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[1] Upper Columbia, Snake Steelhead Listed For Protection Under ESA
[2] ANALYSIS: Oregon Delays Listing With Last-Minute Status Review
[3] Tribes Cry Foul Over Possible Cuts in "New" Hatchery Funding
[4] Enviro Salmon Math Doesn't Add Up, Experts Say
[5] Fish Managers Keep Bonneville Powerhouse Shut Down
[6] Sockeye Show in Snake Encourages, Mystifies Biologists

[1] UPPER COLUMBIA, SNAKE STEELHEAD LISTED FOR ESA PROTECTION :: The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Aug. 11 that five populations of West Coast steelhead, including two in the Northwest, were gaining protection under terms of the Endangered Species Act.

Up front, federal officials said the listings won't mean any big changes in hydropower operation in the Northwest. But some hatcheries may be phased out and both recreational and commercial fishermen may face cuts, which brought howls of protest from Columbia River tribes and Idaho politicians.

Classified as endangered are wild steelhead from the Canadian border to Pasco, WA, where populations have declined from over 5,000 to less than 1,400 fish. Snake River steelhead populations have sunk from 50,000 to less than 10,000 and will be classified as threatened. Three other populations in central and southern California were also listed, but NMFS gave five other populations, including Lower Columbia stocks, a six-month extension for further study.

A member of the NMFS biological review team said the listings track the team's recommendations and reflect unresolved issues with some of the stocks.

At the announcement from Sacramento, acting assistant secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Terry Garcia said "extinction is not an option" and that the Clinton administration is committed to salmon and steelhead conservation. He said that another goal goes hand in hand--"the conviction that healthy environments and sustainable economies are inextricably linked"--and this will define the administration's approach to saving salmon in the West.

Sports fishermen in the Hanford Reach may see
harvest restrictions next year.

Rick Taylor, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the 60-day period before the listings take effect meant that tribal fishermen won't be impacted during this fall's fishing season in Zone 6 above Bonneville Dam. But Inter-Tribal executive director Ted Strong called the listing "one more event in a series that stretches back at least one hundred years which could deprive tribes of their inherent, sovereign treaty reserved fishing rights."

Idaho Gov. Phil Batt didn't like the listing, either. "Simply listing steelhead as threatened will do nothing to save them," Batt said. "As far as Idaho is concerned, the measures to protect these fish are already in place. We need to take action now, rather than create more federal bureaucracy to work through."

Batt said his state has started working in partnership with Oregon, Washington and California on a cooperative approach to protect steelhead. He said he would make sure that the federal agencies address the needs of the fishing industry by proposing the continued use of hatchery steelhead for fishing within Idaho. But Idaho is worried it may have to cut hatchery production of steelhead to aid wild fish that are now listed as threatened.

The feds gave them significant food for thought at the Aug. 11 announcement, when Northwest regional NMFS director Will Stelle said "we are in a historical transition in the way we look at hatcheries. We want them to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Stelle said Idaho's steelhead plan, which was pushed hard by the state earlier this year, was targeted to leave more fish in the river and barge fewer downstream. Beyond that, he said, the plan did not go into the issues of harvest, hatchery production, and practices related to improving spawning and rearing habitat.

Hatchery Practices Questioned

Hatcheries are the backbone of the state's recreational steelhead fishery, and have been cranking out millions of fish to make up for deteriorating wild runs. Wild Idaho steelhead returns were as high as 60,000 fish in the late 1960s, but had declined to less than 10,000 in 1996, withering along with native salmon stocks.

But while hatchery production has increased substantially since the mid-1980s, the wild population has continued to decline, causing some biologists to speculate that too many steelhead have been sent to sea in recent times, when ocean productivity was low, overloading the coastal pastures with too many hungry fish.

The new listings are certain to affect fisheries that target endangered steelhead, whether hatchery or wild. According to a NMFS document, that most likely means the upper Columbia and Southern California runs. The evolutionarily significant unit in the upper Columbia includes the hatchery stock above Wells Dam, and those fish pass through the Zone 6 tribal fishery in the lower river.

"Hatchery production must be reduced and all harvest of endangered stocks must be eliminated," said Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Columbia River Alliance. But that probably won't happen.

Dick Nason of the Chelan Country PUD said earlier that the mid-Columbia PUDS have been working with NMFS, the state, and tribes to develop a habitat conservation plan that will improve the wild runs. He said it would include some hatchery supplementation of native stocks, but details were still being worked out between the tribes and federal officials. Nason felt that the feds had softened their stance on the use of supplementation and would OK some hatchery-raised fish for outplanting in east Cascade tributaries.

