NMFS Fish Appendix Finally Out
 Senators Bash Dam Breachers at Hood River Hearing
 Salmonless in Seattle: Senators Talk Recovery
 PFMC Sets Sport Coho Fishery
 Enviros Take Corps to Court Over Water Standards
 F&W Processes May Be Coming Together
 NMFS Issues Columbia Basin Hatchery BiOp
 Bias Question Over ISAB Members' Anti-Dam Stance
 Briefs: Am Rivers Top Ten, Spill Starts, Hanford Flows
 NMFS FISH APPENDIX FINALLY OUT, BUT NO EASY ANSWERS
NMFS last week released its long-awaited biological evaluation of the effects of different hydro system management alternatives on ESA-listed Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks--in short, whether or not to breach the four lower Snake dams. Like everything about Northwest fish recovery, the fish agency's answer isn't simple. Nor will the "A" fish appendix (A for anadromous) change anybody's mind about the best route to salmon recovery.
According to NMFS, dam breaching--"with caveats"--is the most risk-averse strategy for recovering the stocks. But several large uncertainties in the analysis keeps NMFS' bets on breaching severely hedged.
The agency said it needs another five to 10 years to develop the data necessary to get a clearer picture of just how many more transported juvenile fish die compared to inriver migrants before it can really let science rule. If the data continues a recent trend, breaching may be no better than barging in the long haul to recover the stocks.
Critics said the report's executive summary, released on April 14, soft-pedaled biological uncertainties that were more clearly spelled out in the full report, which will be added to the $20 million-plus draft feasibility study on the lower Snake that's being produced by the Corps of Engineers.
NMFS based its analysis on the PATH process, which regional modelers have working with for several years trying to discern the major uncertainties about salmon recovery with the aid of two computer passage models. The states' and tribes' FLUSH model is predicated on a strong flow/survival relationship for spring chinook, while BPA's CRiSP model mirrors newer research that has not found such a relation. PATH's year-end report gave the dam breaching proposal a much better chance of recovering weak stocks, but the results were contested by some PATH participants.
NMFS has tried to get away from the feud over the models and focus on other problems--namely, the lack of enough data to produce a credible scientific answer about the best alternative for salmon recovery. The agency points out that the lack of information begins with the data on numbers of fish returning to streams, includes survival estimates through the hydro system, ocean effects, and impacts of hatcheries and harvest. The agency said other factors could be important as well, such as a lack of nutrients in streams from fewer fish returning to fertilize spawning and rearing habitat.
'D' is For Delayed Mortality
One of the linchpin uncertainties is something called 'D." PATH analysis has shown that more transported fish die after they leave the hydro system than fish that travel inriver. D is the ratio of delayed mortality between the two. The two passage models aren't much help. They have different values for the ratio.
The NMFS reports says the two models would come up with "very similar" predictions if they were forced to run with the same D values. But CRiSP modeler Jim Anderson says that's only true under certain flow conditions. "The real issue is whether there is a weak or strong flow survival relationship and that's how you get D."
It's turned out to be the most critical uncertainty in the whole equation, according to NMFS salmon modeling expert Peter Kareiva. He told a sparse April 14 Seattle audience of fish heads and reporters that breaching the dams had about a 30 percent better "relative probability" than current operations of achieving stock recovery standards for spring/summer chinook after 48 years, "if" all the D values used in the PATH process are used.
But Kareiva explained that recent NMFS research based on results from the 1994 and 1995 PIT tagging programs have shown a D value much higher than used by PATH modelers-- in fact, it's around .80--which means that 80 percent of the transported fish survive relative to inriver migrants. PATH uses D values that range from .31 to .53 in the FLUSH model, while the CRiSP model uses a mean of .66, so both models may have developed lowball estimates of survival for current operation of the hydro system.
Using the .80 value for D, said Kareiva, considerably reduces the difference between breaching and barging--breaching would have only an 11 percent higher relative probability of satisfying recovery criteria than current operations. The NMFS analysis with a .80 D value finds a 57 percent relative probability of achieving recovery with breaching, but a 53 percent chance with the status quo. He pointed out that if there is no difference in delayed mortality (D = 1) then the difference between breaching and status quo would be whittled down to two percent.
NMFS says more data is needed to span a larger range of environmental conditions and a larger sample size to reduce sampling error. But according to the report, "NMFS scientists believe these PIT-tag results should be given substantially greater weight because the method of estimation is much improved over past methods and because they better reflect current operations." The agency said an alternative view places great weight on D-values derived from historical data because more years were included with a wide range of conditions sampled. NMFS said both perspectives had merit; consequently, they reported results for a range of D-values.
More Studies Needed
Based on existing PATH analyses, the report said, it would likely take 10 to 20 years to resolve major uncertainties, which could add eight percent more risk in failing to keep stocks above survival thresholds over the next 24 years. NMFS said it would take more than 10 years to evaluate hatchery effects on wild stocks and weigh the benefits of different passage routes in the hydro system (spill, dam bypass, transport) and decades of research to answer questions about fresh water habitat and ocean conditions and their effects on salmon recovery.
Stakeholders were quick to respond. Columbia River Alliance director Bruce Lovelin said though NMFS was careful to state the report was not a decision or policy document, "it does answer a $10 billion dollar question--there is significant biological uncertainty on salmon with dam removal."
