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[1] Science Panel Says Barging Fish Has Downsides
[2] Spring Flows Wasted, Says New Report
[3] Lower Columbia Steelhead Make ESA List
[4] Kitzhaber Mad Over NMFS Forest Recommendations
[5] Congressmen Rap Three Sovereigns Process
[6] New Faces Square Off Over Salmon Diplomacy
[7] Bloch Named Power Council's Western Oregon Rep
[8] Canadians Plan May Mackerel Attack
[9] WDFW Director Hangs On By A Thread

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The 11-member Independent Scientific Advisory Board has finally weighed in with its review of fish transportation, an opinion eagerly awaited by NMFS policymakers who are trying to develop a BiOp on steelhead by April 1.

The ISAB's month-late judgment is a decidedly lukewarm verdict. In a report released March 3, the group said the "magnitude of uncertainty" of the information available to assess transportation means "it continues to be prudent to exercise caution in weighing the possible risks against the perceived benefits of juvenile transportation." Members supported the present "spread-the-risk" policy that officially tries to keep half of the spring chinook coming out of Idaho in the river, and the other half in barges.

But the ISAB seems to have mis-interpreted some studies they used to bolster claims that barging fish would select against late-migrating stocks and took results from homing and straying studies out of context.

One ISAB member, Dr. Jack Stanford of the University of Montana, said the assignment amounted to "fumbling while Rome burns," and used the occasion to tender his resignation from the panel.

But NMFS scientist Mike Schiewe, who reported on the ISAB's conclusions to regional policymakers at the March 5 Implementation Team meeting in Portland, said the group hadn't raised any issues that "people hadn't thought about before." Schiewe said real-world limitations on fish tagging studies could never answer some of the concerns raised by the ISAB.

The ISAB's conclusions puts the group at odds with a recommendation from the Corps of Engineers to maximize fish transportation this year in the Snake River and from McNary dam on the Columbia River to help recently ESA-listed wild steelhead. The Corps' biological assessment cited 20 years of NMFS research, which it said demonstrates that survival benefits of barging past dams are even better for the recently ESA-listed steelhead than for spring chinook, with 2.5 to 3.5 times as many barged steelhead returning as adults as those who migrated to sea inriver.

The ISAB admitted that some stocks seemed to benefit from barging, but said others could be harmed by it. "We have no basis for knowing which stocks would benefit and which might be disadvantaged by this action," said the report. The panel was concerned that research showed only the "average benefit" of barging. They also recommended that trucks should not be used to transport fish out of concern for "impairment of homing." Tanker trucks are used to transport migrating smolts downstream in late summer as a cost-saving measure, because fish numbers are quite small.

NMFS' Schiewe said his take on the report is that the main concern was that transporting fish could be reducing biodiversity of the Snake River runs, and the panel faulted the studies for not evaluating potential benefits on a stock-by-stock basis.

But Schiewe said there were technical and logistical issues involved in the studies that the ISAB didn't mention. The NMFS scientist said it was a matter of what kind of studies could be done in the "real world." He said there are not enough fish returning from these individual stocks to get the kind of answers the ISAB is looking for.

Schiewe told policy makers the ISAB felt that in the long term, transportation is not in line with the concept of the "normative" river system. But he was clear about one thing:IT members should ask the ISAB for clarification if they had unresolved questions about the report.

The report cited spring chinook from Oregon’s Imnaha River as examples of stocks that migrated late and "are more likely to be transported in trucks than are spring chinook with relatively average emigration timing." But the stocks in question leave their stream of origin in the late summer (when they are observed in a trap) and overwinter where water temperatures are less severe, passing Lower Granite Dam the following spring. But the first 10 percent of the 1996 run appeared at the dam by April 16, with over 90 percent passing by May 18, well within the time-frame during which fish are barged from the site (from "Monitoring the Migration of Wild Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook Salmon Smolts, Annual Report 1996").

Concern Over Trucking

The ISAB’s concern over the effects of trucking fish were partly generated by a paper they cited (North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 17, 101-113, 1997) that examined homing in sockeye and chinook in studies from 1984-1988 which looked at trucking and barging both sockeye and spring chinook from Priest Rapids Dam to below Bonneville Dam. The paper reported that putting all the data together suggested that transportation impaired homing of adult sockeye between Bonneville and Priest Rapids, but the authors (Chapman, et al) found no impaired homing in either species between Priest Rapids and spawning areas. Furthermore, they were very clear about spelling out the limitations of the study.

