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[1] Higher Canadian Catches May Hurt Puget Sound Recovery Efforts
[2] Council Promises More Scrutiny Of Fish Passage Center
[3] Regional Flow Symposium Set For Nov. 9-10 In Portland
[4] Draft Salmon Plan Takes Licks Before Election
[5] Greg Delwiche Named BPA's VF For Environment, Fish And Wildlife
[6] Feds Call For Public Comment On Future Of Mitchell Act Hatcheries
[7] Half Of Sub-Basin Plans Released For Comment

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The far-reaching effort to recover ESA-listed Puget Sound chinook stocks, still focused on developing plans for all 14 major watersheds, reached a near-term goal earlier this month when officials from Snohomish County and their watershed planning partners called for public comment on an ambitious $136 million, 10-year blueprint for improving salmon habitat in the Snohomish watershed.

But a more immediate problem--Canadian fishing--may stifle such salmon improvements. Although U.S. tribal and non-tribal harvesters have significantly reduced their catches over the past 10 years, Canadian fishermen have actually boosted their catches of Puget Sound-bound fish from just a few years ago.

A post-season report released in August indicates the Canadians caught 36 percent more Puget Sound chinook than expected. "Increases in Canadian catches continue to be a serious problem facing the co-managers," says the document, compiled by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal harvest managers.

On the other hand, the plan says both U.S. tribal treaty and non-treaty fisheries landed 25 percent to 59 percent fewer Puget Sound chinook than expected in 2003, and estimates that the overall catch rates (from all fisheries) for northern Puget Sound stocks have decreased from over 70 percent in the mid-1980s to about 25 percent by 2000.

Thomas' Eddy on the Snohomish River, where fishermen wait for a bite as afternoon commuter traffic backs up for a mile behind a nearby stoplight.

The perfectly legal increase in the Canadian harvest is likely responsible for most of a perceived dip in Puget Sound returns last year. According to a fresh set of numbers put together by NOAA scientists, the Puget Sound wild chinook population actually dropped in 2003 after three extremely good years, including runs of more than 61,000 fish in both 2001 and 2002.

The overall size of the 2003 wild run was about 38,000 fish, about 7,000 fish more than the 1999 return, the year the fish were listed for protection under the ESA.

Kit Rawson, Tulalip tribal biologist and member of the Puget Sound technical recovery team, said a federal analysis completed in 1999, when the Pacific Salmon Treaty was being re-negotiated, found that Canadian interceptions of Puget Sound chinook would not be a problem for the next 10 years. Rawson said NOAA Fisheries didn't have the whole picture at that time. He said Canadian interceptions "are having a considerable impact, especially on the Nooksack."

The Puget Sound co-managers' harvest plan estimates that between 1996 and 2000, B.C. fishermen accounted for 75 percent of the harvest of the Nooksack chinook stock, about 50 percent of the harvest on Stillaguamish summer chinook, 23 percent of Snohomish summer/fall chinook and about 50 percent of the harvest impacts on Skagit River spring and summer/fall chinook.

It's too early to complete analyses of the latest harvest rates, but in the mid-1980s, B.C. fishers nabbed nearly 60 percent of the harvested chinook bound for the Snohomish. In those days, only about 30 percent of the run made it home to spawn. The new recovery plan for the Snohomish calls for those numbers to flip, hoping for a 70-percent return after harvest. It also calls for a 24 percent cap on overall harvest rates over the next 10 years.

New Pressure to Boost Catches

Rawson said it's always been an uphill battle to get enough extra fish back to the rivers to benefit from habitat improvements. But when Canadian harvest managers reduced their catches in the mid-1990s out of concern for some of their own chinook and coho stocks, Puget Sound chinook numbers got an extra boost. B.C. coho stocks have rebounded since then, however, and so have their catches. At this time, Rawson said the Canadians are threatening to increase their Georgia Strait sports fishery.

Fisheries managers were a lot more concerned about the Sound's declining coho stocks than chinook when the treaty was being revised, Rawson said. But the current harvest regime is slated to stay in place until 2008, with mounting pressure to boost harvest rates as runs have improved from better ocean conditions.

Alaska managers have also been pressuring Puget Sound managers to liberalize harvests on their stocks, Rawson said, which would tend to allay Canadian concerns about the numbers of northern BC chinook and coho intercepted by Alaska fishermen.

Another potential bump in the road deals with ESA compliance. With a coordinated plan for Puget Sound scheduled to be completed by next June, federal scientists are still working on criteria for delisting listed chinook and chum stocks. The NOAA Fisheries technical recovery team has partnered with watershed groups to help identify where habitat improvement is expected to do the most good. But they are still trying to determine which parts of the listed populations need the most protection, a decision that Rawson admits will be partly science and partly policy.

