HATFIELD QUESTIONS STELLE ON DECISION NOT TO INCREASE BARGING; TMT STRUGGLES WITH HIGH FLOWS :: Oregon's senior senator is questioning the federal government's decision to keep at least 50 percent of migrating salmon in the river during the current high water year, rather than putting them in barges. In a May 10 letter to Will Stelle, regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR) cites nitrogen gas levels that have soared to dangerous levels during the spring migration.
"With dissolved gas levels in the [Columbia and Snake] river[s]at such extremely high levels, and with your agency's own experts urging that smolt transportation be increased, I am curious about the logic behind the decision not to take at least some fish out of the river and barge them around the dams," said the letter. Hatfield added that he was especially concerned about "the apparent lack of smolt transportation at McNary Dam at this critical time of spring outmigration of juvenile salmon and steelhead."
Hartfield backed up his query by citing a position statement sent to him by members of the Gas Bubble Disease panel recommending that spill be curtailed at Columbia and Snake river dams and that more fish be put in barges. The GBD experts argue that this spring's high flows and high spill levels have boosted gas levels, making the river unsafe for fish.
As of press time, Stelle had not responded to Hatfield, but he said he would rely on recommendations from state, tribal and federal fish agencies for the barging decision. Most state and tribal fish agencies strongly oppose barging and have urged NMFS to stick with its "spread the risk" policy of putting no more than 60 percent of the fish in barges this year.
Meanwhile, fish and hydro managers faced yet another deluge on the Columbia system. The spring's high flows had subsided in recent weeks, but the River Forecasting Center was predicting flows as high as 200,000 cubic feet-per-second on the Snake and more than 400,000 cfs on the Columbia in mid-May. Flows of that level force the system to spill, boosting gas to lethal levels. The Technical Management Team recommended reducing outflow from Brownlee and Dworshak and letting Grand Coulee fill to 1,230 feet. Hungry Horse and Libby will also be at minimum outflow. In addition, Bonneville is shutting down thermal plants, so the hydro system can keep the turbines running.
Those actions should reduce spill somewhat, but not enough to eliminate the problem of gas bubble disease. Fish managers say most of the stocks listed as endangered have reached the mainstem Columbia, reducing the pressure to barge from McNary. But other salmon remain in the Snake--most notably steelhead, which are expected to join the endangered list as soon as this summer [Lynn Francisco].
 NWPPC COMPLETES 180-DAY REPORT; WILL SEEK EXECUTIVE ORDER TO BEEF UP F&W AUTHORITY :: The Northwest Power Planning Council put the final touches on its 180-day report to Congress at its May Pasco meeting. The report asks President Clinton for an executive order that would require all federal hydro and fish agencies act consistent with the council's fish and wildlife program. If Clinton balks at issuing the order, the report says Congress it should approve legislation to accomplish the deed.
Council chairman John Etchart said the executive order should encourage existing regional efforts to restore salmon. "Right now, federal agencies, the states and Indian tribes are working together constructively, and we hope that will continue. The council is requesting an executive order that can cement this regional cooperation and ensure greater consistency by giving specific direction to the federal agencies."
Under current law, as spelled out in the Northwest Power Act, only BPA has to follow the council program. The executive order would bring federal fish agencies--the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service--and hydro agencies--the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission--under that same requirement.
The so-called 180-day report was requested by Congress last year. Federal lawmakers asked the council to recommend a better way to govern fish and wildlife recovery efforts in the region. A workshop held earlier this year produced several recommendations, including calls for unity in the various salmon recovery plans and more effective dispute resolution among the often-contentious sovereigns. Workshop participants also strongly cautioned the council against asking Congress to amend the Northwest Power Act, fearing that vast and unknown changes could result.
Along with its recommendations, the council promised to beef up monitoring and evaluation of fish and wildlife programs now underway, potentially linking project funding to progress in monitoring and results of evaluations. In addition, the report calls for an evaluation of the impacts of recovery measures and for economic mitigation programs [Lynn Francisco].
 MONTANA DEFENDS RESIDENT FISH NEEDS; ASKS TO JOIN ENVIROS LAWSUIT AGAINST NMFS :: Montana says it will go to court to defend fish in Libby and Hungry Horse reservoirs. On May 6, the state sought party defendant status in a lawsuit filed by environmental and fisher groups against the federal Columbia River salmon operations strategy. In pleadings filed in federal district court in Portland, the state called the lawsuit "a direct attack on Montana's reservoirs."
The earlier lawsuit charged the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies with failing to implement the hydro biological opinion. The suit also claimed that NMFS improperly reached an agreement with Montana that kept the state's reservoir levels higher, depriving migrating salmon of water to flush them to the ocean.