"Our information on homing may or may not have relevance elsewhere for trucked fish," they wrote, noting that olfactory clues in the Snake River may cause fish "to return there as adults without confusion, delay, or unusual straying, while cues provided by the mid-Columbia River offer weaker stimuli."

They also said their results for trucked-and-barged sockeye "may or may not apply to other species or to fish barged from collector dams, which usually enter barges from holding raceways or directly from dam bypass conduits."

NMFS policy maker Brian Brown said discussion about transportation in the current steelhead BiOp talks had been tabled for the past month, waiting for the ISAB's report. Brown said his agency hadn't figured out an "appropriate response" to it, so the policy makers set Mar. 19 as the date to hear from ISAB chair Rick Williams himself.

Comments trickling in on the ISAB report indicate some regional biologists are troubled by the panel's decidedly qualitative bent. The statement that "statistical significance is primarily a function of sample size and does not insure that the differences are biologically meaningful" is quite a "mouthful," according to one Northwest researcher. Another said gathering enough data to develop correlations with robust confidence levels is what science is all about.

But these concerns haven't stopped the state of Idaho from using the ISAB's review of transportation to bolster its own plan for spreading the risk. In a March 4 draft report, the state said river conditions this year warrant such a strategy, one "that errs toward allowing the majority of smolts to migrate in-river this spring."

Idaho Fish and Game has estimated that only about 260,000 ESA-listed salmon, 500 listed sockeye and 636,000 listed steelhead will be out-migrating from Idaho streams this year, along with 4 million hatchery chinook and nearly 8 million hatchery steelhead.

The same day the ISAB released its report, Montana ecology professor Dr. Jack Stanford resigned from the panel, citing the marginalization of the group's efforts. In a March 3 letter to Power Council chair John Etchart and NMFS administrator Will Stelle, Stanford said that fish survival needed to be "two orders of magnitude greater" [100 times] than can "at best be attributed to the legacy of transportation" before any indication of sustained recovery could be observed. He cited creation of habitat conditions by flow reregulation and drawdown or dam removal as the only sure way to recover the stocks. Stanford said he "hoped the ISAB will not be absorbed down the line with more questions about management actions that are fundamentally irrelevant to recovery and a gigantic waste of money and effort. Indeed, all actions in the Basin should be responsive to Return to the River as the conceptual foundation for recovery." Stanford was one of the report's authors. -Bill Rudolph


With the spring migration of salmon soon to begin, the debate over how much water is needed to help fish move down the Snake and Columbia Rivers has heated up again. And with a steelhead BiOp being developed that may ask for even more flow augmentation in the early spring, the issue is sure to become an even hotter topic. Also certain to add fuel to the debate is a white paper, released in early March by Northwest consultants, that takes a quantitative look at flow augmentation. It concludes that improvements to fish survival from flow augmentation are minimal, especially when weighed against the economic tradeoffs; and it calls for a major restructuring and re-organization of the flow strategy, which when used with fish transportation would benefit both fish stocks and water resources.

Consultant Darryll Olsen of the Pacific Northwest Project compiled the analysis with help from Harza Engineering and researchers at Columbia Basin Research at the University of Washington. Irrigators from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, worried about a federal takeover of their water rights, had commissioned the study.

"The bottom line says the federal government is mis-allocating water use in the West," Olsen said last week. "I suppose that's the biggest sin you can commit out here. The feds are committing the very vice [of which] they are accusing others."

The report takes issue with flow augmentation programs for fish that began in 1983 with the water budget created by the Power Council. That strategy has evolved into the flow targets outlined in the present NMFS BiOp that guides hydro actions in the Snake and Columbia to help ESA-listed fish.

"Zero Net Loss" Water Policy

Irrigators feel seriously threatened by an emerging federal policy that calls for "zero net loss"--no further withdrawals in the two mainstems or tributaries and groundwater sources. The point was driven home when NMFS canned a proposal by the Inland Land Co. last year to exercise its state-mandated water rights and build a pumping station in the Columbia to irrigate new farmland. The Corps of Engineers had approved the company's permit, but NMFS said the operation did not jibe with the "zero net loss" policy and jeopardized listed stocks because the water withdrawal would make it more difficult to reach target flows mandated in the BiOp.

