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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
February 4, 2011
Issue No. 562

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Table of Contents

* Restoring Upper Willamette River Basin Salmon Runs Challenged By Soaring ‘Pre-spawn Mortality’

* Snake River Fall Chinook 2010 Redd Count Includes Records For Tributaries, Creeks

* Sea Lion Hazing Begins At Willamette Falls; Stellers Back At Bonneville Dam Taking White Sturgeon

* NOAA, Canada To Study Impact Of ‘Coast-wide’ Chinook Fisheries On Killer Whale Recovery

* Science Group Says Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Plan Fails To Check Hatchery Fish Spawning

* Study: Healthy PNW Steelhead Populations May Require Healthy Wild Rainbow Trout Numbers

* Study Measuring Swimming Performance Differences Of Wild Vs. Hatchery Fish

* Washington, Alaska Questioning Fisheries’ Impact On Stellar Sea Lions Since Populations Growing

* Washington DOE Proposes Water Rights Changes, Includes Revisions To “Use It Or Lose It”


* Restoring Upper Willamette River Basin Salmon Runs Challenged By Soaring ‘Pre-spawn Mortality’

Fishery managers and researchers face a number of troublesome questions before pursuing their goal of reintroducing chinook salmon, and building viable naturally spawning populations, to historic and relatively pristine habitats in the upper Willamette River basin that are now blocked by impassable dams.

Perhaps the toughest scientific question is how recovery can be achieved given soaring “prespawn mortality” that has been witnessed when spawners are trapped and transported around the dams and released to continue their journey. PSM occurs after the fish have made the long trip home from the ocean and have reached their spawning tributary.

While the numbers vary from river to river and from year to year, as many as 90 percent of those transported fish have died before they finish their mission, according to recent research.

Those researchers and others gathered last week to share the results of biological studies undertaken over the past year to address questions about fish behavior, life history characteristics, habitat use, survival, and condition as they migrate through the Willamette mainstem and its tributaries. The 2010 Willamette Basin Fisheries Science Review, which was sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, took place Jan. 24-26 at Spirit Mountain Casino near Grand Ronde, Ore.

Much of the research is expected to advise implementation of two 15-year ESA biological opinions that were issued on July 11, 2008, after eight years of federal “consultation.” The BiOps evaluate the impacts on listed stocks caused by the 13 Willamette Project dams and reservoirs, maintenance of 42 miles of revetments, and operation of the Hatchery Mitigation Program. They recommend actions necessary to counter those negative impacts.

The federal agencies involved include the Corps, the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service. The Corps operates the dams, BPA markets power generated in the system, the Bureau administers water rights and NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS, which issued the BiOps, are charged with protecting listed stocks. Those species include Upper Willamette spring chinook salmon and winter steelhead, bull trout and Oregon chub.

The BiOps call for the development of up and downstream fish passage at three federal dams, the construction of a temperature control structure at another dam, the screening of irrigation diversions, improved dam operations, improved hatchery practices and facilities and habitat improvements.
Annual research reviews are used to share information from these efforts. The review includes fisheries research in the basin for both Corps-funded work and research by other entities.

The Corps is most interested in information to facilitate decisions on the operation and configuration of its 13 dams that constitute the Willamette Valley Project system, and on strategies to mitigate for the dams impact on salmon and steelhead populations.
Last week’s 2 ½-day session included presentations on juvenile salmonid dam passage studies, salmonid life history studies, lamprey, bull trout and chub, adult salmon and hatchery management, water quality and in-stream flow and habitat.

Researchers lay the blame for PSM on a variety of interacting environmental factors (particularly water temperature), fish condition and disease load, and energetic status. The higher the temperature in a natal stream, the higher the mortality. Likewise injured and/or diseased fish are less likely to spawn.

Injuries can occur when the fish are trapped and kept in holding tanks.

Current PSM rates could prevent recovery despite plans to improve downstream passage past Cougar, Lookout Point and Detroit dams for any juvenile fish that might emerge from upstream spawning, according to the Corps’ David Griffith.

A number of the suspected contributors to high PSM can be addressed, such as improvements to collection facilities and release sites to reduce physical injuries and fine-tuning dam operational and transportation protocols. Efforts too can be taken to reduce fish densities below traps (higher densities seem to result in higher PSM after the chinook are trapped, transported and released) by increasing harvests and/or reducing hatchery output.

And research and planning is under way to improve water quality – temperature and flows – through operational and structural means.

“It’s not a unique thing to the upper system,” Oregon State University’s Carl Schreck said. High prespawning mortality is in other tributaries in the upper Willamette as well as in the studied streams such as Fall Creek and the Middle Fork of the Willamette.
“Maybe what’s going on in these areas is the consequence of what goes on below there,” said Schreck, who presented results from research titled “Pathological Changes Associated with Prespawning Mortality in Chinook Salmon in the Willamette River and Management Options.”

The research indicated the intensity of infections with pathogens and parasites in chinook is generally more intense at Dexter Dam on the Middle Fork than it is far downstream at Willamette Falls on the lower Willamette.

