A NW EnerNet News Service of Energy NewsData

[1] Ups and Downs in the Ocean -The Biggest Factor in Salmon Productivity?
[2] High Flying Iron May Fertilize Salmon Pastures
[3] New Director for Fish and Wildlife Authority
[4] Study Says Lower Snake Dam Removal Only Viable "Drawdown" Option
[5] Barely Passing Grade for Oregon's Coho Initiative

***Fish News***

[1] THE OCEAN FACTOR MAY OVERSHADOW ALL OTHERS IN SALMON RECOVERY :: After years of dealing with the Northwest's salmon problems, the late Prof. Don Bevan had distilled his experience into a single question. "Who's in charge?"

Well, chances are the success of salmon recovery does not hinge on a fisheries bureaucracy anywhere, but depends on Mother Nature herself.

The Power Council's own Independent Scientific Group has officially recognized the fact. When they unveiled their exhaustive salmon study before the Council at last month's meeting in Clarkston, Wash., The group's chair, Richard Williams, said the region may have to modify its expectations for salmon restoration because of ocean factors.

In their study, Return of the River, (to see this report chapter by chapter go to: http://www.nwppc.org/ftpall.htm) the ISG called attention to estuary and ocean dynamics as controllers of salmon productivity, "which require responses in management actions for all other aspects of the life cycle under human control, such as directed harvest and hydrosystem operations."

With fish runs in both the Snake and mainstem Columbia showing improvement lately, and jack counts that point to ever more fish next year, can anyone but Mother Nature really take credit for it?

Random Atmospheric Memory

The ISG said the Pacific Basin ecosystem does not move toward an equilibrium condition, but oscillates between alternate states. They call it "non-linear behavior." It's something University of Washington researcher Nate Mantua calls "random atmospheric memory."

This doesn't mean scientists in the region aren't trying to predict what's coming next. They are looking at everything from oysters to sewage buoys for clues. So far, those signals are definitely unclear.

When asked if the immediate future included a cooler, wetter climate for improving salmon stocks, Mantua said he was "a little optimistic." But he was cautious, too. He said that we have only a hundred years of real data to use in this kind of analysis. However, he thinks we are getting glimpses of how the North Pacific climate regime might work, one that is based on two different cycles, an inter-decadal oscillation of 5-10 years and a longer one, that runs in the 20-25 year range.

"The Tropics are important," said Mantua, who noted that subtle climatic changes in that part of the world could play a large role in the 20-year warm-dry, cold-wet cycles that seem to be pretty much what has been going on for the past 100 years, where conditions in the North Pacific play out like a salmon seesaw--when fish thrive in Alaska, they have a hard time in the Northwest, with the reverse true as well.

But anomalies exist everywhere. From counting tree rings Mantua has discovered there have been enormous droughts on the West Coast, up to fifty years long, five or six hundred years ago.

That could happen again. As for now, he says conditions off South America last winter were definitely in the La Nina mode (El Nino's natural opposite), which typically brings a wet, cold winter to the Northwest in the following year.

Some Like it Wet

Oceanographer Kurt Ebbesmeyer, working to establish the position for an emergency sewage outfall in Puget Sound just north of downtown Seattle, has used current buoys to look for shifts in climate. He has been tracking currents in the Sound to see if they match profiles observed during the cold-wet climate phase that lasted until the late 1970s.

According to his latest review of last spring's data, two months' worth of readings fit the cold-wet profile, and one month fit the warm-dry profile.

"It looks like we're still in a transition period," said Ebbesmeyer, who has created a numerical index of climate factors that includes parameters from the outer coast, Puget Sound and the Cascades--an index that clearly shows the region's climate has alternated between warm, dry conditions and cool, wet ones on a "somewhat" regular cycle.

He has even opened up oysters to look for evidence of climate change and found that their condition was good during the cool, wet times that prevailed from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. But since then, oyster condition has declined. It's measured by taking the average of dry weight of meat to the volume of the oyster shell cavity.

So what have the oysters been telling us for the past couple of years. A call to Brett Dumbauld at the Willapa Shellish Laboratory revealed that oyster condition for 1994 and 1995 has remained poor, which means that warm, dry climatic conditions are basically still here.

