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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
June 8, 2012
Issue No. 624

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Table of Contents

* Reintroducing A Run: First Time In 45 Years Adult Salmon Returning To Upper Deschutes Basin

* Experimental Aquaculture Program Aims At Restoring Nearly Extinct Burbot (Cod) To Kootenai River

* Appeals Court Says Forest Service Must Consult Before Allowing Small-Scale Mining In ESA Salmon Streams

* Balancing Harvest With ESA Impacts Has Tribes Balancing Platform Fishing With Gill-Netting

* Invasive Mussels Found On Three Boats Being Hauled Into Oregon

* Large Dock From Japan’s Tsunami Washes Ashore Near Newport, Oregon; Marine Organisms Removed

* Federal Law Enforcement Officials Investigating Sea Lion Killings Near Columbia River’s Mouth

* Not Having Enough Salmon Stresses Killer Whales; More Data Needed On Role Of Columbia River Runs

* Study Looks At Fraser River Sockeye Decline, Stresses Competition With Pink Salmon

* Research Review: Genetic Diversity Increases Crop Yields, Improves Forests, Bolsters Fisheries Stability


* Reintroducing A Run: First Time In 45 Years Adult Salmon Returning To Upper Deschutes Basin

A first group of adult spring chinook salmon – likely about five fish -- were scheduled to be released today above the Pelton Round Butte Hydro project on the Deschutes River in central Oregon on their way to spawning grounds on the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The “known origin” fish are the first such returns to the Deschutes in more than 45 years. They and fish that follow will to be trapped and transported around the three-dam complex so they can spawn in the upper reaches of the Deschutes River basin. The Crooked and Metolius join the Deschutes at Round Butte Dam’s reservoir, Lake Billy Chinook.

By late this week a total of 13 spring chinook trapped this year below the lowermost dam have been identified as having originated upstream. They are part of an ambitious fish reintroduction effort aimed at re-establishing anadromous fish populations in the upper basin that had passage blocked in the 1960s with the construction of the Pelton Round Butte Dam Complex.

Project partners, stakeholders, volunteers and others were invited to the event this morning -- the Fish Release Celebration -- to watch the historic fish releases.

Project leaders and biologists from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon were on hand to discuss the project and on-going salmon/steelhead recovery efforts in the upper Deschutes basin. A ceremony with a blessing of the fish was planned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Under an agreement reached early this year about half of the returning fish of upstream origin will be released into Billy Chinook so they can proceed upstream to spawn. The balance would be brought to nearby Round Butte Hatchery to be used as broodstock to provide the next, perhaps more environmentally suited, generation of spring chinook to be outplanted above the dams.

The returning fish in actuality started life at the hatchery. A share of the young fish produced there have been in recent years also hauled above the dams and released in hopes that they would call the waters there home, migrate to the ocean to grow and return to spawn after maturing in the Pacific Ocean. The young fish are marked at the hatchery with a chipped right maxillary bone near the jaw so they can be identified upon their return.

The outplanted fish later found their way down through the reservoir to a new fish collection device, which was first fully operational in 2010, at Round Butte. There salmon and steelhead, as well as kokanee, were swept in, sorted and transported downstream for release in the free-flowing Deschutes so they could migrate down to the Columbia River, and then to the ocean.

Any of the kokanee outmigrants that make the round trip back to the Deschutes would be considered sockeye salmon. Kokanee are landlocked versions of the sockeye species. The steelhead and sockeye usually return later in the spring-through-fall season than spring chinook.

A total of 44,000 spring chinook, 7,700 steelhead, and 49,700 kokanee were passed downriver in 2010. And they are expected to produce the first significant number of adult fish to return to the dam complex this summer and fall.

Fishery officials had hoped for a return as high as 400 spring chinook from above the dams.

But business thus far has been light at the adult fish trap below the lowest of the three dams in the system. The Columbia-Snake river basin spring chinook in 2012 have been finding its way upriver on a later schedule than normal. And overall the run is below expectations, though close to the 10-year average so far.

The spring chinook count at Bonneville Dam on the lower Columbia through Wednesday is 169,686 adult fish. From there any fish headed for the Deschutes must climb over The Dalles Dam, then take a right turn before getting to John Day Dam.

The count through Wednesday at The Dalles was 122,163 spring chinook, and at least 107,655 of them had bypassed the Deschutes and passed over John Day’s fish ladders. After the fish pass Bonneville at river mile 146 they have a few options – including Washington’s White Salmon and Klickitat rivers, before getting to the Deschutes.

Citing lower than expected returns of adult spring chinook, ODFW fishery managers announced Monday that the Deschutes River would close to spring chinook fishing at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, June 7.

According to Rod French, ODFW fish biologist, returns are running far below pre-run estimates of 1,859 wild and 14,400 hatchery fish. He estimated only about 500 hatchery fish have returned to Deschutes hatcheries as of May 31, and only 150 wild fish have returned. Most of the wild fish are returning to the Warm Spring River, a tributary to the Deschutes.

“The run may just be extremely late, but typically 65 percent of the run has returned by this date,” he said. “Letting the season continue is not a chance we can take and still protect wild fish and insure our hatcheries get enough fish for broodstock.”