Olsen said the NMFS policy challenges state authority to grant future water rights for municipal, industrial, or irrigation uses. Any new water allocations would be used solely for fish flows.

But Olsen said the flow targets that evolved from the water budget of the early 1980s are unrealistic. His report says hydro regulation studies from the Bureau of Reclamation show the NMFS flow targets cannot be met in all months during low or average water-years "because they require more water than the hydrologic system can provide--with or without the effects of net irrigation depletions from the Snake-Columbia River Basin."

In drought years, according to the report, net irrigation depletions account for large volumes of water in July and August, but they are not the primary reason the flow targets cannot be met. "The problem rests with the flow targets themselves--the targets are well beyond the Basin's hydrologic capability," the study says.

Using data from PIT-tag research conducted since 1992, Olsen says the "within year" relationship between flow and survival is weak, and that year-to-year correlations between flow and survival, which reflect "vastly different flow levels between years," support the hypotheses that ecological factors associated with drought conditions are principally responsible for fish survival. He said flow and survival data for fall chinook is more variable, and in some cases showed a possible relationship.

Olsen analyzed the value of water from several viewpoints. He based the value of sport and commercial fisheries on a base period of 1987-1991, when catch was relatively high, and pegged the annual direct net value of salmon and steelhead coming from above Bonneville Dam at $25 million. That puts the value of water at about $2.5 million per one million acre-feet used for flow augmentation. According to Olsen, this represents a future value estimate over 10 lifecycles (1995 dollars). But he said one million acre-feet (MAF) of water is worth $40 million to $70 million for irrigated agriculture, and $8 million to $10 million for power generation.

The report outlined a flow augmentation program that "better reflects a step toward optimization of existing water resources" and would not augment flows in
Flow Augmentation Programs Chart
Chart from "The Columbia-Snake River Flow Targets/Augmentation Program," February 1998
the spring at all. In low water years, it calls for adding July-August flows in the Snake from Brownlee Project at a maximum of 0.5 MAF for "experimentation" and up to 1.0 MAF from Dworshak for fall chinook. In the Columbia, flows up to 0.4 MAF would be used solely for the fall chinook migration.

The same scenarios, with no spring flow augmentation, would be used in average water years. According to the report, "without a better technical justification for the summer flow augmentation, resource managers should refrain from taking actions to increase this flow augmentation regime."

This recommendation puts the report on a collision course with present NMFS policy, which is reported to be asking for even more flows in the mid-Columbia this spring, ostensibly to help recently listed steelhead stocks. Olsen already locked horns with regional NMFS director Will Stelle over the issue last November, when the consultant presented a low-flow option for operation of the hydropower system. That option, developed under a BPA contract, also called for maximum fish transport and reduced spending for fish passage at some dams--measures designed to save the power agency $40 million to $60 million a year.

Stelle complained to BPA acting administrator Jack Robertson, saying that Olsen had mis-interpreted recent NMFS data, but Olsen said last December that was not the case.

Breakthrough In Survival Studies

The new report contains a history of research into flow/survival relationships that "represented a breakthrough in survival studies," and it says the new data and its analyses "conclusively prove that the strong inseason flow-survival hypothesis for spring chinook and steelhead smolt--as was originally claimed from the Sims and Ossiander studies--is not supported."

The report says previous claims of large benefits for flow augmentation have been over-estimated. "What remains of the contention for a strong flow-survival relationship is now being addressed in the PATH process," where different passage model systems are being reviewed by independent scientists. According to the report, the University of Washington analyses fit the in-river survival data much better than the tribal-fish agency FLUSH model, which postulates a strong delayed mortality factor in fish due to low flows. -B.R.


The National Marine Fisheries Service announced last Friday that two more populations of West Coast steelhead will be listed as "threatened" under terms of the Endangered Species Act. One is a lower Columbia River stock from watersheds that include some of the fastest growing economies in the Northwest, and the cities of Vancouver and Portland. The other threatened steelhead stock is in the middle of California's Central Valley, where much of that state's agri-business is located.

The federal agency said that three other populations, along the Oregon and Washington coast and in the Klamath Mountains of both Oregon and California, will be protected by special conservation plans being designed in close coordination with state officials.