The Snohomish Basin plan is out for public comment and watershed planners are bound to hear from interested parties on the ESA issues. With the document itself calling for eventually reaching targets of up to 80 percent of historic fish numbers (pegged at 20,000-50,000 fish) over the next 50 years, it is silent on ESA concerns, other than saying it will increase chances of delisting salmon.

In 2003, about 5,500 chinook returned to the Basin. In 2002, about 7,200 fish showed up. In 2001, nearly 8,200 chinook spawned in the system, about twice the 1987-1998 average.

The Snohomish Basin, which supplies drinking water to more than 800,000 people in Puget Sound, is a place where the human population is growing much faster than the fish numbers are. It's home to five salmon species, including ESA-listed chinook and bull trout, one large Indian reservation and 15 cities, and drains parts of both King and Snohomish counties.

Over the next 25 years, 60 percent more people will call it home.

But if all goes well in the next 10 years, 36 percent to 79 percent more wild chinook will be living there, too, if one computer prognostication [Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment] proves correct.

However, another life-cycle model used by the regional salmon recovery team (called SHIRAZ and developed by University of Washington professor Ray Hilborn) says the current path scenario would "fall far below recovery targets" in 50 years. But another plan that added half of the difference between the current path and a hypothesized amount of habitat that would fully recover the chinook might actually approach the recovery target. The planners chose to go with an even more aggressive long-term strategy, with the current plan serving as a 10-year benchmark.

The watershed forum that put the plan together said the 50-year vision reflects how much effort they put into the blueprint for the next 10 years. The plan calls for restoring a mile of shoreline and 1,200 acres of tidal marshlands, fixing 11 miles of riverbanks, and adding to the 236 miles of intact banks in the basin. It also suggests adding another couple of hundred acres of riparian habitat to the 6,000 acres already designated as such. Capital costs of $82 million would make up the largest part of the 10-year budget, with another $31 million designated to pay for land acquisitions and $23 million allotted to run the programs.

Since 1998, about $6.7 million from the state's salmon recovery board has been spent on 24 projects in the basin, matched by more than $5 million from county coffers, municipalities, tribes and conservation groups. According to the plan, another $28.5 million has been spent on 87 other projects. -Bill Rudolph


At the October meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, members bent over backwards to assure the region that there was nothing personal about their continued scrutiny of the Fish Passage Center (FPC). The ongoing review has already generated letters of protest from state and tribal fish agencies.

The Center is a small agency created in 1984 for gathering data on fish migrations, hydro operations and water management in the Columbia Basin. Since then, the 11-person staff, led by long-time manager Michele DeHart, has morphed into a technical arm for state and tribal agencies in the Columbia Basin. The Center has been called on the carpet several times for its strong advocacy of spill and flow augmentation in the federal hydro system.

In 2001, the council decided to form an oversight board to provide general guidance over FPC activities rather than de-fund the small agency. The board spent two years writing its own by-laws and decided that it didn't have the expertise to provide technical guidance for the center.

Meanwhile, the Center continued analyzing data at the request of fish agencies. Just last summer, an FPC memo took issue with the proposal by federal agencies to reduce summer spill. And a few weeks ago, the Center posted its comments about the draft BiOp, concluding that the federal government's plan for dam operations doesn't avoid jeopardy to the ESA-listed fish stocks that pass through the hydro system.

Now a three-member subcommittee made up of NWPCC members is reviewing an FPC request for a budget increase, and has decided to expand its efforts. It seems likely that the group will call on an outside accounting firm to audit the cost-effectiveness of FPC's data gathering and dissemination duties.

Oregon member Gene Derfler, speaking on Oct. 12 before the Council's fish and wildlife committee, said he wanted to clear up a lot of confusion about what the committee was trying to do.

"We're not trying to change what the Fish Passage Center does," he said, noting that the subcommittee members feel they have the responsibility to look at the structure of the group's organization to see if work is being done in the most efficient manner.

Derfler said the subcommittee has met with several groups--including the University of Washington's DART (Data Access in Real Time) group, NOAA Fisheries' Science Center, and the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority--to see if there is a "better way" of organizing things, to get better information or get it at lesser cost.

He hoped the report would be ready by next month's council meeting, but said it may take longer if an outside auditing firm is called in.

Montana member John Hines said there has been "a lot of rumor and innuendo out there in the region that we are trying to dismantle the Fish Passage Center, and indeed, that is not the focus of this sub-committee. We're trying to look at things more efficiently, as well as address the specific budget request above what was already addressed to the Fish Passage Center."

FPC manager Michele DeHart has asked for a $140,000 boost to her $1.3 million budget to pay for salary raises, new computers and rent increases.

Hines said there were some "issues" brought up by the groups they consulted and the concept of centralizing data collection was "something we feel should be explored in greater detail."

