NOAA plan will speed up review of hatcheries

By Kimberly Cauvel, Skagit Valley Herald


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has withdrawn its draft environmental impact statement on Puget Sound salmon and steelhead hatcheries.

The draft was in preparation of a full review of all 133 hatchery genetic management plans into one EIS.

Reviews will now proceed on a smaller scale with individual or watershed-level plans, according to NOAA’s March 26 announcement.

NOAA West Coast Region fisheries manager Rob Jones said the withdrawal will allow the federal agency to move through the review process more quickly.

“We can move ahead right now with review and approvals as the plans come in the door,” he said. “What we’re going to do is take advantage of all the work that was done — to get to a draft EIS — and then we’re going to put that to use as we receive updated plans from the state and tribes.”

The review is needed to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Steelhead and chinook salmon are listed as threatened under the act, meaning they are at risk of becoming endangered.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to assess the impacts of the hatchery genetic management plans through an environmental review. Part of the review process is deciding whether an EIS is necessary.

“We think this is a better and faster way to comply with the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act,” Jones said. “We’re working on (updated plans) as they come in the door instead of waiting to do all 100 or so at the same time. That means decisions are going to start rolling out the door this spring.”

Three hatcheries operate in the Skagit River system — the Marblemount, Upper Skagit and Baker Lake. Six hatchery programs run out of those facilities contribute to chinook, coho, chum and sockeye runs.

Five of the six programs were submitted to NOAA for review a decade ago, but were held back while the federal agency waited to have all 133 plans in hand, Jones said. By the time NOAA was prepared to proceed, a lot had changed in the way hatcheries are managed.

The plans need to be updated to reflect the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead under the ESA, new scientific information and the closure of some facilities.

State and tribal representatives say NOAA’s review is important to ensure hatcheries are not at risk of litigation, as in the case of last year’s lawsuit by the Wild Fish Conservancy, which resulted in a 12-year closure of the Skagit River’s winter steelhead program.

Area tribes support the federal agency’s decision to withdraw the draft study.

“NOAA fisheries determined, and tribes agree, that a watershed-specific approach would be a more effective approach to focus and assess the potential environmental effects of hatchery programs,” Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission spokeswoman Kari Neumeyer said in an email.

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community fisheries manager Lorraine Loomis, who is chair of the commission, agrees.

“Many of these hatchery programs are critically important to maintaining treaty-protected fishing rights,” Loomis said in a prepared statement. “We are quickly approaching a crisis in the Pacific Northwest as salmon runs and their habitat continue to decline. It is important that NOAA is provided the resources to complete its statutory responsibilities under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) as quickly as possible.”

Though NOAA had already started its review of the state’s hatcheries, Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, introduced in the state Legislature this year Joint Memorial Bill 8007, which calls on the federal government to review Puget Sound hatchery genetic management plans to avoid lawsuits.

Pearson also sees the withdrawal as a step in the right direction.

“NOAA knows that the joint memorial (Bill 8007) is coming, and this is helping put pressure on them to get our hatcheries certified. I’m very pleased to see some movement on this front and I hope all of our hatcheries can get certified soon,” he said in an email.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound treaty tribes co-manage all but one of the region’s hatcheries. The only one not co-managed by the state and tribes is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hatcheries are a tool to help provide fish for harvest, but should be managed with consideration for threatened or endangered species, according to the fisheries service.

Upper Skagit Tribe harvests last full return of hatchery steelhead



By Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


It’s the end of an era for Upper Skagit tribal fishermen as the last full return of hatchery steelhead arrives in the Skagit River this winter.

“Our ancestors gave up everything so that we could continue to fish in our traditional areas,” said Scott Schuyler, natural resources director for the Upper Skagit Tribe. “Without hatchery production, we can’t have a meaningful fishery.”

The last full steelhead fishery is especially bittersweet for Schuyler, whose 14-year-old daughter just received her first tribal fishing card. “Maybe she’ll be able to have one day of fishing a year,” he said. “That’s not a meaningful fishery.”

