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[1] TMT Wrestles With Questions of Barging and Spill
[2] Idaho Objects But Fish Go Back in Barges
[3] CRITFC Leaves BiOp Management Process
[4] Salmon Talks Fizzle Again
[5] Flows Rise and Counts Slow at Bonnevillle
[6] Grande Ronde Chinook Show Diverse Migration Patterns

[1] TMT WRESTLES OVER QUESTIONS OF BARGING AND SPILL :: With the region's rivers rising in earnest as the Northwest snow pack began to melt, tempers rose as well when biologists argued over the best way to get salmon downstream. At the May 14 meeting of the Technical Management Team in Portland, state fish managers took some heat for failing to provide information about barging fish, --data which they had promised to other members.

The information was supposed to document the reasons behind the fish managers' May 7 request that all juvenile fish at Little Goose and Lower Monumental dams be routed through following bypass systems for the week, while barging continued from Lower Granite. They expressed concern over the high percentage of both chinook and steelhead being transported, more than a recent agreement had mandated.

Ron Boyce of Oregon Fish and Wildlife estimated that 58 percent of the wild chinook and 60 percent of the hatchery chinook were being transported, while the last word from Will Stelle of NMFS called for barging 50 percent of the wilds, as the BiOp stated. The fish managers wanted more fish to go in-river this year to take advantage of high flows.

Boyce said that based on "historical data," about 65 percent of the run had passed, and fish managers wanted to reduce the numbers of steelhead being transported. He figured that 75 percent of the wilds and 66 percent of the hatchery steelhead were being transported. On May 7, Boyce said the managers would make a final recommendation in a week about whether to implement the strategy for the rest of the migration season. The TMT agreed to use the bypass system for one week and set up a schedule to address ongoing concerns.

The next day, Boyce agreed to provide documentation requested by BPA's TMT representative, Dan Daley, within a day or two. Boyce also said he would have other pertinent information ready in time for the TMT session set for May 14, including an analysis of which stocks were currently passing Snake dams and how a high-flow worst case scenario--the "full spill" alternative at Lower Granite if flows reach 300 kcfs--would affect numbers of transported fish.

Other TMT members were questioning whether a reduction in barging was such a good idea. If all water had to be spilled at Lower Granite to keep Lewiston from flooding, the barging would stop and could lower seasonal transport totals below 50 percent.

But the Oregon fish manager didn't bring any new information with him to the May 14 meeting to support his request to continue the bypass strategy until June 1.

"I'm nervous," said Jim Athearn of the Corps of Engineers, who wanted more time to study the proposal. Margaret Filardo of the Fish Passage Center assured him that more analysis could be completed in a day or two. Athearn reiterated his concern over achieving the 50 percent transport goals if Lower Granite flows meant barging had to be halted. He said the Corps was very doubtful about the benefits from this action.

Bill Maslen from BPA wanted to know which stocks were being targeted now, but Boyce had no answer for that, either, in spite of earlier promises. "If we have no basis for making this decision, let's say so," said Maslen.

TMT Meeting Called "Witch Hunt"

Daley reminded Boyce that documentation called for in the previous week's conference had not been provided, at which point the Oregon fish manager said the information was "irrelevant" to the discussion and called the meeting "a witch hunt."

But representatives of both the Corps and NMFS would not back down. BPA's Daley also said his agency objected to the fish managers' proposal and took issue with the documentation in the managers' system operational request.

After the meeting, Corps biologist Jim Athearn said barging would resume on May 19 if he didn't get the fish managers' documentation by Friday, May 16. He said the Corps was obligated to meet the BiOp and if the managers' data didn't support their request, the Corps had no choice but to keep the transport program going at all three dams. A conference call on the 16th temporarily settled the issue, and the corps resumed barging that afternoon.

The Semantics of Spill

The TMT also discussed the spill situation at The Dalles, which is currently running at 64 percent of flow, as mandated in the BiOp. BPA representatives said that a more flexible interpretation of the BiOp could reduce spill to 50 percent and still maintain the Fish Guidance Efficiency of 80 percent of juvenile fish avoiding turbines through spill and bypass, as called for in the BiOp. They said with high flows and spill, the FGE was actually running between 85 percent and 91 percent.

But NMFS said the spill should be maintained at the BiOp's 64 percent, regardless of present conditions. Power Council hydrologist Jim Ruff said he couldn't support NMFS. Others expressed concern over high levels of gas in the river, but no decision was reached and the proposal was elevated to discussion among policymakers of the Implementation Team (IT) the next day.