Terry Garcia, the Commerce Department's assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere, called the state-federal partnership a new age for the Endangered Species Act. Garcia said the March 13 steelhead decision "confirms that the Endangered Species Act has remarkable flexibility to work with states to fashion tailor-made conservation strategies good for at-risk species grounded on solid local and state commitments."

Garcia said the state plans forestalled a federal listing to produce a creative solution to a regional problem. What Garcia didn't say was that a plan put together by Oregon and Washington for the lower Columbia steelhead did not forestall a listing of that population.

Garcia said all the factors in steelhead declines will have to be addressed, which include logging, farming, water diversions, hydropower, gravel mining, urbanization, recreational angling and hatchery practices.

"This is not just some administrative decision or bureaucratic process," said NMFS Northwest regional administrator Will Stelle. "This is a life-or-death struggle to save a legendary species of fish we are charged with protecting."

Seven populations of steelhead are now listed under the ESA, and three of them are covered by state conservation plans. -B.R.


The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a draft report to an Oregon state advisory committee that contains 23 recommendations for improving Oregon forest operations. The day before the report went public, Gov. John Kitzhaber, in an op-ed piece in the Oregonian, characterized the recommendations as a threat that would upset industrial foresters. But he said he would put them before a group of environmental and forest industry advocates, in a "collaborative manner," for a "careful scientific review" before making their own recommendations.

When NMFS struck an agreement with Oregon to take over coho salmon (and now steelhead) recovery rather than list them as protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act, both parties signed a Memorandum of Agreement. That agreement specifically calls for improved forest operations in order for Oregon to keep coho salmon off the federal list.

Paul Ketcham of the Portland chapter of the Audubon Society was elated with the NMFS recommendations but he said the report contains nothing new. "In 1986, scientists gave the Oregon Department of Forestry the same message," said Ketcham. "They said we need a watershed approach to forest management and standards to protect fish habitat. They told the Forestry Department there wasn't enough large woody debris in streams for fish habitat and that cumulative effects of watershed development were not being addressed.

The MOA between Governor Kitzhaber and NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle says:

1. NMFS will work with Oregon and the Department of Forestry...to develop the adjustments NMFS believes are required in Oregon forest practices to provide a high probability of protecting and restoring ...Oregon coastal coho.

2.NMFS may at any time propose additional modifications it believes are needed in Oregon forest practices to sustain Oregon coastal coho.

3. Oregon shall make every effort to ensure that the Board of Forestry or the Legislature begin consideration of the proposals promptly, and make a decision on the proposed changes in a timely manner, and shall make any necessary changes no later than June 1, 1999. If Oregon fails to follow through on its MOA, the coho could be listed as an endangered species by NMFS.

In a letter to Commerce secretary William Daley, who oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service, Kitzhaber said, "...unwillingness to work with Oregon has threatened the very core of Oregon's collaborative plan. I signed a long memorandum of agreement for coho that reflects a lack of trust that Oregon will follow through with our recovery plan commitments...If a state is committed to leading a recovery effort," Kitzhaber continued, "the federal agencies can help by adapting as much as possible to the approach taken by the state. This is what I mean when I ask NMFS to join with us as a partner."

The NMFS recommendations call for strengthening riparian area management; requiring a commitment to protect streamside trees for large woody debris; providing better road management and correcting passage problems, especially where culverts are located; and protection of unstable slopes and small headwater streams to reduce problems downstream where salmon are found.

Chuck Willer, who heads the Oregon Coast Range Association, said "until corporations are under attack, for their very legitimacy, they will never give in and reform their ways. We need to press 'em in the neighborhoods," he added, referring to the watersheds. But Willer said he is convinced the watershed councils are not prepared to be strong advocates for fish habitat. Watershed councils were created by Governor Kitzhaber to become the solution on the ground, a voluntary effort that would replace a federal regulatory effort to recover salmon.

Jeff Dose, a fisheries biologist in the Umpqua National Forest, who co-wrote an evaluation of the Oregon plan in the May 1997 issue of Fisheries, said recently that the dominant approach currently in use (treating only some of the symptoms) is unlikely to be successful in the long term and "may actually cause further damage and often conceals real ecological problems that prevent genuine restoration." Dose said current efforts had an "extremely low" probability of recovering populations of wild salmon and trout, and their ecosystems. -Bill Bakke


The attempt to reach a regional consensus on Columbia Basin river governance through the Three Sovereigns Forum took another hit before it seemed to recover momentum last week after a meeting in Spokane narrowed the potential scope of the process.

