Fish.NET's NW FISHLETTER 038

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NWF.038/Jul.08.1997
[1] US-Canadian Fish Fight Gives Way to War of Words
[2] First Sockeye Passes Lower Granite Dam
[3] Mackerel Are Back-Another El Niņo Sign
[4] Tribes Say No to Extending Cap on F&W Spending
[5] Surface Collector Improves at Rocky Reach
[6] Oregon Coho May Be Victims of Politics
[7] 9th Circuit Rejects Challenge to Non-Treaty Storage Water
[8] CBFWA Funding Recommendations Go Online

[1] US-CANADIAN FISH FIGHT GIVES WAY TO WAR OF WORDS :: When treaty talks failed over the proposed coho/sockeye swap (See NW Fishletter 37) between the US and Canada, Canadians called for their southern BC troll fleet to lay off coho altogether and told its purse seiners to throw them back, in an attempt to keep the total mortality from net fisheries at 300,000 fish. Since at least half of those fish were bound for US streams, the Americans were privately pleased. During negotiations, they had never come close to getting Canadians to cut their harvest that much. The best the two sides could come up with was a 560,000-fish Canadian coho harvest this year in return for part of the US sockeye catch. But talks stalled over the amount of sockeye the US should catch.

Bob Turner, US salmon commissioner for Washington and Oregon, said in a June 29 op-ed piece in The News Tribune (co-authored with tribal commissioner Ron Allen) that no deal was better than a bad deal, and expressed disappointment with Canadian negotiators who did not seem alarmed by the plight of their own coho stocks. He pointed out that sport catches of Georgia Strait coho have gone from one million fish ten years ago to only 80,000 last year.

After Canadians announced their fishing regime, Turner said Canada may be relieving pressure on coho this year, but they are not looking at the long-range effect because they still plan on harvesting one million coho next year.

Washington fisheries director Bern Shanks waded into the fray with an op-ed piece of his own in the July 2 Seattle Times. He called for a new treaty to resolve the conservation issues that threaten fish runs in his state. He said treaty talks have focused on coho, but chinook stocks are "in even worse shape."

Both countries felt earlier that there was a good chance of getting the treaty back on track this year, with agreements that would govern salmon harvests for the next seven or eight years. Originally signed in 1985, the Pacific Salmon Treaty was due to be renegotiated by 1995, but the two countries have not been able to come to terms over past harvest inequities that have been pushed hard by Canadians. Turner said the stakeholder process that began last winter to address treaty problems showed real promise, but bogged down after the US sensed that their counterparts had not been "empowered" with the same authority as the Americans. "The dynamic became a problem," said Turner. Southern US stakeholders, led by commercial fishing representative Rob Zuanich had proposed a strategy to reduce the overall US catch of sockeye with a government "buyout" of 40 percent of the non-treaty share.

Both the U.S. and Canada paid for fish ladders
at Hell's Gate on the Fraser.

The two countries began sockeye fishing and plan to maintain communication over their harvests. Canada hoped most of the run would avoid warm ocean currents off Vancouver Island and migrate down the inside passage through BC waters to the mouth of the Fraser. Biologists said the water is warm enough so that 80 percent of the run might just do that, making it harder for US fishermen to reach their quotas.

Alaska piqued Canadians by announcing a chinook quota of 277,000 fish for its Southeast region harvesters. That's up from 140,000 last year, and represents a rising abundance in the upper Columbia and along the west coast of Vancouver Island, according to Alaska Fish and Game biologist Dave Gaudet. The harvest number was accepted by all the parties to the US section of the treaty process, including tribes. Although Canadian biologist Brian Riddle agreed the coastal chinook model used by the Pacific Salmon Commission showed that abundance was up from base years, he thought the Alaska catch was still too high and would adversely affect weak stocks on Vancouver Island.

The Canadian press has reported on a feud between Canadian scientists and the country's federal fisheries agency, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). An article by three Canadian biologists in a respected fisheries journal said the DFO put policy above science and caused the collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery and present problems with BC salmon. Two senior DFO officials have sued a newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen, and a scientist in response to allegations that they suppressed scientific evidence. -Bill Rudolph

[2] FIRST SOCKEYE PASSES LOWER GRANITE DAM :: The first wild sockeye returning to Idaho has been tracked up the Snake River as it makes its way toward Redfish Lake. It was observed at Ice Harbor Dam on June 19. Four days later, it passed Little Goose Dam, and two days after that, the sockeye was caught on video passing Lower Granite Dam while the fish counter was on a 10-minute break.