Environmentalists said it was another instance of scientists saying that bypassing the dams has the best chance of keeping the runs from going extinct. "Uncertainty is no reason for inaction," said Rob Masonis of American Rivers.
A joint statement from the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators and Eastern Oregon Irrigators associations said the groups were surprised "to see how NMFS managers have essentially 'dumbed-down' the science surrounding Snake River salmon recovery." They said the principal conclusions in the executive summary provided decision makers with little direction or insight based on scientific or technical evaluations.
Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) said "uncertain and modest increases" projected in the salmon runs don't justify the economic and social costs.
Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's spokesman Will Hart said his boss has always supported sound science but is concerned that rash action will be taken before all the evidence is in.
NMFS analyst Kareiva emphasized the difference in options was based on relative probabilities that "do not provide absolute prediction and should not be misinterpreted as such." He said NMFS did not use the weightings of different uncertainties used by PATH. PATH used a review by four independent scientists to weigh the evidence for a flow/survival relationship, delayed mortality, ocean regime shifts, stock variability and other assumptions.
The NMFS report is bound to fuel debate in the Framework process over the direction of the Columbia Basin's long-term fish and wildlife recovery efforts. . In that regard, the document mentions the "natural river" view, and says "approaches based on 'looking like a natural river' run the risk of total failure because, in their pursuit of appearances, they neglect the reality of current demographic factors operating on fish (ocean factors, genetic factors, land-use changes, and so on).
"This does not mean that NMFS rejects the natural river ideal," the report continues. "Indeed, this ideal is a rich source of hypotheses about processes needed to maintain vigorous salmon populations. It also is an ideal that suggests likely effects of different management actions. But ultimately, the currency for evaluating actions has to be salmon demography and population dynamics, not the physical attributes of a river alone." -Bill Rudolph
 SENATORS BASH DAM BREACHERS AT HOOD RIVER HEARING
Four Northwest senators heard testimony April 7 about several contentious issues in the salmon recovery debate--biological modeling studies and economic estimates that will point to a decision on whether breaching the four dams on the lower Snake will be worthwhile for both fish and the region. NMFS officials made it clear that the PATH analysis by regional scientists who said dam breaching was the best way to recover fish was far from complete. NMFS, whose own analysis went public April 14 said the PATH results rested on an untested assumption about how many fish die from the effects of transportation.
The hearing was led by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), chair of the Senate Energy Committee's Subcommittee on Water and Power. In his opening remarks Smith took issue with media accounts indicating the PATH scientific group has found that breaching the dams has the best chance of recovering the endangered salmon stocks.
"Some people have asserted that the PATH findings are complete and conclusive, which is simply not the case," Smith said at the April 6 meeting in Hood River, OR. "The biological models being developed contain hundreds of assumptions, and can only estimate the probable success of the various recovery options."
Smith said he couldn't agree with the preliminary PATH reports and allow the endangered salmon "to become our spotted owl," and turn Idaho back into desert. Smith--along with fellow Republican senators Mike Crapo and Larry Craig of Idaho--stated opposition to breaching the dams.
Crapo said he couldn't support the flow augmentation approach to aid salmon because of "dramatic negative impacts" on the region; nor could he support breaching, for the same reason. Since breaching is not politically feasible, Crapo said the option shouldn't even be under consideration.
Ron Wyden, Oregon's Democratic senator, was non-committal about breaching. He said the issue is not just about salmon and dams, "but of us finding common ground."
Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), who represents the Hood River area, also attended. Although he focused on negative economic impacts from breaching the dams, Walden touched on the science issue as well. "Seven years ago, we were told most of the fish died in the first reservoir [Lower Granite]...then no, it's the dams. Now, it's delayed mortality from barging." He said as politicians, "we have to hold out for a higher standard of truth than now currently exists."
Not all the witnesses were lined up to bash the PATH process. New CRITFC director Don Sampson supported the group's findings, noting that a lot of criticism of the process came from hydro and industrial groups. "You should not be surprised that there is disagreement among scientists serving different masters." He told the politicians that the tribes supported breaching the dams but would look at other alternatives that would achieve the same objective. He did criticize the NMFS policy on environmentally significant units of species, saying that it needs to be more flexible.
Path- Pro And Con
Prof. James Anderson, a scientist in the PATH process who has spoken critically of the regional effort to investigate crucial uncertainties about salmon recovery, said he was confused about how dam removal could get more fish back than transporting them downstream in barges. He said the PATH results don't jibe with the latest NMFS survival observations. Anderson said the direct evidence shows that dam breaching will yield little if any improvement.
To explain why the PATH results concluded otherwise, Anderson offered several reasons. He pointed to the fact that nearly all the state and tribal scientists working on PATH recently signed a letter supporting the dam breaching option. "State fisheries agencies have publicly advocated positions on the unfinished science."
No representative of PATH was there to counter Anderson's remarks, but James Greer, director of Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Department, said his agency supported the natural river option as the strategy under which listed fish were most likely to recover. He said a new NMFS analysis of the different strategies for the lower Snake EIS should also be subjected to similar "rigorous scientific peer review," including review by the same independent group that weighed evidence in the PATH analysis.