“As in the prior year, we identified massive infections and severe lesions in fish that died prior to spawning. It appears that the fish are becoming infected with some of the parasites in the river above Willamette Falls, as judged by lack of presence of parasites in fish from below that area,” according to the study abstract. “Examination of fish from the falls and held in pathogen free water would confirm this.”

“In addition, conditions in the upper river, perhaps elevated temperature, appear responsible for some heavy parasite burdens in fish maturing in the upper river system; this contention is based on the fact that fish that matured in cool, pathogen free water at the FPGL did not have such infections, and there is a time effect.”

As a part of the research some fish trapped at Dexter and Fall Creek were brought to the Fish Performance and Genetics Laboratory at OSU and allowed to mature in a cool, pathogen free facility before being released.

“Parasite associated mortality is probably something driving prespawning mortality” along with temperature and other environmental variables, Schreck said.

“A viable management option is suggested by our findings,” the study abstract says. “It appears that holding fish in cool, pathogen free water for much of their maturation prior to outplanting could enhance survival to spawning. However, to optimize these effects we suggest that fish from earlier parts of the run could be used, as their survival to spawning (90 percent) was considerably higher than those collected later (70 percent). As judged from our small sample size, earlier and later transported fish still spawned at the same time, therefore genetic consequences of such a tactic could be minimal.”

Other findings, such as those presented by the University of Idaho’s Chris Caudill show that earlier arriving fish survive to spawn at a better rate than those that arrive later in the season, due perhaps to higher initial energy stores to call on as they idle through the summer before spawning in late September or October.

A total of 192 chinook were collected at the Dexter trap and were outplanted upstream the North Fork Middle Fork last year as part of research led by Caudill, “Migration Behavior and Spawning Success in Spring Chinook Salmon in Fall Creek and the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River: Relationships Among Fate, Fish Condition and Environmental Factors: 2008-2010.”

“To assess the effects of holding fish on prespawn mortality an additional 100 Chinook salmon were sampled, held at Willamette Hatchery in Oakridge, Oregon, and then outplanted to the NFMF prior to spawning,” the study abstract says.

“Prespawn mortality of immediate NFMF outplants was estimated to be 57.9 percent. In contrast, prespawn mortality after outplanting hatchery-held fish was 13.3 percent (note: an additional seven mortalities occurred at the hatchery). Even accounting for mortality during holding, fish held at the hatchery exhibited an increase in survival during the 2010 season compared to immediate outplanted adults. The higher survival may have been related to the use of antibiotics for hatchery held fish and/or cooler holding temperatures."

Griffith said long-term holding of wild fish destined for above dams would not be a preferred alternative but may be necessary. The BiOp calls for improvements or replacements of fish traps at Minto on the North Santiam, Foster on the South Santiam, Dexter and Fall Creek, which could potentially include holding facilities.


* Snake River Fall Chinook 2010 Redd Count Includes Records For Tributaries, Creeks

A record number of fall chinook were counted at Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River in 2010, and a record number of them built egg nests or redds in the gravels of such places as Alpowa and Asotin creeks and the Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers.

Almost every place where fall chinook redds were counted produced a record, and the spawners are spreading out, breaking new spawning ground.

The annual redd surveys were conducted by biologists from the Idaho Power Company, Nez Perce Tribe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It was the 23rd year that intensive aerial surveys have been conducted in the Snake River and most of its major tributaries above Lower Granite and the 19th year for ground surveys in tributaries downstream of the southeast Washington dam.

The redd total was 5,626, which was 1,910 more than the previous record set in 2009.

The fall chinook count at Lower Granite, the eighth and final hydro project the fish must pass on their spawning journey, rose to 41,815. The previous high was 16,628 in 2008.

The rebounding stock was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992 and includes naturally produced fish from the Snake, Tucannon, Grande Ronde, Imnaha, Salmon and Clearwater rivers and tributaries, as well as four artificial propagation programs: the Lyons Ferry Hatchery, Fall Chinook Acclimation Ponds Program in the Clearwater and lower Snake, the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery, and Oxbow Hatchery fall-run chinook hatchery programs.

Much of the upswing is due to the fall chinook acclimation project led by the Nez Perce Tribe that began in 1996. The program involves bringing hatchery produced juvenile fish to "acclimation" sites on the lower Snake and the Clearwater River -- for their final rearing before release. The sites are located near major natural spawning areas.

The 2010 return to the Columbia Basin also got a boost from estimated to be good ocean conditions during their saltwater sojourn when climate conditions combined to create cold water and adequate food.

Efforts over the past two decades have aimed at improving freshwater habitat, along with mechanical and operational improvements at the dams.

Ground surveyors, on a tip that spawning had been witnessed, returned to Alpowa Creek, which enters the Snake a short distance downstream from Clarkston, Wash. The stream, which had not been surveyed in recent years, held a total of 31 redds.

WDFW staff in 1988-1991 walked the lower 1.5 miles of the creek but neither fish nor redds were observed so surveys ceased until 2010, according to the Jan. 31, 2011 “2010 Snake River Fall Chinook Salmon Spawning Summary” prepared by the NPT, USFWS, IPC, WDFW and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

In the Grande Ronde River, which streams from Oregon and across the southeastern corner of Washington, redds were seen in new spawning areas and totaled 50 distinct locations, according to the survey summary. No redds were observed in the Wallowa and Wenaha rivers, which feed into the Grande Ronde.