On May 15, NMFS' Brian Brown led an IT conference call that addressed the issue, asking other's opinions on whether reducing day-time spill at The Dalles would negatively affect juveniles and improve adult passage.

A lengthy discussion ensued, during which BPA's Bill Maslen admitted a lack of data hampered their ability to reach any conclusions. But he said his agency felt the extreme hydraulic conditions made it likely that reducing spill would improve adult passage conditions. "We have always found high spill to impede adult passage," he said. Since no real problems with juveniles were identified, he added, "the status quo doesn't make a lot of sense."

The Corps told the IT they didn't see "that many minuses" with the proposal, but the Bureau of Reclamation remained neutral.

The Corps' Cindy Henriksen pointed out that reducing gas levels had been overlooked. "One-hundred forty percent below John Day doesn't even cause anyone to blink anymore." She also mentioned that reducing spill would contribute to a significant reduction in extremely high levels of gas in the "near field," right in the stilling basin, where recent Corps studies have shown gas levels over 160 percent. Henriksen said the BiOp should be flexible enough to interpret the proposal as a way to improve survival by reducing gas levels.

Dissolved Gas Not Major Concern

However, NMFS spokesman Brown said gas was not a major concern and pointed out that the biological monitoring program showed only a few percent of juvenile fish with any signs of trauma from it. The program has not been validated yet by NMFS' own expert panel, which found seven critical assumptions had to be addressed before data from the smolt monitoring results could be accepted as mirroring conditions of fish in-river. But Brown said his agency had no intention of going from 64 percent to 50 percent spill over dissolved gas, even though gas levels were running around 130 percent. (During the earlier discussion, it had been pointed out that water flowing past The Dalles Dam actually showed a reduction in gas levels of a couple percent.) Brown said NMFS wanted to stick with the BiOp.

BPA's Robyn MacKay said the power agency was purchasing electricity to meet load commitments, and by routing more water from the spill to unused turbines at The Dalles, BPA would gain economically. She said the proposal had looked like a win-win situation to her agency, "with some benefit to adults without much risk to juveniles."

At that point, Bob Heinith of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission scoffed at BPA "arguing for fish benefits." Brown reminded him that BPA was a full member of the TMT/IT process and "we want their input and expertise." BPA was paying $200,000 a day to meet power commitments.-Bill Rudolph

[2] IDAHO OBJECTS, BUT FISH GO BACK IN BARGES :: The Technical Management Team made its May 16 decision to resume fish barging in the Snake at Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams without Idaho's being on the conference call line, although sources reported that NMFS tried to get Idaho participation. The sources also said the decision to barge could not be delayed in the face of changing numbers if the NMFS barging objectives of 50 percent to 60 percent of the run were to be met.

Idaho has contended NMFS' jurisdiction is limited to listed wild fish, with hatchery fish being in Idaho's view the state's prerogative. NMFS' position, a TMT source said, is based on an April 10 letter from Will Stelle that establishes barging objectives for chinook generically, not just wild chinook.

On May 22, Idaho called for forum dialogue on a conference call to formally raise the issue of wild and hatchery fish in the context of NMFS authority over fish not listed under the ESA. Idaho also contended that if barging were halted now, the NMFS 50 percent quota for barged fish would still be achieved with respect to wild chinook. NMFS and the Corps said no to all three Idaho points, and Oregon and Washington did not object to the NMFS-Corps position; barging at Lower Monumental and Little Goose continues.

In the river, meantime, gas bubble trauma was observed in 26.4 percent of samples of smolts on May 19 at Lower Monumental. In the mainstem, Rock Island registered GBT in 16 percent of smolts on the same day, and Bonneville monitored 16.7 percent GBT. Remedial action is supposed to be triggered at 15 percent, sources said.

But earlier this year, despite high gas saturation levels, fish agencies reported little or no evidence of GBT in either returning adults or juveniles. According to a release from the Columbia River Alliance of river users, levels of gas supersaturation have reached as high as 150 percent below John Day Dam. CRA says low reported incidence of GBT by state, tribal and federal fish agencies is "contradictory to historical data and the testimony of expert scientists."

