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NW Fishletter #381, May 7, 2018

[7] Regional Task Force Closes In On Fish Population And Recovery Goals

A regionwide NOAA Fisheries task force that has been meeting for more than a year to define goals for fish recovery in the Columbia River Basin hopes to complete a draft of its work to share with constituents this summer.

The Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force brings together tribes, states and stakeholders from diverse interests in an attempt to reach consensus on recommendations for salmon and steelhead recovery that would meet conservation needs and provide fishing opportunities. It's the region's first attempt to bring these interests together to agree on comprehensive numerical goals for different populations of fish, both wild and hatchery, and listed and unlisted species.

The group met in Portland April 18 and 19 to discuss preliminary quantitative and qualitative goals, and to prepare to bring their work to the public.

"When we first sat down, I think the only thing we could agree on was we all wanted to be able to have a salmon on our plate," commented Randy Friedlander, Fish and Wildlife program director for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and one of 28 members on the task force.

The task force was organized under the NOAA Fisheries' Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, and receives technical support from the agency. It plans to develop comprehensive recommendations on long-term goals to protect, restore and manage salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Members of the task force include one member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council from each of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana; tribes of the Snake and Columbia rivers; and 20 organizations representing fishing industries, ports, conservation groups, irrigators, electric cooperatives and PUDs.

Barry Thom, West Coast Region director for NOAA Fisheries, opened the two-day meeting on April 18 by urging members to work hard toward finding common ground so they can be ready from June to October to bring their goals to the people they represent for input. "You can't have 100 percent certainty until you can vet those goals," he said. "But can we agree in principle that these are the right goals?" he asked.

Thom told members they can't expect to achieve consensus on every detail, but can find goals that are "good enough for now" to move the process forward. "Keep testing where we have agreement," he encouraged them.

Deb Nudelman, a Kearns & West principal and senior mediator who led the meeting, said the April and June meetings were transitioning from an information-gathering and analysis stage to the dialogue that will lead to recommendations. She encouraged members to voice their needs during this stage, to ensure their groups' desires are represented in the final goals.

Ray Beamesderfer, a contractor for NOAA Fisheries, explained the concept of setting low, medium and high quantitative goals for 24 different stocks of naturally spawning Chinook, steelhead, coho, sockeye and chum throughout the basin.

For ESA-listed stocks, the group's low goals would be the numbers required for delisting the stocks, which have already been set, he said. And for all populations, they will be numbers that scientists have determined will provide for a viable population, with less than a 5 percent risk of extinction in the next 100 years.

The high goals, he said, should not be based on numbers of fish that returned under historical, pristine conditions, which included habitat now blocked by dams or other barriers. Instead, those numbers would consider the current potential habitat capacity, as the habitat exists today.

Beamesderfer said some of the high-end goals he proposed came from conservation plans that have already been developed by states, tribes and others. For most stocks, he said, the numbers for high-end goals fall between two and four times as many fish compared to low-end goals.

Under high-range goals, he said, the stock would be diverse and well-distributed, and show very high abundance and productivity. They would generally produce a high yield, with lots of opportunities for fishing.

The medium goals will split the difference between high- and low-end goals, unless mid-range goals have already been set in conservation plans by other entities, he said.

The task force will also come up with a set of qualitative goals for conservation, fisheries, hatcheries and other mitigation measures that provide for a mix of social, cultural, economic and demographic diversity in the basin.

The task force will hold its next meeting in Hood River, Ore., on June 19-20. -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
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