Though NMFS officials have hinted strongly for months that upper Columbia steelhead were going to be listed, Washington Gov. Gary Locke said the announcement was a "wake-up" call, and he urged decisive action to restore and enhance wild runs. But according to NMFS sources, the upper Columbia always had a pretty paltry run of wild steelhead.

In a letter to Locke regarding the steelhead listing, Stelle said a wide range of human activities must be addressed to help restore the fish, including timber harvest, agriculture, water diversions, hydropower operations, gravel mining, urban development, hatchery practices and fisheries.

Stelle said the Oregon Plan would provide a good starting point, and he acknowledged the state's first steps at coping with the situation--developing a wild salmonid policy--but he expressed caution toward the future.

"We have difficult choices ahead," Stelle wrote, "and central among them is whether the states will rise to the challenge or demur while we necessarily pursue the more traditional federal approaches of the Endangered Species Act."

The Washington Farm Bureau said their members would work with the state to improve steelhead runs if efforts were voluntary and incentive-based. Spokesman Dean Tupper said that means compensation for land taken out of production for the public good. "We do not have to sacrifice jobs or family farmers to save steelhead," said Tupper. "We must never put fish over people, but we can have both." -Bill Rudolph

[2] Analysis: OREGON DELAYS STEELHEAD LISTING WITH LAST-MINUTE STATUS REVIEW :: In a brilliant move on the part of Governor Kitzhaber and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department, a last minute status review was issued that created what has been called a "technical dispute" putting off listing of four ESUs that could been listed in Oregon.

Right now, Oregon has only the native steelhead of the Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers added to the threatened list, effectively preventing the spread of protection for native fish in the state. Both the Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers have native chinook runs that were listed earlier as endangered. The only effect of listing the steelhead is to add another species to the protected list for these watersheds. This is "better" than including whole new watersheds with protected species. Gov. Kitzhaber recognizes adding new watersheds would hurt agriculture and lumber activities as well as business, generally.

The Oregon steelhead status review is interesting. The SW Washington ESU was one of the ESUs where a listing to protect native steelhead was not warranted, but Oregon has a few lower Columbia River steelhead streams in this ESU. What did Oregon's status review say about the condition of the native steelhead in this ESU?

Oregon said the lack of abundance data for Oregon rivers makes it difficult to assess the status of the stocks. To build an assessment, they looked at two rivers that are in the region, but for which there is some data, and averaged them. They concluded that the SW Washington ESU is not at immediate risk of extinction--although Oregon does say the steelhead in this ESU are likely to be in decline.

Were these the kinds of scientific arguments advanced by Oregon that caused the federal agency to delay listing or to conclude an ESU is not warranted for listing? Their merit most certainly should be evaluated by NMFS.

One native steelhead ESU that was deferred for six months is the Lower Columbia stock that includes the Kalama, Sandy, Clackamas, and Hood rivers. The Oregon status review concludes that the majority of the steelhead populations in this ESU are not healthy and are at risk. Why, then, did this ESU get deferred by NMFS when it seems the scientific assessment in this case supported listing? One of the points of debate, however, could be the listing of summer and winter steelhead races in the same ESU. There are those who argue for separating them into different ESUs.

Mismeasuring Risk

Now let's look at a candidate ESU, the Mid-Columbia stocks that include fish from the Deschutes, John Day, Yakima, Umatilla and Walla Walla rivers. The Oregon status review said the Deschutes steelhead had an average of 886 native steelhead over the last three years. Seventy percent of the steelhead returning to the river are out-of -basin strays, and the native steelhead recruitment is one adult for every 10 adult spawners. In other words, the Deschutes native steelhead are at high risk of extinction.

The John Day and Umatilla native steelhead are reproductively failing or at critically low population levels. The Walla Walla River native steelhead run is small and has been declining over the last three years, but no conclusions were developed for the status of this stream. However, since the number of adult spawners in this river does not even meet the minimum spawner standard for the Oregon wild fish management policy, the state could conclude that the Walla Walla native steelhead are at risk.

The Oregon status review does not include information on the Yakima native steelhead, but they are declining and at low numbers. The Yakima could be considered at risk similar to the John Day, Umatilla and Deschutes rivers.

The Oregon status review concludes that its extinction model assessment says "the probability of extinction for the seven populations examined for this ESU is zero over the next 100 years." However, the report goes on to say, "this is probably the wrong conclusion" for the Deschutes and John Day rivers. The report says the status of this ESU is more tenuous than presented in this report if these populations do not respond positively to improved cyclic weather conditions.