Four Northwest Republican Congressmen--one from each state--wrote to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber of their concern over the "scope and intent" of the proposed forum as described in the draft Three Sovereigns Memorandum of Agreement. But following a March 13 meeting in Spokane, the process seemed to be back on track after Idaho offered a reworded proposal that would ensure the state keeps its authority over water and would limit the forum to fish recovery issues, rather than a whole range of basin-wide concerns, including dam relicensing. Both the original and revised version will be presented to the public on April 1 for comment before the document is finalized.

The Feb. 27 letter was sent just over a week after Idaho Gov. Phil Batt threatened to withdraw from the Forum, complaining the MOA appeared to call for Idaho's ceding control of its resources and water supplies.

It also came as the senior staff group of the Three Sovereigns process is engaged in a disagreement over whether to proceed with a public comment period on the draft MOA, which is publicly available.

The Congressmen--Bob Smith (R-OR), Doc Hastings (R-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Rick Hill (R-MT)--said the MOA does not answer Congress' request for "an agreement on a wide variety of river issues that can truly be described as a regional consensus." "Without the active participation of all river interests in the drafting process, an agreement would immediately be viewed as too favorable to one side or the other," they told Kitzhaber. "We suggest that you take steps to broaden the group to include government officials, fish and wildlife advocates, energy providers and transportation and agriculture interests."

The Congressmen also questioned the role of the Three Sovereigns after the MOA is finalized. "The draft MOA," they noted, "sets up a 12-member commission--with each state only getting one vote each--that will vote to decide regional policy regarding the 'management and use of water in the Columbia Basin for the benefits of fish and wildlife, including recovery plans and biological opinions for anadromous fish, resident fish and wildlife species; [and]federal, state and tribal regional land management planning initiatives, including the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project.'"

The letter asked a series of questions, such as "Does this mean the body will continue to meet to vote on potential actions pending in the Columbia Basin? If so, will tribal and federal agency representatives then be voting to determine land use planning or water allocation for the states? What are the implications of the MOA with regard to the states' sovereignty over water?"

The region already funds the NW Power Planning Council, which is authorized by Congress to deal with anadromous fish issues in the Basin, the Congressmen continued. "Why initiate an entirely new process that will largely duplicate" the Council's duties, they asked.

The draft MOA states that the Three Sovereigns Forum would not alter existing authorities, the letter adds, but "it is not clear" whether it might in the future request statutory authority over river operations.

Hemmingway noted that none of the four congressmen was among those "who said they were supporting [the process] to begin with.

"I think there is a great deal of confusion about what the Three Sovereigns is," he continued. "There is concern that this agency will make decisions. Of course, what it will do is engage in a collaborative process." In legal terms, he said, the group will make recommendations to the various participating agencies and bodies that have actual decision-making authority. "In practical terms it may look like a decision if it is done well, but each agency with legal authority will retain that authority."

Section III of the MOA, labeled "Exclusions," lists what the agreement "does not (and is not intended to [do])." This is followed by a detailed list of ten categories of official activity and decision-making authority, all of it precluded from the proposed Forum's purview. -Ben Tansey


Both Canada and the US announced last week new representatives to lead salmon negotiations between the two countries. The news came after a January report from the two countries called for an end to stakeholder talks and a restart of government-to-government discussions. Canadian Donald McRae, a professor of business and trade law at the University of Ottawa, was named by his government to lead the new push. McRae has been a government advisor in international fishery disputes and boundary arbitration. The US announced that Roberts Owen will fill the chief negotiating spot for the Americans. Owen is a retired attorney with considerable experience in dispute resolution. He worked with the US State Department during the 1995 Bosnia negotiations and early 1980s hostage negotiations.

Some say that settling the Bosnian crisis was simple compared to ending the long-simmering feud over salmon. New potential ESA listings in Puget Sound have made the future even more unclear, since Canadian commercial and sports fishermen catch up to 70 percent of these distressed stocks. Canada's chief negotiator, Yves Fortier, resigned in February, saying that greed and fear were still the main obstacles to renegotiating a treaty. New talks are scheduled to begin at the end of March.