The dam removal option was also supported by testimony from Liz Hamilton, who represents the Northwest Sportsfishing Industry Association. She told the four senators that "like Governor Kitzhaber," her group sees dam breaching as a "biological no-brainer." She said science will never give concrete answers, but that it is time to move on.
But consultant Jim Litchfield said the PATH group's focus on hydro was "way too narrow," and the region needs to look at salmon recovery on a much broader scale. Along with looking at the "4 H's" of habitat, harvest, hydro and hatcheries, he suggested a fifth H--"humans, generally," and the societal activities that impact fish.
Litchfield said the kind of decision analysis used in PATH that's based on subjective probability judgments is not science, but a public opinion survey by scientists.
As for what the region wants out of salmon recovery, Litchfield said the goals are not clear--either recovering stocks to ESA recovery levels, or the higher range of harvestable surpluses--and it's an issue that Framework participants are now wrestling with.
Fish Agencies Blamed
He said current failed policies are largely the work of fish agencies, who have spent the region's fish and wildlife money for the past 20 years. "The region's fisheries managers are directly responsible for harvest and hatchery policies," said Litchfield, "and since the passage of the NW Power Act in 1980 and the ESA listings of salmon and steelhead in the last eight years, the fisheries managers have also directed major changes in habitat and hydro measures. These attempts to manage the region's salmon and steelhead have failed to recover the listed stocks and prevent additional listings."
NMFS scientist Mike Schiewe, responding to a question from Sen. Craig about which salmon passage model in PATH came closest to the data, said "it doesn't make a whole lot of difference which model you use, it's how you parameterize the numbers you put into them." He said putting the exact same numbers in each one yields about the same answer.
NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle told the panel that his agency is not inclined to get into food fights over the models; rather, it wants to understand the effect of major uncertainties like "delayed mortality" on outcomes. The FLUSH model hypothesizes that transported juvenile fish die at a higher rate than fish migrating in-river. Schiewe said analysis is limited, but that NMFS scientists speculate that such a factor could be as high as 20 percent. FLUSH modelers hypothesize such mortality is at least twice as much.
Schiewe also explained that over the past few years, NMFS PIT tag data shows that a relationship between flow and fish survival for spring chinook is "not apparent," though he cautioned the senators that researchers have not seen many years with low-side flows. For fall chinook, he said such a relationship looks relatively strong.
Some witnesses said with no way to verify such speculation over delayed mortality, model results become pretty speculative as well. Consultant Litchfield said PATH "erred in calibrating the real world to a model instead of correctly modifying the model to match the most recent real world data."
Dispute Over Dollars
The hearing included testimony from wheat growers and paper workers' unions about economic benefits that would be lost if dams were breached and John Day drawn down. Union spokesman Jerry Klemm had harsh words for the economic analyses underway by the Corps of Engineers. "We are outraged that the value of our jobs is being basically ignored to the test of cost effectiveness and that we are expected to put the livelihood of our families on the line for an experiment."
Darren Coppock of the Oregon Wheat Growers League said the draft EIS analysis has serious flaws in estimating future shipping costs if the barging system ended with
dam breaching. He also pointed to controversial economic benefits from recreation that were recently leaked to the press, claiming up to $5 billion in annual benefits from increased recreational opportunities from a restored river. He said such a figure would mean almost 80 times as many recreational visits as take place currently, a number adding up to more than 230 million annually. "Where are 230 million visitors to the lower Snake going to stay? Where will they park? How will they get there if all the roads are packed with wheat trucks?"
Barges headed upstream at Hood River,
where the region debated their fate on April 6.
Brigadier General Robert Griffin of the Army Corps explained his agency's role in deciding the fate of the dams, by putting together the $20 million study that analyzes different alternatives and their biological, economic and social consequences. He gave the group some preliminary findings on the economic side, reporting that if the dams are breached--which would itself cost about $1 billion--the region would lose $250 million to $300 million in power revenues. Shippers would pay $50 million more to switch from barges to trucks and railroads. Direct impact to farmers would come to about $10 million, and up to another $8 million in added annual costs for municipalities and private wells. Griffin said impacts on recreation, commercial fishing, tribes and compensation are still being developed.
Consultant Litchfield told the senators the $3 billion spent on the hydro system to aid fish over the past 20 years hasn't been wasted. He said the system has changed, with improved fish survivals. "We've done a huge amount," he said. Controversial strategies like dam breaching are just "far too attractive." Such simple answers don't focus on where the salmon stocks are being impacted the most.
The day did not end before the politicians took NMFS to task for not putting the Northwest delegation in the loop. Sen. Crapo expressed concern that federal agencies are not working with states and tribes on a "4H" paper they are developing to outline recovery alternatives.
Stelle told Crapo not to be concerned. "It's going to be a series of options, not a federal proposal."
Sen. Smith said all parties to the salmon recovery business mistrust NMFS. He called the agency "rude, arrogant and unresponsive" and the "kingfish in this pond." He ended the session by noting that the hearing was only the first of many to track the process. -Bill Rudolph
 SALMONLESS IN SEATTLE: SENATORS TALK SALMON RECOVERY
Washington state politicians last week heard nearly two dozen witnesses discuss the region's response to recent ESA listings for Puget Sound and coastal salmon runs. Bringing the promise of $100 million in matching federal funds, they spent a whole day hearing about state, county and city efforts at improving habitat for declining runs.