Steelhead are a culturally important species that the Upper Skagit Tribe harvests for commercial, ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Historically, steelhead were available during the long winter months when other species were not available to feed tribal families.

Hatchery programs have been a part of fisheries management in Washington for more than 100 years, making up for lost natural production as a result of degraded and destroyed habitat. Guided by science, hatchery management in western Washington is carefully managed to protect the genetic health of wild fish. In the Skagit River, hatchery programs also provide mitigation for the ongoing effects of hydroelectric plants.

Last spring, the Wild Fish Conservancy sued the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) over hatchery winter steelhead programs that used Chambers Creek broodstock.

“Hatcheries are under attack,” Schuyler said. “Taking away hatchery programs leaves tribes under certain circumstances with a severely diminished or no opportunity.”

The Upper Skagit Tribe, along with the Lummi Nation and Tulalip and Stillaguamish tribes, released a statement at the time of the lawsuit saying that the Wild Fish Conservancy “erroneously concluded that hatchery production, rather than the loss of habitat, is responsible for the depressed state of the Puget Sound Steelhead populations.”

However, WDFW settled the lawsuit, agreeing to halt the release of Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead in all Puget Sound rivers but one, until the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approves each program. The settlement also put a 12-year moratorium of steelhead hatchery releases in the Skagit River.

This year will be the Upper Skagit Tribe’s last full season fishing for hatchery steelhead, with returns reduced starting next year, and gone by 2017.

Tulalips, others oppose state’s move to halt release of hatchery steelhead

By Chris Winters, The Herald

TULALIP — A lawsuit filed against the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has led the state to cancel this year’s entire release of hatchery-raised steelhead trout into Western Washington rivers.

That means that there will be virtually no steelhead fishing in 2016 and 2017.

This week the Tulalips and other local American Indian tribes weighed in, blasting the decision by the state to cancel the release, and the lawsuit that forced the move, filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Duvall.

The suit was filed on March 31. In a declaration filed April 16 by Phil Anderson, the director of Fish and Wildlife, he wrote that the department’s plan to protect wild steelhead from genetic hybridization with hatchery fish is under review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, but that he had no expectation it would be approved in time for the release.

That approval is necessary so that the program wouldn’t run afoul of the Endangered Species Act, which lists wild steelhead as threatened. Therefore, Anderson decided there would be no steelhead release this year.

A joint statement issued by the Tulalip Tribes, the Lummi Nation and the Upper Skagit Tribe took issue with the basis for the nonprofit’s lawsuit, which, it said, “erroneously concluded that hatchery production, rather than the loss of habitat, is responsible for the depressed state of the Puget Sound steelhead populations.”

The statement from the tribes urged anglers to contact Gov. Jay Inslee, the Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Anderson and to put pressure on the department.

“Maybe the hatcheries do have some impact, but there are greater impacts out there,” said Ray Fryberg, executive director for natural and cultural resources for the Tulalip Tribes.

Habitat loss, environmental change, perhaps even seals waiting at the mouths of rivers to eat the returning fish probably have a greater impact on wild populations than the hatcheries do, Fryberg said.

The fish at issue is known as Chambers Creek steelhead, a strain raised in six hatcheries in Western Washington, including the Whitehorse Ponds hatchery near Darrington.

The hatchery-raised juveniles are released earlier than when wild steelhead hatch, and the difference in timing allows the hatchery-raised adult steelhead to be fished before the wild runs return to their spawning grounds.

A spokesperson for the Department of Fish and Wildlife declined to comment on the lawsuit or the statement from the tribes.

The conservancy’s suit alleges that the state’s hatchery programs allow Chambers Creek steelhead to interbreed with the wild strains, out-compete the wild fish for food and spawning grounds, and that the hatchery operations themselves have suppressed the wild population.

The wild stocks are so depressed that they are in danger of being listed as endangered, which would drastically affect fishing for all salmonid species in the region, said Kurt Beardslee, the executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy.

