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Columbia Basin Bulletin November 19, 2010


Table of Contents

* Population Crash, ESA Listing, Leads To Smelt Fishing Ban In Columbia River Basin

* Tribes Detail Success, Promise Of Supplementation To Boost Natural Spawning Salmon Populations

* Draft Recommendations On Sea Lion Removal Urge Firearm Use, Shooting From Boats

* Colville Tribes, BPA, Grant PUD Sign Cost-Share Agreement For $43 Million Chief Joseph Hatchery

* Measures Under Way As Part Of Long-Term Strategy To Increase Salmon Survival Above Willamette Dams

* BPA Proposes 8.5 Percent Wholesale Power Rate Hike Beginning Oct.1 2011; Final Decision In July

* New Analysis Challenges ‘Fishing Down The Food Web’ Theory In Measuring Fisheries Health

* Good Steelhead Year For The Snake River; IDFG Transfers Longer, Bigger Fish To Boise River

* PacificCorp, Counties Strike Agreement Offsetting Impacts Of Decommissioning Condit Dam

* Impacts Of Genetically Modified Salmon Reviewed: What Happens When They Escape Into The Wild?

* Alaska Salmon Harvest 11th Largest Since Statehood; Best Value In 18 Years

* Sharp Spike In California Sea Lion Deaths On Oregon Coast; Leptospirosis Suspected

* USFWS Names Michael Carrier New Coordinator For North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative

* FEEDBACK: Snake River Sockeye Recovery Plan


* Population Crash, ESA Listing, Leads To Smelt Fishing Ban In Columbia River Basin

Fishing for Columbia River eulachon (smelt) this year is not likely to be an option with the states of Oregon and Washington together expected to rescind the mainstem commercial fishery scheduled annually under permanent regulations from Dec. 1 through March 31.

The states individually have either closed or will close smelt-targeted sport or commercial fisheries in the Columbia and its tributaries because of the shrunken numbers of fish, and the fact that NOAA Fisheries Service (also known as NMFS) on May 17 listed the eulachon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Due to the recent listing, it is highly unlikely the National Marine Fisheries Service would support fisheries with direct take of eulachon; therefore, the states are proposing to close all eulachon-directed fisheries,” according to a Joint Staff Report prepared for a Monday (Nov. 23) meeting of the Columbia River Compact, which sets mainstem commercial fisheries. The Compact is made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife directors.

Commercial landings of smelt from 1938-1992 were in the millions of pounds annually but annual returns from the Pacific soon after began to dwindle. In 1993, smelt strayed to many Washington coastal streams and bays due to cold Columbia River water temperature, and only 500,000 pounds were landed in the Columbia River basin. Landings in 1994 were only 43,000 pounds, and beginning in 1995, fishery restrictions were enacted.

After a brief rebound early this decade the annual returns continued to drop precipitously. Since 2004 both commercial and recreational smelt fisheries have been managed at the most conservative level outlined in the 2001 Washington and Oreogn Eulachon Management Plan.

Smelt fishing last year was dismal. A total mainstem catch of 3,600 pounds was reported from twice-a-week fisheries that occurred from Jan. 1 through March 10.

The only tributary in Washington open to either sport or commercial fishing last year was the Cowlitz, where minimal catch and effort was reported. The Sandy River in Oregon was open seven days per week to commercial fishing but no smelt were landed last year. No recreational catch was reported in the Sandy either.

Eulachon smelt annually return to the Columbia River, at 3, 4, and 5 years of age, to spawn in the mainstem Columbia River and its tributaries downstream of Bonneville Dam. The fish typically enter the Columbia River in early to mid-January, though a small ‘pilot’ run may occur in December. Smelt typically spawn every year in the Cowlitz River, with inconsistent runs and spawning events occurring in the Grays, Elochoman, Lewis, Kalama, and Sandy rivers. Peak tributary abundance is usually in February, with variable abundance through March, and an occasional showing in April.

The recreational smelt fishery is a longstanding fishery that occurs almost exclusively in tributaries using dip net gear. Prior to 1997, the recreational fishery in Washington tributaries was open seven days per week the entire year, according to 2010 Sturgeon-Smelt Joint Staff Report. Smelt dippers in Washington were allowed 20 pounds per person each day, but beginning in late 1998 the limit has sometimes been ten pounds per person.

The listing determination said that NOAA Fisheries had "identified changes in ocean conditions due to climate change as the most significant threat to eulachon and their habitats" and that climate-induced change to freshwater habitats is a moderate threat.

The agency’s review also concluded that Pacific smelt are vulnerable to being caught in shrimp fisheries in the United States and Canada because the areas occupied by shrimp and smelt often overlap.

The federal agency said other threats to the fish include water flows in the Klamath and Columbia River basins and bird, seal and sea lion predation, especially in Canadian streams and rivers.

A team of biologists from NOAA’s Fisheries Service and two other federal agencies concluded last year that there are at least two Pacific smelt distinct population segments on the West Coast. The one listed extends from the Mad River in northern California north into British Columbia.

According to the Nov. 23 fact sheet, the states will be working with NMFS in developing and expanding research activities to provide information on adult and juvenile eulachon abundances and distribution.


* Tribes Detail Success, Promise Of Supplementation To Boost Natural Spawning Salmon Populations

“You’re going to find differences in reproductive fitness” between wild salmon and hatchery fish that find their way to the spawning grounds, according to the Yakama Nation’s Bill Bosch.

But better hatchery management practices now being employed that produce fitter fish can mute those differences. And numerous studies show that, when done right, supplementation with hatchery fish can boost natural production, according to Bosch and other tribal spokesmen who on Nov. 9 offered their side of the story to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Can supplementation maintain or increase natural production? Can supplementation hatcheries be managed to maintain the long-term fitness of wild/natural populations? If there are negative hatchery effects, are they reversible?

“Yes,” in all cases, said Bosch, citing a sampling of study results as proof, as well as a 27-page “Bibliography in Support of Supplementation Science,” compiled by staff from the Yakama Nation’s Yakima Klickitat Fisheries Project and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The commission’s member tribes include the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama.

“We’re moving in the right direction, according to the Columbia River treaty tribes. We’re moving toward recovery,” Bosch said. “This is what treaty tribes think progress looks like.”

The tribes requested the audience at the November meeting in Portland to provide an update on the tribes’ hatchery supplementation initiatives and to counter a presentation made by NOAA Fisheries’ Michael Ford in September. He cited two decades of research on Pacific salmon that “tend to show poor reproductive success of hatchery fish when they spawn in the natural environment” and that those hatchery fish can have negative impacts on wild juveniles and spawners. (See CBB Story “NOAA: Research Indicates Hatchery Fish Have Poor Reproductive Success When Spawn In The Wild” http://www.cbbulletin.com/399884.aspx)

NOAA Fisheries is charged with protecting wild salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Many of the tribal hatchery/supplementation programs are funded by the Bonneville Power Administration through the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.

CRITFC Executive Director Paul Lumley said the NOAA presentation focused on linking negative happenings to supplementation while the tribes’ approach is to use continually updated science to “make hatchery programs work to the benefit of wild fish. It’s not all negative; we have had some tremendous successes” with upriver populations.

“Like it or not we’ve had some success,” Lumley said.

According to the Regional Assessment of Supplementation Project definition, supplementation “is the use of artificial propagation in an attempt to maintain or increase natural production while maintaining the long term fitness of the target population, and keeping the ecological and genetic impacts on non-target populations within specified limits.”