Detection systems at Bonneville Dam allow managers to identify fish that have been outfitted PIT tags and thus track their coming and goings

“PIT tag detections at Bonneville are not indicating we’re getting a lot of fish” of Deschutes origin, whether they be from upriver or elsewhere, said ODFW’s Mike Gauvin.

The mouth of the Deschutes is about 100 river miles downstream from the adult trap. Bonneville is roughly50 miles downstream from there.

The fishery managers would like to get back from 400 to 500 spawners to use as broodstock for Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery, which is on the river of the same name, and 900 to Round Butte Hatchery, which is located just downstream of the dam of the same name. Round Butte Hatchery is operated by ODFW and funded by Portland General Electric as mitigation for dam impacts. The Pelton Round Butte project is now jointly owned by PGE and the tribes. Warm Springs is operated by the tribes.

The fishing season was originally scheduled to close July 31.


* Experimental Aquaculture Program Aims At Restoring Nearly Extinct Burbot (Cod) To Kootenai River

The annual harvest of burbot from the Kootenai River by sport and commercial fisherman in north Idaho’s panhandle “prior to 1972 was likely in the tens of thousands of kg,” according to a 2011-2016 research plan developed to further restoration of what has become a decimated species.

Overfishing, dam construction and operations, the diking of off-stream habitat and other factors are believed the causes for Kootenai burbot stock shrinking to functional extinction.

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, a culture that was long sustained by native species such as burbot, is leading a long running effort to restore degraded habitats and, as a result, enable native fish stocks such as white sturgeon and burbot to regain some of their historic strength and in the process allow fisheries that have been shut off since the 1970s.

Key in those restoration efforts is a budding, experimental burbot aquaculture program centered for now at the University of Idaho in Moscow where culturing techniques are being developed with broodstock from British Columbia’s Moyie Lake. The tribe has in the works plans for construction of a new hatchery near the Moyie River’s confluence with the Kootenai River that will allow expanded production of both white sturgeon and burbot.

The goal for the tribe’s burbot aquaculture program, now in an experimental phase, is to reestablish a native burbot population in the lower Kootenai River capable of future tribal treaty subsistence and cultural harvest and sport harvest once the population reaches sustainable levels.

The new hatchery will also allow the tribe to fully implement the native burbot conservation aquaculture program.

The idea at this point is to boost populations to the point that enough adult fish – burbot released into the river and its adjacent environs at the larval and older stages -- are present to incorporate them into the broodstock.

Among the goals of the Kootenai Tribe’s program, which is largely funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, is to implement a plan to reverse the population decline through habitat restoration, and research to identify and address gaps in the understanding of the specific causes of population decline. The conservation aquaculture program is being implemented to reverse population declines and rebuild a population with demographic and genetic characteristics to ultimately become sustainable and resilient.

The burbot (Lota lota) is a landlocked species of cod. The Kootenai River flows out of British Columbia into northwest Montana, into north Idaho, and then north again into Canada where it becomes the Kootenay. North of the border it enters the reservoir called Kootenay Lake. It ultimately exits and joins the Columbia River. The Moyie River also flows south out of British Columbia, joining the Kootenai in north Idaho just west of the Montana border.

Burbot historically were a prized, tasty catch. They were reported to have ranged in size from 18 to 42 inches, but were more commonly in the two to three foot range; some of the larger ones weighed ten or more pounds.

The burbot’s presence in the Idaho section of the Kootenai River had dwindled to the point that when aquaculture experimentation began in 2002, researchers did not want to mine the sparse native population for broodstock. And they didn’t know if they could even find any fish to mine.

“There’s barely any natural recruitment,” said Shawn Young, the Kootenai Tribe biologist that is heading up the aquaculture project. The Moyie Lake population, considered to be stable, was judged because of the relative proximity and other factors to be the best matched genetic “donor” stock that could be used to rekindle the Kootenai River population.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, Idaho Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Idaho’s Aquaculture Research Institute. Basic culture methods have now been established and documented for spawning, egg incubation, larval rearing and juvenile grow out.

The first experimental releases took place in October and November of 2009, numbering just a few hundred. That crop included about 200 fish that were slightly less than a year old and about 60 or 70 that were in the 1-2-year-old range… and a sprinkling of 3 year olds, said UI researcher Ken Cain.

That represented considerable progress in fewer than 10 years, given the problems faced in growing burbot for the first time at the laboratory. The UI facility is one of the few around the world where burbot culture is being explored.

The program began with Moyie broodstock captured in the fall of 2003; the first year of spawning in captivity occurred in 2004. Cain said that first year the lab produced only four fish from six million eggs.

The program has grown through experimentation and identification of rearing technices..

“Last year we put out a substantial release of 6-month old fish,” Young said. The 2011 releases included 50,000 larvae and 20,000 6-month-old fish.

“There’s a big difference,” Young said. The older the fish are at release, the more likely it is they will survive.

The program has released some 1, 2 and 3 year old burbot but in small numbers. Space at the UI laboratory is limited so there’s little space available to grow out the fish. That problem would be solved if the tribe’s hatchery proposal makes it through the final planning stages and construction funding is through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s fish and wildlife program, which is funded by Bonneville.

But hatching and rearing techniques have been honed to the point that larvae are being produced in relatively large numbers.

A stumbling block had been getting the newly hatched fish, encased in a nourishing yoke sac, to feeding on their own.

