Despite population declines over the past five years, the overall status of the 13 runs of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act has "probably not changed in most cases," a NOAA Fisheries scientist told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Jan. 13.

The Columbia Basin currently has 11 threatened and 2 endangered salmon and steelhead species.

Mike Ford, conservation biology division director at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said that while their report is not yet complete, "Overall status has probably not changed dramatically from prior reviews."

He said his comments are preliminary thoughts, and not conclusions, as NOAA is still working on the five-year status review of all ESA-listed West Coast salmon and steelhead. Their findings report is expected to be complete this fall. A status review is required every five years.

Rob Markle, the Portland branch lead for NOAA's protected resources division, told the Council the report is an evaluation and doesn't result in changes in status, but instead provides recommendations on whether a run's status should retain its current listing; be removed from the list; be changed from threatened to endangered; or be changed from endangered to threatened.

Of about two dozen listed runs on the West Coast, most are threatened and a few are endangered, Ford said. He noted that the recovery plans developed for each one had different viability goals that looked at abundance, productivity, spatial structure and diversity.

NOAA's science centers will update how well each of the runs are progressing toward those goals, and will also summarize large scale environmental trends—both in the freshwater and marine environments. The reports will also summarize the trends in exploitation rates, and the makeup of hatchery and wild fish in each population.

Ford said that many populations have declined over the past five years, and the interior Columbia Basin populations—those in the Snake River and upper Columbia River—have fared worse than the lower Columbia and Puget Sound populations.

He said ocean conditions have been poor, and are probably a big driver of the overall population declines. Still, he noted, some populations have shown a certain amount of resiliency to the poor ocean conditions.

In his overall assessment, Ford said, "This is a middle-of-the-road status review," adding that he doesn't expect to see any dramatic changes compared to previous reviews.

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K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.