It is largely designed to keep populations afloat in the face of other factors that limit salmon, such as mortality from hydro system passage, habitat losses and flow management for power production and irrigation. And human population growth and development needs will continue to put pressure on shared habitat and water resources.

There is a need mitigate for those limiting factors in order to fulfill obligations in treaties to provide fisheries and to “help wild populations that aren’t replacing themselves,” Bosch said. Supplementation is necessarily an important tool.

“There aren’t a lot of options,” Lumley said.

Bosch says that increased artificial production has helped what has been somewhat of a resurgence in certain salmon populations. The tribes “had to sit on the bank for 25 years” starting in the early 1970s because there simply weren’t enough spring chinook salmon returning to conduct fisheries. For the past decade and more, fisheries have been frequent.

In central Washington’s Yakima River basin enough fish have returned to allow sport fisheries in 7 of the past 10 years, after 40 years without.

Some of the population growth can be attributed to supplementation, the practice of giving hatchery produced smolts their final rearing at various streamside acclimation sites so that they home in on those areas to spawn naturally when they return as adults.

As an example, an ongoing study shows that redd survey totals for the upper Yakima and Naches rivers (1981 to 2010) indicated that the number of spawners increased for both populations during the post-supplementation period (2001-2010) but the average number of redds increased 245 percent in the upper Yakima vs. 160 percent for the unsupplemented Naches River. That suggests that supplementation increased the number of spawners in the upper Yakima beyond the natural increases associated with improved ocean survival. The number of redds and natural origin spawners has increased in the targeted Teanaway River indicating this approach may be successful for reintroduction of salmonids into underutilized habitat, according to a study synopsis.

The wild population in the unsupplemented Naches “appears to be declining while the upper Yakima is holding its own, replacing itself,” Bosch told the Council.

There are numerous examples in the Columbia River of hatchery fish getting a foothold in the wild, and taking advantage of it, he said. Coho stocks in the Wenatchee and Yakima rivers in Washington and the Clearwater River in Idaho were at or near extinction before being reintroduced by the tribes. Since the mid- to late 1990s reintroductions of the coho populations in those streams have, except for an occasional dip, showed an upward trend.

The tribes have done their best to apply new-found scientific information to raise hatchery fish that more closely mirror the genetics and behavior traits of their wild kin. That includes random, representative selection of local broodstock wherever possible, factorial mating to maintain diversity, low rearing densities and underwater feeders and cover to more closely represent natural conditions and tests of different rearing/release strategies to increase survival.

Bosch said that a new, unbiased review of hatchery program research literature is needed to address concerns about the potential for reduced reproductive fitness among wild fish that interact with wild fish.

One of the graphs presented by NOAA’s Ford in September compared the results from 18 studies that seemed to indicate that the reproductive fitness of hatchery origin fish and of natural salmon with which they interbreed decreases through time and in some cases decreases quite rapidly.

But a review of those studies shows that the researchers may not have adequately considered factors which might have “confounded” the results. In some cases, hatchery fish from non-local sources and/or with a multi-generational record of domestication were compared.

“Supplementation guidelines require use of extant local stock as the source for the hatchery broodstock,” according to a CRITFC “interpretation” of Ford’s graph. “If the open data points [hatchery fish from non-local broodstock] are removed from the graph, a liner regression line fit to the remaining data no longer has a dramatically downward slope, indicating that progressive loss of fitness will be of a much smaller magnitude than initially inferred.”

Likewise there can be confounding environmental effects, rather than genetic, that cause seeming reduced fitness in hatchery fish. Comparing natural origin spawning in optimal habitat with hatchery fish spawning in less ideal conditions tilts the odds in the wild salmon’s favor.

“You’re bound to find differences in reproductive success,” Bosch said.

“Similarly, some of the studies compare performance of hatchery stocks which have been deliberately, or inadvertently, selected for characters which diverge from those of the native stock (e.g., altered run timing). Such changes may be maladaptive, and inclusion in the graph of data from these programs graph biases the results against Supplementation,” the CRITFC analysis said.

One example would be steelhead. Wild/natural fish migrate to sea after 1 to 3 years in freshwater so they are logically more robust and likely to survive to return and spawn, Bosch said. Nearly all steelhead hatcheries operate to produce age-1 smolts. Steelhead also include unique winter and summer populations, which have in some cases been inadvertently hybridized in hatcheries. Making comparisons with wild fish is indeed apples and oranges in many cases.

“Steelhead is not a good species to make broad-based claims about hatchery fish,” Bosch said.

Bosch said the tribes are seeking agreement with others in the region that hatchery programs are to achieve mitigation obligations and to help make progress towards conservation objections. An overarching goal would to improve programs through adaptive management.

“We’re going to keep pressing this scientific position with some of our colleagues,” said Steve Parker, technical staff coordinator for Yakama Nation Fisheries.


* Draft Recommendations On Sea Lion Removal Urge Firearm Use, Shooting From Boats

The Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force appears set to recommend that the rules allowing the removal of California sea lions from below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam be eased so that more animals can be trapped and/or killed, and that an available but unused tool – firearms -- be employed in the future.

The panel met last week and in a two-day session in late October to evaluate a “lethal removal” program that has been in place for three years and recommend a course of action for the next two years. The program goal is to reduce the pinnipeds’ predation on spawning salmon and steelhead to minimal levels.

The task force is now shaping recommendations that are closer to the ones its members made in 2007 than to the rules that actually guided the program from 2008-2010.

NOAA Fisheries Service considered the task force’s 2007 recommendations before granting in March 2008 lethal removal authority to the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The intent is to reduce California sea lions predation each spring on steelhead and salmon spawners searching for a route up and over the dam. Bonneville is located 146 river miles from the mouth of the river. The authority comes under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The 18-member panel (16 participated during last week’s two-day meeting) was convened in 2007 and again this year by NOAA Fisheries Service, which has the legal authority to consider whether lethal take is allowed and sets the rules of engagement. The agency must make sure that any lethal take program complies with the mandates of Section 120 of the MMPA, according to NOAA Fisheries’ Garth Griffin.

The federal agency has asked that the task force recommendations be submitted by Dec. 15. The panel last week completed draft recommendations.

In granting the states lethal removal authority in March 2008, NOAA Fisheries settled on more stringent requirements for removing an animal than had been recommended by the task force. The federal agency required three strikes for a California sea lion to become eligible for lethal removal – it had to be seen eating salmon in the area immediately below the dam, and have been seen there on at least five days, and have been known to return to the dam after being subjected to non-lethal harassment or hazing there.

The task force, following a 17-1 vote, in November 2007 had decided that lethal removal authority was justified and laid out criteria on how the program should be carried out. The lone dissenter was Sharon Young, who represents the Humane Society of the United States. The task force includes representatives of the academic, scientific and conservation communities, tribes and federal and state agencies

Among the rules suggested by the task force in 2007 was a spontaneous or “kill on the spot” criteria in certain circumstances and an “any CSL” eligibility requirement in the five miles below the dam in years when the salmon run size is particularly low.

But the panel’s top choice in 2007 (“preferred” by 10 members and “acceptable” to seven others) for determining removal eligibility offered a list of seven criteria, any one of which would qualify an animal. The criteria included seeing an identifiable sea lion eating salmon in the area below the dam, or just being seen on seven or more days at the dam.

Firearms were listed in NOAA’s letter of authorization as an appropriate tool for the “take” of sea lions.

The MMPA restricts removals to “individually identifiable pinnipeds” that are having a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery of at-risk salmonids.

The sea lions’ prey includes winter steelhead and spring chinook salmon stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Few California sea lions traveled as far upriver as Bonneville historically, but in recent years they have been gathering in larger numbers below the dam each spring.