Dan Ware, a Canadian scientist with the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, BC, said, "There's a chance we are trending towards cooler times." But he noted that upwelling off coastal areas was late last year and some mackerel had appeared in Barkeley Sound on Vancouver Island as well, situations not indicative of cool regimes. On the other hand, he said the latest reports show that water temperatures off the BC coast are nearly normal for the first time in years.

Ware's research indicates that four time scales have been operating in this century; a 2-3 year oscillation, the 5-7 year El Nino oscillation; a 20-25 bidecadel phenomenon; and a very-low-frequency oscillation with a 50-75 year period. Ware says that strong warming throughout the 1980s was a combination of El Nino events and synchronous warming trends in both the 20-year cycle and the 50-75 year oscillation. He thinks conditions may be in place for a major recovery during the first decade of the next century.

But an El Nino event between now and then could put the kibosh on recovery. It was only ten years ago that the Columbia Basin saw the largest salmon returns since Bonneville Dam was put in place in 1938. With Mother Nature holding the dice, and billions in salmon recovery costs at stake, how much of a reprieve will we get? The U. W.'s Mantua says "all the El Nino indicators are going in different directions, but there's a greater chance of a wet and cold winter than not"[Bill Rudolph].

[2] GOBI DESERT IRON AND INDUSTRIAL C02 MAY SEED THE PACIFIC OCEAN'S PLANKTON PRODUCTION :: What's the Gobi Desert got to do with Northwest salmon? Maybe a lot, maybe nothing.

Oceanographers are eyeballing Mongolian dust devils as a key source of iron that regulates plankton productivity of the sub-arctic Pacific Ocean and Bruce Frost of the University of Washington says the mechanism could apply to the Gulf of Alaska as well.

The theory goes like this. Dust storms in the Gobi inject the metal into the atmosphere and the highflying iron moves towards the Pacific on prevailing westerly winds, where it falls into the sea with rain.

Scientists are planning research with satellite-borne synthetic aperture radar to locate rainstorm sites and get to them fast enough to sample the ocean and find out the short-term response of primary producers and zooplankton.

If it's shown that varying iron availability sets the level of new production, then apparent increases in zooplankton must occur from an increase in the iron supply rate. Scientists are looking for links between zooplankton increases and the 1976 shift in the North Pacific climate. So far, there's no direction demonstration of just how it might work.

Professor Frost reports that the October 10, 1996 issue of Nature will publish four articles on the subject, including the latest results on an interesting experiment that began in 1993 when a small patch of ocean in the equatorial Pacific was fertilized with iron.

The experiment was watched carefully to see if it was feasible to grow plankton on a scale large enough to consume the extra carbon dioxide produced by man. Initial results showed that it worked, but didn't excite anybody.

Researchers tried again in the spring of 1994, and Kenneth Coale of Moss Landing Marine in California told Science magazine "the ocean actually turned green."

Rather than dumping the iron in the water all it once like the first experiment, Coale's group sprinkled the iron in the test area in three batches some days apart. Coale said plankton productivity quadrupled.

On a related front, atmospheric scientists have been wondering where all that carbon dioxide from burning forests, gas engines and coal fired electrical plants is hiding--only about 2/3 of the carbon dioxide has been accounted for. It's possible that the world's oceans could literally be grabbing it out of the sky.

Edward C. Monahan from the University of Connecticut performed experiments in he mid-1980's that looked at the mechanics of air-sea gas exchange. He and his colleagues designed an experiment that investigated whitecaps in waves. They discovered that a turbulent surface made for a much larger transfer of gas from air to liquid mediums.

Since then, work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research has developed a model that's run for the equivalent of four years, concluding that the ocean is currently able to soak up nearly all the missing carbon dioxide each year.

Monahan wrote, "It has been suggested that in responses to the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, the growth of terrestrial plants, and of oceanic phytoplankton, could be becoming more pronounced, and as a consequence, may be taking up more carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesizing."

Scientists in the arctic are also interested. Researchers there are taking a close look to see whether the far north is storing carbon dioxide or releasing it. In the last hundred years, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 22 percent, and some think global temperatures have risen because of it. In the arctic, the temperatures of some long-studied lakes have risen more than seven degrees.