Natural production there and elsewhere have literally been resurrected over the past few decades with particular growth in recent years. Since 2003, the mean number of redds occurring in the Grande Ronde River Subbasin has been 132, ranging from 41 to 263. The lowest redd count for the Grande Ronde River, since intensive surveys began, was zero in 1989 and 1991, while the highest count was 263 in 2010.

A total of 132 redds were found last year in Oregon’s Imnaha River. Since 2003, the mean number of redds occurring in the Imnaha River has been 50, ranging from 17 to 132. The lowest redd count for the Imnaha River, since intensive surveys began was zero redds in 1994, while the highest count was 132 in 2010.

On the other side of the Snake, a total of 1,924 redds were counted in the Clearwater with most of them, 1,632 found in the lower river mainstem. Another 281 were found in the Potlatch.

The tribe’s surveyors said they continue to find new spawning locations throughout the Clearwater subbasin. The mean number of redds occurring in the subbasin since 2003 is 874. The lowest count since the surveys began was only four redds in 1990 and 1991.

A record total of 2,944 redds were found during ground, aerial and underwater video counts by IPC and USFS staff in the mainstem Snake River, from the face of Hells Canyon Dam 100 miles downriver.

“Visibility during aerial surveys was poor to good throughout the season. Poor weather conditions (strong winds and heavy snowfall) in both the lower and upper river section caused us to either postpone or abort surveys early on 25 October and 23 November (at RM 228, and 237, respectively),” the summary says. “However, good counts were still obtained by the end of the season. Additionally, intensive deepwater spawning searches were conducted throughout the main river corridor, using remote underwater video cameras, in areas too deep to be viewed from the air.”

“For 2010 the total redd count for the Snake River was 2,944. Since 2002, the mean number of redds occurring in the Snake River (including deep water counts) has been 1,643, ranging between 1,025 and 2,944. The lowest redd count for the Snake River, since intensive surveys began, was 46 redds in 1991, while the highest count was 2,944 redds in 2010.”


* Sea Lion Hazing Begins At Willamette Falls; Stellers Back At Bonneville Dam Taking White Sturgeon

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will soon begin hazing sea lions below the fish ladders at Willamette Falls in an attempt to reduce predation on federally protected salmon and steelhead during migration to the upper reaches of the Willamette River and its tributaries.

California sea lions have long been drawn to the falls in springtime to feed on chinook salmon and steelhead but in recent years their number has grown, raising fears about impacts on fish listed under Endangered Species Act.

Already three of the big marine mammals are hanging out below the Willamette Falls fishway “and are actually feeding on winter steelhead,” said Tom Murtagh, ODFW fish biologist in charge of the sea lion hazing project. The winter steelhead have begun to climb over the fishway on their way to spawning grounds upriver; the year’s chinook run will begin arriving at the falls in the coming weeks. The fish pass up and over ladders built at Pacific Gas and Electric’s T.W. Sullivan hydroelectric project.

The sea lion count last year climbed to as many as 13 with from 10-13 at the dam daily from March into June.

Even without the predation, the number of winter steelhead has “dropped to the point that we have concerns,” Murtagh said. The winter steelhead counts have been, for the most part, in a downward spiral since the early 1970s except for a brief rebound in the early 2000s. The 2008 count was 4,915 and was followed by the second lowest count on record, 2813, in 2009.

Passage in 2010 totaled 7,300 fish and represented nearly 40 percent of the total Columbia River return.

A pilot program was launched last year to see whether sea lion hazing could be effective in moving these animals away from Willamette Falls and, as a result, reduce fish mortality. The hazing with cracker shells, seal bombs (submersible noise makers comparable to an M80 firecracker) and other noisemakers will begin next week and take place five days a week between dawn and dusk through April 30.

The hazing effort will be conducted between Willamette Falls and the Interstate 205 Bridge about a mile downstream by a boat crew of three. Another hazer will work on the ground near ladder that is at the dam on the west shore in West Linn southeast of Portland. The falls are about 26 miles upriver from the Willamette’s confluence with the Columbia River.

The hazers aim to move California sea lions away from the falls where salmon and steelhead tend to stall and congregate before entering fish ladders, which makes them an easy target. When flows are at higher levels the turbulence below the fish ladders increases and seems to confuse the fish.

“It takes a while for the fish to figure out where they want to go,” Murtagh said.

No hazing will occur downstream of the I-205 Bridge, and sea lions will not be killed or harmed.

“Our purpose is not to harm the sea lions or move them off the river entirely, our intent is to move these animals away from ESA-listed fish that are congregating at the fish ladders waiting to swim upstream,” Murtagh said.

The hazing operation is being conducted under the authority and consistent with policies set in the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Additionally, predation of listed salmon and steelhead by California sea lions below Willamette Falls has been identified as a concern in the Draft Upper Willamette River Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan.

The hazing effort last year did seem to be effective in chasing the pinnipeds away from the ladder area.