The interim program goal for removal activities is to reduce California sea lion predation in the observation area below Bonneville to a 3-year average of 1 percent or less of adult salmonids within six years. The expanded totals compiled by observers/researchers at the dam from Jan. 1 through May 31 were 2.8 percent, 2.1 percent and 1.9 percent respectively in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Since researchers began collection sea lion predation in 2002, consumption has been as high as 4.2 percent (in 2007).

In terms of sheer numbers, “observed” California sea lion consumption was the highest it has ever been over the course of the research – 5,095 salmonids – this year. The pinnipeds zeroed in on what was the largest spring chinook salmon return since 2002. 
The authority allows the removal of as many as 85 California sea lions in each year of the program. But the states, and NOAA Fisheries, figured that 30 was a more realistic goal.

The reality is that only 40 were removed over the three-year period. Of the total, 37 were captured in floating traps below Bonneville and three were trapped at Astoria, Ore., near the river mouth. Ten of the California sea lions were accepted by zoos or aquariums, 25 were euthanized and five died accidentally.

Members of the reconvened task force last week debated the effectiveness of the removal program so far given the fact that fish consumption had actually risen despite the removal of 40 sea lions, and it had failed to reduce predation to 1 percent or less of the salmon run.

Doug Hatch, representing the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said last week that the program “has not been as effective as we’d like to be,” but stressed that predation would have been even higher if not for the removal of 40 animals.

But retired marine mammal scientist Daryl Boness pointed out that reducing predation to 1 percent was the program’s stated measure of effectiveness.

“You’ve killed sea lions. That isn’t the goal,” Boness said. “The goal is to reduce consumption. It hasn’t reduced consumption.”

Sandra Jonker, representing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the five-year program’s effectiveness cannot be judged after only three years.

Draft recommendations completed last week include language that urges the states to take advantage of the authority they now have to use firearms, and also recommend that the states be allowed to take California sea lions from boats as well as from shore at base of the dam.

The 2008 letter of authorization from NOAA Fisheries says “free-ranging individually identifiable predatory sea lions may be shot by a qualified marksman when hauled out on the concrete apron along the North side of Cascade Island, on the flow deflectors along the base of the dam's spillway, or in the water within 50 feet of the concrete apron or the face of the dam at power houses one and two. In all cases the marksman must shoot from land, the dam, or other shoreline structures.”

State officials said during last week’s meetings that the opportunities to use firearms have been few because of safety and security concerns at the federally owned hydro project. Following the granting of authority in 2008 the states worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the project, to develop rules by which the shooting of sea lions at the dam might take place.

The result is a process that requires “the use of a trained marksman, a biologist experienced with identification of known predatory sea lions, and a Safety Officer provided by USACE,” according to the states’ Oct. 18 “Field Report: 2010 Pinniped Management Activities At and Below Bonneville Dam.”
“However, opportunities for use of firearms were extremely limited in 2009 and 2010 due to sea lion haul-out patterns. In both years sea lions repeatedly used sections of the apron and rip-rap below the Corner Collector that would not allow use of firearms. Only on one or two occasions were known predatory animals observed in locations and at times where firearms could have been used.”

The protocols also limit lethal removals by shooting to before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

“It’s really a restricted opportunity,” said Robin Brown, Marine Mammal Project leader for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a technical adviser for the task force.

Young said that sea lion removals, with or without firearms, is not going to solve the problem.

“You take out animals and more come in,” she said. She likened the program to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s not going to make any difference in the end.”

“It’s having no meaningful effect on the recovery of salmon. It’s not helping the fish in any meaningful way,” Young said. She urged fishery managers to turn their attentions to other factors that are limiting salmon populations, such as nonnative predators like bass and walleye.

Bruce Buckmaster, representing Salmon for All and commercial fishing interests, said he did not believe there would be an endless stream of California sea lions forging their way upriver each spring, and that removing those are so prone could eventually reduce predation. He advised a strengthening of the program.

“My concern is that we have done this by half measures” so far, Buckmaster said.

David Shepherdson, representing the Oregon Zoo, said that, in the end, “I doubt this is going to work, but I think we’re obligated to test it.”

The task force during its Nov. 9-10 meeting in Portland cast votes to include three sets of criteria in its recommendation to NOAA, all with more liberal provisions than now exist for deciding which animals will be eligible for removal during the next two years. Young voted against all three.


* Colville Tribes, BPA, Grant PUD Sign Cost-Share Agreement For $43 Million Chief Joseph Hatchery

After years of discussion, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Bonneville Power Administration and Grant County Public Utility District have signed a cost-sharing agreement to build and operate the Chief Joseph Hatchery, an estimated $43 million construction project on the Columbia River near Bridgeport, Wash.

The central Washington hatchery is to be part of the overall effort to support the recovery of Columbia River spring chinook salmon.
“This is truly an unprecedented joint effort among the Colville Tribes, BPA and Grant PUD,” Colville Business Council Chairman Michael O. Finley said. “We look forward to the day when the Chief Joseph Hatchery will open, and salmon will be restored to our waters. Because of this landmark partnership, we can finally and effectively begin to address the loss of this most important natural and cultural resource.”
The hatchery is, in part, a result of a historic agreement, known as The Columbia River Basin Fish Accords, signed in 2008. Under these agreements, the federal agencies and tribes are working together as partners to provide tangible survival benefits for salmon recovery -- by upgrading passage over federal dams, restoring river and estuary habitat, and by creative use of hatcheries.

The agreements also include pledges of funding from BPA for fish and wildlife projects, such as the hatchery. The federal power marketing agencies has obligations under a variety of laws, as well as treaties, to fund mitigation for Federal Columbia River Power System impacts on fish and wildlife.
“The Chief Joseph Hatchery is a great example of collaboration among tribal, federal and local agencies,” said Lorri Bodi, BPA vice president of Environment, Fish and Wildlife. “This project will bring ecological, social and economic benefits to the Columbia River basin. Our fish and our communities will be better off for generations to come because of the excellent work we are doing together.”
For Grant PUD, the agreement is a major milestone toward implementing one of its hatchery programs to meet license requirements for the Priest Rapids Project. Grant PUD’s annual production requirement for the Okanogan River basin is 305,000 summer chinook and 110,000 spring chinook smolts.
“This agreement is a win-win for all involved,” said Bob Bernd, Grant PUD commission president. “It allows us to meet stewardship obligations in a cost-effective manner while reducing costs for all parties, avoiding the impacts of multiple shoreline facilities, maximizing efficient water use and providing for collaborative implementation of monitoring and evaluation efforts.”
The main hatchery facility will be located on the north bank of the Columbia River near the base of Chief Joseph Dam, which is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The complex will include acclimation ponds at several locations on the Okanogan River as well as housing for hatchery workers near the main hatchery site.
When complete, the Chief Joseph Hatchery will annually produce close to two million juvenile summer/fall chinook to increase their abundance in the Okanogan and Columbia rivers and nearly one million spring chinook for reintroduction in historic Okanogan habitats. The hatchery is also expected to increase tribal ceremonial and subsistence fisheries and enhance a local recreational sport fishery.

Upper Columbia River summer/fall chinook are not listed under the Endangered Species Act but Upper Columbia spring chinook are listed as endangered, except in the Okanogan basin. Because the spring chinook had been extirpated from the Okanogan River the subbasin was not designated as critical habitat when NOAA Fisheries Service established the Upper Columbia listing.

Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1941 and Chief Joseph Dam, 50 miles downstream, was completed in 1961. They blocked passage to historic upriver spawning grounds.