The Oregon review of three ESUs (SW Washington, Lower Columbia, and Mid-Columbia) is a mixed bag. The SW Washington ESU is not warranted, based on having no abundance information and the inability to conduct a risk analysis. The Lower Columbia ESU is deferred from listing for six months even though the conclusion is that the native steelhead populations are unhealthy and at risk. The Mid-Columbia ESU is still a candidate for listing (that is, not proposed to be listed in six months) even though there is ample evidence that the native steelhead in this ESU are vulnerable and at risk of extinction. The added interest in this ESU is that the Oregon model does not come to the same risk assessment that the data does.

Who Gets To List What?

There is also a "turf dispute" between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service over whether resident rainbow trout should also be listed along with the seagoing form--steelhead. In some cases, NMFS has concluded that resident rainbow should be considered part of the listed steelhead ESU where resident fish have a chance to interbreed with steelhead. But USFWS thinks differently. They sent a letter to NMFS marking out their territory, declaring that their agency has the authority to list resident trout, not NMFS, and that if the resident form doesn't need to be listed, then it should not be.

The Oregon fish managers sent a letter to the USFWS to suggest they take this position in order to protect their key resident trout fisheries in the state and the license revenues they represent.

Now Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber can have his salmon experts, Jim Martin and Roy Hemmingway, rewrite the Oregon Coho Plan to include steelhead. This will be enough, they hope, to keep the rest of Oregon's steelhead off the ESA list. The state has been so successful in dodging the ESA for fish protection that Washington Gov. Gary Locke is holding the Oregon approach up as the way for his state to escape federal listings, too. -Bill Bakke

[3] TRIBES CRY FOUL OVER TALK OF "NEW" HATCHERY CUTS :: Northwest tribes were quick to take issue with the Power Council's own science panel, which recommended last month to hold up funds for any "new" hatchery programs until a basin-wide study is completed.

In a July 30 policy paper to Council members, the Nez Perce Tribe urged the Council to reject the Independent Scientific Review Panel's recommendation and "recognize that the ISRP did not fulfill its assigned task and at the same time exceeded its authority." They pointed out that the panel, "for whatever reason," did not conduct an independent peer review of projects, but merely chose to criticize processes. The panel said the proposals did not contain enough information to judge them adequately.

The Nez Perce letter also said the ISRP exceeded its authority by making policy recommendations and proposing policy changes instead of "focusing on science."

The letter said the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery that is currently in the planning stages "does not constitute a 'new' production facility under the ISRP." Moreover, even if the Council mistakenly construed NPTH as a 'new' facility, the Council should allow it to proceed because it has undergone extensive peer review.

At the Aug. 6 Council meeting in Seaside, OR, John Platt of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said the tribes wondered about the ISRP's sweeping recommendation, since the scientists themselves had said "some of the best designed and implemented artificial propagation projects in the basin are funded through the Council's program."

Platt said that sub-basin planning that included support of tribal propagation programs was put on hold after the federal listing process for salmon began under terms of the ESA. He said the NMFS Biological Opinion allows for the continued status quo operation of "existing meat hatcheries," while attempting to restrict tribal efforts at species restoration and recovery.

Platt said the ISRP "believes stopping tribal hatcheries is a way of forcing the state and federal agencies to support a comprehensive report integrating the existing hatchery system...Not only does the ISRP attempt to throw a monkey wrench in the propagation component of the sub-basin planning process, the ISRP also argues that habitat projects should not proceed until full watershed assessments are completed."

Platt said the tribes believe that salmon eugenics are being used to deprive them of their fishing rights, "in much the same way that phrenology was used against their fathers and forefathers to deprive them of their land."

He told the Council they must have the courage to dismiss the ISRP's report because they failed in their mandate. "We can only hope that this report is not representative of the quality of thought or the quality of work we can expect from the top salmon scientists of the region."

Montana Council member Stan Grace later said there was some question over what "new" means in the context of the ISRP recommendations. Grace said the Council staff is developing a new approach to look at the issues, but continuing to fund a project this coming year didn't necessarily mean the Council would vote for it next year. As for continuing to fund design for the Nez Perce facility, Grace said it was likely the Council would vote for it. In fact, he said all the tribal facilities would probably be funded for FY98 because they are not strictly "new."

Grace added that the Council would probably be guided by the BPA capital spending cap of $27 million, which means a considerable shakeout of proposals. The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority has earmarked over $40 million in capital projects for next year. Grace said that some captive broodstock programs may be cut out altogether. -B.R.

