these checkpoints here on the salmon recovery plan in 2003 and 2005, and when that happens, we think that the government and the politicians in the region are really going to have to face up to the fact that they haven't gotten done nearly the number and the kind of things that were promised in the Clinton plan, which this administration has essentially adopted," Moyer said. "So the pressure is going to increase on the administration and Congress in the coming months and year, and when they face that pressure this study will be there to remind them that there is a way to get out of this and that they ought to move on to more sustainable energy production mechanisms."
Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, said Northwest fishing and conservation businesses are still continuing to build public support for restoring Columbia and Snake River salmon by "the means necessary. And our work will continue and is continuing, and what will stop the momentum towards removing the lower Snake dams and the only thing that will stop it is restoration of salmon without removal of those dams.
"If the federal government and states can provide that success story, then the cause of lower Snake dam removal will go away," Ford said. "We don't think they'll provide that because we don't think the scientific basis is there for that, nor is the money to implement the plan, nor is the will to implement the plan, but that's what will be needed for the efforts to do what is needed finally to restore salmon."
Ford's group even trotted out former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who said the RAND report shows that removing the dams would not hurt growth and would help create more jobs. "There is no conceivable reason for further delay in removing the dams," Babbitt said.
Ford said the people of the Northwest will demand the restoration of salmon, especially knowing that the economy will not be harmed. What he didn't say was that his organization received a $1.34 million grant last year from the Pew Charitable Trust for "supporting efforts to significantly strengthen the public constituency needed to breach the four dams of the lower Snake River in Washington state."
A RAND spokesman said his company had actually responded to a request for proposals from the NW Energy Coalition in a bid to produce the report. The coalition had not responded to questions for clarification of the PEW funding issue by the time NW Fishletter went online.
Paul Norman, senior vice president for BPA's Transmission Business Line, said his agency talked to RAND officials Sept. 12 via conference call to express concerns about the report. "We told them it was so poorly done that we urged them to pull it back until they could do a professional job," Norman told NW Fishletter. "They took it under advisement," Norman added. "We also urged them to issue a clarification of RAND's view of the interpretation of their report by certain other groups," Norman said. He said RAND agreed with BPA's assessment of the report that found the highest level of future job creation if the dams were left in place, with enough energy efficiencies developed to equal the amount used by the region's direct service industries, principally, the aluminum industry. The RAND report estimated that such a strategy could generate up to 55,000 new jobs in the Northwest. -B. R.
 BROGOITTI REMOVAL HEARING CANCELED INDEFINITELY
An Aug. 30 hearing in Salem that would have allowed Oregon Power Planning Council member John Brogoitti to hear Gov. John Kitzhaber explain why he fired the council member was canceled with no new date named. Kitzhaber is enmeshed in a huge squabble over his state's budget problems, which went from bad to worse last week. The governor called a special session of the legislature to re-balance the budget after announcing an additional $482 million shortfall. Without a tax increase supported by legislators, Kitzhaber said he would be forced to make draconian across-the-board cuts at state agencies.
Kitzhaber fired Brogoitti last month when the rancher refused to resign after he said he could no longer support the governor's fish policies because they didn't reflect the views of his fellow residents in eastern Oregon. But Brogoitti said he wants to stay on the council long enough to vote for a mainstem amendment plan that would recommend dumping current hydro operations that mandate flow augmentation for spring chinook and steelhead migrating through the federal hydro system. Such a vote is likely to take place in October, and would likely be opposed by Oregon's other council member, Eric Bloch--who has filed a candidate statement for circuit court judge in Multnomah County with the Oregon State Bar. Such a filing would put him on a list of potential applicants for a current opening on the court. Kitzhaber is expected to appoint someone from the list for the position.
Meanwhile, the Oregon senate announced it had tabled the nomination for Brogoitti's replacement, attorney and viticulturist Melinda Eden, whom Kitzhaber named to replace Brogoitti on the council. With the Republican-controlled senate refusing to consider Eden's appointment, much less confirm her for the position, Brogoitti is still legally serving on the council, a fact that the governor's office admits. -B. R.
 DEBATE CONTINUES OVER STEELHEAD BYCATCH IN LOWER RIVER FISHERY
Last spring, a test fishery took place on the lower Columbia River using tangle tooth nets, which allowed commercial fishermen to release wild chinook and steelhead, but keep hatchery-raised fish for sale. The hatchery-raised fish sported a clipped adipose fin, so wild fish could be spotted easily, resuscitated in a small tank and returned to the river.
However, the smaller-mesh net, designed to keep fish from becoming gilled, caught more steelhead than expected. The catch ended up exceeding catch allocations for both ESA-listed steelhead and upriver spring chinook. The fishery caught more steelhead than chinook-- 22,000 of them, while landing almost 15,000 chinook-- and created an uproar among fish conservation groups.
The higher-than-expected bycatch of winter steelhead did not surprise fishermen. "The 5.5-inch mesh net caused a steelhead problem, and we knew it would," said gillnetter Jack Marincovich, executive secretary of the Columbia River Fisherman's Protective Union. State fishery agencies allowed the test fishery to use 5.5-inch mesh because that is what the fishermen had available.
NOAA Fisheries' Enrique Patino told Columbia River Compact agencies that the federal harvest limit for the steelhead ESU is 2 percent. "The 2002 tangle net fishery likely exceeded that limit, and possibly by a significant margin," said Patino. Asked if there were any consequences for violation of federal regulations to protect threatened steelhead, he said there were none. "However, we are encouraging the states to do a better job in the 2003 fishery, " Patino said. "We therefore recommend that you move aggressively... this is not time for half-measures."
Terry Turner of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited recommended a 3.5-inch mesh size and asked the Compact agencies to "do everything to reduce steelhead harvest in 2003." Jim Myron, conservation director of Oregon Trout, said that his organization and Washington Trout believe the fishery is "ill-advised...as proposed."
A study has begun to determine the mortality rate of steelhead released from the nets, but a new fishery rule will be adopted before the long-term mortality study is completed in October. "Management is out in front of the data," said WDFW's Bill Tweit.
The Compact proposed adoption of a 4.25-inch mesh net with an expected steelhead harvest rate of 4 percent. By comparison, a 3.5-inch mesh net would have an estimated harvest rate of 1 percent. The dilemma for harvest managers is that while the 3.5-inch mesh may meet the NOAA Fishery standard for steelhead bycatch, the spring chinook catch per unit of effort is low compared to the larger mesh net.
As NW Fishletter was going online, compact members were still negotiating over the size of next year's mesh. But some changes are already in the offing. ODFW's Steve King said that commercial fishermen would be required to also use an "excluder net" with a 12-inch mesh at the top to allow steelhead to swim over the net. To encourage the commercial fishermen to use this new device, they will be allowed to increase the size of their nets by 25 fathoms. In addition, harvest managers advised fishermen to use large recovery boxes on board their boats. A 48-inch-long box will be required after next year.
In 2003, the fishermen will be allowed to use the boxes they constructed for this year's fishery. King also said that time and area closures will also be adopted later, to reduce the interception of steelhead and to maximize the catch of spring chinook. -Bill Bakke
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