"Using an outside source may be the approach to take," Hines said, "especially given the perception by some that the council is somehow biased against the Fish Passage Center." Any cost savings could then go to fish, Hines added, instead of paying for "duplicative regional activities." It was reported that the accounting firm Moss-Adams might be asked to perform the audit.

Larger Issues Loom

Hines said there were a couple of other areas that warranted a broader look, but weren't directly tied to the Fish Passage Center. Rather, they concerned improving efficiency in the regional management of fish activities.

Fish tagging for survival research falls in this category, an issue Hines called the "potential dislocation of the tagging efforts" and the lack of a centralized approach to the activity. The FPC supervises a large Pit-tag study of hatchery fish as part of a years-long effort to compare survivals of fish from different basin hatcheries.

Washington council member Larry Cassidy, the third subcommittee member, said the timing of this review is coincidental with the recent controversy over the plan to reduce summer spill. He said he was glad the committee had a chance to clear the air on this matter. Cassidy who serves as chair of the FPC's oversight board, said "things have worked better there" with the help of CBFWA director Rod Sando. At this point though, Cassidy said he would have difficulty supporting a budget increase for the FPC.

Idaho member Judi Danielson said the Council had received a number of letters supporting the FPC budget request. "They're all pretty much the same, they all contain misinformation, accusations, veiled threats, and a number of things like that." She said they raised "red flags" in her mind, and left the council "a little more committed to find out what the deal is when it comes to the budget."

It seems that Oregon Council member Gene Derfler may be at odds with his own boss. The Oregon Governor's Office supported the FPC's budget increase, saying any change in the FPC's administrative structure or reduction in its scope of responsibilities "would be disruptive to Oregon's continued leadership on long-term solutions for fish passage." The letter, signed by Gov. Kulongoski's natural resources policy director Michael Carrier, said any effort to optimize the cost-effectiveness of data collection should begin with a formal consultation with the fish managers.

Idaho fish managers also supported the Center's budget increase. In a letter signed by IDFG head Steve Huffaker, the agency said the FPC's data collection and analysis was essential "to enabling informed decisions about hydropower operations."

WDFW director Jeff Koenings also supported the funding increase and opposed any restructuring. Koenings said any reductions in service jeopardized state and tribal fish managers' ability to provide a thorough review of the draft BiOp

A missive from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission noted that it was only aware of rumors of proposed changes to the duties of FPC. Without going through the amendment process, the commission said it couldn't lawfully adopt any changes.

CRITFC suggested the thrust for potential changes to the Center may come from folks who may be "discontent" with the Oregon District Court ruling that nixed the reduced spill proposal for summer 2004 operations. They also said any changes to FPC operations would require a formal process for amending the fish and wildlife program. They said moving data reporting to the U.W.'s DART web page would be unacceptable for a variety of reasons, including the fact that DART is not accountable to either the tribes or fish and wildlife agencies.

The CRITFC letter hinted at possible litigation if the Council review calls for changes. "Casting the issue of the duties and administration of the Fish Passage Center as a budget matter provides no legal foothold for the Council," said CRITFC Chair Jay Minthorn. -B. R.


The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is hosting a two-day symposium next month on reservoir operations, flows and fish survival in the Columbia Basin hydro system. The meeting will be held in Portland on Nov. 9-10.

The benefits of flow augmentation to migrating salmon and steelhead have been a subject of debate in the region for nearly 40 years. Earlier this fall, NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Bob Lohn suggested the council sponsor such a meeting as a way to get different parties together to discuss their views on the subject before the release of the next hydro BiOp, which is due by Nov. 30.

The agenda includes upriver and downriver perspectives on flow, and the latest information on temperature modeling and biological responses of fish to river conditions, with special emphasis on fall chinook. The symposium will also include the latest applications used to predict changes in fish responses with three regional models, the University of Washington's CRISP model, the federal agencies' SIMPAS model and the agencies' and tribes' FLUSH model.

Consultant Al Giorgi will also report on the National Research Council's recent review of flows and fish survival in the mainstem Columbia. Giorgi was a member of the science panel that investigated the issue for the Washington State Department of Ecology. -B. R.


With the new hydro BiOp due out in a month, critics of the new draft plan have fired a few parting shots at the Bush Administration before the election. Environmental and fishing groups blitzed the White House earlier this month, claiming that 85,000 letters were sent by salmon lovers unhappy with the next salmon plan.

Four hundred outdoor and fishing related businesses supported a late September declaration that said the new draft plan doesn't even guarantee survival of current listed salmon stocks in the Columbia Basin. It also claims the plan will allow the dams to kill up to 85 percent of the fish while calling for more regulation of the commercial, tribal and sport fishery.

