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[1] All Framework Alternatives Will Produce More Fish, Says Analysis
[2] Canadian Points To Ocean for Salmon Declines
[3] U.W. Researchers Unlock Mysteries of Deep and Not-So Deep
[4] ODFW Director Changes Tune Over Wild Fish Policy
[5] Tribes Take Fish Concerns to DC
[6] Drawdown Study Finds Few Fish Benefits
[7] Basin Forum Reheats Regional Controversies

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The long-awaited preliminary results of a complex and controversial computer analysis of seven fish and wildlife recovery alternatives were officially unwrapped Feb. 1 in Portland. However, some stakeholders involved the Framework Process were briefed a few days early and were privy to some interesting news. The analysis predicts that one alternative which keeps the lower Snake River dams in place could produce nearly as many fish as more drastic options that call for breaching the concrete. But some questioned the initial results and the assumptions guiding the entire exercise, which has kept two mainframe Battelle computers hopping for months, trying to measure potential fish productivity for the entire Columbia Basin.

Before most Power Council members or stakeholders heard results, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber heard his own presentation of the findings Jan. 20. which had some parties miffed because most had been out of the loop until late last week.

Executive director of Northwest Irrigation Utilities John Saven, briefed late last week, said he has a zillion questions about the analysis, but "somebody must be getting it right." He pointed out that EDT analysis of the industry-backed Alternative Six indicates the option would produce more fish than Alternative One, which calls for breaching six dams on the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers. According to figures displayed at the Kitzhaber briefing, Alternative Six, which includes measures such as shifting mainstem flow augmentation to summer, could result in about 75 percent more fish than current numbers. Meanwhile, Alternative One--which calls for removing the four lower Snake dams, along with McNary and John Day, and ending hatchery mitigation altogether--is pegged to produce slightly fewer fish. Alternative Six is expected to cost the region $200 million annually, while Alternative One is estimated to cost over $1.6 billion a year.

Two other dam breaching alternatives (lower Snake and John Day, and lower Snake only) were estimated to almost triple the number of salmon in the basin and nearly double wild populations, but at a cost of $700 million to $1 billion a year. But Alternative Six is not expected to boost wild runs by more than 25 percent.

Interestingly enough, the analysis also predicts benefits of Alternative Four, which calls for some improvements to present conditions, nearly equal the fish increases estimated under the six-dam breach of the first alternative.

Alternative Seven, which is designed to increase fish while maximizing economic benefits, was predicted to improve fish returns (hatchery and wild) by 50 percent with a positive cash flow from all activities.

Alternative Five, a combination of intensive habitat restoration and hatchery mitigation with the dams in place, was estimated to produce nearly as much hatchery and wild fish as the four-dam and five-dam breach alternatives, while costing around $400 million a year.

By the time the preliminary results were announced Feb. 1 at the Power Planning Council's work session in Portland, the results had changed somewhat, after an error in analyzing Alternative Six was discovered. The overall fish benefits (hatchery and wild) from dam breaching alternatives Two and Three were running neck and neck with results from alternatives Five and Six--all slated to produce a little more than 200 percent of current fish numbers. Taking no new actions was predicted to reduce current numbers.

But overall, the EDT analysis contains some big question marks. One Framework Committee member said the effects of such intensive hatchery mitigation on weak stocks are unclear. Without any "ground-truthing" exercise or independent scientific review, he said, it is doubtful the results will prove very meaningful.

"We're assuming hatcheries are going to work," said Power Council staffer Chip McConnaha. "We wouldn't invest in hatcheries unless we solved all the problems we have with them now."

The optimistic results from all the alternatives had some baffled. "The BiOp's going one way, the Framework's going the other," said another biologist involved in the process. At this point, he said, the model results should be viewed skeptically. "Initial results from any model are always revised." He said a lack of "quality assurance" measures to get people to accept the EDT results is a big hurdle to overcome at this stage. "A knowledgeable group of people could take weeks to discuss the linkages and assumptions in the EDT analysis." Right now, he said, no one knows how the EDT analysis handled controversial uncertainties such as delayed fish mortality, ocean conditions and artificial production.

On that score, consultant Lars Mobrand, who is leading the EDT analysis, told NW Fishletter that he is using inriver juvenile passage survival numbers developed in the PATH process. Mobrand said that includes using a 42 percent passage survival for spring chinook from Lower Granite to below Bonneville, and lowering that to 30 percent for a more conservative analysis. Both numbers are considerably below the 50 percent-plus survival estimate developed by NMFS from PIT-tag survival studies.