Conventional wisdom has held that the arctic was an overall collector of carbon. The blanket of peat holds 25 percent of all the land's carbon. But a closer look has shown that the north is storing about 25 percent less than scientists thought.

In other words, emissions from your local industrial eyesore could be fertilizing forests and seas around the globe.

But who's taking the heat for the heat? Canadian oceanographer Dan Ware, who works out of Nanaimo, has been looking at the last hundred years of West Coast climate data.

"1989 may have represented a peak," said Ware, "and we could be in a transition to a cooling trend for the rest of the century." According to Ware, in the next ten years, this cooling trend could override effects of global warming, changes that could have a significant impact in fish populations.

This return to a cool, wet Northwest would mean a slackening of the Aleutian lows, less wind stress in the Gulf of Alaska, causing less upwelling in the Alaska Gyre and a reduction in plankton production that kicks the whole food chain into high gear. In short, better conditions for salmon along the Pacific Coast, worse for Alaska.

And what about other species? The International Halibut Commission has been troubled by a significant drop in weight of the big flatfish who like cold water. You probably haven't noticed it at the fish counter but something strange has been going on. In 1976, 13-year-old halibut averaged around 60 lbs. Since then it's been all downhill. Last year they averaged less than 30 lbs. apiece. But it's a phenomenon that's been noticed before. Weights have taken big jumps in the past, peaking in 1940, around 1960, and the late 1970s. Oceanographers who have been prying secrets from oysters have noticed the same tendency in the meat of the bivalves that call the Washington coast home.

What most scientists agree on is the fact that the region will be in a cold, wet climate regime long before we have enough climatic evidence to state the obvious.

As for iron and plankton productivity, two Canadian studies have been published recently, but oceanographer Frost says there is no clear causal link between the metal and increasing fish populations. "This is not to say it didn't happen," Frost wrote NW Fishletter, "just that we have no direct evidence"[Bill Rudolph].

[3] CBFWA NAMES ALLEE NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR :: The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority has named Brian Allee as its new executive director. CBFWA is the umbrella group for 13 regional tribes, four state fish and wildlife agencies, NMFS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Allee said he is looking forward to his new position, as the agency takes on a new organizational structure. Three caucuses have been formed to develop work plans for anadromous fish, resident fish, and wildlife. They are working under the aegis of the agency, developing the five-year plans for the Power Council that are due Nov. 15.

Allee said CBFWA with its mandate to manage the Basin's fisheries, will be working with both the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, established by the Council and NMFS, and the new peer review group (Independent Scientific Review Panel) that will be formed from nominations by the National Academy of Sciences, a process created by the Sen. Slade Gorton's amendment to the Northwest Power Act to help prioritize the region's fish and wildlife funding.

Before accepting his new position, Allee spent four years as a senior scientist at Harza Northwest, a consulting engineering firm. Prior to that, he served as a division director at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and was president of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association. Allee received his Ph.D. in Fisheries from the University of Washington in 1974 [Bill Rudolph].

[4] DAM REMOVAL BEST DRAWDOWN OPTION, STUDY SAYS :: A draft report submitted by the engineering firm Harza Northwest to the Corps of Engineers on Aug. 16 recommends that any more study of seasonal or partial drawdowns at Lower Snake River dams is a waste of time and money. The consultants say permanent dam removal is the only "drawdown" option worthy of further investigation. Compared to other drawdowns, it maximizes biological benefits with small overall differences in cost.

Harza's report was commissioned to help the Corps analyze recovery measures spelled out in the 1995 BiOp, in which NMFS requested guidance on the specific design and testing of drawdowns and surface collectors.

The report identified three options available for improving the hydropower system to aid salmon-a transportation path, an in-river path, and a mixed path that would use elements of both. The different options are measured against a simple yardstick--can they produce adult returns of 1.5 percent for wild spring/summer chinook? That's what Harza has figured is required to recover the runs.

Harza scientists determined that "the maximum increase in juvenile survival technically feasible with the dams in place is about three percent per dam." But if adult returns fall below 1.2 percent, dam modifications will not boost returns enough to recover the runs.