CRA smells a fish, so to speak. Explanations range from an "overly conservative Environmental Protection Agency dissolved gas standard [110 percent] or errors in the biological monitoring program," a CRA release said. "Either way, the alliance is requesting an investigation," CRA director Bruce Lovelin said. "Either endangered fish are dying in the river due to the high spill levels or the decades of scientific research that created the federal water quality standard is wrong. The region deserves an answer."-Cyrus NoŽ

[3] CRITFC LEAVES BIOP MANAGEMENT PROCESS :: The adaptive management process through which federal, state and tribal agencies jointly manage Columbia and Snake River systems has three levels of decision making. These are a Technical Management Team of techies, meeting to make decisions on the fly in response to biological opinion objectives and changing river conditions (to which the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission farewell letter objects); a first-level dispute resolution Implementation Team farther up the food chain; and an Executive Committee of principals of the participating feds, states and tribes. Montana pulled out of the whole process a month ago, and the lower river CRITFC treaty tribes followed suit May 16.

Montana sources, meantime, said the state was planning a series of measures to remedy what the state in its April 15 withdrawal letter said was a lack of federal concern for its interests and natural resources. Included in its proposed actions would be enforcement of Montana water quality standards, action in the Congress and federal court litigation.

One source says the withdrawal of Montana and the downriver tribes (Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Umatillas and Yakamas) in effect "neuters" the coordinated process and reduces it to "a sham." Reaction from NMFS to the latest defection from adaptive management came from spokesman Brian Gorman, who told the Oregonian "the whole idea of a regional process is to involve all the stakeholders, and this doesn't bode very well toward any kind of cooperation."

In a letter to NMFS regional director Will Stelle, executive director Ted Strong said CRITFC would continue to monitor the adaptive management process for information purposes.

The CRITFC letter said the adaptive process did not serve "to address the federal government's trust responsibilities to the tribes, to protect treaty reserved resources, or to implement the tribal salmon restoration plan." The letter also said that the management process "demonstrably has failed to provide for the substantive and procedural needs and recommendations of the tribes." The letter does not demonstrate the demonstrable failures, but the Oregonian account said Strong was upset over NMFS decisions involving coho and favoring barging over in-river migration. The coho matter involved a dispute with NMFS over production of hatchery coho for the tribal net fishery above Bonneville Dam.

In the Oregonian interview, Strong said the joint management process merely "made the federal government look good." He raised the possibility that CRITFC would have to go to court. "If we can't participate in a meaningful political process, it forces us back to litigation."-Cyrus NoŽ

[4] SALMON TALKS FIZZLE AGAIN :: The US and Canada broke off negotiations over reauthorization of the Pacific Salmon Treaty after Canada blamed the US for negotiating in bad faith. Many US observers blamed an upcoming Canadian election for creating an atmosphere that led to failure of the talks.

A major stumbling block turned out to be a negotiating a tradeoff of coho for sockeye that would relieve harvest pressure on Washington coho salmon, which are candidates for an endangered species listing. The two countries had been trying to work out an arrangement where US fishermen would take less sockeye returning to Canada's Fraser River in return for less Canadian effort off Vancouver Island on the US fish. Canadians have traditionally caught about 60 percent of the US cohos in their own fishery.

But the issue is complicated by 25 million sockeye expected to come back to the Fraser this year. US fishermen want to share in the abundance of the run, but Canadians want the Americans to stick to catch ceilings set in the past, when less fish were swimming by.
U.S. Purse Seiner Working Alaska Waters.

When US federal negotiator Mary Beth West told Canadians that Washington state and Northwest tribes would have to be consulted before any agreement over harvest could be reached, the Canadians walked, and soon began harassing US vessels on their way to Alaska via BC's Inside Passage by enforcing an old radio check-in requirement. Three US boats were stopped at the north end of Vancouver Island and forced into Port Hardy, where their skippers paid $200 fines before being allowed to continue.

On May 27, the US officially notified that Canadians it was itself breaking off talks until the situation cooled down. Some observers say the rhetoric won't subside until the June 2 Canadian election fervor is over.

BC Premier Glen Clark met with Washington Gov. Gary Locke to try and break the impasse, though neither man is officially part of the ongoing negotiations. Clark had been grandstanding during earlier spring talks, promising to get the US's attention if no agreement was reached. Two years ago, BC imposed a $1,500 (C.) fee on US boats transiting the Inside Passage as a tactic to get vice president Al Gore personally involved in negotiations that later bore no fruit. After meeting with Locke, Clark said he wanted to reinstate the transit fee.

This spring, a series of meetings between stakeholders of the two countries came close to reaching agreement over northern boundary issues between Alaska and BC, but the coho/sockeye swap in the south proved to be the undoing of the stakeholder process (see related story) NW Fishletter 34. Canadian stakeholders had nearly committed to an abundance-based management system in northern chum, coho and sockeye fisheries, and agreed to continue discussing how to solve questions of equity, a position that put them considerably ahead of their own government's official position. Abundance-based management is a simple concept that means harvesters can catch more fish when stocks are up, and less when they are down.