Led by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), who sit on the Appropriations Committee of their respective legislative bodies, along with cameo appearances by Senate Appropriations Chair Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), the marathon April 7 effort took place against a backdrop of waning support in the state legislature for Gov. Locke's salmon plan.
Locke showed up in person to emphasize that salmon is his number two issue, right behind education. He said the state needed help in two ways--federal funding of $100 million over the next two years that will hopefully be matched by his state; and federal help in creating a long-term agreement with Canada over harvest issues that could stymie recovery of Washington stocks.
But Locke told them the toughest issue was water. "We may have to phase that in." Eastern Washington legislators, even some Democrats, gutted proposed legislation to improve instream flows for fish and overhaul water rights law.
Witness after witness stressed the need for the accountability for recovery efforts that Gorton and Dicks wanted to hear. They also told politicians how the different jurisdictions planned to coordinate efforts, prioritize funding, and mesh with federal authorities. Much of the testimony echoed one common theme--salmon recovery efforts in Puget Sound must not end up like the situation in the Columbia Basin. Gorton said it was important to build a solid record of success in "on-the-ground" salmon recovery efforts because the delegation was working hard "for a substantially greater amount of funding this year." Last year, the feds ponied up $20 million for state fish recovery efforts.
But with a good part of the state's salmon strategy blocked in the legislature, chances are good that Washington won't vote enough state funds to qualify for as much federal funding as possible. Currently, state legislators are juggling salmon proposals worth between $38 million and $50 million annually. Some have called it a shell game, with current spending being moved to new places, partly due to the cap on new state spending passed by initiative a couple of years ago.
Salmon Money Called "Budget Dust"
But others, like Everett mayor Ed Hansen, weren't too concerned about the money. Hansen called this year's state salmon funding "budget dust," noting that a financial effort over many years will be needed before any benefits from restoration may be seen.
The state's total spending next year is in the $20 billion range. Can-do rhetoric prevailed throughout much of the day. "We believe we know what to do to help salmon recover," said William Ruckelshaus, who heads a group of business and environmental groups. He said the region needs a new way to coordinate efforts of state, local, tribal and federal authorities. He suggested Governor Locke and the President appoint someone to that coordinating function.
"If it doesn't happen," he said, " the whole process will end up in court and salmon will just fade away."
NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle said he was fairly cautious about the idea of a coordinator. "To the question of do we need a significant poobah designated to come in and orchestrate everything, I'm fairly cautious about that. People tend to say yes, that's a good idea until the poohbah tells them what to do, and then suddenly, it's not such a good idea." Stelle suggested Congress ask the entities for their collective advice to develop a better, reliable process, "but not overly cumbersome."
Curt Smitch, Locke's salmon advisor, was blunt. "One of the problems on the Columbia River is the final analysis on these ESA-related decisions are the NMFS and the Fish and Wildlife Service's call, regardless of what forum we set up. So we want a forum where they're at the table. Because, ultimately that's who we're going to get ESA assurances from and know whether or not we're providing salmon recovery. They make the call."
Billy Frank, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, was not too excited about the coordinator idea. "Not unless the czar is going to be an Indian," he told the hearing, which cracked up the panel. "We look to the state of Washington and the federal government," Frank said, "as well as the counties and cities and local governments to do what they do, but it's important that somebody's in charge here. And we can't come back to you next year and report to you that this is still going like it is. There's a whole lot of things coming out and they're floating in the air. Positive things. But somebody has to put it together and measure this along the way. You know--the accountability to this funding-- boy, that's important. We've got to account for every dime we spend."
Stelle pushed an idea for a salmon database to be developed and made available to local constituents. With concerted effort, he said such an information base could be developed within six months. He said such efforts as the tri-county effort in Puget Sound are being reviewed by NMFS as a "first cut" as to what kind of early actions can be implemented to get the recovery effort underway, "while we fine tune a larger habitat restoration strategy. He said his agency is trying to develop answers to county officials for what kind of ESA "safe harbors" can be created for the activities that impact salmon.
Counties without the financial ability to develop salmon initiatives on their own would be able to obtain technical and financial support from the state, said Smitch.
Stelle told the politicians that his agency would never contemplate bringing an ESA enforcement action against any county authority that was working hard to develop a restoration strategy for its watersheds. "It won't happen, it shouldn't happen, it's a dumb idea," said Stelle. But he said that doesn't deal with the issue of third party lawsuits.
The state's Fish and Wildlife Department was again conspicuous by its absence, but questions about harvest and hatcheries surfaced at the hearing.
Harvest Issues Take Back Seat to Habitat
Witnesses from all levels of government stressed the need for a new treaty with Canada, a sentiment echoed by written testimony from Canadian fisheries minister David Anderson. "What we need now and over the next two months is the political will to close the deal," he said. "Last year Canada and the United States took some important first steps, but we did not get an agreement with Alaska because we had differences over science and we did not have a common framework for resolving these differences."
The Canadian government recently released a study that found control of salmon harvest is "orders of magnitude" less costly than salmon recovery efforts concentrating on in-river programs.