Mobrand also said the EDT analysis pegged relative survival of transported spring fish to inriver migrators at 65 percent and for a more conservative analysis, 35 percent--the so-called D factor--which recent NMFS analysis has estimated more like 80 percent.

Using numbers developed from the most recent research would make Framework alternatives that kept dams in place and utilized fish transportation look even better compared to the breaching alternatives.

Consultant Darryll Olsen said these assumptions need to be discussed. "All of the analytic assumptions in the Framework analysis need to be transparent and on the level and that needs to happen soon."

Some federal agency biologists are skeptical about the optimistic results, pointing out that the effort seems to have side-stepped the fact that some alternative strategies, such as increasing harvest, could actually be detrimental to listed stocks. And with preliminary results announced before the model has been validated, caused one high-ranking federal official to comment, "the Council's in trouble."

McConnaha said a process for technical peer review hasn't yet been developed, but "it's an important part of it." The Independent Scientific Review Panel, the group who scrutinizes research and salmon strategies for NMFS and the Power Planning Council has proposed a comparative review of the EDT analysis, along with other major analytical processes in the region, including PATH and NMFS' Cumulative Risk Initiative. The review is expected to be completed by June, according to Council staffer Peter Paquet. The NWPPC's schedule called for finalizing the amendment process to the Columbia Basin's fish and wildlife program by next August.

The Council discussed a draft strawman proposal on the fish and wildlife program developed by its staff at the Feb. 1 meeting but bogged down over language about the dam breaching issue. By meeting's end, proposed wording stated that "For the purpose of planning this Fish and Wildlife Program, the Council assumes that, within the next five years breaching will not occur at the four federal dams on the lower Snake, either because the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Corps of Engineers will not recommend breaching, or because Congress will not authorize or appropriate funds for the breaching."

Some council members said it was important to get the process moving, so the region can provide input to federal agencies charged with developing long-range recovery plans for the region's ESA-listed stocks. "We need to take action now to provide input in the federal process," said Idaho Council member Mike Field.

But some harvest and hatchery strategies may prove to be major sticking points for the Framework alternatives. With such a reliance on hatcheries to supplement fish runs, others say negative interactions with weak wild runs could actually be detrimental to them and unlikely to pass federal muster.

Public Power Council spokesman Rob Walton said the process should look at natural fish benefits versus costs when harvest levels are maintained at present levels.

CRITFC's Phil Roger was also concerned about critical fish populations and suggested that a special set of amendments to the program be developed for them. -Bill Rudolph



A top Canadian researcher took issue recently with Idaho biologists who claim "there is no compelling reason" to believe the demise of spring and summer chinook in the Snake River was caused by poor conditions for fish in the Pacific Ocean.

Speaking at NMFS' Montlake facility in Seattle on Jan. 20, Dr. David Welch of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans said there are, indeed, "compelling reasons" to believe ocean conditions had a lot to do with the decline of the stocks. He directly contradicted remarks in the October 1999 journal Fisheries by Douglas Nemeth and Russ Keifer, two top Idaho Fish and Game Department biologists. The IDFG duo blamed the lower Snake River dams for the demise of the stocks.

Welch said climatic variability is now seen as the dominant player on both biological and economic time scales, but just how the ocean is changing is unknown. He pointed to long-term research with steelhead from Vancouver Island's Keogh River, where marine survival has plummeted from 16 percent (1977-1989) to 2 percent (1990-1994). Welch said the steelhead stock will not sustain itself if survival dips below 3.5 percent.

He added, however, that northern BC stocks improved, while southern BC stocks went down the tubes. Welch attributed this to the fact that conditions in the ocean off the north Pacific Coast have been fundamentally different for years.

The scientist said overall biological production off southern BC has decreased by 40 percent--starting with the plankton that form the basis of the oceanic food chain.

"Lots of steelhead runs are down to one fish," he said of streams on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Overall, he said ocean survival is down by a factor of four. That means a run of 1,000 fish can be whittled down to less than 60 fish in just two generations, he explained.

He said the decline in BC salmon production in the 1990s was not due to overfishing, but caused by the sharp decline in marine survival. However, for years, BC fishermen were allowed to catch two out of every three coho in the ocean, which worsened the situation when marine survivals declined from 12 percent to 4 percent.