Construction began on the houses and acclimation ponds in the summer of 2010. The remaining work on three water supply systems and the hatchery will begin in December 2010, with all components completed in 2013.
The Colville Tribes will manage the hatchery under guidelines recommended by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, a committee of scientists that recently completed a review of all salmon and steelhead hatcheries in the Columbia Basin at the request of the U.S. Congress.
“For thousands of years, our people depended on salmon not simply as a source of nutritious food, but as essential to our culture and traditions,” Finley said. “This magnificent fish is necessary to many of our most important ceremonies, key to both our physical and spiritual strength. Ever since salmon runs were slowed or stopped altogether by dams on the Columbia, tribal leaders have worked to bring the chinook back. Finally, that goal will be realized.”
Adult chinook, commonly known as king salmon because Native Americans considered them chief among all fish, are the largest salmon species in the Columbia River system. Chinook migrate up the Columbia to spawn in different seasons. Hence, those spawning during the spring months are identified as spring chinook, while those spawning in the summer and fall are known as summer/fall chinook. Both are species of concern with federal protection.
Finley said that the chinook once played a major role in the economies of the tribes indigenous to the region. Dried salmon was a staple of intertribal trade and commerce throughout the Northwest.

“When the salmon return in great numbers, they also will help to revitalize the economy of this region,” he said. “Recreational opportunities and tourism will undoubtedly increase here as a result.”

Under the cost-sharing agreement, Grant PUD will fund 18.3 percent or approximately $10 million of the total project planning and construction for the hatchery. The agreement also commits Grant PUD to funding 18.3 percent of the annual operation and maintenance, equipment replacement and monitoring and evaluation costs of the program. Once built, it is estimated that the fish culture operation will require $2.6 million annually combined for research, monitoring and evaluation and operations and maintenance.

BPA is using increased borrowing authority provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to pay for its portion of the project.

Grant County PUD is a Washington state municipal corporation that began electric service in 1942. Its Priest Rapids Project, comprised of Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams, produces nearly 2,000 megawatts of clean, renewable and reliable electricity -- enough to supply a city the size of Seattle. A leader in science based technology; Grant PUD is committed to finding effective measures for the protection, mitigation and enhancement of salmon, steelhead and other natural and cultural resources, according to a Nov. 15 press release announcing the agreement.
Bonneville, headquartered in Portland, Ore., is a not-for-profit federal electric utility under the Department of Energy that operates a high-voltage transmission grid comprising more than 15,000 miles of lines and associated substations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It also markets more than a third of the electricity consumed in the Pacific Northwest. The power is produced at 31 federal dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation and one nuclear plant in the Northwest and is sold to more than 140 Northwest utilities. BPA purchases power from seven wind projects and has more than 3,000 megawatts of wind interconnected to its transmission system.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are a federally recognized Indian Tribe comprised of 12 distinct Indian tribes whose ancestral territory includes the Colville Indian Reservation in north-central Washington and other areas throughout the region. There are approximately 9,500 enrolled Colville Tribal members. The Colville Tribes are the largest employer in north-central Washington.


* Measures Underway As Part Of Long-Term Strategy To Increase Salmon Survival Above Willamette Dams

A new adult fish collection facility was in operation this summer at Cougar Dam on the South Fork McKenzie River and construction is set to begin this winter to create a new and improved Minto Fish Facility on the North Santiam River as the strategy for improving the lot of threatened upper Willamette River chinook salmon and steelhead starts to unfold.

“There were over 200 wild fish (chinook) that returned to that trap this year,” Mindy Simmons, Willamette Program manager for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, said of the Cougar’s facility’s summer of operations. “That’s more than we expected.”

The wild fish, listed under the Endangered Species Act, as are Upper Columbia steelhead, are likely the product of spawning below the dam or from fish trapped previously and transported above the dam to spawn. The Cougar facility is the first of five planned projects aimed at improving the capability of fish managers to safely collect transport adult salmon, steelhead and bull trout to habitat that has long been blocked by dams that make up the Corps’ Willamette Project.

The Cougar facility was built at a cost of $9.7 million. The Corps planned to advertise this week for bids on the Minto project with construction scheduled to begin in January. The trap and haul facility will be built during two midwinter work periods.

“We’re well on our way to implementing” projects outlined in the NOAA Fisheries’ July 2008 Willamette Project biological opinion, Simmons said. The ESA document judged that the planned projects jeopardized the survival of the two listed stocks and described mitigation measures that needed to be implemented to avoid jeopardy.

The Corps expects that most of the capital construction projects called for in the BiOp will be funded through the Columbia River Fish Mitigation program, which has until the past two focused exclusively on improving fish survival up through mainstem Columbia and Snake river hydro projects. The program has been funded through annual congressional appropriations with its costs reimbursed to the U.S. Treasury by BPA.

The BiOp concludes that the Willamette Project adversely affects Upper Willamette River chinook salmon and Upper Willamette River steelhead by blocking access to a large amount of their historical habitat upstream of the dams and by contributing to degradation of their remaining downstream habitat. It covers the Corps’ operation of the 13 project dams and reservoirs, maintenance of 42 miles of revetments, and operation of five mitigation hatcheries in western Oregon’s Willamette River basin. Revetments are fortified riverbanks intended to keep the river from meandering.

The Bonneville Power Administration markets the hydropower generated at the dams, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sells a portion of the water stored in project reservoirs for irrigation.

The NOAA BiOp was developed in consultation with the Corps, BPA and Bureau. The proposed measures to address the effects of dam operations on fish include providing passage at three dams and temperature control at another, adjustments to downstream flows, improving water quality, improving hatchery practices, screening irrigation diversions and conducting habitat mitigation.

In some basins 90 percent of the spawning habitat is upstream of, largely, impassable dams. Salmon and steelhead are native to the North and South Santiam rivers, which drain into the Willamette near Albany. The Willamette enters the Columbia at Portland. The McKenzie and Middle Fork rivers, which empty into the Willamette at Springfield-Eugene, hold salmon and bull trout.

The effects on remaining spawning and rearing habitat located downstream of dams include flow availability and physical habitat, hatchery fish interacting with wild fish and water quality (temperature, dissolved gas).

Some of the flow modifications have already begun. Other measures will be implemented in the short-term to decrease the species’ risk of extinction until the longer-term passage and temperature control measures are completed.

The trap and haul approach was chosen because the project’s dams are all tall, high-head facilities and the operations involve large fluctuations in reservoir levels. Both make the installation of fish ladders impractical.

“We really don’t have much choice,” Simmons told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee during an update on Willamette BiOp implementation progress.

The BiOp calls for the completion of improved or new adult fish traps at Minto in 2012, at Foster Dam on the South Santiam in 2013, at Dexter Dam on the Middle Fork Willamette in 2014 and at Fall Creek in 2015. The collection facilities will be used to capture fish for hatchery broodstock and for transport above the dams, where they will be released to spawn on their own.

The existing facilities at Minto were built in 1951 exclusively for the collection of broodstock to fuel mitigation production at Marion Forks Hatchery above Detroit Dam. The current facilities have deteriorated greatly over the years to the point that they are unsafe both for the fish and for the workers that man the trap, Simmons said. They are also inefficient and inadequate to handle the planned future tasks – collecting and holding fish, sorting wild and hatchery fish and species of fish. The new facility will also serve as a juvenile acclimation site for mitigation hatchery production.

“It’s a complicated overhaul,” Simmons said of the Minto project. The collection facilities are also designed to reduce the stress on fish imposed by the human handling.