But tribal fishing is another matter. "We don't apologize for fishing," Indian spokesman Frank said in his Seattle testimony. He said habitat is clearly the key to salmon restoration.
Washington Farm Bureau spokesperson Linda Johnson said all fishing of salmon bycatch should stop for the next 15 years "in order to allow the maximum number of salmon to reach their ultimate destination--the habitat our farmers are going to make sure is there." She called for buying back commercial licenses and paying tribes not to fish for the next 15 years as well.
Hatcheries were discussed by NMFS biologist Conrad Mahnken, who said reform of hatchery programs will be part of the long-term strategy for recovering wild stocks. With Puget Sound hatcheries producing 100 million fish annually, Mahnken said interactions of wild and hatchery fish can be of concern, with interbreeding leading to a loss of the stock's overall fitness. But he said the mission of some hatcheries could be transformed to a conservation mode. He said it's possible to produce salmon and steelhead that are behaviorally and physiologically similar to wild fish. Mahnken said it was also important not to release too many hatchery fish. In response to a question from Gorton, Mahnken said most scientists in the hatchery area would agree with him.
The last word came from tribal spokesman Frank, who chided water users for not supporting the state's proposal. Recently, legislators pared 90 pages of proposed changes to water law down to two pages. "The attitude's got to change in that water forum," Frank said. -B. R.
 PFMC SETS COHO SPORT FISHERY
Though Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and two scientific panels opposed a sport fishery for coho salmon over concern over weak wild runs, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has adopted a plan that calls for a 15,000 fish harvest. It will be the first sport fishery for coho off the central Oregon coast since 1993 and will target fin-clipped hatchery fish.. The PFMC calls the area south of Cape Falcon a "research" fishery. They also approved a 55,000 coho fishery north of Falcon. Any wild coho caught must be released.
The Council had several options on the table that ranged from a 60,000 fish catch to none at all, along with a chinook fishery that allowed an incidental harvest of wild coho salmon.
At its March meeting, Oregon Fish and Wildlife commissioners asked staff to take a conservative approach to coho harvest this year. Fish managers heard from others, too. In a letter to ODFW Director Jim Greer, the Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team, a group created by the state's salmon plan, said "We believe such a fishery is not scientifically compatible with the goals of the Oregon Plan." The science team's comments prompted Kitzhaber to call a Mar. 31 meeting between the ODFW staff and members of the commission where the governor's salmon advisor, Roy Hemmingway, told agency officials that Kitzhaber was opposed to a coho sport fishery.
This high level review led the Fish and Wildlife Commission to call a meeting to provide more staff direction during negotiations over the fishery proposals at the PFMC meeting in Sacramento.
A second scientific committee, the PFMC's Science and Statistical Committee, had also reviewed the IMST letter and the proposed fishery. They had several things to say about the situation. First they pointed out that over the past 30 years, OCN (wild coho salmon) have steadily declined. Secondly, the 1999 preseason run size estimate is lower than the size of the spawning brood that produced it, which implies that even with a zero harvest mortality, the wild coho stock will not replace itself. They also said all three brood cycles (1997, 1998, and 1999) will have failed to replace themselves and the forecasts for 2000 and 2001 show the coho still failing to replace themselves, declining to all-time low levels.
The science teams noted the high uncertainty of predicting wild coho numbers and the mortality for coho caught and released in the sport fishery. The IMST said the run size was so low that the harvest models couldn't predict coho abundance. In fact, for the past two years, abundance had been over-predicted by more than 100 percent.
In 1998, wild coho spawner abundance was so low that stocks in some watersheds came close to extinction. For example the Nestucca River had only one spawner per mile. In a letter to Kitzhaber, Paul Engelmeyer, a member of the salmon advisory subpanel, said the spawner abundance is from one to three fish per mile and coho are at only one percent of their historical abundance.
"It is clear that ODFW is promoting the resumption of coho fishing prior to any rebuilding of our wild populations," Engelmeyer wrote. However the state's fish recovery plan requires that wild coho "show substantial rebuilding and ocean survival conditions improve...coho are not achieving stock replacement and no rebuilding is occurring." Engelmeyer recommended no coho fishery.
In their conference call meeting, the Fish and Wildlife Commission heard from staff who were angling for some kind of harvest, but NMFS biologist Pete Lawson told commissioners that a fishery on marked hatchery fish would present a high risk and uncertainty for wild coho. "The risk is unusually high," he said, "and any mortality on OCN (wild coho) at this point is spending capital."
After some deliberation, Commissioner McCracken made a motion to not have a sport coho fishery south of Cape Falcon. During discussion of the motion, staff offered another proposal. Don McIssac said that there was one more option he had neglected to bring up--a "research fishery."
According to McIssac, a research fishery with intensive monitoring would allow the agency scientists to calibrate their models. The commissioners seemed encouraged. They voted down the McCracken motion and adopted another one that called for a harvest of 10,000 coho. Several commissioners spoke against such a low number and tried to get it up to 15,000 and 20,000 fish. But the motion had been made, and the commission adopted the 10,000 fish harvest south of Cape Falcon and 55,000 north of the cape. This latter harvest quota would allow the popular Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River to continue.