But temporarily, anyway, ocean conditions have improved. Welch said juvenile chinook sampled last October off Vancouver Island weigh about 200 grams on average, double their average weight in 1998. He noted that Cesium 137 concentrations in their tissue doubled as well, which means the fish are getting twice as much to eat as in 1998. Cesium 137 was spread throughout the atmosphere from the H-bomb test era, and oceanographers use it as a measuring stick.

The climate may be switching back to conditions that are fishier for salmon. Welch said February to July 1999 temperatures off Vancouver Island's Amphritrite Point were more like conditions in the 1960s and early 1970s, when fish survivals off the West Coast were much higher.

Bigger fish mean better survival, said Welch, who admitted he didn't know where things are going next, pointing out that 1996--the coldest year of the 1990s--was similar to 1982, at the peak of a large El Niño condition.

He cautioned the group about the potential effects of the buildup of greenhouse gases this century. He said computer models estimate that temperatures could go up 4 degrees C. over the next 100 years, but "whether it's warming or cooling really doesn't matter." He said the models won't tell us what will happen in the future. It's possible more clouds could cause an Ice Age, but he noted that CO2 buildups in the past didn't cause past Ice Ages. He added that data collected on Snake River salmon stocks, along with more information on greenhouse gases, can add to development of future policy on climate change.

The day before Welch spoke in Seattle, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena announced that new satellite data shows the eastern Pacific is undergoing a significant cooling. JPL scientists said that could mean the region is shifting into a cool phase that could last for decades.

UW scientists who had previously identified the warm/cool climate cycles as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation--20 to 30 years of alternating warm and cool periods--have suggested that such changes have important ramifications for salmon runs. If the region is moving into a cool phase, fish runs could significantly improve in the Columbia River. But they were not ready to say a shift has occurred. UW researcher Nate Mantua told the Los Angeles Times last week that it was anybody's guess whether the cold period would stick around. -B. R.



High seas salmon researchers from the Pacific Northwest finished up another year of work with some interesting news. Two California chinook salmon were found in the Bering Sea in May 1998--the first evidence from tagging studies that the Sunshine State's Sacramento River chinook migrate that far north.

In their annual research report, the scientists from the University of Washington's Fisheries Research Institute also concluded that Columbia River upriver bright fall chinook seemed to maintain a consistent pattern of distribution in the ocean during the intense El Niño event in the early 1980s, indicating little negative impact from the powerful warming episode.

Over the past couple years, the scientists have thrown cold water on speculation that salmon distribution is governed by sea surface temperatures and that global warming will shrink the available ocean pastures to a fraction of their present size.

Using a newly-developed tag that can store up to 32,000 data points (temperature and pressure readings every 15 minutes), the group
pit tag
Seagoing Salmon Database
found the fish move up and down in the water column daily among quite a range of temperatures, "indicating that non-lethal sea surface temperatures do not regulate the behavior of salmon on the high seas."

They go on to say, "These results do not minimize the potential problems associated with global warming, but warmer ocean temperatures in winter are associated with increased production of Alaska salmon." Luck has been on their side. On May 22, 1999, the researchers wired a lone chinook salmon in the Gulf of Alaska with one of their tags. On July 11, it was caught by a sports fisherman in the Yentna River, near Anchorage, Alaska, and returned to the researchers.

"Fishermen, both sport and commercial, have been great at returning these tags," said University of Washington researcher Kate Myers. "Without their help, we wouldn't be anywhere."

New research with depth-temperature tags recovered in 1999 from one sockeye, two pinks and four coho, shows that the fish spend most of their time in the top 40 meters of the water column, "with infrequent excursions to 60-100 m." The new research has shown "considerable diurnal and shorter-term variation in ambient temperatures, which suggests that ocean distribution of salmon may be linked more to prey distribution, foraging and migration than to sea surface temperatures."

Salmon caught in surface gillnets in the Bering Sea showed the scientists that the fish's diet changed significantly between daytime and nighttime hours. At night, sockeye and pinks ate mostly euphausiids and copepods; during the day, they consumed crab larvae, fish and squid. The tag from a pink salmon showed that within one 24-hour period, the fish traveled from the surface to a depth of 60 meters and back to the top, spanning a temperature range from 8 degrees C. to 20 degrees C.

The report also includes summaries of new work with bioenergetic models that points to salmon growth being tied more to food consumption rather than temperature. A model developed by the researchers using food habits data since the 1950s shows that the critical period of density-dependent growth for pink salmon and sockeye (ocean age 2) occurs in winter, rather than the last few weeks of their migration home.