[4] ENVIRO SALMON MATH ALL WRONG, EXPERTS SAY :: In a July 18 letter to Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and American Rivers, said that long-term decisions over salmon strategy can be made in early 1998, and that the "Fish in the River" strategy should be chosen over barging because adult returns from transporting fish would have to improve eight-fold to get enough back to recover the runs. Some salmon scientists say the enviros got their math all wrong, however, and that it's the result of a misleading "apples and oranges" comparison.

The environmentalists' letter said that scientific "consensus" shows the only sure path to recovery is to restore more natural habitat conditions. They said it is "critically important" to speed up the process, given the lack of progress over the past five years, the failure of the Fish Cap to work for fish, and the breakdown of the Clinton Administration's salmon and river governance process. The letter was signed by representatives of the Native Fish Society, Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, Sierra Club, the Oregon Natural Resources Council, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

The Sierra Club's Jim Baker said the reasoning behind the recommendations is based on results from the PATH (Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses) process and the report by the Independent Scientific Group, Return to the River.

Baker said the PATH group, an assemblage of regional modelers who are taking a hard, quantitative look at assumptions about salmon recovery, concluded that adult returns of two to six percent are necessary to recover the weak runs. Baker then pointed out that the overall return of PIT-tagged fish transported downstream from 1988-1994 was only .28 percent. Multiply that by eight and the answer would put the adult returns in the recovery ballpark, according to Baker.

But PATH facilitator David Marmorek said the .28 percent return is not a conclusion from the PATH process. He said one of the group's preliminary conclusions was that a two to six percent return was probably needed for adult returns, but he stressed that this was a "preliminary" finding. Marmorek said the figure is based on the survival of wild Snake River spring chinook in the mid-1960s. Another PATH conclusion from a report made public last December said that 1983-1990 returns showed an average survival rate of 1.32 percent.

The .28 percent smolt-to-adult returns that the environmentalists are using came from remarks by state and tribal modelers to an in-process report written by NMFS scientists and was not a conclusion reached by the rigorous PATH process.

Smolts being pumped aboard a barge at McNary Dam.

NMFS scientist John Williams, one of the authors of the in-process document, said the .28 percent number is meaningless. According to Williams, it was not until 1995 that salmon smolts were PIT-tagged in numbers that reflected their proportion to the ratios of hatchery and wild fish in the run at large. Hatchery fish from Idaho, which have made up the bulk of the Snake run for years now, return at significantly lower rates than wild fish, generally less than even one percent. To lump them together and come up with a return rate that was measured against earlier returns from mostly wild runs was like comparing "apples and oranges," Williams said.

He also said large variations have shown up in return rates that depend on the time of tagging, too. The last 10 percent of the fish PIT-tagged in 1990 made up more than 50 percent of the adults counted upon return, according to Williams.

This year's returns have produced enough fish from 1995 tagging to show in a statistically valid way that barged fish are returning at almost twice the rate of fish that stayed in the river, and wild fish that were transported are showing an even better return rate than their in-river counterparts, well over 2 to 1.

Baker did say that using barging as an interim strategy would "make for an interesting debate." But as far as some are concerned, the debate is over.

The Sierra Club's Baker also said conclusions in the ISG report support the environmentalists' recommendation that restoring more natural habitat is the only sure road to recovery, but PATH facilitator Marmorek said the modelers have not reached any conclusions about that. Another preliminary finding by the group, published last winter, found with "reasonable confidence" that changes in spawning, rearing and pre-spawning habitat do not appear big enough by themselves to explain post-1974 declines in the stocks.

The environmentalists' letter expressed doubt that some major decisions on dam modifications could be speeded up, and since funding decisions are based on such decisions, what they term "gold-plating"--the several hundred million now being spent modifying dams and expanding fish transportation--will "prejudice" 1999 decisions and waste capital investment dollars. They called for interim spending to focus on common measures of the current federal, regional and tribal fish plans. The groups also called for rejection of an extension of the Fish Cap through 2006, because it is not linked to the long-term decision process. -B.R.

[5] FISH MANAGERS KEEP BONNEVILLE POWERHOUSE SHUT DOWN OVER FISH WORRIES :: Divers bolted loose grates back into place at Bonneville Dam Powerhouse 2's fish ladder and the Corps of Engineers said it was ready for business by the week of Aug. 11, but fish managers from Oregon and Washington weren't comfortable enough to OK the powerhouse startup.

Turbines had been shut down to reduce attractive flow while Corps biologists tried to coax salmon out of an auxiliary water system, where an unknown number of them had become trapped. An extensive hydroacoustic scan by the Corps failed to reveal any adult salmonids trapped in the system, and only one was seen exiting during the passive rescue attempt.