“It’s good as long as you’re on the water,” Murtagh said.

Passage of wild winter steelhead at Willamette Falls since 2001 has averaged 8,100 fish annually, but has had a wide range of from 2,800 up to 16,000 fish.

Prior to fish ladder construction, only spring chinook and winter steelhead traveled above the falls, aided by higher water in late winter and spring. Historically, spring chinook spawned in the Middle Fork Willamette, McKenzie, South Santiam and North Santiam Rivers. By the 1950s, dams on all the major tributaries above Willamette Falls blocked more than 400 stream miles that were originally important spawning and rearing grounds.

Summer steelhead, fall chinook and coho salmon have been introduced above the falls over the years and now return in relatively small numbers.

The native Willamette winter steelhead stock is a late run, passing Willamette Falls from February through May. Spring chinook move through the Willamette Falls ladder between March and July, spawning in September and October.

The Upper Willamette chinook salmon “evolutionarily significant unit” was first listed as threatened on March 24, 1999. Following a status review that threatened status was reaffirmed on June 28, 2005. The ESU includes all naturally spawned populations of spring-run chinook salmon in the Clackamas River and in the Willamette River, and its tributaries, above Willamette Falls, Oregon, as well as seven artificial propagation programs:

The Upper Willamette steelhead “designated population segment” was listed as a threatened species on March 25, 1999, and that threatened status was reaffirmed on Jan. 5, 2006. The DPS includes all naturally spawned anadromous steelhead populations below natural and manmade impassable barriers in the Willamette River and its tributaries upstream from Willamette Falls up to and including the Calapooia River.

Meanwhile over on the Columbia, Steller sea lions that started arriving in the fall have begun once again to gorge themselves on white sturgeon in the waters below Bonneville Dam, according to Robert Stansell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The estimated sea lion sturgeon harvest increased from a single catch (2005), to 315 (2006), and 467 (2007) and by 2010, the expanded white sturgeon consumption estimate below the dam had risen to 1,879, according to research at the dam conducted by the Corps. That catch is almost exclusively by Steller sea lions, even though California sea lions also make the 146-mile trip from the Pacific Ocean to the dam.

Stansell said that the predation on white sturgeon, which cluster in areas below the dam in winter, is at this early stage ahead of last year’s pace.

So far this year since researchers began daylight observations there have been an average of 12.5 Steller sea lions present per day through Feb 2. That compares to 8.7 per day and last year and considerably fewer Stellers in previous years.

The number of individual sea lions, including California and Steller species, observed at Bonneville Dam during the winter-spring season has increased from an average of 83 per year between 2002 and 2007 to 123.7 per year for the past three years, according to the Corps’ research report, “Evaluation of Pinniped Predation on Adult Salmonids and Other Fish in the Bonneville Dam Tailrace, 2008-2010.” This is primarily due to an increase in the presence of Steller sea lions (averaging 5.0 per year before 2008 and 46.7 from 2008 to 2010). A total of 75 different Steller sea lions were observed at the dam. The research has been ongoing since 2002, when zero Stellers were observed.

So far this year the Stellers have been observed taking an average of 2.2 steelhead per day, last year compared to 1.9 last year and 2.1 in 2009.

The Steller sea lions have been catching on average 34 white sturgeon per day so far this year compared to 24 last year when a record number of the big fish were observed taken by sea lions. The average through Feb. 2, 2009 was 15, according to totals compiled by the Corps research crew.

No California sea lions, which focus on salmon, have arrived at the dam so far this year, Stansell said.


* NOAA, Canada To Study Impact Of ‘Coast-wide’ Chinook Fisheries On Killer Whale Recovery

NOAA Fisheries announced Wednesday that it will convene a multi-session science workshop to discuss killer whale recovery.

The series of workshop follows completion of preliminary analysis that shows that killer whales depend to a substantial degree on large chinook salmon as a high-calorie food source, and concludes that killer whale productivity is affected by chinook abundance.

“We have not yet made any final conclusions about the significance or use of this new information. We want to conduct our analysis in a transparent and scientifically rigorous manner, and believe we can best accomplish this in a process that engages scientists with a broad range of scientific specialties,” according to a statement this week from the federal agency.

Although the full details have not yet been worked out, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans will join NOAA Fisheries in the killer whale recovery process.

The Puget Sound chinook salmon are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened and the killer whales are listed as endangered. The orcas, known officially as Southern Resident killer whales, are also listed as endangered under Canada's Species at Risk Act.

The agency's preliminary analysis came in preparation of a review of proposed harvest resource management plan for Puget Sound chinook.

The chinook management plan, submitted by the state of Washington and Puget Sound treaty Indian tribes for the fisheries agency's approval under the ESA, would govern Indian and non-Indian sport and commercial chinook harvests through 2014. Because the results of the science review are not yet known, any approval of the proposed harvest plan would likely not be effective beyond 2012.

NOAA Fisheries is obligated under the ESA to determine whether its approval of the fishing plan would jeopardize any listed species or result in the adverse modification or destruction of designated critical habitat of any listed species, including the endangered killer whales.