Steve Richards of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said it's a "pretty chunky" 17-incher, which means there's no mistaking it for a smaller kokanee. Richards said several sockeye were observed passing Lower Granite last year, but only one ended up in the fish trap at Redfish Lake. He said up to 13 sockeye may return this year, which is two fish more than the 10-year average.

Meanwhile, the summer chinook run is still chugging along. Several hundred fish a day are passing Lower Granite Dam, where the total spring/summer run adds up to more than 40,000 fish so far, giving Idaho fishermen a better chance at catching one. Idaho Fish and Game has extended the fishing season on the Little Salmon River and approved a fishing season on the South Fork of the Salmon River for hatchery-reared chinook, the first since 1964.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Sharon Kiefer said her agency had been expecting "a pretty decent return" this year, similar to returns in 1993, but this year's run is turning out to be 150 percent better. Kiefer credited good ocean production and in-river migrating conditions for the upswing.

Fish were still appearing in good numbers at the other end of the basin, with counts at Bonneville about 1.5 times the 10-year average. Jack counts are down significantly from last year, however, reflecting a 1996 outmigration down about five-fold from the previous year. Flows have decreased significantly over the past week, with fewer smolts showing signs of gas bubble trauma.

The NMFS barging study is still going strong, with 651 PIT-tagged adults counted as of July 1. The overall ratio (T/I) of transported fish to in-river migrators is 2:1, and the wild fish are showing even better results, with a T/I ratio of 2.7:1. -B.R.

[3] MACKEREL ARE BACK: ANOTHER EL NIŅO SIGN :: Ocean waters off the Northwest have heated up far above normal this spring--five to six degrees F.--signaling another full-blown El Niņo event will probably be here soon. The latest word from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center says next winter in the Northwest will be warmer than normal, but summer forecasts are harder to predict, because of inconsistent impacts. So far, the center's forecast calls for above-normal temperatures in the Southeast and Southwest, with cooler than normal conditions from Oklahoma northwestward to Idaho.

The center's director, Ants Leetma, said the latest El Niņo was shaping up to be similar to the strong events of 1957, 1972, and 1982-3. The latest advisory on June 26 reported that "easterly winds collapsed over the entire equatorial Pacific. The only other time that this has happened in the last 30 years was in mid-November 1982." The NOAA report also said that ocean temperatures off South America are now among the highest recorded since 1950, exceeded only during the 1982-83 warm event.

Migrating yellowtail, albacore, and bluefin tuna have already appeared early off Southern California, and mackerel have been caught in significant numbers off Vancouver Island during test fishing for the famous Fraser sockeye run. NMFS biologists are worried that increased mackerel populations may feast on Columbia river smolts, decimating an already tiny group (around 66,000) of ESA-listed wild spring chinook migrating from Idaho, whose parent generation was hammered by the effects of the previous El Niņo.

Canadian biologists monitoring the situation have already found mackerel off the west coast of Vancouver Island with coho smolts in their stomachs. They are worried that the large release of chinook from Robertson Creek Hatchery may be at risk. Hatchery spokesman Glen Rasmussen said it's too early to tell if the mackerel will be as bad as 1993, when they corralled migrating smolts in Barkley Sound and wiped out most of the run.

Rasmussen said surveys were underway to assess the potential effects of the mackerel, which he said "eat twenty-four hours a day, and with those big eyes can see at night to keep on feeding." He noted that observations in 1993 revealed that the voracious predators "ate the salmon down to the very last one."

Washington fishermen reported a few mackerel have been caught off the coast where the ocean has warmed significantly in the past month. Washington troller Doug Fricke said that schools of mackerel have been boiling like herring offshore in 90 fathoms of water. Fricke said he has found that some adult chinook he's caught this spring have even been eating mackerel. -B.R.

[4] TRIBES SAY NO TO EXTENDING CAP ON F&W SPENDING :: Wendell Hannigan, a member of the Yakama Tribal Council and vice-chairman of the Columbia Basin Inter-Tribal Fish Commission told power council members at their June 25 Missoula meeting that extending BPA's fish cap at its current funding level is unacceptable to the tribes. The cap is now set at $435 million per year with another $325 million in a contingency fund, and will remain in place until 2001. All eight Northwest senators wrote Vice President Al Gore on June 17 supporting the cap extension to help BPA attract future power subscribers.