Even though the Commission had been advised by staff at their March meeting that wild coho salmon in the Sandy and Clackamas rivers (lower Columbia River tributaries) should be listed as an endangered species under the state's own ESA, they did not address this issue while adopting the 55,000 harvest quota for the Columbia River.
After the vote, the commissioners mused about this regulation setting process. One Commissioner, Jeff Feldner, a commercial salmon fisherman from Newport, Oregon, said, "We should make a decision and stick to it."
Commission chair Susan Foster, a college biology professor from the Portland area, said she wasn't pleased by the action. She said the process was "manipulated by extremists that are able to get to all levels of government and it is nothing more than a veiled attempt to screw hatcheries again." At this point, since they were still on the record, the other commissioners showed a strong interest in ending the conference call.
The conservation community was critical of Foster's comments. At least one group has asked for her resignation and is in contact with the state Attorney General's Office in that regard. Jim Myron of Oregon Trout said, "Foster's remarks cannot go unchallenged. The fish conservation community is working on an appropriate response to deliver to the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their next meeting."
"It's clear that the PFMC ignored the science," Myron said, "and opted to continue to support commercial and recreational angling interests to the detriment of wild salmon recovery efforts. As long as those with a vested interest in harvesting fish continue to make the decisions, salmon recovery under the Oregon Plan is a myth."
Hans Radtke, PFMC member from Oregon, voted against the sport fishery proposal. "I have backed the science," he said. "My greatest worry is we will drive Oregon's north coast coho so far down, it will shut the whole ocean fishery down for chinook harvest, sport, commercial and tribal fisheries."
Journalist and graduate student Carmel Finley said," Under the Oregon Plan, the PFMC isn't going to be able to just allocate harvests in the future; they will have to be involved in making policy decisions about whether or not any harvest ought to occur. There's a new group of stakeholders now that needs to be considered, the watershed councils and their volunteers."
The decision by PFMC will now go to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce for approval. NMFS harvest manager Bill Robinson said that his agency has to make a decision by May 1 to oppose or approve the fishery. "I do not have much faith in this year's forecast on coho salmon abundance, "he said, "and I did not support the fishery for hatchery coho." He also said hooking mortality is at least twice the rate used by the PFMC in its analysis.
"We need to see an actual increase in spawner escapement for wild, native coho spawners before we have a directed fishery," Robinson said. "It would be okay to have a small research fishery to perfect the model used to predict abundance, encounter rates and harvest impact on wild coho salmon. There is a good chance we will approve the fishery on that basis." -Bill Bakke
 ENVIROS TAKE CORPS TO COURT OVER WATER STANDARDS
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit two weeks ago against the US Army Corps of Engineers that claims the federal agency is violating state and federal clean water laws by they way they operate dams on the lower Snake. The suit contends that by not adhering to temperature and dissolved gas standards, the Corps' failure to act violates the Administrative Procedures Act as well.
"The temperature increases caused by these four dams are pushing the salmon in this river to the brink of extinction," said Pete Frost of the National Wildlife Foundation.
The suit cites Washington Ecology Department findings that the likely cause of water temperature violations on the Snake is "stratification behind impoundments." It also cites a February, 1999 EPA modeling report that concluded that the four lower Snake dams "cause increases in both the number and extent of the temperature violations. EPA further found that the effects of these four dams on temperature violations dwarfed those of other contributing agents such as habitat modifications on tributary streams."
The plaintiffs call for the court declare that the Corps is violating Clean Water Act standards and issue an order requiring the agency comply with them. In addition, they want the Court to order the Corps to develop a schedule for meeting those standards and award plaintiffs the costs of litigation.
Federal and state standards are broken when the river temperatures rise above 68 degrees F., a routine summer occurrence in the Snake and its tributaries.
Though the suit doesn't mention breaching the dams, environmentalist Frost said, "Ultimately partial removal of the dams may prove to be the soundest and most economic remedy."
But a 1991 study by consultant Don Chapman for PNUCC found that water temperatures in August and September at Ice Harbor on the lower Snake actually trended downward from 1962-1989, a period in which the other three lower Snake dams were constructed. Chapman's study found no relation between streamflow and water temperature, either.
At a Senate hearing in Hood River last week, the lawsuit came up when Ron Wyden (D-OR) said it could be a "showstopper." Corps spokesman Doug Arndt told the senators that "temperature is not a dam problem, it's a basin problem."
The lawsuit was filed by the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation and the Idaho Wildlife Federation. -Bill Rudolph
 REGIONAL F&W PROCESSES MAY BE COMING TOGETHER
Fish and wildlife recovery planning efforts may become a bit less confusing in another week. That's when federal agencies have promised the region a position paper on just how they will fit their ESA concerns into the scope of a long-term, basinwide F&W program spearheaded by the Power Planning Council and amenable to tribes, state agencies and economic stakeholders.
Lower Columbia tribes questioned the intent of federal efforts in a March 16 letter to NMFS regional director Will Stelle.
CRITFC director Ted Strong said a memo distributed by the feds at the last Forum meeting that outlined the caucus committee setup among federal agencies "must be regarded as representing a failure by the federal government to coordinate." Strong said the federal effort duplicated work already underway in the Framework process. He said it appeared that federal agencies were opting to implement a separate framework process.