“If warranted as a result of the scientific review, the management response will be preceded by or include a re-initiation of ESA consultations on salmon fisheries coast-wide,” the statement says of the planned workshop process.

The first of the science workshops will be held this spring. The meetings will share and develop all available scientific information pertinent to the effects fishing has on the whales and ways in which the quality of scientific information can be improved. Results of the workshop will help NOAA Fisheries implement its ESA recovery plan for killer whales.

Envisioned are three workshops in all that will be led by an expert panel comprised of a chief scientist and up to six other scientific professionals not affiliated with NOAA Fisheries or DFO. The panel would include scientists specializing in salmon abundance estimation (modeling), killer whale ecology, and predator/prey relationships. Additional scientific experts will be invited to assist in the review and provide a challenge function (peer review) of scientific information presented at the workshops.

The workshops would be open to observation by the public, but not to public participation.

The panel would produce a report that (1) summarizes the status of the available science pertinent to the effects on SRKWs of reductions in prey abundance resulting from fishing and (2) identifies potential means for reducing data gaps and scientific uncertainties.

“At the conclusion of the scientific workshop process, NMFS and others will be better able to determine what recovery actions are appropriate and, more specifically, whether and under what conditions additional constraints on salmon fishing may be necessary,” Will Stelle, NOAA Fisheries Northwest regional administrator, said in a Jan. 26 letter to constituents.

For purposes of the preliminary analysis, NOAA Fisheries “considered all salmon fisheries that cause mortality of Chinook salmon that would otherwise have been available to Southern Resident killer whales within their known range . This includes fisheries that occur in Southeast Alaska, the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia (‘inland waters’) and coastal waters off British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California (‘coastal waters’).

The analysis did not include fisheries that occur in terminal areas, such as the Columbia River, where the chinook are migrating to their spawning grounds and have exited the range of the killer whales. NOAA estimates that Southern Resident killer whale population has only 88 members, and a variable productivity rate. Fisheries are one of several factors identified that may be limiting recovery.

Research has shown that the killer whales have a decided preference for chinook, even when other species are more abundant. In inland waters from May to September, Southern Residents’ diet consists of a high percentage of chinook, with an overall average of 82 percent chinook across the timeframe and monthly proportions as high as greater than 90 percent Chinook (i.e., July: 96 percent and August: 91 percent).

Less is known about the whales’ diet in the Pacific Ocean.

“To date, there are direct observations of two predation events (where the prey was identified to species and stock from genetic analysis of prey remains) when the whales were in coastal waters. Both were identified as Columbia River spring Chinook stocks,” the analysis says.

The preliminary analysis says that “Observational information from the Center for Whale Research suggests that the Southern Resident population may be nutritionally stressed and that malnutrition may have contributed to recent killer whale deaths.”

In addition, “recent demographic modeling demonstrates strong correlations between chinook abundance and resident killer whale survival and birth rates.”

“Considering this information and based on the most conservative, risk averse, scenarios in our analysis, there are times and places where chinook prey available to Southern Resident killer whales is likely insufficient to meet their metabolic needs. There also are chinook fisheries that cause a measurable reduction in prey available at times when the amount of prey available compared to the whales’ needs is already low.”

Supporting documents, including the preliminary analysis, can be found at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Region web site:


* Science Group Says Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Plan Fails To Check Hatchery Fish Spawning

NOAA Fisheries’ proposed judgment on a Puget Sound Chinook harvest plan has drawn criticism from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group and a coalition of fishing groups who say it allows too much harvest of wild, protected fish and too much straying of hatchery fish onto spawning grounds.

On Dec. 29, NOAA released for public comment its proposed evaluation and determination regarding the Comprehensive Management Plan for Puget Sound Chinook: Harvest Management Component., which was jointly developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound Indian tribes. NMFS’ review and approval of the plan is required under the Endangered Species Act to ensure the “take” of protected fish by Puget Sound commercial and recreational fisheries will not undermine the survival and recovery of threatened Chinook salmon, steelhead, rockfish and killer whales, all of which are listed under the ESA.

At the time, the federal agency set Jan. 28 as the deadline for receipt of public comment on its proposed determination, but this week that deadline was extended by 15 days from the date that the notice is published in the Federal Registry. Agency officials said the notice of extension is expected to be today.

The Puget Sound plan is intended to guide fisheries from 2010 through April 2015.

NOAA Fisheries’ evaluation concludes that implementation of the resource plan will result in a range of risks to individual populations, but it will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of the broader Puget Sound Chinook species.

The Puget Sound Chinook were listed as a threatened species on March 24, 1999, and that status was reaffirmed on June 28, 2005. The “evolutionarily significant unit” includes all naturally spawned populations of Chinook salmon from rivers and streams flowing into northwest Washington’s Puget Sound including the Straits of Juan De Fuca from the Elwha River, eastward, including rivers and streams flowing into Hood Canal, South Sound, North Sound and the Strait of Georgia in Washington, as well as twenty-six artificial propagation programs.

In comments submitted Jan. 25, the HSRG pointed out what its members feel is an error of omission in the NOAA Fisheries evaluation.