“Once we get them to a certain size they’re pretty hardy,” Cain said. The researchers gained that success by raising plankton of a suitable size – small – in the laboratory.

The newly hatched burbot are so small that “they don’t even have a mouth for the first 10 days,” Cain said.

“They have a short window to begin feeding,” Young said. “They need a fairly steady food source.

The culturing is ongoing.

“Now the M&E will begin to get ramped up,” in an attempt to evaluate if fish survived, and where they went, Young said. A strong sampling of fish has been outfitted with PIT tags so they could be detected later. This summer the first large scale sampling of smaller PIT-tagged burbot will be conducted by the IDFG.

Larger fish – the 1, 2 and 3 year olds released, were equipped with acoustic tags so their movements could be tracked.

“We’ve seen extensive dispersal” up into Kootenay Lake and throughout the Idaho portion of the Kootenai River, Young said. Some of the fish were detected in known spawning areas. But it is not known yet if spawning took place. The number of supplemented fish that are of spawning age fish remains small.

“They went to the proper areas at the proper time of the year so we assume they are spawning, a few of them,” Young said. Burbot begin reproducing on average at about age 4.

But hopes are high.

“It’s a good project,” said Young, who was out this morning helping to release a new batch of larvae delivered from the overflowing UI lab fish tanks. “And it seems to be going pretty well.”


* Appeals Court Says Forest Service Must Consult Before Allowing Small-Scale Mining In ESA Salmon Streams

Salmon and gold played key roles in a judgment issued late last week in which a split federal appeals court said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service must take input from other federal agencies before making decisions on small-scale mining in fish critical habitat.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit June 1 decision, by a 6-5 vote, said the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act by not consulting with the appropriate wildlife agencies before approving four “notices of intent” allowing mining activities in coho salmon critical habitat within the Klamath National Forest of southern Oregon and northern California.

The Forest Service decisions involved three individuals with mining claims and a recreational mining company.

The majority opinion said the ruling hinged on two factors.

“ESA requires consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the NOAA Fisheries Service for any ‘agency action’ that ‘may affect’ a listed species or its critical habitat,” the opinion says.

“In approving the NOIs challenged in this case, the Forest Service made affirmative, discretionary decisions to authorize mining activities under specified protective criteria.” That satisfies the agency action criteria, according to the majority opinion written by Judge William A. Fletcher.

On the other question, Fletcher wrote, “The Forest Service does not dispute that the mining activities it approved in this case ‘may affect’ critical habitat of coho salmon in the Klamath River system. The Forest Service therefore had a duty under Section 7 of the ESA to consult with the relevant wildlife agencies before approving the NOIs.”

The dissenting opinion, written by Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., says that the NOI approvals are not final agency actions as defined by the ESA.

“Under the Forest Service’s regulations, a Notice of Intent is exactly what its name implies: a notice from the miner, not a permit or license issued by the agency. It is merely a precautionary agency notification procedure, which is at most a preliminary step prior to agency action being taken,” Smith wrote.

“By rendering the Forest Service impotent to meaningfully address low impact mining, the majority effectively shuts down the entire suction dredge mining industry in the states within our jurisdiction,” the dissenting opinion says.

“The informal Notice of Intent process allows projects to proceed within a few weeks. In contrast, ESA interagency consultation requires a formal biological assessment and conferences, and can delay projects for months or years.

“Most miners affected by this decision will have neither the resources nor the patience to pursue a consultation with the EPA; they will simply give up, and curse the Ninth Circuit.

“As a result, a number of people will lose their jobs and the businesses that have invested in the equipment used in the relevant mining activities will lose much of their value.”

Smith said the new Ninth Circuit is yet another example of the court stepping too far.

“… our job is constitutionally confined to interpreting laws not creating them out of whole cloth. Unfortunately, I believe the record is clear that our court has strayed with lamentable frequency from its constitutionally limited role (as illustrated supra) when it comes to construing environmental law,” Smith wrote. “When we do so, I fear that we undermine public support for the independence of the judiciary, and cause many to despair of the promise of the rule of law.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2004 by the Karuk Tribe, which contends that mining activities adversely affect fish, including coho salmon, in the Klamath River system. Coho there were listed as “threatened” under the ESA in 1997. The Karuk Tribe depends on coho salmon in the Klamath River system for cultural, religious, and subsistence uses.

The rivers and streams of the Klamath River system also contain gold. Commercial gold mining in and around the rivers and streams of California was halted long ago due, in part, to extreme environmental harm caused by large-scale placer mining, according to background information included in the June 1 opinion.

But, small-scale recreational mining has continued. Some recreational miners “pan” for gold by hand, examining one pan of sand and gravel at a time. Some conduct “motorized sluicing” by pumping water onto streambanks to process excavated rocks, gravel, and sand in a sluice box for sifting.

Some recreational miners conduct mechanical “suction dredging” within the streams themselves. These miners use gasoline-powered engines to suck streambed material up through flexible intake hoses. The streambed material is deposited into a floating sluice box, and the excess is discharged in a tailings pile in or beside the stream.

En banc means “by the full court” or “full bench.” U.S. courts of appeals usually sit in panels of three judges, but may expand to a larger number in certain cases. They are then said to be sitting en banc.