According to the report, the new model has developed a quantitative way to represent the shift in the fishes' diets when they change from eating zooplankton to tiny squid, a function that seems to depend on body weight. They said this switch occurs in pinks during the spring of their maturation year (ocean age 1), while sockeye make the change in diet during the spring of their third ocean year. The model also estimated that "a 10 percent difference in an individual's body weight at the end of winter may translate into a 50 percent difference in its body weight at the end of summer, as the initial difference in body weights will determine when the salmon reach a large enough size to catch squid."

Another interesting result of the analysis is an indication that decreasing areas of overlap in the Gulf of Alaska occurred between squid distribution and salmon populations from the early 1980s through 1998, followed by an increase in overlap in 1999--a fact that was highly correlated with body weight of sockeye caught near the Fraser River, but less so with Bristol Bay and other central Alaska sockeye stocks.

The group's latest report concluded that "in the absence of large-scale high seas salmon fisheries, climate-induced changes in ocean productivity acting through the food chain may be the major factor affecting high seas production of salmon."-B. R.



Last June, after Oregon tribes tried to gut part of the state's wild fish management policy, ODFW Director Jim Greer sent tribal leaders a letter that seemed to contradict state policy.

"In keeping with the spirit of House Bill 3609, this letter is my commitment to you that the ...department ... will not prevent returning salmonids from spawning in designated river basins nor dispose of hatchery-reared fish or viable eggs that can contribute to natural spawning or production..." he wrote to Warms Spring tribal chair Olney Patt and Sam Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe. The tribes wanted to use hatchery fish to supplement runs in rivers above Bonneville Dam.

House Bill 3609 established a process for ODFW and the tribes to work out their differences over hatchery fish management through natural production plans for watersheds above the dam, but Greer's letter seemed to set aside that agreement and establish a commitment that is contrary to present state law, which sets limits on how many hatchery fish can spawn naturally with wild fish in all Oregon rivers, including those challenged by the tribes.

"The commitment that Director Greer made to the tribes in his letter of June 21, 1999 seems to be a clear violation of the department's own rules," said Jim Myron, conservation director for Oregon Trout. "Until the Wild Fish Management Policy is repealed or changed, the department is still required to abide by its provisions."

Since then, the Pacific Legal Foundation has taken the state fisheries agency to both state and federal court for killing hatchery coho salmon on the Alsea River to prevent them from spawning with wild fish. Though ODFW prevailed in both courts, wild fish policy on the Oregon coast seems to be different from the policy applied to rivers where the tribes have an interest. According to the Jan. 28 Capitol Press, Don Sampson, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said, "We want to make sure ODFW and NMFS don't make the same mistake in the Columbia that they made in the coastal basins when they clubbed the returning hatchery runs in the head and sold their eggs for fish bait and cat food instead of using them to augment the wild runs." Sampson went on to say, "The salmon management policies in this state have gone from Jonny Appleseed to Adolf Hitler..."

Greer's commitment to the tribes was expected to last through March of 2000, which may limit impacts on wild fish, especially ESA-listed native steelhead.

Other biologists in Greer's agency seemed to contradict their boss' position. ODFW fish biologist Rich Carmichael said, "It is important to control surplus hatchery fish in order to carry out the wild fish management policy." Greer's commitment to the tribes would allow surplus hatchery steelhead to spawn naturally in streams.

ODFW head Greer said he forwarded the issue to Assistant Attorney General Steve Sanders and his agency's fish division for a response. "We will not have any fish back by the end of March, so Greer's commitment to the tribes did not violate state law," said Sanders, who added that Greer's June letter was not intended to announce a long-term policy. "We will use the process outlined in House Bill 3609 to frame a long-term policy on hatchery fish."

Under the bill passed last June--the result of a negotiated agreement among the tribes and ODFW--conflicts over the use of hatchery fish are designed to be settled during development of required subbasin natural production plans. So far, the tribes have not signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state.

Meanwhile, they have negotiated for release of over 2 million unmarked steelhead smolts into the Columbia Basin over the next two years, with another plan for surplus hatchery chinook. With a chinook run expected to be the largest in over a decade, the tribes want to deposit an estimated 38,000 surplus hatchery fish back into rivers to boost natural production. -Bill Bakke


Columbia River tribal leaders met with representatives of the Clinton Administration last week, calling for a salmon recovery plan that returns four million salmon to the basin within the next 25 years. It's a number that hasn't been seen in the basin since long before the federal hydro system was developed in the 1930s, though more than three million fish returned to the Columbia River in 1986.