Treaty gadfly BC premier Glen Clark paid a call on Washington governor Gary Locke last week to drum up support for improving his standing at the talks. Until now, the federal government has done all the negotiating for Canada because it controls salmon harvest management in the province. Locke agreed that BC should be at the table, but was careful to say that his meeting with Clark shouldn't be seen as an attempt to isolate Alaska at the negotiations -Bill Rudolph


Eric Bloch, an assistant attorney general who has handled Oregon's fish litigation and represented the state in the ongoing Three Sovereigns process, is the new Oregon member of the Power Council. Gov. John Kitzhaber announced the appointment of Block, a Portland resident, last week.

The Western Oregon seat on the council became vacant at the first of the year when Joyce Cohen stepped down at the end of her term. She would have had a pension penalty had she elected to stay on past the first of January.

Roy Hemmingway, Gov. Kitzhaber's natural resource advisor, had been designated to take the seat (which he had held in the 1980s), but could not do so because of a very political confirmation problem. Sources indicated that had the governor not acted to fill the seat at this time, it could have remained vacant until October.

Washington has yet to fill its Eastern Washington seat, which is being occupied on an interim basis by retiring member Ken Casavant. Sources reported last week that the attention of Gov. Locke's administration was taken up with the last days of the state legislative session, and no appointment deliberations had been held. No decision on a member to succeed Dr. Casavant will be made, the sources say, until April at the earliest. -Cyrus Noë


With large schools of mackerel preying on millions of Northwest salmon smolts over the past few years, it's been more difficult than ever to recover endangered stocks. But the region may finally have a chance to get even. The Canadian government is developing an experimental fishery on these prolific predators, hoping that people will buy them and eat them.

Ed Lochbaum of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said high temperatures in waters of the BC coast have kept mackerel in the region since 1992. It's unusual that the fish have stayed around this long, he said, but water temperatures have stayed high enough to keep them there.

Over the years, schools of mackerel have occasionally migrated north from their traditional feeding grounds off California, but nobody can remember them staying for this long. Lochbaum estimated that 300,000-400,000 metric tons of both Pacific and Jack mackerel are currently swimming off the Northwest coast.

Scientists say El Niño can't be blamed for the current state of mackerel, either, since they have been hanging around even after El Niño events dissipated. Oceanographers say the warm ocean temperatures off BC in 1995 and 1996 were probably due to a "mixed layer anomaly," a condition they stress that does come from an El Niño.

Some biologists have speculated that the mackerel stay trapped in warm water pockets in the fall or stay in the region to feed on herring, whose numbers are climbing. Besides juvenile salmon, they also eat various species of invertebrates, copepods, amphipods and the like.

Another theory, and the least supportable, is that a wholesale change in ecosystems of the Northeastern Pacific has occurred that is responsible for the mackerel's long stay. Odd things are happening that may signal such a change, like large schools of hake showing up in the Gulf of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, where they have never been seen before.

As for the mackerel, no one knows how long they'll stick around. Canadian scientists say there is no way of knowing, but the predators could be here "for an extended period of time."

That's bad news to salmon managers. In the early 1990s, mackerel appeared in Barkley Sound, eating millions of hatchery chinook released from a Vancouver Island hatchery at Robertson Creek. Schools of them still roam off the coasts of Oregon and Washington, where more stocks of salmon and steelhead have been added to the list of endangered species.

What Canada proposes will barely put a dent in the mackerel population, however. Thirty-two licenses will be issued this year to vessels with different types of gear to determine the best way to catch them. Lochbaum said there will be some purse seining, mid-water trawling and hook-and-lining. So far, he said it looks like "line-caught" is the way to go. "Seines- have failed due to behavior of the fish," he said.

The biggest problem in developing mackerel for human consumption, is keeping the fish cold. Once caught, they must be cooled down in refrigerated sea water or flash frozen.

Lochbaum said he's not sure what will happen in the ocean this year, but he expected a cooling trend to develop by mid-June. Such a change could improve upwelling conditions, boosting nutrient levels off the coast. That would be welcome news for people concerned with salmon, who are expecting meager returns this year. Washington state fish managers say it appears ocean survival for coastal and Columbia River stocks was poor.