In this case a divided three member panel in April 2011 affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment, holding that the Forest Service’s decision to allow proposed mining activities to proceed pursuant to a NOI did not constitute “agency action.” The Ninth Circuit later agreed to rehear the case en banc.


* Balancing Harvest With ESA Impacts Has Tribes Balancing Platform Fishing With Gill-Netting

The states of Oregon and Washington on Wednesday figured four lower Columbia River treaty tribes had a choice during this late “spring” fishing season on the mainstem Columbia River if harvests are to stay under Endangered Species Act limits.

The first choice involved approving a 24-hour gill-net fishing season late this week in mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville Dam along the states’ border, and closing platform hook and line fisheries above and, to a smaller degree, below Bonneville.

The second involved leaving the platform fisheries open, and foregoing the commercial fisheries.

After a near-full day of discussions the four tribes were split, with the Nez Perce and Umatillas wanting to stay open; while the Yakama and Warm Springs tribes said they would accept the platform closure in favor of the one-day gill-net fishery.

Both sides would have preferred that the platforms remain open to fishing and the commercial fishery be executed.

A two-hour meeting of the Columbia River Compact was held Wednesday morning. The state panel convened to allow the tribes to caucus regarding the proposal on the table to Ok a commercial fishery and close the platforms. The Compact reconvened at 3 p.m. to hear the results of the caucus and make a decision on the proposed tribal commercial fishery.

“I think the Compact’s hands are tied,” said Guy Norman, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director’s representative on the Compact, which sets commercial fishing seasons on the mainstem Columbia for both tribal and non-tribal fishers. Steve Williams represented the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife director at Wednesday’s meeting.

Both said that, given run-size estimates that have been slipping and catch in-hand to-date, it seemed unlikely that the tribes could stay within ESA impact limits with a commercial fishery being implemented and the platform fishing continuing.

In the afternoon a proposal was forwarded to the Compact that would have closing the platform fisheries at the end of the day today (Friday), and then reconvening the Compact Monday so that it could consider a reopening if the overall catch (including from a commercial fishery) remained reasonably well within limits.

The tribes this spring have primarily been catching upriver salmon and other fishes for ceremonial and subsistence purposes allowed under treaties and other agreements. That Compact on May 14 approved a request that the tribes be allowed to sell fish caught with hook and line from platforms until further notice. That decision remains in place.

For the most part spring fishing on the Columbia and Snake river mainstems and elsewhere is limited by the presence, and harvest, of upriver spring chinook salmon. Under a 10-year agreement signed by Idaho, Oregon and Washington; the tribes and the federal government, tribal and non-tribal interests are allotted harvests depending on the size of the upriver run (spring chinook headed upstream for hatcheries and spawning grounds in the three states).

The larger the anticipated run, the larger is each share of the harvest. This year, the preseason forecast was for an upriver spring chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia of 314,200 adult fish. But with counts at Bonneville Dam – one of the primary run-size measuring sticks – lagging, harvest allocations have been scaled back. The most recent estimate developed last week was 209,400.

Based on the recent forecast, the tribes ESA impact rate is 9.1 percent or 19,055 upriver spring chinook. The run includes wild, ESA-protected Snake River and Upper Columbia salmon.

But with 15,970 in hand caught from streamside platforms (4,980 upstream from Bonneville and 1,290 below the dam) and with gill nets under ceremonial permits (9,700), the tribes have just 3,085 fish to catch while staying within their ESA allocation based on the current run-size forecast. The noon Thursday through noon Friday commercial fishery proposed for this week was expected to result in the harvest of from 2,400 to 2,800; while continued platform fishing through June 15 was estimated to have a 465-fish impact.

If the run-size estimate goes up, the tribes and others would have additional fish to catch; if it goes down fewer fish would be available for harvest.

Based on the current projected return to Columbia River mouth, and subtracting downstream harvest and other mortality, fishery officials would expect 193,000 adults to climb over Bonneville. The 171,073 chinook so far this year is a bit ahead of the 10-year average – 165,126 -- through June 7.

Through this year lower Columbia (below Bonneville) sport fisheries have accounted for an estimated 10,242 upriver spring chinook mortalities (kept fish plus the estimated number that die after being released). Unmarked fish, most presumed to be wild, listed fish, must be released. That represents 88.6 percent of that fishery’s ESA impact limit.

The lower river non-tribal commercial fishery (two periods totaling 18 hours) resulted in an upriver of 4,318 fish or 94 percent of that fishery’s allocation.

In all, the non-tribal commercial and sport (including above Bonneville) impact this year is at 94.9 percent of their total allocation for the spring season. The non-tribal commercial fleet last fished the mainstem in mid-April. Anglers’ last outing was for a two-day opening over the Memorial Day weekend

To reach that 193,000, total daily counts at Bonneville through June 15 would have to total more than 2,700 daily. Wednesday’s count was 1,374 and down a bit from the previous day. Counts usually begin to climb a bit in early-to-mid-June as more summer chinook begin to join the parade of springers headed upriver.

The states tally as spring fish chinook that pass Bonneville through June 15. Chinook crossing from June 16-July 31 are counted as summer chinook and beginning Aug. 1 they are counted as fall chinook. The “summer” fishing management period begins June 16.
“We are not prepared to close the platforms,” said the Umatilla Tribes’ Kathryn Brigham. She said that to the Umatillas, catching fish for ceremonial and subsistence purposes “comes first, and commercial fishing comes last.”