“We want to reduce what we call prespawning mortality of the adults we release upstream,” Simmons said. Research conducted from 2004-2007 by the University of Idaho found that prespawn mortality rates of greater than 50 percent have been routinely reported in several Willamette tributaries, including the North Santiam, McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette rivers for transported chinook salmon.

“We’re also trying to make improvements to how they are released” after being transported upriver, Simmons said.

“Total prespawn mortality in the telemetry study was 48 percent, but variability was high with estimates that ranged from 0 to 93 percent for eight individual release groups released across years,” the study abstract says.

In the works is research to evaluate possible methods for capturing the young fish produced by the transported salmon and steelhead. The idea is to capture the juvenile outmigrants and give them a lift around the dams so they can continue their journey to the ocean. The BiOp schedule calls for installation of downstream fish passage facilities at Cougar by 2014, Lookout Point on the Middle Fork by at Detroit by 2021 (or if possible by 2018).

“Downstream passage is the challenge,” Simmons told the Council. The reservoirs are up to nine miles long and there is little information available about how the young fish travel through the reservoirs, how they behave. Collection alternatives could include “head of the reservoir” to catch juveniles as they emerge from the free flowing rivers or floating structures nearer the dams.

The BiOp implementation is very much a learn-as-you-go process.

“We’re working with the region, looking at new information as it comes in,” Simmons said. The strategy includes coordination and data collection functions that include the WATER (Willamette Action Team for Ecosystem Restoration ) committee process and Willamette System Review Study. The WATER committee process includes federal and state agencies, tribes, and local interests in collaborative review and recommendations to Corps. The Willamette review study would help provide information regarding the feasibility and relative benefits of various mitigation measures.


* BPA Proposes 8.5 Percent Wholesale Power Rate Hike Beginning Oct.1 2011; Final Decision In July

The Bonneville Power Administration this week proposed an 8.5 percent average wholesale power rate increase primarily to support maintenance and refurbishment of Northwest hydroelectric and nuclear generating facilities.

The proposed rate would affect Northwest consumer-owned utilities such as public utility districts, tribal utilities, cooperatives, municipalities and federal entities. By law, BPA must serve these preference customers’ resource needs. BPA also sells power to investor-owned utilities and direct-service industries, but under different rate structures.

BPA officials say the agency is holding down the proposed rate increase by not rebuilding its financial reserves, which have been diminished by two years of low runoff and reduced energy prices that resulted in losses exceeding $300 million.

The strategy keeps rates lower for now amid a difficult economy, but exposes ratepayers to greater rate volatility. If Columbia River streamflow and the economy do not improve over the coming year, BPA would rely on short-term borrowing instead of reserves to meet financial obligations. The agency would then have to quickly raise rates further to repay the borrowed funds.

“The hardest issues in any rate case involve balancing near-term and long-term rate consequences,” said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. “We are trying to keep rates as low as possible now without compromising the tremendous value of these low cost electricity generating resources, which will help us keep rates reasonable in the long term.”

The main costs behind the proposed rate increase include:

-- Upgrades and major maintenance to the aging federal hydroelectric system, which includes many large components such as turbines and cranes that are beyond their planned design life.
-- Fuel purchases and repairs at Columbia Generating Station, the region’s only nuclear plant. BPA funds the plant and markets its power output.
-- Improvements at dams and habitat restoration to protect Northwest salmon and steelhead as outlined in the federal biological opinion on federal hydropower system operation and Columbia Basin Fish Accords agreements with three Northwest states and seven Native American tribes.

BPA’s customer utilities helped reduce cost pressures that initially might have pushed rates up by 12 to 20 percent during the coming rate period. In particular, customers supported the restructuring of debt obligations to Energy Northwest for past nuclear plant construction, which reduced overall cost pressures by about 5 percent. BPA also reduced internal costs and capitalized millions of dollars worth of energy efficiency projects to spread their costs more evenly over the long term.

The rate proposal will be considered during a public rate-setting process in the coming months, culminating in a July decision on final rates that would take effect Oct. 1, 2011. BPA is a non-profit federal wholesale utility that must recover its costs through power rates. The new rates will affect retail utilities differently depending on the amount of power and type of services they purchase from BPA. Local utilities ultimately determine the retail impact of BPA rates on individual businesses and residents.

BPA sells power that is surplus to its Northwest customers’ needs on the competitive wholesale power market, and these revenues help reduce rates for BPA’s Northwest customers. Surplus power revenues have been lower than expected in recent years due to low Columbia River streamflows and low market prices during the economic downturn. The erosion of surplus power revenues caused BPA to draw on financial reserves in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

BPA officials say a slightly lower rate increase might be possible if regional utilities settle a longstanding dispute over how benefits of the federal hydropower system are divided between public and investor-owned utilities. Such a settlement could modestly reduce costs for consumer-owned utilities and provide more predictable costs over the long term. Settlement discussions have continued since last spring.

BPA says it will recover the costs of integrating rising amounts of wind power into the transmission grid through a separate wind integration charge paid by wind developers and purchasers. That rate will be determined through the same process of setting power rates.

BPA, headquartered in Portland, Ore., is a not-for-profit federal electric utility under the Department of Energy that operates a high-voltage transmission grid comprising more than 15,000 miles of lines and associated substations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It also markets more than a third of the electricity consumed in the Pacific Northwest. The power is produced at 31 federal dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation and one nuclear Northwest plant and is sold to more than 140 Northwest utilities. BPA purchases power from some smaller projects, including wind generators, and has more than 3,000 megawatts of wind interconnected to its transmission system.


* New Analysis Challenges ‘Fishing Down The Food Web’ Theory In Measuring Fisheries Health

The most widely adopted measure for assessing the state of the world's oceans and fisheries led to inaccurate conclusions in nearly half the ecosystems where it was applied according to new analysis by an international team led by a University of Washington fisheries scientist.

"Applied to individual ecosystems it's like flipping a coin, half the time you get the right answer and half the time you get the wrong answer," said Trevor Branch, a UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.

In 1998, the journal Science published a groundbreaking paper that was the first to use trends in the trophic levels of fish that were caught to measure the health of world fisheries. The trophic level of an organism shows where it fits in food webs, with microscopic algae at a trophic level of one and large predators such as sharks, halibut and tuna at a trophic level of around four.

The 1998 paper relied on four decades of catch data and averaged the trophic levels of what was caught. The authors determined those averages were declining over time and warned we were "fishing down the food web" by overharvesting fish at the highest trophic levels and then sequentially going after fish farther down the food web.

Twelve years later, newly compiled data has emerged that considers such things as the numbers and types of fish that actually live in these ecosystems, as well as catch data. An analysis in the Nov. 18, 2010, issue of Nature reveals weaknesses in assessing ecosystem health from changes in the trophic levels of what is being caught.

"This is important because that measure is the most widely adopted indicator by which to determine the overall health of marine ecosystems," said Branch, lead author of the new analysis in Nature. Those involved with the U.N.'s Convention on Biological Diversity, for instance, chose to use the average trophic level of fish being caught as the main measure of global marine diversity.

An example of the problem with the measure is in the Gulf of Thailand, where the average trophic level of what is being caught is rising, which should indicate improving ecosystem health according to proponents of that measure. Instead, it turns out fish at all levels have declined tenfold since the 1950s because of overharvesting.

"The measure only declines if fisheries aimed for top predators first, but for the Gulf of Thailand the measure fails because fisheries first targeted mussels and shrimps near the bottom of the food web, before shifting to predators higher up in the food web," Branch said.