Loss of habitat is a critical issue, Beardslee said, but the only two actions that would have an immediate impact on wild populations would be to curtail fishing or to stop hatchery releases.

He cited a recent study conducted in the Skagit River of the impacts of hatchery-raised steelhead on the wild population, one of whose recommendations was to suspend hatchery releases for seven to 10 years to eliminate competition among the species, reduce cross-breeding among populations and increase the survival rate of wild steelhead.

“We have to look at things that can get results immediately,” Beardslee said.

Fryberg said that the lawsuit was a step backward in the struggle to restore wild runs of steelhead and salmon.

“For years and years as co-managers and cooperative managers we’ve always emphasized that we should be working together,” Fryberg said.

With the environment changing rapidly, there is simply no baseline condition to compare it to, and it’s essential to get all the scientific data on the table before acting, he added.

“We have not fished some native runs of fish out here for 20 to 30 years and they still haven’t rebounded,” Fryberg said. “Let’s not run into this hastily.”


Chinook make late arrival on Columbia River

By Wayne Kruse, Herald Writer

April 10, 2014

The spring chinook run on the Columbia River has finally picked up, just in time for the season to expire. The popular lower-river fishery for bright, feisty springers closes Monday, and no season extension is planned at this point. After the numbers are crunched, it’s possible an extension could be announced, Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver said, but it probably wouldn’t take place until mid-May and it would be a short extension.

“What I think they’re looking at,” Hymer said, “would be to run it right on into the summer chinook season.”

The springer fishery started slowly, due in part to high, dirty, cold water conditions, Hymer said, and better success rates have followed a clearing, warming trend.

“We got off to a bad start,” he said, “but fishing has picked up the last few days to a point where it looks like we’ll come close to hitting predictions.”

The kings have been scattered from Cathlamet up to BonnevIlle Dam, and fishing has been good one day and not so good the next. Anglers are trolling herring, with or without a FishFlash, on both tides but primarily in a downstream direction. Others anchor on the ebb and put out Kwikfish with a sardine or tuna-belly wrap.

Tuna belly?

Sardines, anchovies, even herring in a pinch, but tuna belly?

“Yeah,” Hymer said. “Lots of oil and scent there. Works pretty well.”

Popular plug colors include silver, chartreuse, greens and pinks.

State creel checks late last week and over the weekend on the river below Bonneville counted 2,557 salmonid anglers (including 835 boats) with 316 adult and two jack springers, and nine steelhead. Effort had increased through Sunday, when a flight counted 1,300 boats and 1,146 bank anglers on the lower river.


 Peninsula steelhead

A very good wild-stock steelhead fishery is underway on the Olympic Peninsula, according to Bob Gooding at Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330), and unlike a lot of late seasons, the Sol Duc isn’t the only venue.

“It’s a good run of native fish,” Gooding said. “The hatchery run this winter was disappointing, but the wild fish are showing up pretty well.”

Most of the eight rivers centered in the Forks area that allow retention of one native steelhead per season have been putting out fish, Gooding said. The Sol Duc is probably the best, especially since there are a few spring chinook available on the lower end.

“Add springers to a good late steelhead run and you have a circus,” Gooding said. “Pressure on the Sol Duc has been pretty heavy.”

The Calawah, Bogachiel and Hoh also have been kicking out natives, according to Gooding, which has eased crowding on the Sol Duc a little.

The Hoh is popular, particularly with fly fishermen.

“They don’t catch a ton of fish,” Gooding said, “but a lot of them fish the Hoh. It has a lot of open gravel bars, access is pretty good, and it’s a relatively easy river to fish.”

Almost everyone else uses a float/jig or float/pink plastic worm.

“And I personally don’t care for that gear,” Gooding said. “I may be old-fashioned, but I like to drift my rig down the gravel and feel that ‘tap, tap’ and know I’m about to have a blast. Float fishing, all you do is sit and watch the float all day and when it goes ‘blip’ you start reeling and the fish is either there or it isn’t. Not my cup of tea.”