The draft report states, "If the adult return rate is considerably below 0.7 percent, we have a dilemma. Simply put, survival cannot be improved sufficiently in the hydropower system to restore a 1.5 percent adult return rate even with the removal of all four dams." Further improvements in survival will have to come from other areas.

The report then focuses on cost, using the lowest-cost "tool" to achieve the 80 percent Fish Passage Efficiency (FPE) and 95 percent survival at each project as the 1995 NMFS Biological Opinion requires. Here Harza found some incongruities. "It appears the tools of Minimum Operating Pool and flow augmentation are providing limited survival benefits at high cost while such a tool as spill (31 percent) is providing large benefits at a low cost."

However, the draft report recognizes some things are out of human control. Ocean conditions, for example, have the potential to "overwhelm changes in the hydropower system." And habitat restoration will take decades "and have unpredictable results."

The scientists call for an end to all harvest of fall chinook until NMFS recovery targets are reached. As for the spring/summer fish, since harvest levels are likely less than 10 percent, the report makes no recommendation.

Harza says the impact of hatchery fish on wild populations will not be clearly understood anytime soon--at least not by the end of the century. That fact, plus limited benefits from harvest reductions and habitat improvement, would not significantly improve survival of wild Snake River salmon compared to hydropower changes.

The report says the natural river has many benefits that include maximizing the in-river path and survival benefit; simplicity of design and construction; restoration of a "truly natural" river, including new spawning and rearing habitat. It can be completed in five years at ten times less cost than configuring the dams for seasonal drawdown.

Harza consultants found that spillway crest drawdowns are undesirable because they keep the reservoirs and dams in place with no guarantee of much benefit for fish.

And seasonal full-pool drawdowns got the thumbs down for three reasons--the complex engineering, a costly, 15-year construction period and the biological damage from 100-foot vertical drawdowns in order to generate electricity for less than half the year.

The consultants did not feel that adult fish would benefit much from the seasonal strategy either. And since it failed to restore either habitat or production, "it probably does more damage than stable reservoirs." Cost-wise, the report said it's not much less than getting rid of the dams forever.

Harza also looked at BPA's Detailed Fish Operating Plan of 1995 and figured it was more expensive than removing the dams, so "it makes no sense at all."

The report says an early decision could save the region a lot of money. A natural river choice made this year could cut the cost about in half, rather than waiting until 1999.

The Region could also choose another option now, like transportation. Harza figures that by returning to 1993 operations, the region could save $200 million a year, and then use the money to restore runs throughout the basin. "Path selection would be based on past data showing that transported fish produce twice as many adults as the current in-river strategy." But the scientists caution that older study protocols may be biased, invalidating the results.

A choice to stay in the middle, with the mixed path defined by the 1995 BiOp, is costly and would have to continue until data demonstrated one option superior to the other. Selecting an in-river path now means abandoning transportation and continuing development of the juvenile bypass system, a risky proposition that would only improve existing in-river survival by 30 percent and take ten years to create.

Choosing a permanent drawdown in 1996 would save all the money now being spent for dam modifications. But it would still be costly. The consultants have figured the cost differential between the transportation option and the permanent river option at about $350 million annually.

Harza says a delay until 1999 should provide enough time to establish transport survival benefits. If those turn out to be above 80 percent, no other option--including removal of the lower Snake dams--could achieve a rate that high. But if transport survival proves in the end to be low, around 50 percent, all the in-river options can match or exceed it.

A preliminary analysis of 1994 PIT-tag data by Harza showed that both wild and hatchery transported fish produced 2.9 times as many adults as juveniles allowed to remain in-river. Transported wild fish produced 7.5 times as many adults as did their counterparts in-river, but transported hatchery fish only produced 1.8 times as many adults as in-river hatchery smolts. There is some indication that juveniles who were bypassed had the lowest adult return rates, but these results are speculative and based on extremely small numbers of returning adults--in this case, 13 wild adults and 17 hatchery fish. A full analysis will not be available until adult returns are complete in 1997.

The final report is scheduled to be distributed to Northwest governors and Power Council members on Oct. 18, with public distribution to begin in early December [Bill Rudolph].