Including the Gulf of Thailand, Branch found that changes in the average trophic levels of what was being caught and what was found when fish populations were surveyed differed in 13 of the 29 trawl surveys from 14 ecosystems. Trawl surveys, generally done from research vessels, count the kinds and abundance of fish and are repeated over time to reveal trends.

Branch and his co-authors are the first to combine so many trawl surveys for analysis -- no one had combined more than a handful before. The trawl survey data came from efforts started three years ago by fisheries scientists and ecologists gathered at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis http://www.nceas.ucsb.edu in Santa Barbara, Calif. They brought together worldwide catch data, stock assessments, scientific trawl surveys, small-scale fishery data and modeling results. What emerged is the most comprehensive set of data yet for fisheries researchers and managers.

It paints a different picture from previous catch data and has revealed another major new finding: On a global scale humans don't appear to be fishing down the food web, Branch said.

The new catch data reveal that, following declines during the 1970s in the average trophic levels of fish being caught, catches of fish at all trophic levels have generally gone up since the mid-80s. Included are high-trophic predators such as bigeye tuna, skipjack tuna and blue whiting.

"Globally we're catching more of just about everything," Branch said. "Therefore relying on changes in the average trophic level of fish being caught won't tell us when fishing is sustainable or if it is leading to collapse." That's because when harvests of everything increase about equally, the average trophic level of what is caught remains steady. The same is true if everything is overfished to collapse. Both scenarios were modeled as part of the Nature analysis.

"The 1998 paper was tremendously influential in gathering together global data on catches and trophic levels and it warned about fishing impacts on ecosystems," Branch says. "Our new data from trawl surveys and fisheries assessments now tell us that catches weren't enough. In the future we will need to focus our limited resources on tracking trends in species that are especially vulnerable to fishing and developing indicators that reflect fish abundance, biodiversity and marine ecosystem health. Only through such efforts can we reliably assess human impacts on marine ecosystems."

"In this paper we conducted the first large-scale test of whether changes in the average trophic levels of what is caught are a good indicator of ecosystem status," says Beth Fulton, a co-author and ecosystem modeler with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia. "Catch data might be easiest to get, but that doesn't help if what it tells us is wrong. Instead we really need to look directly at what the ecosystems are doing."

Other co-authors are Reg Watson and Grace Pablico, University of British Columbia; Simon Jennings, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and University of East Anglia, England; Carey McGilliard, University of Washington; Daniel Ricard, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Sean Tracey, University of Tasmania, Australia.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. It used data from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis working group, used the stock assessment database funded by the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and used data from the Sea Around Us project funded by Pew Charitable Trust.


* Good Steelhead Year For The Snake River; IDFG Transfers Longer, Bigger Fish To Boise River

With a bumper crop of fish streaming up the Columbia and Snake rivers this year, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has begun to trap and move steelhead from the Snake River to the Boise River to provide extra opportunities there for anglers.

A total of 333 steelhead that are in excess of hatchery needs were released Nov. 10 in the Boise River, the first of at least three planned stocking efforts. Another 330 steelhead will be stocked in the Boise River on Thursday, with a third stocking effort tentatively planned for the week of Thanksgiving. The fish are being released between the Glenwood Bridge and Barber Park.

A higher than normal proportion of the steelhead return this year has spent two years in the ocean, rather than one. The result is a 9-pound average per fish, which is much greater than last year’s average.

“I think it’s a remnant of last year’s huge return,” the IDFG’s Pete Hassemer said of a record record return that was dominated by “1-ocean” fish. This year their broodmates, which lingered in the Pacific Ocean for an extra year, have returned in force. The fish likely benefited from favorable ocean conditions when they left freshwater as juveniles in 2008.

Because fish released will be older and larger, the transport truck may not be able to haul quite as many per load as in recent years, but the larger fish should add to the excitement generated by the fishery.

The fish are so-called “A-run” hatchery steelhead that are returning to the Oxbow Hatchery fish trap below Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River. The hatchery, operated by the IDFG, is owned and funded by Idaho Power Company. Many of the returning steelhead will be collected as broodstock for the steelhead hatchery program at Oxbow Hatchery as part of Idaho Power's mitigation.

"We're hopeful that this year's hatchery steelhead run will easily allow Oxbow Hatchery personnel to fill their broodstock needs," IDFG anadromous fish coordinator Sam Sharr said. "Any additional hatchery fish collected at the fish trap will be divided among Idaho Fish and Game, the treaty tribes and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife."

Steelhead once were able to make it upriver as far as Boise and the Boise River but their path has long since been blocked by a complex of three Idaho Power hydro projects on the Snake River in Hells Canyon along the Idaho-Oregon border. Fish passage was not provided at the three projects. Hells Canyon is the lowermost of the three dams.

In recent years, improved steelhead returns have allowed fishery officials trap fish that are in excess of the hatchery’s broodstock needs and drop some of them into the Boise.

“It’s probably been the past dozen years that we’ve been able to do it almost every year,” said the IDFG’s Ed Mitchel.

“It’s been a very, very good year,” he said the most recent return. The steelhead count from July 1 through Nov. 14 this year at Lower Granite Dam was 192,246, which is well above the five-year average count through that date, 177,088. That average includes last year’s record counts – 308,691 through Nov. 14 and 312,430 by season’s end. Lower Granite on the lower Snake River is the eighth and final federal hydro project that the steelhead pass on Columbia and Snake on their way to streams and hatcheries in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Idaho's steelhead, which are rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean, are often classified into two groups, A-run and B-run, based on their size and ocean life history.

Idaho's A-run steelhead are usually found in the Snake and Salmon rivers. They return from the ocean earlier in the year (usually June through August) and they most often return after spending one year in the ocean. Because they return early in the year and because they usually come back after only one year in the ocean, they typically weigh between 4 and 6 pounds and are generally 23 to 26 inches in length, according to the IDFG.

The B-run steelhead most often return to the Clearwater River, but some return to tributaries in the Salmon River in Idaho. These fish usually spend two years in the ocean, and start their migration to Idaho later in the summer or fall of the year (usually late August or September). Because of the extra year and the extra summer of growing in the ocean, they return as much bigger fish.

Average B-run steelhead weigh between 10 and 13 pounds and are 31 to 34 inches long. Steelhead grow very large when they spend a third year in the ocean before they return to Idaho to spawn. These steelhead are usually larger than 37 inches and often weigh more than 20 pounds. The Idaho state record steelhead was 30 pounds and was caught in the Clearwater River in 1973.

Besides a fishing license, anglers hoping to tangle with one of the hatchery steelhead need a $12.75 steelhead permit, good for 20 fish. Though required in other steelhead waters, barbless hooks are not required for Boise River steelhead angling.

All steelhead stocked in the Boise River will lack an adipose fin -- the small fin normally found immediately behind the dorsal fin. Boise River anglers catching a rainbow trout longer than 20 inches that lacks an adipose fin should consider the fish a steelhead.

Any steelhead caught by an angler not holding a steelhead permit must immediately be returned to the water. Steelhead limits on the Boise River are three fish per day, nine in possession and 20 for the fall season.

For more information regarding the Boise River steelhead release, contact the Fish and Game Nampa office at 208-465-8465 or check the department's Web site at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/fish/steelhead/.


* PacificCorp, Counties Strike Agreement Offsetting Impacts Of Decommissioning Condit Dam

Representatives of PacifiCorp, Klickitat County and Skamania County announced a tentative agreement concerning decommissioning of the Condit Hydroelectric Project located on the White Salmon River in southwestern Washington.