None of the four lower Columbia tribes have officially signed on to the Forum process yet, while all upper basin tribes have OK'd the arrangement that puts state, federal and tribal policymakers around the same table. The Yakama and Warm Springs have said they intend to join the Forum, but the Nez Perce and Umatilla have not.
At a Framework management committee meeting in Spokane on March 15, other participants were not clear about the relationship between the federal caucus, the Framework and the Forum processes, either.
At that time, NMFS spokesman Danny Consenstein assured everyone that the feds are committed to the Framework process, even though some of the decisions involving ESA and NEPA will be made at the federal level--shaped and influenced by regional input. Other questions were raised about commitment by the feds to the process and the need for common analysis tools for the federal caucus, which will attempt to put together a "4H's" paper that could become what BPA's Lorri Bodi called a "preferred alternative version of the Framework."
Frameworkers heard a presentation by consultant Lars Mobrand, a member of the Ecological Work Group, who is developing a habitat model to be used in the Framework process. CRITFC counsel John Platt raised questions about how analysis by federal agencies outside the Framework would fit into the process.
The Forum met on March 30 in Portland, with more questions than answers. From the outset, consultant Roy Sampsel told the small group, "We may have overbriefed the public--they don't know what meeting they're going to now." But he said he felt more comfortable about the processes coming together. A budget committee was formed to develop a work plan.
By that afternoon, it was agreed that NMFS and BPA representatives would develop a position paper to outline how the 10-agency federal caucus will integrate and collaborate with the Framework process.
The Framework Management Committee is slated to meet again on April 29, when initial reviews of proposed Framework alternatives by the human effects and ecological work groups will be presented. Representatives of federal agencies, the Framework and the regional Forum are planning a series of more than a dozen stakeholder meetings throughout the Northwest in May and June. -B.R.
 NMFS ISSUES COLUMBIA BASIN HATCHERY BIOP
The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a hatchery BiOp for the Columbia Basin that says proposed artificial propagation programs "are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed Snake River steelhead and lower Columbia River steelhead." At the same time, the hatchery program does not jeopardize Snake River spring, summer, and fall chinook and sockeye salmon.
"The purpose of the Hatchery Biological Opinion is full integration of hatcheries with the recovery goals for listed salmonids under the federal Endangered Species Act," said NMFS scientist Steve Smith.
He said the BiOp's focus is hatchery reform. Big ticket items include strategies for shifting hatchery broodstock to locally adapted, native brood stock; minimizing straying of hatchery fish into spawning and rearing areas of listed fish; and changing hatchery release practices to minimize adverse interactions between hatchery juvenile fish and listed fish.
The biological opinion contains recommendations and requirements for hatchery reform, but conservation recommendations are discretionary and fish managers may ignore them. However, some of these recommendations will become requirements in the next hatchery BiOp scheduled to be released in December, which will cover all the stocks listed last month.
The hatchery BiOp is a consultation with fish agencies and is not provided to the public for review and comment. "There is no legally required process for public review," said Smith, "the only requirement is for co-manager review." However, copies of the document are available through NMFS. Since it's not prepared for public review, one has to read NMFS ESA jargon in order to understand which actions are mandatory and which are suggested. The mandatory actions are called "Reasonable And Prudent Alternatives (page 137-141) and All Agency Terms and Conditions (pages 148-160). The Conservation Recommendations (pages 141-148) are discretionary.
Examples of mandatory measures include:
- That BPA and NMFS trap Umatilla and Klickitat River hatchery fall chinook at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River to prevent their spawning with wild listed fall chinook.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shall immediately provide passage for listed adult steelhead above the hatchery barrier dam on Icicle Creek at Leavenworth Hatchery.
- Oregon shall develop a Genetic Management Plan for summer steelhead in the Grande Ronde River by Dec. 15, 1999 and phase out the use of Wallowa stock summer steelhead, a non-native stock.
An example of a "discretionary action" is to phase out releases of Skamania Hatchery summer steelhead in Wind River and convert to a locally adapted brood stock. Dick Kennon, President of the Clark-Skamania Fly Fishers in Vancouver, WA, said this should be a mandatory requirement to protect wild summer steelhead. Last year there were less than 50 wild fish in the river. In addition, Kennon said that release of non-native spring chinook at Carson Hatchery should be discontinued in Wind River to better protect listed wild steelhead.
The hatchery biological opinion covers about 80 hatcheries and six evolutionary units of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. Since the last biological opinion in 1995, hatchery production has actually shrunk by 26 percent, or about 51.2 million fish. Most of this reduction has taken place at Mitchell Act hatcheries in the lower Columbia and is primarily from funding cuts affecting tule fall chinook production. The cap on hatchery production in the Columbia River is still in effect, at 197.4 million, with 20.2 million from the Snake River.
Almost immediately, NMFS will initiate consultations about effects of hatcheries on the ESUs listed on March 24, 1999. These include the lower Columbia River chinook, upper Columbia River spring chinook, upper Willamette River chinook and steelhead, chum salmon, and middle Columbia River steelhead.
If the BiOp is completed on these ESUs before a the new agreement is completed under the Columbia River Fish Management Plan, yet another BiOp will have to be written to include that plan. According to NMFS' Smith, the next biological opinion will have more detail and be more specific.