[5] OREGON GETS A BARELY PASSING GRADE FOR COHO INITIATIVE :: Dr. Mark Powell, under contract with the conservation group Oregon Trout, completed an evaluation of the Coastal Salmon Recovery Initiative by the state of Oregon.

It is the state's position that this initiative will be sufficient to cause the National Marine Fisheries Service to not list coho salmon in Oregon because this plan will lead to recovery of these animals.

However, Dr. Powell's evaluation of the plan indicates it falls far short of this goal and does not pass scientific muster as a recovery plan for coho salmon. If this is true, the National Marine Fisheries Service would have to list coho salmon as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act and bring them under federal protection.

This plan evaluation has been released with permission of Dr. Powell, however, the abridged form of this text was not reviewed by him. I have described his grading system and have taken the main elements of his evaluation, but I have not included his explanation of each element grade.

For the full document one should contact either Dr. Powell or Oregon Trout [Bill Bakke].

By Dr. Mark Powell, Colliding Rivers Research, Inc. Corvallis, Oregon


Current conditions clearly warrant an F because salmon declines have forced the Northwest into emergency salmon recovery planning. Scientific studies show that many salmon stocks are extinct or critically endangered and most are severely depleted. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is in place or pending for many salmonids. Current conditions are too poor to ensure coho survival, indicating current policies have failed. Standards for grading CSRI proposals are as follows:


    1. CSRI clearly states problems and identifies needed improvements: C
    2. Measures proposed to address all the major salmon recovery needs: D
    3. Guarantees of implementation, enforceability, effectiveness: D-
    1. Responsive to the National Research Council report and other credible scientific studies on salmon: D
    2. Effective recovery measures proposed for the major salmon recovery needs: D-
    3. Scientific recovery plan used to guide and integrate activities: F
    1. Directed fishery management: B-
    2. Non-target fishery management: D
    3. Improvements in knowledge, gear, fishery restrictions, seasons, methods: C-
    1. Genetic impacts on wild fish: C+
    2. Competition, disease, and other impacts on wild fish: C
    3. Use of hatcheries to support conservation not commodity production: C-
    1. Protection of core areas: C-
    2. Reduction of land use impacts that harm salmon: D
    3. Restoration programs: D-
    1. Escapement goal: F
    2. Listing and delisting criteria: F
    3. Abundance prediction and modeling: D
    1. Membership, structure and bylaws matching CSRI promises: C-
    2. Activities to date, assessments and projects: D
    3. Evidence of honest commitment to salmon recovery: D
    1. Resolution of conflicting missions, goals, constituencies: D
    2. Proposed measures meet the salmon needs outlined in CSRI: C-
    3. Proposed measures likely to solve problems, or agencies still in denial: D-
    1. Substantive and effective impact reduction for routine activities: C-
    2. Substantive and effective new protections for salmon: D-
    3. Restoration programs identifying and solving major salmon problems: D-
    1. Benefits expected from the current CSRI draft without additional new protections: F
    2. The CSRI as a foundation for future recovery programs: C
    3. CSRI measures: bureaucratic reforms or real benefits for fish: D+


Oregon Trout, Inc.
(503) 222-9091

Dr. Mark Powell
(541) 752-9878

***Document Annex***
Works Cited

DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 019 :: Below are listed available documents and links referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 019.

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

Fish.NET | NW Fishletter | Web Detector | NW Fishletter Archive
Search Fish.NET | NW EnerNet

NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData with grants from the Montana and Idaho offices of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the Council itself, the Bonneville Power Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Chelan County PUD, Douglas County PUD,
Grant County PUD and Direct Services Industries, Inc.

Publisher: Cyrus Noë, Editor: Bill Rudolph,
Web Editor: Denise Lee,
Contributing Editors: Bill Bakke and Jude Noland.

If you would like to be notified when the next NW Fishletter is published online,
send an e-mail message to dlee@newsdata.com with "Subscribe NW Fishletter"
in the subject line and your name and e-mail address in the body.

Please contact dlee@newsdata.com if you have questions or comments
about this website or call 206/285-4848.

Last modified: October 8, 1996