"As it is currently structured," Hannigan said, "the cap has already begun to strangle restoration efforts. If extended, the spending cap will reduce the NPPC fish and wildlife budget almost to nothing by 2006 as principal and interest become due on Corps capital construction projects. While extending the current cap may provide BPA's large industrial and utility customers with rate certainty, it will surely also provide salmon with extinction certainty."

Hannigan told the council that BPA's proposed solution would abrogate US treaty obligations to tribes and Canada; "plunge" the Northwest into another round of intense litigation; provoke reinitiation of consultation under the ESA that could demand more water from Idaho, Montana, and Grand Coulee reservoir; and potentially trigger the "God Squad" to determine whether the Snake River salmon should go extinct.

He said that BPA seems to have forgotten "that it only exists to fulfill public purposes including fish and wildlife protection and mitigation," and that it was a gross distortion of the truth for BPA to blame its financial problems on fish and wildlife costs. He said that the power agency's "feared inability to compete" comes from the $500 million a year WPPSS "albatross" along with $120 million per year in subsidies and lost power opportunities associated with navigation and irrigation. Hannigan pointed out that other regions are "squarely" facing up to the costs of making the transition to a deregulated energy market, citing Rhode Island and California, where short-term electrical rates will be going up to pay off bad investments.

"BPA and its large industrial and utility customers want to pay nothing," said Hannigan. "Instead, they want fish and wildlife once again to pay for the mistakes of the federal government and its utility customer." -B.R.

[5] SURFACE COLLECTOR IMPROVES AT ROCKY REACH :: Chelan County PUD biologist Chuck Peven has reported results of this year's testing of the surface collector at Rocky Reach Dam. The large steel contraption won't win any beauty contests, but modifications have improved its job performance guiding smolts around turbines at the dam. At a workshop session last month, Peven told PUD commissioners that results are "extremely encouraging." He said 40 percent of tagged test fish used the system this year, up from 25 percent in 1996.

This is the collector's third year of modifications, according to Peven, who said the sloping wall and floor extension that were added last year have been removed. Other modifications directed more water flow into and through the surface collection system, and weirs have been added, along with a separate channel for the gatewell system.

Peven said the bypass operation will remain in operation until the juvenile migration season is over. So far, more than 309,000 fish have used the new system to get around the turbines. -B.R.

[6] OREGON COHO MAY BE VICTIMS OF POLITICS :: This spring's NMFS decision not to list most Oregon coho was based on the assumption that their risk of extinction was less in 1997 because of a modest increase in spawner escapements, but the fish may be in worse shape than policymakers have said.

The NMFS Biological Review Team (BRT) that examined Oregon coho status made their conclusions and recommendations public on March 28 in a pre-decisional ESA document. A month later, on April 25, regional NMFS director Will Stelle said the weight of the scientific review supported Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber's coho plan.

But the BRT did not make a recommendation on listing. Rather, they evaluated the risk of extinction for each evolutionarily significant unit (ESU), assuming that present conditions would continue. According to Stelle, eight scientists on the BRT thought the risk of extinction was less, given new information, and six others decided the risk remained high.

Though annual escapements of native coho from Cape Blanco to the Columbia River climbed from 50,000 before 1996 to 80,000 in 1996, recruits per spawner have continued to decline since the ESU was reviewed in 1994.

The BRT report said: "recruits per spawner have continued declining rapidly (from 12% to 20% each year over the last 10 years)" and are the lowest on record for the last three broods except 1988. However, spawner to spawner ratios have remained just above replacement since the 1990 brood because there has been no directed ocean fishery for coho. The BRT said the new data did not change the overall pattern of decline.

The report said one model suggested that "most Oregon coastal coho stocks cannot sustain themselves at ocean survivals that have been observed in the last five years even in the absence of harvest." But another model "suggested stocks are highly resilient and would be at significant risk of extinction only if habitat degradation continues into the future."

There was confusion over how many hatchery fish were being counted as native wild coho by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Scale analysis determined hatchery to wild ratios of naturally spawning fish were moderate to high in many watersheds on the Oregon coast and a few hatchery fish were identified in almost every basin. The report says "natural spawner abundance may be overestimated by ODFW and the declines in recruits per spawner in many areas may have been even more alarming than current estimates indicate." Further work by ODFW showed that natural spawners were overestimated by 15 percent .

Dory fishing off the Oregon coast.