Southern stakeholders could not come to similar terms over equity, because Canadians demanded equity issues be solved now, and held fast when the US wanted more Fraser fish this year as part of abundance-based management. Canada wanted to keep the US locked into a Fraser sockeye harvest that American interests said was too low now that the Fraser run has been estimated at over 25 million fish returning this year, many of which will migrate through US waters.-B.R.

[5] FLOWS RISE AND COUNTS SLOW AT BONNEVILLE :: The number of fish passing Bonneville Dam every day has decreased over the past week, down into a few hundred spring chinook instead of more than a thousand a day. But nearly 110,000 have passed the dam this season and most are headed for the Snake River, where about a thousand fish are passing Lower Granite Dam every day, keeping the NMFS crew working hard at monitoring the silver horde.

As of May 26, nearly 16,000 have passed Lower Granite on their way to Idaho, and dam counts downstream show that another 15,000 are in the Snake headed that way.

Extremely high flows have kept large numbers of chinook from making much progress through the mid-Columbia. Almost half the fish that have passed Bonneville have yet to make it by John Day Dam, and only about a third of the run has even made it past McNary Dam, the last mainstem dam the chinook pass before turning into the Snake.

Scale analysis shows that 80 percent of the fish at Bonneville are 2-ocean (two years at sea) hatchery fish, mostly bound for the Snake, where numbers are continuing to amaze. The totals at Granite are ten times higher than last year's return, and well above the 10-year average.

Meanwhile, mainstem counts have improved, and nearly 5,000 spring chinook have made it past Priest Rapids Dam. That's about three times more than last year's return, but only about one-third of the 10-year average. The situation has biologists scratching their heads because abundance in both the Snake and Columbia has tracked closely for the past 30 years.

As for juveniles in the Snake, it is estimated that almost 90 percent of the spring migration has passed Lower Granite, although wild fish will continue to trickle downstream for weeks, even months, part of nature's way of spreading the risk.-B.R.

[6] GRANDE RONDE SPRING CHINOOK SHOW DIVERSE MIGRATION PATTERNS :: Life history diversity among salmon populations is becoming an important concern for developing conservation plans. And in the case of endangered spring chinook of Oregon's Grande Ronde River, understanding life history can assist in developing a recovery plan. Study of the Grande Ronde chinook has revealed widely diverse migration patterns among sub-populations.

Conservation and recovery plans such as the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment Model rely upon developing a historical context for each native population. It also develops recovery actions that work with the strength of the salmon by making actions consistent with the life history characteristics of each population. The Grande Ronde, a tributary of the Snake, has six distinct wild spring chinook populations and each is adapted to specific portions of the watershed. The following research notes the life history diversity among some of those populations.

Upper Grande Ronde River: The spring chinook juveniles in the upper Grande Ronde have a distinct fall and spring migration downstream. The mid-October to late November migration has fewer individuals, comprising 10 per cent or less of the migrant population.

Catherine Creek: The majority of the spring chinook juveniles migrate out of this stream in the fall months, from October to the end of December. The few that leave this stream in the spring migrate in early March.

Arrival at Lower Granite Dam: The upper Grande Ronde spring chinook arrive at this Snake River dam from April to the end of July. The fall migrant juvenile chinook show up first, and two to three weeks separate the arrival of fall and spring migrant chinook. The fall migrant spring chinook abundance at the dam is about twice that of the spring migrant fish. Also, the fall migrant spring chinook are significantly larger than the spring migrant fish.

Mean daily growth rate: The Catherine Creek spring chinook have a significantly faster growth rate than the upper Grande Ronde fish, growing about .22 mm per day. Most of this growth occurs in the spring. When these fish leave Catherine Creek in the fall months, they overwinter in the Grande Ronde in the valley above the town of Elgin, Oregon. Pools are the preferred habitat in winter and summer for these juvenile spring chinook. However, the researchers have not been able to locate key overwinter habitat in the Grande Ronde above Elgin. When water temperatures drop during the late fall, these fish are believed to enter the substrate of the river and disappear.

This research, funded by the Bonneville Power Administration on Columbia Basin wild salmon populations, was presented for review by scientists at the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority Project Review held in Portland, Oregon on March 25, 1997.-Bill Bakke

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