In its pleadings, Montana argued that "NMFS was correct in reaching a balance in the operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System that provides water for anadromous fish yet also affords water and protection for Montana's resident fish." Montana has argued for several years that the biological opinion calls for drafting its reservoirs too deeply in the summer, potentially harming resident fish and curtailing recreational activities.
Last year, Montana threatened to sue NMFS over the biological opinion's call for 20-foot drafts in the state's reservoirs. The legal action was delayed when NMFS agreed to limit reservoir drafts to between five feet and ten feet. Montana Gov. Marc Racicot said the state is "defending the flexibility of the NMFS salmon plan and...the needs of the species also found in the rivers and reservoirs in Montana. Sacrificing native species in Montana in an attempt to save salmon elsewhere is not consistent with the spirit of the Endangered Species Act," said Racicot.
The state considers bull trout and cutthroat trout "species of concern." The US Fish and Wildlife Service is also considering bull trout for potential ESA protection. Kootenai River white sturgeon has already been listed under the ESA. In its arguments, Montana insisted that, "The operation of these reservoirs directly affects the stability of populations of these species" [Lynn Francisco].
 FINAL MAY RUNOFF FORECAST JUMPS TO 134 MAF :: The January-through-July volume forecast is now up to 134 million acre-feet, or 127 percent of average, an increase of 7 MAF over the April forecast. At Grand Coulee, the forecast is for 79.8 MAF, or 125 percent of average. On the Snake River, the prediction is for 38.6 MAF, or 130 percent.
Heavy rainfall in April boosted the forecast. The month saw precipitation above The Dalles total 158 percent of average. Above Coulee, the figure jumped to 168 percent. On the Snake River, above Ice Harbor, rainfall totaled 152 percent. While rainfall dropped slightly during the first few days of May, seasonal rainfall for the Columbia basin remained high. October through May 7 precipitation totaled 131 percent of average at The Dalles and at Coulee; on the Snake at Ice Harbor, seasonal rainfall totaled 128 percent.
Snowpack accumulations also continue high, with the basin as a whole measuring 110 percent of average. The North Cascades gained the most during April, totaling 133 percent at the end of April. Canadian snowpack measured 114 percent; the upper Snake basin, 134 percent; and the Yakima basin, 111 percent. Usually snowpack has decreased by May, but this year, cold weather kept the accumulations high. The National Weather Service is predicting warm temperatures, likely bringing with it a heavy snowmelt.
Streamflows in April continued high, the seventh consecutive month with above average streamflows. At The Dalles and at Grand Coulee, flows measured 152 percent of average; at Lower Granite, flows totaled 147 percent [Lynn Francisco].
 Chelan PUD Promised Seat at NMFS' Table as Northwesterners for More Fish Disbands :: Chelan County PUD officials are confident their opinions will be heard as NMFS committees continue discussions of Northwest salmon recovery strategies. Regional NMFS director Will Stelle has agreed to make sure nonfederal project operators--the mid-Columbia PUDs, most likely represented by Chelan--have a seat at the Implementation Team's table. Chelan PUD fish & wildlife administrator Dick Nason confirmed the PUD had asked Stelle for representation on the Implementation Team "equal with everyone else," as well as non-voting membership on the Executive Committee. Nason said he pointed out to Stelle that the mid-Columbia PUDs operate five of the nine fish passage dams on the river, yet had no representation on the NMFS committees. Stelle agreed that had to be rectified, and will make a formal request for such representation at the next meeting of each group. The implementation team meets June 5, while the executive committee is scheduled to meet June 12.
The PUD's request for representation was included in a list of concerns the PUD had submitted to Stelle, according to Chelan PUD manager Sonny Smart. Also on the list was setting a definite time schedule for development of a habitat conservation plan for the mid-Columbia and a commitment from key players to meet an expedited schedule for such a plan--which also received support from Stelle.
These developments led Chelan PUD to drop its membership in Northwesterners for More Fish, which subsequently shut down earlier this month. Smart said that as negotiations with NMFS and other parties progressed, the PUD grew concerned that the publicity the industry group was planning might drive a wedge between the parties.
Jay VanderStoep, an organizer of Northwesterners for More Fish, expected the group would last longer than it did, but added he was "pleasantly surprised" at the progress Chelan PUD has made with NMFS. "If the negotiations with NMFS bear the fruit that has been suggested, then the primary purpose for the project has been achieved," VanderStoep said. And he thinks the organization probably did some good in its short existence. "I don't believe the sudden willingness of NMFS to negotiate was just a coincidence."