In testimony to the Compact she said that something needed to be done to improve preseason run-size forecasting “so we can more accurately manage the fisheries.” The fact that the run-size is much smaller than originally forecast resulted in non-tribal fishers to get their fishing in early and capturing most of their allotment while the tribes who fish upriver will likely only catch two/thirds of their allocation because of growing concerns about ESA limits, she said.

“We’re really frustrated that we’re in this position,” she said.

The Yakama Nation’s Virgil Lewis stressed the economics of the situation, saying the tribes deserve a commercial outing.

“To us this is very very important,” Lewis said. “Many families are hurting financially. Our commercial guys are sitting on the bank waiting.”

”I thought this would benefit all four tribes,” he said.


* Invasive Mussels Found On Three Boats Being Hauled Into Oregon

Oregon officials are experiencing heightened concern in recent days as invasive mussels were discovered on three boats being hauled into the state during the month of May.

Since May 1, ODFW watercraft inspectors discovered invasive mussels on three boats: one in Central Point just north of Medford in Interstate 5 in southern Oregon and two in La Grande in northeast Oregon on Interstate 84. All three boats have been decontaminated using hot water and high pressure.

The Central Point boat held destructive quagga mussels; the owner had used the boat in Lake Havasu, Ariz. The two La Grande boats contained zebra mussels; one had been moored in Saginaw Bay, Mich., and the other was a barge used on the Mississippi River system.

Rick Boatner, the ODFW’s Invasive Species coordinator, said Oregonians must not to get complacent.

“Although the quagga and zebra mussels we have found are on boats coming in from out of state, we have plenty of problems within the state,” Boatner said. “Both invasive New Zealand mudsnails and Eurasian watermilfoil have infested our waters and are easily spread.”

Motorists hauling boats in Oregon are now required to stop at posted watercraft inspection stations to have their boats, paddlecraft and other watercraft inspected for aquatic invasive species.

Inspection stations are operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at Port of Entries, highway rest stops and boat ramps across the state. Inspection stations are currently open in La Grande and Central Point and will open in Klamath Falls on June 7 and in Hines on June 14. Failure to stop at an inspection station could result in a $142 fine.

On June 8 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oregon State Police will assist ODFW watercraft inspectors with enforcement at the Port of Entry in Ashland.

Motorists are alerted to inspections stations by orange “Boat Inspection Ahead” signs and followed by a white “Inspection Required for All Watercraft” sign. All vehicles carrying kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, sailboats and any other boats, non-motorized or motorized, are required to stop.

Inspections usually take about 10 minutes if boats are free of aquatic invasive species. If a boat is found to be contaminated with aquatic invasive species such as quagga or zebra mussels, it will be decontaminated on site by the watercraft inspection team with a hot water pressure washer. There is no penalty or cost for the boat owner if their boat is found to be contaminated with invasive species.

The Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program is self-supporting, based on the sales of required Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permits.

Learn where and how to buy an Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permit on ODFW’s web site, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/invasive_species/quagga_zebra_mussel.asp

The Oregon Marine Board advises clean, drain and dry: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/invasive_species/quagga_zebra_mussel.asp

Invasive species are identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as one of the biggest threats to the state’s native fish, wildlife and habitats. For more information: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/read_the_strategy.asp


* Large Dock From Japan’s Tsunami Washes Ashore Near Newport, Oregon; Marine Organisms Removed

On Monday, June 4, ocean shore visitors reported seeing a loose dock floating offshore near Agate Beach one mile north of Newport, Ore.

The object has since washed ashore and is sitting at the high tide line.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department staff responded to the site. The dock itself is very large and heavy: 7 feet tall, 19 feet wide and 66 feet long. It is made primarily of concrete and metal, but is clearly designed to float. Because of its size and the chance it could continue to settle or be moved by wave action, state park staff are posting warning tape and signs instructing the public to stay off the structure.

A metal placard bearing Japanese writing was found attached to the dock. The placard was forwarded to the Japanese consulate in Portland, which confirmed that the dock washed ashore on Agate Beach is debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Shortly after the dock made landfall, it was checked for radiation and was found to be negative.

Scientists at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport have verified that there is evidence of marine life specific to Japan attached to the dock.

There is some concern about potential invasive species exposure. OPRD is working with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to contain this threat.

Marine organisms removed from the derelict dock were buried landward from the site. ODFW staff and volunteers removed about a ton and a half of plant and animal material. Oregon Parks and Recreation Department staff and a contractor excavated a hole approximately eight feet deep far above the furthest reach of high tides and storm surges. They emptied the bags into it and filled in the hole. Since the organisms require salt water to survive, this disposal method is safe and reliable.

No further action is expected at the site until a decision is made about disposing of the dock, a decision which should be made in the next couple of days. Two basic options are under review: towing it off the beach to a nearby port or harbor, or demolishing it on site and disposing of it in a landfill.