State Fish and Wildlife Department personnel checked 82 anglers on the Sol Duc over the weekend, 71 boat fishermen and 11 bankers, with two native fish kept and 120 releasedplus two hatchery fish kept. On the Bogachiel it was 12 boat fishermen with 16 natives released and two hatchery fish kept. On the lower Hoh, it was 35 bank anglers and 32 boaters with 22 natives released, and on the upper Hoh, 48 anglers with 13 natives released.


 Razor clams

The last razor clam dig on the coastal beaches drew a near-record crowd, probably because of the switch from winter evening tides to the more popular morning tides. Weather and surf didn’t cooperate fully, according to state shellfish manager Dan Ayres in Montesano, and the average number of clams per person swung from 4.1 to about 13, depending on the day and the beach.

Next up is a tentative series of tides as follows: Monday, 6:46 a.m., plus 0.2 feet, at Twin Harbors beach; Tuesday, 7:24 a.m., minus 0.3 feet, at Twin Harbors and Long Beach; Wednesday, 8:03 a.m., minus 0.6 feet, at Twin Harbors and Long Beach; April 17, 8:43 a.m., minus 0.8 feet, at Twin Harbors and Long Beach; April 18, 9:26 a.m., minus 0.8 feet, at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Mocrocks; April 19, 10.14 a.m., minus 0.7 feet, at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks; and April 20, 11:06 a.m., minus 0.4 feet , at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Ayres warns clam diggers that a 2014 license is needed. Licenses range from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license.

Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood (425-743-9505) looked around the area and came up with the following:

Blackmouth fishing: better the farther west you go, around Port Townsend and beyond; slow locally.

Kokanee: starting to show in Lake Stevens, but probably won’t be steamin’ until at least the end of April.

Smelt: The Oak Harbor Marina and Cornet Bay are putting out surprisingly good smelt jigging, or at least better than it was early in the winter season.

Fly fishing: Pretty fair reports from fly fishermen working Lone Lake on Whidbey Island and Pass Lake south of Anacortes.

For more outdoor news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at



Lawsuit Threatens Steelhead Recovery


Steelhead-Salmon-River1-300x222Apr 7th, 2014

Both hatchery and wild fish are needed for steelhead and salmon recovery in western Washington, says Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“There’s no way we can do it without both,” said Frank, responding to a lawsuit against the state of Washington by a group claiming that state hatchery steelhead releases are undermining recovery of ESA-listed wild steelhead, chinook and bull trout in Puget Sound.

The Wild Fish Conservancy wants the program halted and is seeking an injunction to stop the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from releasing nearly 1 million hatchery steelhead this spring. WDFW has said it will not release the fish unless or until it can reach an agreement with the group.

Science guides the operation of hatcheries in western Washington, Frank said. Hatcheries are carefully managed to protect the genetic health of wild fish. Without hatcheries and the fish they produce, there would be no fishing at all.

“It’s important to remember why we have hatcheries in the first place,” he said. “They were built to make up for lost natural steelhead and salmon production that has been nearly destroyed by habitat loss and damage. They have been an important part of salmon management in Washington for more than 100 years.”

Indian and non-Indian fishermen, their families, businesses and many others depend on the salmon and steelhead that hatcheries provide, Frank said. Because wild fish populations have continued to decline along with their habitat, hatcheries are critical to providing fish for harvest.

Hatchery fish are also essential to fulfilling tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights, which depend on fish being available for harvest. Properly managed hatcheries can be a valuable tool for wild fish restoration by supplementing natural spawning and increasing natural-origin fish abundance, Frank said.

“But we must also stop the loss and damage of steelhead and salmon habitat in our watersheds,” Frank said. “The reasons that hatcheries were built in the first place have not changed, and have only gotten worse. We are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored and protected, and that trend is not improving.”

That is why lawsuits like the one filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy are so disappointing, Frank said.