In return for various terms from PacifiCorp, the counties will not oppose the decommissioning of the project.

Under general terms of the agreement, approved by the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 9, and scheduled for consideration by Skamania County on Nov. 16, PacifiCorp will pay the counties $675,000 to offset decommissioning impacts to the local community, transfer the project’s hydroelectric water right to Klickitat County, and complete measures to protect the structural integrity of Northwestern Lake Bridge.

In return, the counties will not oppose PacifiCorp’s efforts to remove Condit Dam and associated facilities as proposed by PacifiCorp; complete noxious weed control in the project area after decommissioning; and, work with PacifiCorp to implement a public safety plan during the decommissioning project.

"Klickitat and Skamania counties participated fully in the review of Condit Dam removal in state and federal environmental studies and submitted comments to a host of governmental agencies, including the Washington state Department of Ecology," said Klickitat County Commissioner Dave Sauter. He added that “PacifiCorp took seriously the counties' concerns and incorporated a number of the recommendations into the dam removal plan."

Jamie Tolfree, chair of the Skamania Board of Commissioners, added that “the counties will now look to the federal agencies and the Department of Ecology to ensure that dam removal is carried out consistent with federal and state requirements.”

“Reaching agreement with the counties allows us to continue moving forward on the decommissioning of the Condit project,” said Todd Olson, project manager for PacifiCorp. “With Klickitat and Skamania County not opposing decommissioning, along with a 401 water quality certification issued by the Washington state Department of Ecology, we are taking the next steps toward removing Condit Dam.”

The next step is to obtain a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which the company originally applied for in July 2004. PacifiCorp is also awaiting a surrender order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which will finalize removal specifications and resource management plans. The company is also in the final phases of contracting for the demolition work.

“We are gaining confidence these elements will fall into place in order for Condit to be removed in the fall of 2011,” said Olson. “However, an acceptable surrender order and finalization of the overall decommissioning budget are crucial to this project going forward. Condit has served our customers well since 1913, and PacifiCorp must ensure it’s in our customers’ best interests to remove the project at this time.”

PacifiCorp says it will will issue updates as the Condit decommissioning process advances.

* Impacts Of Genetically Modified Salmon Reviewed: What Happens When They Escape Into The Wild?

The review process being used by the Food and Drug Administration to assess the safety of a faster-growing transgenic salmon fails to weigh the full effects of the fish's widespread production, according to analysis by a Duke University-led team in this week's Science.

The salmon, whose genome contains inserted genes from two other fish species, could become the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption in the United States.

The FDA held two days of hearings in September to assess the fish's human and environmental health risks. The period for public comment ends this month. A final FDA decision could be imminent.

The concern, Duke economist Martin D. Smith says, is that the new animal drug application process FDA is using to review the transgenic salmon evaluates its safety only by comparing its nutritional profile to an equivalent portion of nonmodified salmon, and screening it for known toxins and allergens.

Smith said such a process ignores the potential health and environmental effects of salmon production and consumption -- both positive and negative -- that might stem from the fish's faster growth and less need for feed.

"These market impacts could dwarf any small differences in nutritional content," says Smith, associate professor of environmental economics at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

A smarter approach, Smith and his coauthors argue, would be for FDA – or if necessary, Congress – to broaden the interpretation of the terms "safe" and "health" in FDA statutes so its review process can include an evaluation of the overall safety of the new fish compared to other protein sources that it might replace, such as beef.

"Instead of focusing on the safety of a food taken one portion at a time or whether it was produced through genetic modifications or through classic breeding, a more useful approach would be to evaluate whether society is better off overall with the new product on the market than without it," says Jonathan B. Wiener, William R. and Thomas L. Perkins Professor of Law at Duke Law School.

This fuller assessment would require FDA regulators to take into consideration factors currently unaccounted for, such as public health impacts that could occur if, as is likely, increased production of transgenic farmed salmon leads to lower retail prices and increased consumption.

"Lower prices for salmon would have significant public health benefits," Smith explained. "Consumers would have access to a less expensive source of healthy protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which have well-documented health benefits."

A broader review would also allow a fuller assessment of potential environmental impacts, such as pollution from farmed salmon waste; disease; increased harvesting of the wild fish used to feed farmed salmon; and the escape of genetically modified salmon into the wild, where they could affect wild salmon stocks through gene transfer or increased competition for resources.

The National Environmental Policy Act mandates FDA to assess significant environmental impacts from market expansion of the products it approves, yet the narrow scope of the current review process for new animal drugs presents "an incomplete picture" of these risks and benefits for transgenic salmon, the researchers write in their analysis.

"The approval of genetically modified salmon will set an important precedent for other transgenic animals intended for human consumption," Smith says. "It's essential that FDA establishes an approval process that assesses the full portfolio of impacts to ensure that such decisions serve society's best interests." FDA administrators need to weigh the benefits of such assessments against the costs and delays they likely would incur, he says.

If conducting a full assessment of transgenic salmon would take too long, a reasonable compromise would be to use existing studies to develop scenarios of market growth and the broader impacts to human and environmental health that may occur as a result.


* Alaska Salmon Harvest 11th Largest Since Statehood; Best Value In 18 Years

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released preliminary estimates for the 2010 commercial salmon harvest, and the projected value of that harvest to commercial fishermen.

At the end of the 2010 salmon season, Alaska’s commercial salmon fishermen took home their largest paycheck in 18 years. The preliminary 2010 estimate indicates that the harvest generated $533.9 million, the highest exvessel value of any season since 1992. However, the big paychecks of 2010 were not spread around evenly. Just two areas, Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, accounted for 55 percent of the total value of all salmon harvested in 2010.

Preliminary 2010 statewide average prices show increases for all species of salmon compared to final 2009 prices. The increase continues a strong recovery trend from the low salmon prices of 2002. Final 2010 prices for all salmon species may be higher yet after post-season adjustments and end-of-season bonuses are paid to fishermen.

The 168.6 million salmon harvested in 2010 is the 11th largest harvest since statehood, It is 5.6 million fish greater than the 2009 harvest of 162.9 million fish, 31.3 million fish above the preseason forecast of 137.3 million fish, and 1.1 million fish above the most recent 10 year average commercial harvest of 167.5 million salmon.

Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon harvest of 28.6 million fish was the 11th largest since statehood. Even though the 2010 sockeye salmon catch was 2.3 million fish less than the 2009 catch, the exvessel value of $148.7 million was $4.5 million higher than the 2009 value.

Prince William Sound set a record with a harvest of 75.4 million salmon; comprising 44.5 percent of all the salmon harvested in Alaska this season. Even more impressive is the 69 million pink salmon harvest. This is a record high harvest for Prince William Sound, and accounted for 66 percent of Alaska’s total 2010 pink salmon harvest.

The statewide chum salmon harvest of 18.2 million fish ranks as the 8th best harvest since statehood. The exvessel value of $92.7 million is the second highest value for a chum salmon harvest since 1975.

The 2010 estimates are preliminary and will be revised in 2011. A revised, final report will be provided after the department receives all fish ticket data, and submission of annual processor reports that include final prices paid for salmon in 2010.