Photos are available at http://www.prd.state.or.us/news.php?id=1603

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said, “The huge dock that washed ashore in Agate Beach is clear evidence that debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan is reaching the Oregon Coast much sooner than anyone predicted. This massive dock, which crossed the Pacific Ocean undetected in 15 months, may be the vanguard of more debris to come. With the strong possibility that more debris could pose a significant threat to shipping lanes and fishing grounds, I encourage the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to redouble its efforts in tracking debris generated by the Japanese earthquake and to work closely with other federal, state and local agencies to inform the public how best to report suspected debris.

Scientists at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center said the cement float contains about 13 pounds of organisms per square foot, and an estimated 100 tons overall. Already they have gathered samples of 4-6 species of barnacles, starfish, urchins, anemones, amphipods, worms, mussels, limpets, snails, solitary tunicates and algae – and there are dozens of species overall.

“This float is an island unlike any transoceanic debris we have ever seen,” said John Chapman, an OSU marine invasive species specialist. “Drifting boats lack such dense fouling communities, and few of these species are already on this coast. Nearly all of the species we’ve looked at were established on the float before the tsunami; few came after it was at sea.”

Chapman said it was “mind-boggling” how these organisms survived their trek across the Pacific Ocean. The low productivity of open-ocean waters should have starved at least some of the organisms, he said.

“It is as if the float drifted over here by hugging the coasts, but that is of course impossible,” Chapman said. “Life on the open ocean, while drifting, may be more gentle for these organisms than we initially suspected. Invertebrates can survive for months without food and the most abundant algae species may not have had the normal compliment of herbivores. Still, it is surprising.”

Jessica Miller, an Oregon State University marine ecologist, said that a brown algae (Undaria pinnatifida), commonly called wakame, was present across most of the dock – and plainly stood out when she examined it in the fading evening light. She said the algae is native to the western Pacific Ocean in Asia, and has invaded several regions including southern California. The species identification was confirmed by OSU phycologist Gayle Hansen.

“To my knowledge it has not been reported north of Monterey, Calif., so this is something we need to watch out for,” Miller said.

Miller said the plan developed by the state through the ODFW and Oregon State Parks is to scrape the dock and to bag all of the biological material to minimize potential spread of non-native species. But there is no way of telling if any of the organisms that hitchhiked aboard the float from Japan have already disembarked in nearshore waters.

“We have no evidence so far that anything from this float has established on our shores,” said Chapman. “That will take time. However, we are vulnerable. One new introduced species is discovered in Yaquina Bay, only two miles away, every year. We hope that none of these species we are finding on this float will be among the new discoveries in years to come.”

The possibilities are many, according to Miller.

“Among the organisms we found are small shore crabs similar to our Hemigrapsus that look like the same genus, but may be a different species,” Miller said. “There were also one or more species of oysters and small clam chitons, as well as limpets, small snails, numerous mussels, a sea star, and an assortment of worms.”

Invasive marine species are a problem on the West Coast, where they usually are introduced via ballast water from ships. OSU’s Chapman is well aware of the issue; for several years he has studied a parasitic isopod called Griffen’s isopod that has infested mud shrimp in estuaries from California to Vancouver Island, decimating their populations.

In 2010, an aggressive invasive tunicate was found in Winchester Bay and Coos Bay along the southern Oregon coast. Known as Didemnum vexillum, the tunicate is on the state’s most dangerous species list and is both an ecological and economic threat because of its ability to spread and choke out native marine communities, according to OSU’s Sam Chan, who chairs the Oregon Invasive Species Council.

It is difficult to assess how much of a threat the organisms on the newly arrived float may present, the researchers say. As future debris arrives, it may carry additional species, they point out. However, this dock may be unique in that it represents debris that has been submerged in Japan and had a well-developed subtidal community. This may be relatively rare, given the amount of debris that entered the ocean, the researchers say.

“Floating objects from near Sendai can drift around that coast for a while before getting into the Kuroshio current and then getting transported to the eastern Pacific,” Chapman said. The researchers hope to secure funding to go to Japan and sample similar floats and compare the biological life on them with that on the transoceanic dock.

The scientists say the arrival of the dock is also a sobering reminder of the tragedy that occurred last year, which cost thousands of lives.

“We have to remember that this dock, and the organisms that arrived on it, are here as a result of a great human tragedy,” Miller said. “We respect that and have profound sympathy for those who have suffered, and are still suffering.”

For more information see CBB, May 18, 2012, “Senate’s First Tsunami Debris Oversight Hearing: ‘We All Want To Know What The Plan Is’’ http://www.cbbulletin.com/420573.aspx


* Federal Law Enforcement Officials Investigating Sea Lion Killings Near Columbia River’s Mouth

Federal law enforcement officials are leading an investigation into what has been an unusually high number of apparent killings of sea lions this spring along the north Oregon and south Washington coasts.

Newspaper reports quote representatives of the Northern Oregon-Southern Washington Marine Mammal Stranding Network as saying that 20 animals – four times the normal total – have been reported, most appearing to have died from gunshot wounds.

The reports have said that the dead marine mammals included both Steller and California sea lions, most were found within a few miles on either side of the Columbia River.

Stellers are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Both species are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Special agent Sean Stanley of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement wouldn’t give details about the number of animals killed, or whereabouts of the killings. But the events have drawn an investigation that will span both states.

“There has been an unusual amount of sea lions in a compressed amount of time,” Stanley said.

Stanley noted that a conviction in the killing of an ESA listed animal could draw up to a year of jail time and up to a $50,000 fine. The MMPA penalties could be up to one year and a $10,000 fine.