The revised spawner escapement estimate for north coast wild coho spawners is lower than ODFW 1990-1996 counts show. An April 3 memo to Stelle from Michael Schiewe, director of NMFS' Coastal Zone and Estuarine Studies Division, said: "Because hatchery strays are more of a problem on the northern part of the coast, changes from the previous estimates are much higher in some basins than this. For example, Salmon River is 69% below the original estimate, Necanicum River and Elk Creek are 43% lower, Tillamook Bay 33% lower, and Siuslaw River 24% lower. In our judgment, the original estimates provided by the ODFW (and which the BRT used in its evaluations) are biased upwards. Overall abundance for the ESU is likely to be lower than the estimates available to the BRT, and if so the biases are likely to be worst in the northern coastal area that is more at risk." The memo also says, "...it appears that the methods ODFW has used to 'subtract out' naturally spawning hatchery fish from estimates of spawning escapement is subjective and relies heavily on professional judgment."

The biological review team concluded that, "assuming present conditions continue into the future (and that proposed harvest and hatchery reforms are not implemented), this ESU is not at significant short-term risk of extinction, but that it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. A minority felt that the ESU is not likely to become endangered."

Gov. Kitzhaber's political victory seems based less on scientific evidence, and more on a turn of phrase--"this ESU is not at significant short-term risk of extinction"--the language Stelle used to justify not listing the coho as a federal protected species. -Bill Bakke

[7] 9TH CIRCUIT REJECTS CHALLENGE TO NON-TREATY STORAGE WATER :: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition filed by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center challenging BPA's signing of an agreement with British Columbia dividing up the benefits of non-treaty storage.

The non-treaty storage agreement (NTSA), signed in 1990, more than doubled the storage capacity regulated between the U.S. and British Columbia. In connection with the NTSA, BPA signed a non-treaty storage fish and wildlife agreement, promising that the additional water would not be held or released in a way that harms fish or wildlife or disrupted protection measures. A third agreement required the Mid-Columbia PUDs to use their share of the non-treaty storage benefits in a way that would not disrupt fish operations.

NEDC argued that BPA's companion fish and wildlife agreement was not "equitable treatment," and challenged BPA for not preparing an environmental impact statement, rather than a narrower environmental assessment, on the F&W agreement. "At the time of the agreement, the state agencies and tribes were upset because they feared Bonneville would use non-treaty storage for power purposes, and that would diminish fish flows," said Dan Rohlf, attorney for NEDC. "The analysis Bonneville did at the time showed that indeed the use of non-treaty storage was likely to decrease flows to some degree, particularly in the spring, and to decrease spill to some degree. We argued that Bonneville should have allocated a portion of the NTS for fish flow purposes when the agency entered into the agreement, as a result of its equitable treatment obligations."

"What clearly swayed the court was Bonneville's argument that in acquiring control of this portion of NTS, Bonneville had not decided what to do with it yet," Rohlf said. The court said that because BPA had left most of its share of the downstream benefits unallocated, it was premature to argue that BPA had violated its obligation for equitable treatment.

But Rohlf found the 9th Circuit in agreement with him over Bonneville's "substantive" obligation to provide equitable treatment when it does decide what to do with the water. Further, BPA's decision should come as the result of some sort of process that allows for meaningful judicial review.

The opinion of the three-person 9th Circuit panel was written by Judge Melvin Brunetti. Judge Stephen Reinhardt concurred in part and dissented in part. In his dissenting opinion, he concluded that because of the magnitude of the non-treaty storage agreement and the severe decline of salmon populations in the Columbia River system, an environmental impact statement was required.

BPA's attorney on the petition had not seen the court's decision by press time and had no comment. -Pamela Russell

[8] CBFWA FUNDING RECOMMENDATIONS GO ONLINE :: Information about present and proposed spending in the Northwest Power Planning Council's Fish and Wildlife program is now available on StreamNet, the Northwest Aquatic Resource Information Network, a cooperative venture of Pacific Northwest fish and wildlife agencies and tribes.

The data includes a list of all projects funded in FY 97 by the Bonneville Power Administration with short descriptions of the projects themselves. As part of the budget prioritization process, funding proposed for FY 98 by the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority has been posted as well. The budget numbers must be viewed as in draft form and subject to change. CBFWA has recommended that FY 98 funding include more than $62 million for anadromous non-capital projects, more than $42 million in FY 98 capital projects for anadromous fish, nearly $16 million for resident fish projects and $15 million for wildlife projects

In mid-July, the Independent Science Review Panel will respond to CBFWA's FY 98 funding proposals with a presentation at the Power Council's work session. Their analysis will be posted on the StreamNet site along with a description of how individuals can provide comments on the proposed funding. -Bill Rudolph

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