Shortly before Stelle wrote to Chelan PUD, the NMFS regional director sent a letter to individuals who had received a solicitation letter from Northwesterners for More Fish. The letter outlines Stelle's--and NMFS'--position on the National Academy of Sciences report, Upstream: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest. Stelle said the original solicitation letter sent by Northwesterners for More Fish was "highly inaccurate" and his response was intended to clarify the record on the NAS report and how it related to NMFS' activities [Jude Noland].
 CBFWA COMPLETES PRIORITIZATION PROCESS :: Following months of deliberations, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority has given the Northwest Power Planning Council its recommendations on funding for regional fish and wildlife projects. At the Pasco council meeting, CBFWA divided up $127 million in BPA fish and wildlife funds, allocating $95 million for salmon restoration, $17 million for resident fish and $15 million for wildlife projects. In the anadromous fish category, $23 million would go for basin-wide activities such as research, law enforcement, predator control, stock assessment work, interagency coordination and data management; $12 million would be used for mainstem passage activities such as smolt monitoring and PIT tag research; $31 million would go to habitat and production activities in the Bonneville Dam region; and $25 million would be assigned to habitat and production activities in the Snake River. The recommendations are now out for public comment; the NWPPC will make its final recommendations to BPA by mid-July [Lynn Francisco].
 REPORT CLAIMS WILD COHO BETTER BREEDERS THAN HATCHERY COHO :: Numerous scientific studies are flooding the literature regarding the interactions of wild and hatchery salmonids. When the first salmon hatcheries were built in the Northwest, the assumption was that hatchery salmon could replace wild salmon and their native habitats. But today this assumption is being challenged. A study by Ian A. Fleming and Mart R. Gross of the University of Toronto looked at the breeding success of hatchery coho salmon. Their work is very revealing. The study found that hatchery fish, particularly males, were competitively inferior to wild fish because they were less aggressive and more submissive on the spawning grounds. Consequently, hatchery coho salmon were denied access to spawning females and took part in fewer spawnings. Fleming estimated that hatchery male coho salmon had only 62% of the breeding success of wild males.
By contrast, hatchery female coho salmon were not limited by competition. Hatchery and wild female salmon had similar levels of aggressive behavior, but hatchery females had greater delays in spawning, failed to spawn a larger proportion of their eggs, and lost more eggs to nest destruction by other females. The hatchery female coho salmon had an estimated 82% of the breeding success of wild salmon as a result.
The authors, concluded, "These results imply that hatchery fish have restricted abilities to rehabilitate wild populations, and may pose ecological and genetic threats to the conservation of wild populations"[Bill Bakke].
 COMMENT: FARMED SALMON HURT COMMERCIAL FISHERS :: Concern over the effect farmed salmon may have on Alaska wild salmon commercial fisheries convinced the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development to publish a report called "Cost Trends in Farmed Salmon." The price commercial fishers get for their catch is controlled by the supply of salmon on the world market and farmed salmon are claiming a larger share of that market. In 1994, farmed salmon production totaled 450,000 metric tons, far surpassing the Alaska wild salmon harvest. The report claims that wild salmon can be marketed against farmed salmon, as a unique and seasonal product, one for which high end markets will pay considerably more. That may be true, within limits, for Alaska, but what does it mean for other commercial fisheries that are dependent upon expensive hatchery production for their catch and income?
The commercial fisheries dependent upon public hatcheries are already strained by reduced funding and by regulations to protect wild salmon. Commercial salmon fisheries from Canada to California are dependent upon hatchery salmon, but public funding is proving to be unreliable. How supportive will the public be when it learns that a coho salmon the commercial fisher sold for $5 cost $25 to produce?
Farmed salmon are causing the price paid to commercial fishers to drop because there are so many salmon in the world market. The cost to produce salmon is increasing as are the commercial fishers' operational costs, yet the price fishers are paid continues to drop. Inland commercial fishers, including most Indian fisheries, are at even more risk because they typically get less for a salmon due to its quality compared to ocean-caught salmon. Yet the Indian fisher must compete within a world-wide salmon market that is more and more shaped by farmed salmon. It is possible that commercial salmon fisheries based on publicly-funded hatchery production may become an industry of the past [Bill Bakke].
DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 009 :: Below are listed available documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 009.
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData with grants from the Montana and Idaho offices of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the Bonneville Power Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Chelan County PUD, Douglas County PUD, Grant County PUD
and Direct Services Industries, Inc.
Publisher: Cyrus Noë, Editor: Lynn Francisco,
Web Editor: Whitney Dickinson,
Contributing Editors: Bill Bakke and Jude Noland.
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Last modified: May 17, 1996