Anyone with information about the sea lion deaths is encouraged to call the investigation hotline, 1-800-853-1964.

Clashes between sport and commercial fishers and sea lions have long existed. But Stanley is not ready to point a finger in that or any other direction

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on the motivation,” he said.

Stanley did say in the past that arrests have been made, and convictions won, in past sea lion killings.

“There have been a few of note” in recent years, he said.


* Not Having Enough Salmon Stresses Killer Whales; More Data Needed On Role Of Columbia River Runs

Not having enough chinook salmon to eat stresses out southern resident killer whales in the Pacific Northwest more than having boatloads of whale watchers nearby, according to hormone levels of whales summering in the Salish Sea.

In lean times, however, the stress level normally associated with boats becomes more pronounced, further underscoring the importance of having enough prey, according to Katherine Ayres, an environmental and pet-behavior consultant who led the research while a University of Washington doctoral student in biology.

Ayres is lead author of a paper appearing online June 6, in the journal PLoS ONE. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0036842

In a surprise finding, hormone levels show that southern resident killer whales are best fed when they come into the Salish Sea in the late spring, Ayres said. The Salish Sea includes Puget Sound and the straits of Georgia, Haro and Juan de Fuca. Once there they get a necessary boost later in the summer while eating chinook salmon at the height of the Fraser River run.

While Fraser River chinook are an important food source, helping the southern resident killer whales may mean giving additional consideration to spring runs of chinook salmon off the mouth of the Columbia River and other salmon runs off the West Coast, if that's where the orcas are bulking up in the spring, Ayres said.

"Resident" killer whales are fish-eating orcas, unlike the so-called "transient" orcas that eat marine mammals.

For the study, scientists analyzed hormonal responses to stress that were measurable in whale scat, or poop. Many samples were collected using a black Labrador named Tucker on board a small boat in the vicinity of individuals or groups of whales. Even a mile away, Tucker can pick up on the scent he's been trained to recognize as the fishy smell distinctive to southern resident killer whales, a group of orcas listed as endangered by both Canada and the United States.

"This is the first study using scat-detection dogs to locate killer whale feces," Ayres said. "The technique could be used to collect scat and study stress in other species of whales, always difficult subjects to study because the animals spend 90 percent of their time underwater."

Since the population of southern resident killer whales declined nearly 20 percent between 1995 and 2001, scientists and managers have wondered if the animals weren't thriving because of lack of food, the closeness of boats, toxins built up in their bodies or a combination of all three.

"Behavior is hard to interpret, physiology is easier," said co-author Samuel Wasser, UW professor of biology and developer of the program using dogs like Tucker to detect scat for biological research. "Fish matter most to the southern resident killer whales. Even if boats are important to consider, the way you minimize that impact is to keep the fish levels high."

It's the same with toxins, Wasser said. The study being published in PLoS ONE specifically considered stress caused by inadequate prey and boats. But Wasser said that toxins accumulating in body fat will likely affect killer whales most when food is scarce and they start to use that stored fat, releasing toxins into their bodies when their physical condition already is in decline. When whales are well-fed, toxins should be less of a factor, he said.

In the study researchers examined the level of two hormones to study physiological responses to boat and food stresses.

One type of hormone, glucocorticoids, are released in increasing amounts when animals face immediate challenges, whether it's a shortage of food or the fight-or-flight response when threatened, Ayres said. When whale watching boats and other vessels were most numerous in the summer, glucocorticoids should have spiked if the whales were bothered. Instead glucocorticoids went down, driven by an increase in the number of Fraser River chinook.

The other hormone, thyroid hormone, tunes metabolism depending on how much food is available, for example ramping down metabolism to lower the energy an organism expends when food is scarce, Ayres said. Unlike glucocorticoids, thyroid hormone levels do not respond directly to stresses such as boats being nearby. During summers, thyroid levels of Salish Sea whales dipped while they awaited the arrival of Fraser River chinook, increased again when food became plentiful and declined once again as the chinook run petered out.

Unexpectedly, the thyroid hormone measures showed the whales were best fed when they first arrive in the Salish Sea, better than at any time in the five months they spent there, Wasser said.

"We assume winter is a lean time, so to come into the Salish Sea at their nutritional high for the year, then clearly they have been eating something – a very rich food source – before they arrive," Wasser said. "It appears another fish run is critical to them before they get here."

Some evidence points to the chinook returning to the Columbia River, although Wasser said that more spring data are needed.

The PLoS ONE paper follows a draft report issued May 3 by U.S. and Canadian fisheries experts considering to what extent salmon fishing is affecting the recovery of the southern resident killer whales. Wasser said the report pays too little attention to year-to-year salmon variability, but got it right when it said more needs to be known about what's happening to the whales in the winter and, particularly, in early spring.

Among other things, the report said chinook stocks are currently harvested at a rate of about 20 percent "so there is limited potential for increasing chinook abundance by reducing fishing pressure," according to the executive summary.

More extreme measures may be required that increase overall chinook salmon stocks, Wasser said.

"To support a healthy population of southern residents we may need more salmon than simply the number of fish being caught by commercial and sport fishers," Ayres said. "We may need to open up historical habitats to boost wild salmon, such as what is being done with the Elwha River and what is proposed for the Klamath River. That may be the only way to support the historic population size of southern residents, which is ultimately the goal of recovery."