At the Aug. 13 Technical Management Team meeting in Portland, fish managers were still worried about the bolts holding. With the steelhead migration in full swing, they were reluctant to put more fish in the ladder, where about 25 percent of the run is now passing. Some said it was a case of "a bunch of biologists second-guessing the engineers," and it was reported that top BPA management was pressing for a speedy resumption of operations at Powerhouse 2. It was also noted that BPA's Fish and Wildlife head, Bob Lohn, was speaking to officials from both Washington and Oregon to resolve the roadblock.

BPA's Scott Bettin, a member of the TMT, said the issue of powerhouse operation would probably be elevated to the policy level by Aug. 18 and Powerhouse 2 wouldn't be on line any sooner than midnight Aug. 19. He said the agency is losing about $100,000 a day with the turbines off, but there was absolutely no evidence that fish would be harmed in the ladder. One biologist said "no amount of information" would make the fish managers comfortable.

Way back on Aug. 6, the US Army Corps of Engineers said that the problem at Bonneville 2's fish ladder was not much of a threat to migrating adult salmon and the system would be operating by the end of the week.

Concern over fish developed after debris in an auxiliary water system at the fish ladder blew out gratings and an unknown number of salmon, and steelhead and resident fish were able to enter the auxiliary water system. The system includes a passageway .2 miles long that runs parallel to Powerhouse 2, but extensive hydroacoustic sampling found few fish trapped there.

A "passive rescue" attempt to flush fish out of the system did not produce much. Only one salmonid was reported to swim out from July 31 through Aug. 3. Very few fish were picked up by hydroacoustic detectors, which were able to scan about 30 percent of the auxiliary water channel. More scanning early in the following week showed few salmon-sized fish trapped in the system.

"This data tells us there are very few adult salmon in the AWS [auxiliary water supply]," said Corps biologist Gary Johnson. "Based on the numbers and size of fish we detected, and the difficulties of successfully dewatering the AWS and salvaging fish in the current high water temperatures, we opted to move forward for the sake of the upcoming fish passage season. Our immediate goal is to get the entire north shore fishway into full operation as quick as possible."

Johnson said it was essential to be ready for steelhead and chinook runs that will peak in early September. "When it's safe to dewater, we'll go into the dam's AWS, clean out all the debris and remove any fish." He said that there wasn't enough time now to dewater the system and clean the AWS. "We're confident the north shore spillway, with one fish attraction turbine working, will allow the system to operate successfully and allow continued fish passage until fall." The cleanup may take more than a month.

Thousands of steelhead are currently passing Bonneville Dam. By Aug. 19, over 150,000 of them had been counted. Some biologists feel that if the steelhead had shown up earlier, more fish could have entered the auxiliary water system. They say chinook are reluctant to enter dark tunnels, but steelhead not at all. -B.R.

[6] SOCKEYE SHOW IN SNAKE ENCOURAGES, MYSTIFIES BIOLOGISTS :: Twenty-two sockeye were observed passing Lower Granite Dam by Aug. 12, a ten-fold improvement over last year, and most likely a sign that the captive broodstock program with Redfish Lake endangered sockeye is beginning to show some results. But the fish still have more than 400 miles to swim before they reach the lake. Until then, on one can be sure where the fish came from.

Most of the observed fish have been seen with adipose fins intact, denoting really wild Redfish Lake sockeye-- fish that were not created in the NMFS captive broodstock program. But according to Paul Kline of Idaho Fish and Game's hatchery near Eagle, that's highly unlikely. Kline said if that was the case, it would be quite a return from the 357 wild sockeye that left the lake in 1995 on their own, landlocked fish that got a notion to migrate anyway. He added that nearly 5,000 fish migrated in 1995, all produced by the federal program, including about 3,800 yearling sockeye that were released into the lake. All these fish had their adipose fins clipped.

Of the wild number seen passing Lower Granite, Kline said it's "hardly likely that it's correct." He said the problem could be that observers are really seeing partially clipped fins and interpreting them as not clipped. About 9 percent of the broodstock population that migrated in 1995 was PIT-tagged. So far, none have been detected as adults.

NMFS biologist Tom Flagg said he was "amazed and puzzled" by the situation and said it would be a couple of weeks before any fish would show up at the lake when biologists could "get their hands on one" to determine its ancestry. He said the fish are either wild or they've been mishandled or misobserved. Flagg said one longshot could be that these fish really came from Dworshak hatchery where a large number of kokanee are raised, but he cautioned that Dworshak kokanee that have returned in previous years have not been as large as the fish observed over the past month. Meanwhile, biologists are waiting with anticipation. -B.R.

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