The warm water has been a boon to albacore fishermen, however, who found the tuna plentiful last season and were picking up sailfish on their gear as far north as the southern BC coast. -Bill Rudolph


Washington’s battered Fish and Wildlife director Bern Shanks nearly lost his job last week; it was only the lack of a quorum at a March 10 meeting of the Fish and Wildlife Commission that kept the ax from falling. The Commission, created two years ago by public referendum, was supposed to take the politics out of the state’s fish and wildlife programs. But it seems that just the opposite has come to pass.

Four of the six members (three positions are unfilled) were prepared to vote against him, but two who supported Shanks stayed away from closed door session at a Seattle-area hotel. The issue at hand was how culpable Shanks is for a projected $17 million deficit that his department recognized only a few weeks ago.

Sports fishermen who agreed with his wild salmonid policy rallied in support, claiming the budget issue was a charge trumped up by opponents of the new policy that promises harvests cuts across the board.

But commercial fishermen and their own supporters, still angry that commission member Jolene Unsoeld was not confirmed by the state senate, vowed retribution for her demise.

"If we’re going down, we’re going to take them [sports fishermen] with us," said gillnetter Pete Knutson after Unsoeld, a champion of both tribal and non-treaty commercial fishermen, went down in the 26-22 vote. She set a record of sorts--Unsoeld was the first gubernatorial appointee to a state commission in 33 years not to be confirmed.

Sports fishing advocates skewered Unsoeld mercilessly. Tom Nelson of The Reel News wrote in a February column that she "stormed into offices, often verbally assaulted managers, wrote memorandums attacking the honesty and integrity of department managers…and demanded that some managers not be allowed to speak or write in public."

The day after the showdown at Sea-Tac, Shanks spoke to a lunch-time crowd at the University of Washington. He said the budget problem was a mess that began long before he appeared on the scene. He said it came about mainly from less income from hunting and fishing licenses, along with leftover problems from the merger of the fisheries and wildlife departments. Fish and wildlife revenues are expected to shrink from $54 million to $38 million, said Shanks, and part of the problem tracking that decline has come from the difficulties in keeping tabs on the 85 different kinds of licenses sold through an antiquated accounting system.

He said the exercise of revenue forecasts was so complicated that his staff gave up and relied on the prior year’s estimate. "We’re really only $2.5 million in the hole," said Shanks, who added that a new electronic system for license sales will be in place soon.

Shanks used the occasion to plug his new salmon policy. He told the young audience of fisheries students that his wild salmonid policy was "prematurely released" in October, 1996 which created a firestorm of opposition. Northwest tribes complained bitterly at the time. As co-managers of the resource, they felt left out by the original process. Shanks said salmon policy drafts created by legislative mandate under earlier administrations were "hopelessly compromised."

"In an ideal world, it would be a fine policy," Shanks told the students. But he said the reality is this: breaking the political deadlock over the fish hatcheries is the biggest problem facing the department.

"They resonate with the basic American trust in technology," he said of hatcheries, but he pointed out the region loses 30,000 acres of salmon habitat every year. He also said the state had to face harvest problems with Alaska, Canada, and Northwest tribes. (The tribes have gained concessions in the state policy which gives them final say in watersheds where treaties are enforced).

"If it wasn’t for the ESA, we would still be arguing over the wild salmonid policy," he said. "…And we would probably have gone another decade without it." Shanks called the proposed listing of Puget Sound chinook, "the 900-pound gorilla," a fact that will lead to a much more conservative harvest approach for both sports and commercial fishermen.

He said the new policy is based on the preface that "we can manage hatchery and wild stocks separately," which calls for marking of all hatchery coho and chinook.

The fisheries director got a big laugh when he asked the group, "What do you get when you cross a military base with a sacred cow…?" His answer-- "A Washington state fish hatchery."

Meanwhile, Washington’s governor, Gary Locke, is faced with making three new appointments and Bern Shanks’ future in the department hangs in the balance. But the legislature, forgetting their mantra of financial accountability, has temporarily plugged the leak in WDFW’s budget and voted up to $45 million for agencies to draw on in response to the specter of ESA listings in Seattle’s backyard. -B.R.

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Works Cited

LINKS/DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 055:: Below are listed links and documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 055.

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

NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher: Cyrus Noë, Editor: Bill Rudolph
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