Other co-authors are Rebecca Booth of the UW; Jennifer Hempelmann, Candice Emmons, M. Bradley Hanson and Michael Ford of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center; Kari Koski of Soundwatch Boater Education Program and the Whale Museum, Friday Harbor; Robin Baird of Cascadia Research Collective, Olympia; and Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, who helped get the study off the ground through collaboration with the Center for Whale Research.

The work was funded by Washington Sea Grant based at the UW, NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Northwest Scientific Association, UW Department of Biology and the Canadian Consulate General.


* Study Looks At Fraser River Sockeye Decline, Stresses Competition With Pink Salmon

For years scientists have struggled to understand what is responsible for the declines in abundance of populations of Fraser River sockeye salmon that began in the early 1990s and prompted a Judicial Inquiry by the Government of Canada, the Cohen Commission, in the fall of 2009.

This week an international team of scientists has shed light on this mystery. In the first study to simultaneously consider evidence related to multiple possible explanations for the declines in Fraser sockeye populations, the team gathered and analyzed data on the main factors identified by an expert panel in 2010.

Their findings, published in the journal Conservation Letters, attribute the declines to three factors acting in concert in the Pacific Ocean: increasing numbers of pink salmon, salmon farming along migration routes for juvenile Fraser River sockeye, and warming sea temperatures.

The paper can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2012.00244.x/abstract

“Although none of these three factors can explain much of the declines in sockeye salmon by themselves, when considered in combination, they appear to play a very important role”, says the lead author of the paper Brendan Connors, a post-doctoral fellow in the School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University.

The team discovered that increasing numbers of pink salmon across the North Pacific Ocean appear to be leading - directly or indirectly - to increasing competition for food with Fraser sockeye salmon, especially after the juvenile sockeye salmon first migrate past large numbers of farmed salmon.

“It is possible that exposure to salmon farms early in life may weaken the ability of sockeye to compete for food with pink salmon, ” said Douglas Braun, a doctoral student in the Earth to Ocean Research Group at Simon Fraser University and co-author on the study.

The study also found that increasing ocean temperature early in life reduces survival of juvenile sockeye, but the effect of warming oceans is weaker than increasing numbers of pink salmon.

The abstract for the study, “Migration links ocean-scale competition and local ocean conditions with exposure to farmed salmon to shape wild salmon dynamics,” says:

“Climate, competition, and disease are well-recognized drivers of population dynamics. These stressors can be intertwined by animal migrations, leading to uncertainty about the roles of natural and anthropogenic factors in conservation and resource management. We quantitatively assessed the four leading hypotheses for an enigmatic long-term decline in productivity of Canada’s iconic Fraser River sockeye salmon: (1) delayed density-dependence, (2) local oceanographic conditions, (3) pathogen transmission from farmed salmon, and (4) ocean-basin scale competition with pink salmon.

“Our findings suggest that the long-term decline is primarily explained by competition with pink salmon, which can be amplified by exposure to farmed salmon early in sockeye marine life, and by a compensatory interaction between coastal ocean temperature and farmed-salmon exposure. These correlative relationships suggest oceanic-scale processes, which are beyond the reach of current regulatory agencies, may exacerbate local ecological processes that challenge the coexistence of fisheries and aquaculture-based economies in coastal seas.”


* Research Review: Genetic Diversity Increases Crop Yields, Improves Forests, Bolsters Fisheries Stability

The loss of biological diversity is increasingly threatening the planet’s ability to provide humans with life’s essentials: food, water, fodder, fertile soils, and protection from pests and disease, according to a sweeping review of 20 years of research by an international team of ecologists, including biologists from the University of British Columbia.

The 17 researchers present their findings in the June 7 edition of the journal Nature in a scientific consensus statement that summarizes evidence that has emerged from more than 1,000 ecological studies conducted since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“We’ve reached a point where efforts to preserve species and biological diversity might no longer be an act of altruism,” says Diane Srivastava, professor with the Department of Zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC and author on the paper.

“This research review dramatically underscores the importance of strengthening -- not weakening or curtailing -- environmental assessment processes in order to stem the tide of the loss of species and diversity that so many humans depend on. This is particularly true in economies heavily reliant on natural resources, like British Columbia’s.”

The balance of evidence reviewed in the study shows that genetic diversity increases the yield of commercial crops, enhances the production of wood in tree plantations, improves the production of fodder in grasslands, and increases the stability of yields in fisheries.

Plant diversity also contributes to greater resistance to invasion by exotic plants, inhibits plant pathogens such as fungal and viral infections, increases above-ground carbon sequestration through enhanced biomass, and increases nutrient remineralization and soil organic matter.

“Much as the consensus statements by doctors led to public warnings that tobacco use is harmful to your health, this is a consensus statement by experts who agree that loss of Earth’s wild species will be harmful to the world’s ecosystems and may harm society by reducing ecosystem services that are essential to human health and prosperity,” says Bradley Cardinale, associate professor at the University of Michigan and leader of the research effort.

“We need to take biodiversity loss far more seriously – from individuals to international governing bodies – and take greater action to prevent further losses of species.”

The work was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the National Science Foundation in the United States.




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