"In two years, hatchery reform and weak stock harvest management will be in place," said Smith, "and it is likely that in the future, the tribes and the sport fisheries will have good harvests and we will be well on our way toward recovery of many of the listed stocks."
Some conservation groups feel the new BiOp is too limited. "Hatchery reform is vital to the conservation of all native salmon and steelhead," said Kurt Beardslee, director of Washington Trout, "…and the ESA is the only coordinated, region-wide management effort to protect and recover wild native salmonids. But there is a problem--it is restricted to only listed fish." -Bill Bakke
 BIAS ISSUE RAISED OVER ISAB MEMBERS' ANTI-DAM STANCE
Power Planning Council attorney John Volkmann has concluded that two scientists of the Independent Scientific Review Board may have violated bias and conflict of interest provisions that govern the group. In a March 25 memo to Council members, Volkmann said there were "reasonable grounds" for invoking a procedure to look into the matter. The matter came up after ISAB chair Rick Williams and member Phil Mundy signed a letter, along with more than 200 other regional scientists that was sent to President Clinton expressing their support for the natural river option in he Lower Snake.
In part the letter says, "There is building scientific consensus that the surest way to restore wild Snake River salmon and steelhead runs is to reclaim a 140-mile-long reach of their migration corridor by bypassing four dams on the Lower Snake River."
In an April 8 response, Mundy referred to the above remark, saying, "the language does not advocate dam breaching, it expresses a scientific opinion on the likely efficacy of a salmon recovery measure relative to alternatives." He said he did not sign the letter as a matter of conscience, but as a scientist, and he distanced himself from dam breaching rhetoric in a press release that accompanied the letter.
But on April 9, ISAB member Richard Whitney, writing on behalf of both the ISAB and ISRP, sent a letter to the Power Council and NMFS, reporting that both Mundy and Williams have recused themselves from review of NMFS scientific supporting documents for the 1999 decision on hydropower.
But the Council is still expected to pursue the matter. Attorney Volkmann wrote in his memo to the Council that the question for a Conflicts Committee "is whether the letter and press release "represent a significant appearance of conflict of interest or otherwise impair the credibility or status of the board." Volkmann pointed out that Williams was aware of the press release that linked him to his presence on the science panel. Volkmann recommended that either NMFS and the Council meet with the the ISAB vice-chair to review the matter are simply allow Mundy's and Williams' terms to expire. Presently, the two are on month-to-month contracts, waiting for the appointment of new panel members to be completed. Neither of them was recommended to serve another term.
Williams also serves on the panel that reviews BPA's annual fish and wildlife proposals. Volkmann said if it was recommended that Williams resign from the ISAB , "it might be awkward" for the scientist to remain on the other panel. -B.R.
 BRIEFS: AMERICAN RIVERS TOP TEN, SPILL STARTS, HANFORD FLOWS, CUTHROAT POPS PROPOSED
Rivers announced its 10 most endangered rivers list for the year. Two of them flow through the Northwest. Topping the list is the Snake River, battleground in a rhetorical debate over dam breaching that's going nationwide. King County's Cedar River is number six, home to remnants of fall chinook runs and occasional host to huge sockeye returns that started from fish planted in the 1930s that came from Baker Lake, near Bellingham. Fall chinook spawn under the Renton city library in the Cedar River.
Spawning grounds in the lower Cedar
The new policy to reduce juvenile fish stranding in the Hanford Reach seems to be working, according to Grant PUD. Through March only 43 fry were found to be entrapped , with three observed mortalities over three weeks of monitoring 45 random sites.
CRITFC fish managers have asked for steadily increasing flows in the Reach to help fish even more, but an April 5 letter from Doug Ancona to CRITFC said it would be physically impossible to meet their request and still satisfy flood control and BiOp requirements that control water releases from Grand Coulee.
Ancona said even if all the active storage in the six projects below Coulee was used, sharp reductions in flow from Priest Rapids would be necessary when all the active storage was used. Such a condition would be bad for resident fish, wildlife and recreation, said Ancona, and also expose cultural sites in all six reservoirs to erosion and vandalism.
The spring spill program to aid juvenile fish migration began about 10 days earlier than planned, said BPA biologist Dan Daley. According to fish managers, Snake River spring chinook were showing up earlier than usual this year. Fifty kcfs spill started at McNary Dam on April 11, and was expanding to John Day (35 percent-12 hr. daily, The Dalles (50 percent-24 hr daily) and Bonneville Dam (50 kcfs) by April 14.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the USFWS have proposed adding cutthroat trout from SW Washington and NW Oregon to the endangered species list. Biologists say habitat degradation, drought and adverse interactions with other species are likely responsible for the decline. Since cutthroat spend much of their lives in fresh water , the USFWS has joined in the proposal. At the same time, Umpqua River cutthroat have been proposed for removal from the endangered list after a comprehensive review of coastal populations.
LINKS/DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 079:: Below are listed links and documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 079.
- An Assessment of Lower Snake River Hydrosystem Alternatives on Survival and Recovery of Snake River Salmonids, NMFS, April 14, 1998
- Pacific Northwest Salmon Recovery Efforts and the Pacific Salmon Treaty
- American Rivers Press Release, April 12. 1999
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
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