Once a hatchery salmon is released, it has the same habitat needs as wild fish. Those needs include clean, cold water; access to and from the sea; and good spawning habitat.

“Lost and damaged habitat, not hatcheries or harvest, is what’s driving wild steelhead and salmon populations toward extinction,” Frank said. “The focus needs to be on fixing and protecting habitat, not fighting over hatcheries and the fish they produce. Climate change and exploding population growth are only making our habitat problems worse, which in turn makes hatcheries even more important for wild fish and all of us.”

If the state ultimately does not release the fish, both Indian and non-Indian fishermen and local economies will feel the effects quickly and for a long time, Frank said. “The tribes and state learned a long time ago that our money, time and energy are better spent working together for the benefit of the resource than fighting each other in court. We need cooperation, not litigation, to achieve salmon and steelhead recovery.”

For more information: Tony Meyer, NWIFC, (360-438-1180); or Emmett O’Connell (360- 438-1180)

Wash. Puts Release Of Hatchery Steelhead On Hold

A steelhead trout in an Oregon stream. | credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife | rollover image for more
A steelhead trout in an Oregon stream. | credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife


By Katie Campbell, KCTS9

State fish managers are halting their plans to release juvenile steelhead into Puget Sound rivers this spring. This decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by wild fish advocates.

The Wild Fish Conservancy sued the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, contending that the agency’s planting of early winter hatchery steelhead violates the Endangered Species Act.

In response, agency officials have decided not to release more than 900,000 juvenile Chambers Creek steelhead in Puget Sound rivers.

Kurt Beardslee is co-founder of the wild fish advocacy group. He says that’s a good sign that fishery managers are taking the lawsuit seriously.

The lawsuit claims that planting this highly domesticated species of ocean-going trout will endanger wild steelhead, chinook and bull trout.

Fish and Wildlife officials say they plan to continue to rear the fish in hatcheries until they are old enough to be released in trout-fishing lakes. That could change, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit.

Upper Skagit Tribe looks at steelhead survival


Mar 16th, 2014 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe is tagging juvenile steelhead to estimate freshwater productivity and learn more about smolt-to-adult survival in the Skagit River.

Steelhead have a complex life history, making it hard for salmon managers to forecast returns. Juvenile steelhead can leave freshwater habitat between their first and fourth year of life, and return from the salt water after one to five years. In addition, steelhead are repeat spawners, unlike other species of salmon, so they can return to salt water before coming back to fresh water to spawn again.

Compared to other river systems in Puget Sound, the Skagit River still has an abundance of wild steelhead.

“We estimate how many adult steelhead come back to the Skagit River based on spawning ground surveys,” said Jon-Paul Shannahan, biologist for the Upper Skagit Tribe. “Right now, we don’t know how many juvenile steelhead leave the watershed.”

A fish weir guides juvenile steelhead into a trap in Hansen Creek. The steelhead are tagged and then released to help fisheries managers learn more about smolt-to-adult survival.
A fish weir guides juvenile steelhead into a trap in Hansen Creek. The steelhead are tagged and then released to help fisheries managers learn more about smolt-to-adult survival.

The tribe has partnered with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to collect steelhead smolts using screw traps in Hansen and Illabot creeks. The smolts are tagged with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags that will provide data when the steelhead leave and return to the two tributaries. These PIT-tagged steelhead can also be monitored for encounters in other research or harvest sampling.

This spring, the Upper Skagit Natural Resources Department plans to install one PIT tag antenna array in Hansen Creek that will record information when tagged fish swim over the antennas. If funding is secured, another antenna array will be installed in Illabot Creek next year.

Previous data has shown that steelhead out-migrate from the upper Skagit watershed at an older age compared to fish in the lower watershed. Illabot Creek is near Rockport in the upper watershed, and Hansen Creek is in the lower watershed near the tribe’s Sedro-Woolley reservation.