Nez Perce tribal leader James Holt said they went to Washington DC to have a "good faith dialogue." In a press release issued after meeting with George Frampton, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, he said, "We were very clear, the Administration must fulfill its legal and moral treaty obligations to our tribes and the salmon. A plan keeping runs at quasi-extinction levels for the next one hundred years is not acceptable."

The tribes pushed for breaching the four lower Snake dams, but suggested that by reforming hatcheries, funding habitat restoration, spilling more water and implementing higher flows in the hydro system, breaching might be avoided.

They also criticized NMFS hatchery policies that do not let surplus hatchery fish spawn naturally. Yakama tribal member Randy Settler said there were two basic choices, either accept fish supplementation as a rebuilding tool, "so NMFS can give the region back to the people, or they can hunker down and we can expect to live with them, ESA and fishing restrictions for a helluva long time. It's genetic gridlock now, extinction tomorrow."

The tribes told the Administration that further restrictions to treaty fisheries were not acceptable to them. Harvest options developed by the Federal Caucus include the possibility of more harvest cuts until fish runs recover.

CRITFC spokesman Charles Hudson said the tribes have not been satisfied with the All-H process. Though tribal interests are represented in the Federal Caucus by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Hudson said they were merely "benchwarmers" in the process to develop options for fish and wildlife recovery. The tribes have intimated that they may go to court to uphold their treaty rights. -B. R.



The Corps of Engineers has decided it has done enough study of four potential drawdown scenarios at John Day Pool. Citing huge potential costs and little benefit to listed salmon, the agency has recommended against funding Phase Two of the study.

The $3.6 million first phase said a natural river drawdown behind John Day Dam would cost between $2 billion and $5 billion and actually decrease the population of Hanford Reach fall chinook. Though upper Columbia River fish could get a boost, Snake River chinook would likely not benefit, since all fish transportation would be ended. Over 100 years, the study figured that total annual costs would range from $411 million to $700 million--a high price to pay for restoring the area behind the dam for natural fish production. The Corps estimated the area could eventually produce about 74,000 fish, but "this is approximately half of the current number of harvestable fish produced under the combination of natural and mitigation hatchery production."-B. R.



After a four-month hiatus, the almost-forgotten policy backwater called the Columbia River Basin Forum met several weeks ago in Portland. Montana representative Stan Grace didn't bother to show up, citing an agenda that seemed to duplicate conversations already taking place in other venues. Since the Forum has no decision-making authority to speak of, Grace said the discussion amounted to "more jawboning."

But Idaho representative Mike Field, who participated by phone, said the January meeting "was one of the better Forum meetings. " US Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. Carl Strock and regional USFWS head Anne Badgely participated in the meeting of the state/ tribal/federal entity, which coalesced from the old Three Sovereigns Process.

The main item of discussion was future hydro alternatives. On that score, Field said he tried to get consensus among the parties to acknowledge the political reality that dam breaching is a "dead issue," but was ultimately unsuccessful. Three of the region's four governors have supported a policy to keep the lower Snake River dams in place. Only Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber remains undecided. He has said he will wait until the Corps announces its preferred alternative (probably in May) before he announces his own.

Washington representative Bob Nichols, who developed a proposed agenda for future meetings with the help of CRITFC's Rob Lothrop and NMFS policy coordinator Danny Consenstein, said the tentative schedule for the next three meetings calls for discussion of the other H's--one per meeting, with Habitat coming up at the Forum's next get-together early this month.

"It's been a heck of a frustrating year," Nichols said, because Forum discussions did not seem to get beyond broad generalizations. Though they didn't make it even half way through the agenda at the latest session and never had a chance to address flow issues, he agreed with Field that the latest discussion was much better. "I'm hopeful it's a sign we can continue in the same spirit."

But Montana's Grace said the next meeting's agenda isn't compelling enough to get him to show up, either. Harvest issues will be the main topic in late February, but most major tribal harvesters are not officially a part of the Forum.

Though all upriver tribes in the Columbia Basin have officially signed on, three of the four lower-river tribes have not. Of those, only the Warm Springs Tribe has joined the Forum, though members of the Yakama and Nez Perce Tribes were present at the last meeting.

Nichols said he would not venture to guess where the Forum is going, although he hopes it will be a place for a "free-flowing give and take" where representatives feel "free to probe" issues without worrying about election-year politics. -B. R.

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