Zeke Grader executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations said it isn't enough to hope for continued good ocean conditions that have boosted returns and catches. "We are already seeing a turn in conditions and we must have a salmon plan that gets us through the bad times as well," Grader said. " And while the last couple of years have been good, they haven't come even close to real salmon recovery."

The letter urges Congressional support for The Salmon Planning Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and 106 other members of Congress that calls for economic studies to weigh the costs and benefits of removing four dams on the lower Snake.

The Bush Administration's draft plan has taken dam removal off the table, citing generous returns in recent years as evidence for little chance the runs will go extinct in the near term. The draft BiOp received the support of seven Republican congressional representatives from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, who noted in an Oct. 7 letter to President Bush that they also encouraged more flexibility for cost-effective dam operations

But 52 members of Congress, including McDermott and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), sent an Oct. 12 letter to President Bush that says the draft BiOp "does not ensure self-sustaining harvestable populations by relying on legal technicalities to justify not having to fully mitigate for the operation of the hydro system." They urged Bush to direct the agencies to revise the draft to ensure "significant recovery" of the basin's fish runs. -B. R.


BPA Chief Operating Officer Ruth Bennett has announced that acting Vice President Greg Delwiche is the agency's choice for VP for Environment, Fish and Wildlife.

"Greg made an outstanding effort to go out into the region and meet one-on-one with people deeply involved in fish issues," Bennett said. "We have received uniformly positive responses from people at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the tribes and various constituent groups about his outreach. We feel that Greg is the person who can bring new attitudes to bear on contentious fish and wildlife issues."

Delwiche had served as acting VP since last April, when he took over for Therese Lamb, who moved to PacifiCorp. He was previously the vice president for generation supply. Delwiche, who has more than 20 years' experience in Columbia River operations and water management issues, joined BPA in 1992, after having worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers in the Portland Reservoir Control Center since 1983. -B. R.


The National Marine Fisheries Service is calling for public comment as it prepares to write a new EIS for Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead hatcheries funded by the 1938 Mitchell Act to boost harvest opportunities after mainstem dams were constructed. But instead of just providing more fish to catch by pumping out 65 million smolts a year, several new options will likely be reviewed, including the use of some traditional Mitchell Act funding ($11.4 million slated for FY 2005 operations) to help recovery of ESA-listed stocks or moving some hatchery production upstream to better accommodate fisheries like the tribal harvest area above Bonneville Dam. At present, none of the 18 Mitchell Act hatcheries operate above The Dalles Dam. Other issues likely to be discussed are the possibility of changing the numbers and species of salmon and steelhead produced, and emphasizing an increase in harvesting fish in certain areas.

Other topics that will be discussed in the EIS are hatchery/wild fish interactions, tribal trust responsibilities, and effects of the hatchery fish on the cultural and economic life of tribal communities.

The draft EIS is expected to be completed by Fall 2005, with a final finished by the fall of 2006.

Comments must be received by NOAA Fisheries no later than December 2, 2004. Send correspondences to Allyson Ouzts, 525 NE Oregon St., Suite 510, Portland, OR 97232. Comments can also be sent via fax to (503) 872-2737, or via e-mail to MitchellActEIS.nwr@noaa.gov. -B. R.


The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has released 29 subbasin plans for public comment (Click here for the public hearing schedule). Hoping to guide salmon recovery efforts throughout the Columbia Basin, the plans have been in progress ever since the 2000 hydro BiOp called for offsite mitigation to avoid a "jeopardy" decision to ESA-listed fish from operations of the federal hydro system, but their focus is not just on ESA obligations, but include resident fish and wildlife issues as well. The plans will include assessments of historical and existing conditions, an inventory of current projects and a plan for mapping out the next 10 to 15 years' worth of improvements.

Even though the old BiOp is about to be superceded by a newer one that limits its scope to hydro operations, federal officials say habitat improvements will still play a big part in the region's salmon recovery effort. In the new draft BiOp, they say some listed populations will still need help from improved habitat conditions to avoid jeopardy.

Fifteen subbasin plans in Washington are up for review; Asotin, Cowlitz, Elochoman, Grays, Kalama, Lake Chelan, Lake Rufus Woods, Lewis, White Salmon, San Poil, Spokane, Tucannon, Upper Mid- Columbia, and Upper Columbia.

In Idaho, three plans are ready; Bruneau, Coeur d'Alene, and Salmon, and the Pend Oreille, shared with Washington.

Montana's Flathead subbasin plan is ready, along with the Kootenai plan, shared with Idaho.

Five subbasins in Oregon are ready, Fifteenmile Creek, Hood, Malheur, Umatilla, and Willamette, along with the Columbia Gorge plan, shared with Washington.

Another 25 plans should be ready for review by December and a third group ready for comment later next year. -B. R.

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