“These two creeks represent a tiny sliver of the available habitat,” Shannahan said. “We picked these two productive tributaries as initial sites to represent the age diversity of the smolts and the habitat conditions from the entire basin. We have decent adult return data, some decent habitat and flow data, and plan to expand this data to get a picture of the entire basin productivity. ”

Ultimately, the tribe wants to incorporate this research into long-term monitoring in the Skagit basin, but has not identified a long-term funding source.

“We believe this is a unique project on the Skagit,” said Scott Schuyler, natural resources director for the Upper Skagit Tribe. “Given how complex the life history is for steelhead, this is an great opportunity to truly learn more about the species.”

For more information, contact: Jon-Paul Shannahan, Upper Skagit Tribe, 360-854-7089 or; Kari Neumeyer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or

Tribes Push To Restore Salmon To Upper Columbia River

 A pre-conference tour of Grand Coulee Dam on Monday kicked off a conversation about restoring salmon to the Upper Columbia Basin.Tom Banse, Northwest News Network
A pre-conference tour of Grand Coulee Dam on Monday kicked off a conversation about restoring salmon to the Upper Columbia Basin.
Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

By Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

Once upon a time, salmon and steelhead swam over a thousand miles upriver to the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River, at the foot of the Rockies in British Columbia.

Those epic migrations ended in 1938 with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.

This week, tribes from both sides of the U.S.-Canada border along with scientists and policymakers are meeting in Spokane to figure out how Columbia River fish could be restored to their entire historical range. The idea draws passionate supporters, but has unknown costs that you might be asked to help pay.

Uncharted waters 

Salmon and steelhead have been absent from the upper Columbia River for 75 years. But tribes on both sides of border still miss the fish. Colville tribal member D.R. Michel senses an opportunity “to correct a lot of wrongs.”

“The tribes never surrendered to the loss of salmon,” he says. “You see old photos of the chiefs standing on the reservation side looking down on the project with all of those promises of, ‘We’ll take care of you. You’ll have your fish. We’ll put in hatcheries.’ None of that stuff ever really happened.”

Tribes are taking the lead to examine options for restoring migratory fish to the upper Columbia River. Five dams built without fish ladders now stand in the way — two in Washington and three in Canada.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Lynne Brougher led a tour Monday of Grand Coulee Dam for tribal leaders and biologists from British Columbia and the U.S Northwest. She stopped the tour van in the center of the enormous concrete span so the group could peer over the edge at the torrents of water plummeting down the spillways.

“What you’re looking at here is a 350 foot difference between the water at the base of the dam and uplake in the reservoir,” Brougher explained over the din of rushing water.

Nobody has built a fish ladder on a dam this high according to Canadian Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission biologist Will Warnock of Cranbrook, British Columbia.

“It would be going into uncharted waters to build that kind of passage facility. There’s other things you can do to get salmon past dams this high, though. You can trap them and manually truck them around the dam.”

That’s one idea. An elevator actually is another. A long fish ladder would be very expensive and a last resort, if tried at all.

A separate suite of technologies would be needed to help juvenile salmon migrating downstream get past the hydropower turbines and long stretches of slack water behind the upper Columbia dams.

Who would pay?

Who would pay for this? Nearly all of us, as D.R. Michel sees it. He directs the Upper Columbia United Tribes of North Idaho and Eastern Washington.

“It’s potentially a shared cost between ratepayers, the federal government, farmers and irrigators,” says Michel. “Some of the folks who benefit directly from use of this water and what comes out of this dam should help pay for this also.”

The unknown costs of reintroduction could add up, and that worries the Public Power Council’s Scott Corwin. He represents public utilities who get electricity from Columbia River dams.

“There are just a lot of questions about whether that is even possible and how it would impact other species. Yeah, we have a lot of questions.”

The U.S. and Canada are about to open negotiations to renew the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty. That is the forum chosen by fish advocates to advance their idea. But last week, British Columbia’s government declared it doesn’t want to discuss it at the treaty talks.

A position paper forwarded to Ottawa reads, “British Columbia’s perspective is that the management of… salmon populations is the responsibility of the Government of Canada and that restoration of fish passage and habitat, if feasible, should be the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure.”