“While the HSRG does not intend to comment on NOAA's conclusion that this RMP does not constitute jeopardy for the Puget Sound ESU, we do not believe that this document or the NOAA evaluation is consistent with one of the primary objectives of the Puget Sound Chinook harvest RMP, that is, to ensure that harvest will not impede rebuilding of natural Puget Sound Chinook populations,” the HSRG comments said. “We base this conclusion on the failure of the both documents to adequately address the impact of hatchery fish spawning naturally.

“We understand that this evaluation focused on the Harvest component of the RMP. Perhaps the fitness loss associated with hatchery strays will be addressed elsewhere. We would however like to clarify the HSRG interpretation of the science on this point, since it is one of our most fundamental conclusions.”

The U.S. Congress established the Pacific Northwest Hatchery Reform Project in 2000 with the recognition that hatcheries play a legitimate role in meeting harvest and conservation goals for salmon and steelhead, but that the hatchery system was in need of comprehensive reform. A 14-member independent scientific review panel, the HSRG, was created and it has reviewed all state, tribal and federal hatchery programs in Puget Sound and coastal Washington, and in the Columbia River basin. Those reviews resulted in principles, tools and recommendations about what sort of reforms might be implemented.

“NOAA bases its evaluation of the influence of hatchery fish on the spawning ground in large part on the Hatchery Reform Science report by the Recovery Implementation Science Team (RIST). The Evaluation selectively cites statements in the RIST report and overstates the uncertainty of the science involved,” the HSRG wrote.

“While the 2009 RIST report does state, in part, that ‘the risk [to productivity] may be unsubstantial’and cites the need for further study, in fact the conclusions in the RIST report are considerably different,” according to the HSRG comments. It quotes the RIST report as saying, among other things, that “Adequately addressing threats from hatcheries and harvest is particularly relevant for ESUs that have been historically subject to large scale hatchery production and high harvest rates, such as Lower Columbia Chinook and coho salmon, and Puget Sound Chinook salmon,” and that “…the RIST agrees with the HSRG that the risks of extensive straying by hatchery fish into natural spawning areas are real and need to be considered if the region is to achieve recovery of wild salmon.”

“Even though the HSRG has not specifically looked at Puget Sound in the same detail as we have the Columbia River, we have concluded, based on a fairly rigorous analysis of harvest, habitat and hatcheries there, that failing to control spawning of hatchery origin fish along with failing to implement proper broodstock management, will retard productivity improvement and progress toward rebuilding natural Chinook populations no matter what the current or future condition of habitat,” the HSRG wrote.

“We see no reason that the science of hatcheries, or for that matter, the habitat conditions in Puget Sound, would lead to a different conclusion when evaluating the effect of hatchery programs. Neither the co-managers' RMP, nor NOAA's evaluation of that RMP address this loss of productivity caused by hatchery programs.”

The fishing groups – the Coast Conservation Association, Puget Sound Anglers, Wild Fish Conservancy, Native Fish Society and Northwest Fish – in comments submitted Jan. 27 -- call the proposed determination a “significant step backwards in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)’s salmon recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest.”

“The fundamental shortcoming of the plan (and NMFS’ evaluation of it) is the failure to recognize and address the threat to recovery posed by high harvest rates of wild Chinook and the negative effects of permitting excessive numbers of hatchery-produced Chinook to reach the spawning grounds, thereby limiting the productivity of wild Chinook populations,” the fishing groups say.

“Currently, hatchery-produced Chinook spawners are overwhelming natural-origin spawners in all of Hood Canal and Puget Sound south of the Snohomish River. In fact, the proposed management plan would permit harvest rates of 50-65 percent of wild Chinook and hatchery stray rates of 50-71 percent in a majority of Puget Sound rivers,” according to the fishing groups. “Harvest plays a direct role in determining the composition (hatchery vs. wild) of the fish reaching the spawning grounds and provides the primary rationale for hatchery production.”

The groups said NOAA Fisheries should take a step back.

“In light of the magnitude and implications of both documents we believe this is completely inadequate. We ask that you grant the public additional time to review and comment on these proposals. We also believe these deficiencies must be corrected and suggest that the plan be subjected to meaningful scientific scrutiny.”

After the deadline all comments received will be considered and incorporated, if appropriate, NOAA Fisheries’ Brian Gorman said.


* Study: Healthy PNW Steelhead Populations May Require Healthy Wild Rainbow Trout Numbers

Genetic research is showing that healthy steelhead runs in Pacific Northwest streams can depend heavily on the productivity of their stay-at-home counterparts, rainbow trout.

Steelhead and rainbow trout look different, grow differently, and one heads off to sea while the other never leaves home. But the life histories and reproductive health of wild trout and steelhead are tightly linked and interdependent, more so than has been appreciated, a new Oregon State University study concludes.

The research could raise new challenges for fishery managers to pay equally close attention to the health, stability and habitat of wild rainbow trout, the researchers say, because healthy steelhead populations may require healthy trout populations.

In a field study in Hood River, Ore., researchers used DNA analysis to determine that up to 40 percent of the genes in returning steelhead came from wild rainbow trout, rather than other steelhead. And only 1 percent of the genes came from “residualized” hatchery fish – fish that had stayed in the stream and mated, but not gone to sea as intended by the hatchery program.