Details on the numbers and pounds of fish, average fish weight, average price per pound, and exvessel value for each of the salmon species, by area as well as statewide, can be found on the ADF&G website under “2010 Preliminary Season Summary” at http://www.cf.adfg.state.ak.us/geninfo/finfish/salmon/catchval/blusheet/10exvesl.php


* Sharp Spike In California Sea Lion Deaths On Oregon Coast; Leptospirosis Suspected

A sharp increase in the number of sick and dead California sea lions has been reported along the Oregon coast in recent weeks and necropsies conducted on dozens of the animals suggest that many may have died from leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease found in a variety of animal species and can be transmitted to humans, according to Jim Rice, an Oregon State University scientist who coordinates the statewide Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

“We are now getting calls for multiple sick or dead sea lions daily, which is higher than normal,” said Rice, an OSU Marine Mammal Institute researcher who works at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “The overall number of sea lions also has risen, so it’s difficult to compare mortality rates from year to year, but certainly we’re seeing an increase in animals that test positive for leptospirosis.”

Rice and his colleagues at the stranding network have sent dozens of dead animals to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. And though not all of the animals have tested positive, many showed clear signs of leptospirosis, which raises concern about human health.

Kathy O’Reilly, who heads the bacterial section of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, said leptospirosis can be virulent.

“There have been 50 to 100 cases per year in the United States reported to the Centers for Disease Control,” O’Reilly said, “and in 31 percent of the human cases it is traced back to contact with infected rats, and in 30 percent of the cases, it is tracked to infected dogs.”

Dogs can be infected with leptospirosis through contact with stricken seal lions. Rice said coastal visitors should always avoid sea lions on the beach and during outbreaks of leptospirosis should keep their dogs on a leash. The disease can be transmitted by direct contact, or even through contact with damp sand, soil or vegetation contaminated by the urine of infected animals.

Rice said that in 2009, the network had 350 reports of California sea lions stranded on Oregon beaches – either dead or severely ill and presumed to have died. And Oregon is on pace to surpass that total this year, he pointed out.

“Typically, sea lions with leptospirosis are quite emaciated and lethargic,” Rice said. “Those that don’t die on the beach may get washed out to sea and die, or they may move elsewhere. It’s possible that some recover, but these are very sick animals.”

The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a collaborative volunteer effort to respond to reports of sick or dead marine mammals – including whales, seals and sea lions – and report data about the strandings to the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is headquartered at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center and coordinated by Rice.

Partners in the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network include OSU, Portland State University, the University of Oregon’s Institute for Marine Biology, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation and others.

* USFWS Names Michael Carrier New Coordinator For North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Michael Carrier has been appointed to be the coordinator of the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, a position that will lead a partnership effort to obtain the science needed to respond to climate change and other threats to fish and wildlife and their habitats and to support large, landscape scale conservation.

His appointment was announced last week by Robyn Thorson, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Region.

The cooperative is a partnership among state and federal agencies, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, universities and others stretching from southeast Alaska to northern California, including vast coastal ecosystems. It is designed to inform natural resource management needs to address climate change and other environmental stressors within and across large, connected natural areas. For more information go to http://www.fws.gov/pacific/Climatechange/pdf/DoINorthPacificLCC.pdf

Carrier worked for the state of Oregon for the past 10 years, serving as the governor's Natural Resources policy director for the past six years.

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives are self-directed conservation partnerships supported by the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies intended to address the challenges of climate change in an integrated fashion across broad areas. LCCs will provide scientific information and technical support to better understand species and habitat responses to climate change and other ecological changes (such as changing fire regimes and spread of invasive species). These cooperatives will provide the scientific basis needed to help inform the development of strategic, landscape-scale conservation efforts on the ground.

"Climate change is the most complex environmental and conservation challenge facing the 21st Century; its impacts will exacerbate existing stressors on our fish and wildlife resources," Thorson said. "In the Pacific Northwest, we're concerned about rising sea levels, widespread melting of snow and ice, changes in ocean currents and precipitation patterns, ocean acidification, coastal erosion, and increased flooding rates. All will contribute to increased biological impacts such as new exotic species invasions, disease outbreaks, disrupted food webs, loss of intact plant communities and ultimately, increased species extinctions."

Carrier served as Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's principal adviser on all natural resource and environmental issues from 2004 to the present. Prior to that, he was the director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department for four years. He also served in a variety of management positions for natural resource agencies in Iowa and Indiana prior to moving to Oregon.

He began his new position Nov. 8.


* FEEDBACK: Snake River Sockeye Recovery Plan

RE: “ Rebuilding Snake River Sockeye Run A Multi-Lake Recovery Strategy; 176 Natural-Born Return This Year” http://www.cbbulletin.com/399491.aspx

-- From Scott Levy, www.bluefish.org:

Thanks are to be given to the Columbia Basin Bulletin for the update on Idaho's Sockeye Rebuilding program "Rebuilding Snake River Sockeye Run A Multi-Lake Recovery Strategy". Important work has been done by Idaho Fish & Game, Nez Perce and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to rebuild this glorious fish run, which a decade ago were considered by many as being "virtually extinct". As you have reported, the rebuilding has this year brought 178 naturally produced spawners to their namesake Redfish Lake in central Idaho. But to suggest in the article’s title that a recovery strategy is in place is in error.

I do not raise your attention to this lightly. For the last couple of years I have been trying to learn how the Action Agency plan would bring about a delisting of Idaho's Sockeye Salmon.

More time passed and I came to believe that indeed there was no Sockeye recovery plan envisioned by the Action Agencies. Then in August of 2010, the BPA Journal reported on the purchase of a trout farm near American Falls reservoir in Southeastern Idaho. "While sockeye still have a long way to go toward recovery, the proposed new hatchery should help get them there." Reinvigorated, I contacted BPA officials to learn how this hatchery would bring about Idaho's Sockeye recovery. I share what I have learned with your readers now.

BPA has committed to spend $4,750,000 on redesigning the Crystal Springs Trout Farm into a Sockeye hatchery to quintuple our current Sockeye smolt production up towards 1 million smolts per year. If the hatchery program is approved and constructed, these million smolts will be dumped in the river when naturally produced smolts leave Redfish Lake in early May to "swamp" predators on the journey downstream. "Swamping" has been a successful strategy in the past few years, boosting survival to the first dam (Lower Granite) from twenty to sixty percent! Sixty percent survival for the first half of their 900 mile journey to the sea is considered quite good and only so much more can be expected -- even with a quintupling of hatchery-produced smolts.

This year, adult-to-adult Sockeye ratios set a new high with 178 naturally produced adults returning from an estimated 400 plus spawners the generation before. To clarify, an adult-to-adult ratio of 1:1 is necessary for a self-sustaining population. For example, 400 naturally produced adults would need to return to spawn if 400 adults spawned in the previous generation. A population is self-sustaining if this ratio is greater than 1:1, however, the Action Agency plan does not have this goal in sight. Preventing extinction is an important goal but to suggest that this is equivalent to recovery is misleading. I agree that “Sockeye still have a long way to go toward recovery…” but I openly challenge the statement that “the proposed new hatchery should help get them there.”

This year’s return of 178 adults from 400 is less than half of a 1:1 ratio. Is a more than doubling of survival in the Sockeye lifecycle to be expected under current rebuilding plans? There is scant evidence that this is likely. Indeed, the state of Oregon is asking for the current Biological Opinion to be vacated, highlighting the fact that "The 2010 BiOp also fails to remedy the failure of the 2008 BiOp to provide an actual jeopardy analysis for endangered Snake River sockeye." (http://www.cbbulletin.com/396077.aspx
It seems to me that a jeopardy analysis would have been put forward for all to see if the Action Agency plan was more than merely speculative and hopeful.

The Columbia Basin Bulletin readership is likely the most well-informed audience of salmon recovery efforts. Perhaps some Bulletin readers will have a response to my primary question, ”How will the Action Agency plan bring about the recovery of Idaho’s Sockeye Salmon?”

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