“We are very respectful of the importance of salmon to First Nations,” said provincial Energy Minister Bill Bennett, using the Canadian term for native tribes. But during an interview, Bennett also maintained that ratepayers of BC Hydro should not have to pay more for fish passage. “Our (electricity) rates are already going up in B.C.,” Bennett noted.

Tim Personius, deputy regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, says Canada’s position could be a problem.

“The position of the United States is that we should not move forward without Canada participating. I think that’s a good idea.”

Personius says it looks like a lot of the spawning habitat for upper Columbia River fish is in Canada. He says it would not make a lot of sense “for the United States to spend millions or billions of dollars on fish passage” only to have the salmon run to British Columbia and “stub their noses” on a Canadian dam.

The U.S. government is taking an open-minded position in Personius’ telling. But given the many unknowns, “We should kind of approach this cautiously and probably in small steps.”

The Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps think say they are willing to investigate, but unknown costs could be a problem later.

New McNary Dam Passage Gives High Hopes for Pacific Lamprey

U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceThe Pacific lamprey
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Pacific lamprey


Indian Country Today Media Network

The Pacific lamprey, culturally significant to the Umatilla and other tribes, now has a shot at making it past the McNary Dam to spawn.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is supplementing the fish ladder of the dam’s Oregon shore with an additional structure that offers water velocities more conducive to lamprey migration, the Union-Bulletin reported on March 8.

The structure would allow lampreys, which tend to move along the river bottom in water that flows more slowly than the upper levels preferred by spawning salmon and steelhead, to access the fish ladder and make it upstream, the Union-Bulletin said.

“We plan to conduct video monitoring to observe which velocity is preferred by migrating lampreys,” said Mark Smith, who managed the project for the Corps, to the newspaper. “We anticipate this prototype structure will help us learn quite a bit about what’s best for lamprey passage.”

Lampreys have been around for at least 450 million years, the oldest fish in the Columbia River system, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). Though not in danger of extinction, they have declined from a former high of millions 30 years ago to just about 4,000 returning to the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon river drainages where they once teemed, said Aaron Jackson, lamprey project leader for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, to the Union-Bulletin.

Tribes in the Pacific Northwest use the lamprey for food and medicine, and the fish plays a key role in regulating inland aquatic systems. They spend their first four to seven years of life acting as filters in freshwater sand and silt, then move to the ocean where they become parasites, latching onto various saltwater prey, the Union-Bulletin said. After two to three years of that they return to their freshwater origins to spawn.

The Army Corps of Engineers work group that helped design and engineer the structure included tribal representatives, the newspaper said. Built by Marine Industrial Construction of Wilsonville, Oregon under a $336,542 contract, was completed in late February and is the first such installation in the mid-Columbia River, the Union-Bulletin said.

“We’re excited to see something like this put in the river,” Jackson said.

RELATED: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Oregon



An Undammed River’s Sediment Brings New Life Downstream

Katie Campbell, KCTS9

PORT ANGELES, Wash. — Anne Shaffer sits on the sandy shoreline of the Elwha River and looks around in amazement. Just two years ago, this area would have been under about 20 feet of water.

So far about 3 million cubic yards of sediment — enough to fill about 300,000 dump trucks — has been released from the giant bathtubs of sediment that formed behind the two hydroelectric dams upstream. And that’s only 16 percent of what’s expected to be delivered downstream in the next five years.

All of that sediment is already reshaping the mouth of the Elwha, which empties into the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the northern shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

The depth at the mouth of the river has changed by about 50 feet. Long, charcoal-colored sandy beaches have formed where there once only smooth, platter-sized cobblestones.

Watch video report:


“This place is like Christmas,” says Shaffer, a marine biologist and the executive director of the Coastal Watershed Institute. “Everyday you come out here and its something new.”