“It used to be thought that coastal rainbow trout and steelhead were actually two different fish species, but we’ve known for some time that isn’t true,” said Mark Christie, an OSU postdoctoral research associate and expert in fish genetic analysis. “What’s remarkable about these findings is not just that these are the same fish species, but the extent to which they interbreed, and how important wild trout are to the health of steelhead populations.”

This research, just published in the journal Molecular Ecology, was based on a 15-year analysis of 12,725 steelhead from Oregon’s Hood River, each of which was sampled to determine its genetic background and parentage. It was supported by funding from the Bonneville Power Administration.

The study reveals a complex picture of wild trout and steelhead intermingling as they reproduce. A steelhead might be produced by the spawning of two steelhead, two wild trout, or a returning steelhead and a trout.

Rainbow trout are small to moderate-sized fish in most rivers, but if that same fish migrates to the ocean it can return as a huge steelhead weighing 30 pounds or more, prized for sport fishing. Researchers still don’t know exactly why some trout choose to go to the ocean and others don’t, although they believe at least some part of the equation is genetic.

Studies of rainbow trout and steelhead have been undertaken, in part, to better understand the implications of hatcheries. Including all salmonid species, more than one billion hatchery salmon are released into Pacific Northwest streams each year. And because hatcheries produce fish that are less able to survive and successfully reproduce in the wild, there is concern about hatchery fish mating with wild fish.

“One implication of this study is that the genetic contribution by wild trout is diluting the input of genes from hatchery fish to the wild steelhead population,” said Michael Blouin, an OSU professor of zoology and co-author on this study.

“The genetic influences of hatchery fish on wild steelhead populations are still a concern,” Blouin said. “But the good news from the Hood River is that the hatchery genes are being diluted more than we thought, and thus may not be having as much impact on dragging down the fitness of the wild steelhead.”

The genetic influence of wild rainbow trout, the scientists said, is roughly cutting in half the genetic input of hatchery fish that reproduce in the wild – a mitigation of their impact that’s of some importance.

The scientists cautioned that results from one river might not be representative of all steelhead populations. Nevertheless, Christie said, “The importance of trout in maintaining steelhead runs should not be underestimated.

“They can act as a healthy genetic reservoir and preserve reproductive populations during years when ocean conditions make steelhead survival very difficult,” he said. “So a good way of looking at it is, whatever is good for wild rainbow trout is also good for steelhead.”

Worth noting, the researchers said, is that most other salmonids, such as coho or chinook salmon, do not have this type of fall-back system to help produce fish with a higher capability of surviving. As such, they may be more vulnerable than steelhead to the concerns about genetic weaknesses produced by hatchery fish.


* Study Measuring Swimming Performance Differences Of Wild Vs. Hatchery Fish

Fish and laser beams sound like things out of a sci-fi movie, but a combination of the two is being used for important research into the future of rainbow trout.
In a Washington State University lab no bigger than a closet, small rainbow trout race each day to provide information about their wild and hatchery-raised forms. Associate professor Patrick Carter is working with third-year doctoral student Kristy Bellinger to compare the swimming speeds of the two groups.
“We are looking at genetic differences between domesticated and wild trout and determining how those genetic differences potentially can impact the health and wellbeing of the wild trout,” said Carter.
While hatcheries may select fish for their size and other factors appealing to sportsmen, Carter said they could be hurting trout populations by weeding out those more fit for survival.
“The data that we have suggests that hatchery fish are slower and less aware of predators than a wild fish would be,” Carter said.
“The fish needs burst swimming performance to get upstream in order to cross those small barriers such as rocks or small waterfalls -- also in order to eat and be able to survive predator interactions,” Bellinger said.
The fish are kept in climate-controlled tanks, and Bellinger subjects them to multiple trials each time they are used in the fish run.
“I use a net from their individual tanks, and I put them into the swim tunnel, and then I remove a barrier and startle the fish and that’s when they race up the track,” she said. 
A series of lasers times the fish as they go down the clear raceway and sends data to a computer. Carter said researchers previously had to record fish on video, and then slow down the tape and record distance and speed manually.
With all the hatchery programs that distribute fish, rainbow trout are an important factor in the state’s economy and way of life, Carter said.

A video on the research is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWSivb-H0k0&feature=player_embedded#


* Washington, Alaska Questioning Fisheries’ Impact On Stellar Sea Lions Since Populations Growing

The states of Alaska and Washington announced this week they will conduct a review of a recent biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning the impact of groundfish fisheries on Steller sea lions.

Top fish and wildlife officials from both states said they will assemble a panel of scientists to determine whether the federal agency used all relevant scientific information and impartially considered those facts in its final BiOp for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries, released last November.

The BiOp evaluated the impact those fisheries have on the western population of Steller sea lions, which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This BiOp served as the basis for significant fishery closures and restrictions in the western Aleutians that went into effect Jan. 1.

Cora Campbell, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said those actions have put a heavy economic burden on the shoulders of fishing communities and fishermen, despite the evidence that the western stock of Steller sea lions are recovering.