Shaffer is leading a team of researchers who are studying the Elwha’s nearshore area, where the river’s freshwater meets the saltwater tides. Shaffer explains that until recently this area was starved of sediment, and now a whole new ecosystem is forming. Her team is trying to find out what tiny creatures are moving in.

They’re searching for evidence that species like sand lance and surf smelt are using this area as spawning grounds. These tiny fish are a common food sources for juvenile salmon.

Sand lance (top) and surf smelt (bottom) by David Ayers/USGS.


Sand lance, she explained, require a very fine grain sediment in order to lay their eggs.

“We now are surrounded by the exact grain size that sand lance need to spawn,” she says.

The team scoops up bags of sand to test in the lab. So far they haven’t found evidence of sand lance spawning in this new habitat, Shaffer says. But they have found that surf smelt are spawning in areas where sandy substrate has built up.

During recent fish census surveys of the Elwha’s estuary, Shaffer’s team counted baby chum salmon in numbers they haven’t seen in years, if ever, Shaffer said. And they’ve also found a number of eulachon, a type of smelt that was once an abundant food source for coastal tribes. The eulachon is now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“As soon as this habitat is available, these fish are using it,” Shaffer says. “None of us anticipated how quickly it would occur. I’d never seen a eulachon in the estuary before, but in the last three months, every time we survey, we see them.”

The drone of a single-engine plane causes Shaffer to look up and shield her eyes.

“I bet that’s Tom,” she says with a smile.

A Bird’s Eye View

Port Angeles pilot and photographer Tom Roorda has had one of the most unique perspectives during the last two and a half years while the dams have been slowly dismantled. He started taking land-survey photos of the Elwha eight years ago. Back then his photos were used to help the federal Bureau of Reclamation prepare for dam removal.

Today his jaw-dropping aerial photos capture the giant plume of sediment flowing out of the mouth of the Elwha.

“Until I started taking these pictures, no one had any idea how much sediment was coming down or how far it extended out into the strait,” Roorda said.

The flush of sediment has moved the mouth of the Elwha north by about 300 feet, creating a long skinny spit that extends into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The area that used to serve as the Elwha’s estuary has been inundated with freshwater and a new estuary is forming downstream.

“As soon as it starts to rain that sediment gets washed down into the river and we get these big gulps of sediment coming down,” Roorda said.

This winter’s rains have continued to flush sediment downstream, so much so that the river’s flow is currently 10 times higher than normal. While all that sediment is ideal for building nearshore habitat, some worry the water will be too murky for salmon. Sediment can clog and irritate their gills and make it difficult to find food.

But Shaffer for one, isn’t concerned.

“Salmon are brilliant,” she said. “They have evolved over millenia. If they’re given a chance to acclimate to it, they will.”

The First Leap?

Today the entire length of Elwha looks like a free-flowing river. That’s because recent storms have submerged the remaining 25 or so feet of the Glines Canyon Dam.

Glines Canyon Dam 3/10/14
Glines Canyon Dam, March 10, 2014, Olympic National Park


From webcam images, it’s difficult to even identify the slope of what remains of the 210-foot spillway. This is causing some to wonder how much longer it will be before the first fish leap over the concrete barrier that remains.

It may take weeks or months, but when the first leap happens, it’s not likely to be a salmon.

“Steelhead are quite the athletes. A steelhead can leap up to 12 feet in a single jump,” said John McMillan, a NOAA biologist who is tracking fish recovery on the Elwha.

McMillan is betting on steelhead — trout that, like salmon, are born in freshwater streams before migrate to marine waters. He says he’s seen steelhead ascend a 35-foot cascading waterfall by taking a series of long leaps.

Researchers are using imaging sonar to track the different fish returning to the Elwha, and they’ve found that some steelhead have already returned to the lower Elwha, McMillan said. The bulk of the run, however, is expected to take place from April to early July, he said.

Dam deconstruction will pause May 1 to minimize disruption to the steelhead spawning season.

Removal of the Lower Elwha Dam finished in March 2012. The last of the rubble of the Glines Canyon dam is expected to be gone by September 2014.