“Before we severely curtail their economic livelihood, we should be certain these restrictions are necessary,” Campbell said. “Our assessment of the BiOp is that it fails to provide sound scientific justification that the restrictions are necessary or will benefit the Steller sea lion population.”

Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, also questioned whether the new fishing restrictions are warranted, noting that most Stellar sea lion populations have been growing throughout their range.

“We really need an independent scientific review to ensure that all of the science has been carefully reviewed,” Anderson said. “We need to verify that the costs of this action have been accurately estimated, and that they are appropriately targeted to minimize both jeopardy to the animals and harm to fishermen and their communities.”

Both states recently petitioned for the removal of the eastern sea lion populations from the Endangered Species list, based on steady increases over the past two decades alongside fisheries in Southeast Alaska, and throughout British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.

The western populations are also showing strong growth in most areas where they occur in Alaska and Russia, indicating that drastic reductions in fishing in the central and western Aleutians may be misguided. Evidence is available to indicate that factors other than fishing are likely responsible for the apparent lack of growth in these few colonies, such as predation by killer whales or changes in the environment. 

The scientific panel convened by the states will review the critical science relevant to the analysis of factors affecting the status and recovery of sea lions and deliver its report by June of this year. Issues to be examined include:

-- Scientific evidence that was not incorporated or adequately analyzed in the BiOp.
-- Factors other than fishing affecting the recovery of Steller sea lion populations.
-- Whether the economic valuations in the BiOp reflect the actual impacts to the affected communities and fishing fleets.  

The panel will be chaired by a scientist from the states of Alaska and Washington, who will assemble a peer review panel. The panel’s report will be made available to the public, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the fishing industry and other stakeholders to assist in their assessments of the biological opinion.


* Washington DOE Proposes Water Rights Changes, Includes Revisions To “Use It Or Lose It”

The Washington Department of Ecology is asking the 2011 Legislature for authority to reform and improve the way water resources are managed in Washington state for the benefit of current and future water users and the natural environment.

Agency-request bills, HB 1610 (introduced by Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen) and SB 5536 (introduced by Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island) seek ways to make Ecology’s water management services more effective and efficient.

“Water is essential to every facet of our quality of life, and we need to modernize the way we manage it,” said Ted Sturdevant, Ecology director. “We already see more demand than supply all across the state, and that will only increase with population growth and declining snowpack from climate change. To manage this most essential but finite resource across competing and ever-increasing needs will require streamlined laws and processes, and the tools to do the job. This bill is a good start in that direction.”

A key to the agency-request bills is legislative authority for Ecology to recover the full cost of processing water right applications. Currently only 2 percent of the cost of processing water right applications is paid by applicants. The other 98 percent of the processing costs are funded by the taxpayers through the General Fund. These funds rise or fall based on tax collections, and in recent years, budget cuts and staff reductions have contributed to an already growing backlog of water right applications. The result is that permits for job-creating projects slow at a time when the economy needs them most.

HB 1610 and SB 5536 ask the Legislature to approve a “beneficiary pays” funding system whereby 100 percent of the cost of processing a water right application would be paid by the applicant.

Ecology says it is also streamlining the water right application process and becoming more efficient in collecting and providing access to data for the water rights portfolio of more than 250,000 certificates, permits and claims that the agency manages in Washington state.

Other major reforms in the agency-request bills include:

-- Legislative authority allowing Ecology to reduce the daily limit on permit-exempt groundwater use in water-short basins. This would allow Ecology to protect senior water rights and stream flows without closing entire watersheds to new groundwater withdrawals.
-- Revisions in the state’s “use it or lose it” relinquishment law to support water conservation efforts by allowing irrigators to switch to less water intensive crops without fear of losing all or part of their water rights.
-- Amendments to state law extending grants to watershed planning groups to implement locally developed water management plans across Washington state.

“This bill continues an important conversation around how the state of Washington manages our limited water resources,” said Blake, the House sponsor. “I know we must continue to effectively manage water for our economy and our natural resources to reach their potential. I’m excited to pursue this conversation.”

Rockefeller, the Senate sponsor, said the bill “starts a new chapter in how our state manages its precious water resources.”

“The bill encourages significant water rights processing reforms like shifting payments from taxpayers to those who benefit from certification and protecting these very valuable rights,” Rockefeller said.

For the complete text of HB 1610 and SB 5536 and fact sheets on Ecology’s proposed legislation, please visit the Water Smart Washington Water Management Reform webpage. http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/hq/6267report.html

For more information about the CBB contact:
-- BILL CRAMPTON, Editor/Writer, bcrampton@cbbulletin.com, phone:
541-312-8860 or
-- BARRY ESPENSON, Senior Writer, bespenson@msn.com, phone: 360-696-4005; fax: 360-694-1530

The stories in this e-mail newsletter are posted on the Columbia Basin Bulletin website at www.cbbulletin.com. If you would like access to the CBB archives, please consider becoming a Member of the CBB website for as little as $5 a month. Your membership will help support maintenance of the 10-year (1998-2008) news database and the production of trustworthy, timely news and information about Columbia Basin fish and wildlife issues.


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The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.

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