Author Archives: scottveirs

No mention of orcas in Columbia salmon injunction email

The appended email from the “Columbia and Snake River Campaigns” provides a helpful synopsis (despite the awful typos) of recent legal activity regarding the management of salmon in the river system.  I find it noteworthy that the supporting quotes (and the email overall) make no mention of killer whales and their need for Columbia/Snake salmon.  It’s all about jobs in the fishing industry; there’s no mention of jobs in the whale watching industry.

Does anyone have good stats on the value of each industry?  I have a value in my head for the whale watching industry (from a 1990’s era article that I don’t have handy) of about $90 million per year for the US/Canada whale watching industry.  I’m not sure if this is direct revenue from whale watching, or integrated across all business driven by the whales existence.  A super-cursory search for salmon industry value turned up the newspaper article that suggests $60-300 million per year for West Coast (US) commercial and sport fisheries and associated business.

Salmon advocates work in court to restore salmon and Northwest jobs

Bobby Hayden,

Dear Scott,

Last week, the State of Oregon, along with fishing and
conservation groups within the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
asked a federal judge for help to improve river conditions for
endangered Columbia-Snake salmon and to begin rebuilding jobs
supporting West Coast fishing families and the salmon economy.

This past June, these same groups filed a lawsuit against the
Bush administration’s May 2008 Federal Salmon Plan for violating
the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts. Over the last eight
years, courts have ruled the previous three federal plans
illegal for refusing to follow the science and the law and
failing to save and restore healthy runs of salmon and

Last week’s request to the judge was filed in U.S. District
Court (called an “injunction”) and seeks specific protections
for Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead in 2009. If and
how these measures are implemented depends Judge Redden’s ruling
on the Administration’s 2008 Salmon Plan. Many of the requested
measures, such as increased water flow and spill over the dams,
help mimic a real river and have proven to be effective
short-term solutions to aid salmon and support local fishing

On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral arguments from
both sides on this important case. This request for the court to
require specific measures to help salmon in 2009 and beyond will
not be answered until after the Judge first rules on the
lawfulness of the 2008 Federal plan. made last week is unlikely
to be addressed until after the court rules on the merits. A
ruling on the injunction would be made sometime after
mid-February 2009. Please read below for more information. Stay
tuned for more updates as this moves forward.

What you can do:
While a favorable decision on the injunction will be a real
boost for salmon and West Coast fishing communities, it is not a
lasting solution. We need leadership from members of Congress,
both in the Northwest and across the country. In 2009 they will
have a great opportunity to move legislation begins to restore
endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon, creates new jobs,
and ensure a truly clean and affordable energy future.

If you haven’t already sent a quick message to your members of
Congress, please do so now:

Recent press on the issue:
Times-News – Twin Falls, ID: Salmon advocates propose dam
spills, higher flows

Associated Press (in the Oregonian): Salmon advocates ask for
more water over dams

Recent quotes from Northwest leaders:

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s
“This is a jobs issue for the fishing industry, pure and simple.
The Snake and Columbia River dams still kill millions of salmon
and devastate salmon-dependent communities all up and down the
coast. Frankly, the Bush administration’s policy has been
nothing but denial and delay. With the new Obama administration
and next year’s Congress, we have a new opportunity to recover
these once-mighty salmon runs before it is too late. Otherwise,
we will see economic devastation in the Northwest like never

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing
Industry Association:
“We need the court to make sure we keep salmon on life support
until we can get them to the recovery room. We saw improved
salmon returns this year only because in 2006 fishers and
conservationists fought tooth and nail in court to secure
protections for these fish. But the Bush administration has
already stripped away these protections, calling for lower flows
and less spill. We’re fighting to make sure that this year’s
good news will not become just a fleeting memory.”

Harvey Morrison, Spokane contractor and steelhead fisherman:
“It’s important to understand that what is being proposed in
this preliminary injunction is not a long-term solution to the
economic crisis in the Northwest. It’s a stop-gap measure that
we must rely on because the Bush administration has left us no
other choice We need our Northwest lawmakers to show leadership
and bring people together so that we can find lasting solutions
that will secure fishing jobs as well as important
transportation needs for farmers in Inland Northwest.”

Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United:
“This [request] is designed to buy our salmon and steelhead time
while we get to the business of developing a clean energy
infrastructure that is not dangerous for salmon and steelhead
and set the table for broad regional discussions and
negotiations that are going to lead to a final and successful
salmon solution someday.”


The recent injunction request seeks more spill over the dams and
increased river flow through Columbia-Snake River reservoirs to
help juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean. Science shows that
the quicker young salmon make it through the heavily dammed
river system, the higher their survival rate. But the Bush
administration’s salmon plan (also called a Biological Opinion,
or “BiOp”) released earlier this year rolls back – and even
eliminates – some of the key protections ordered by the court in
the past. Those court-ordered protections contributed to 2008’s
improved returns.

According to the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded,
independent science and data analysis agency that monitors
Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, this year’s improved
returns are likely the result of more water left in the river
and the spilling of additional water over dams in 2006 when the
now-returning fish were migrating to the ocean as young salmon.
Judge Redden court-ordered those in-river improvements after
conservationists and fishermen fought to have them instituted –
over the vehement objections of federal agencies. Fishermen are
hailing the so-called “Redden effect” as an important tool for
keeping and creating sustainable jobs in the region until a
scientifically-sound, legally-valid salmon plan is in place.

This June, the State of Oregon, fishing and conservation groups
filed litigation against the Bush administration’s May 2008
salmon plan for violating the Endangered Species Act and the
Clean Water Act. Courts have already invalidated three prior
federal plans. On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral
arguments on the merits of the case. The injunction requested
today is unlikely to be addressed until after the court rules on
the merits. Any ruling on the proposed injunction would be made
sometime after mid-February 2009.

Seven killer whales disappear from B.C.’s south coast

This article has a nice synopsis of the lost animals, their ages, names, and demographic significance…
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Larry Pynn,
Vancouver Sun

Published: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A total of seven killer whales are thought to have died since last fall, reducing the population of endangered southern residents to just 83 in three pods. That’s up from 71 in 1973, but down from 100 in 1996.

Two of the seven were old females past their average life expectancy – K7, Lummi, estimated to be 98, and L21, Ankh, age 58.

Most troubling for scientists is the loss of the remaining three, especially two breeding females – Luna’s mother, L67, known as Splash, age 33, and J11, Blossom, about 36.

Two others were newborn calves – L111 and J43 – thought to have a 50-per-cent chance of survival.

Luna’s younger brother, six-year-old L101, Aurora, is also thought to be dead.

“This is of concern,” said John Ford, a whale researcher with the federal fisheries department in Nanaimo. “Those two females were in the prime of their reproductive years. They normally have high survival.”

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Orcas to come up empty mouthed in CA?

The southern residents typically migrate all the way down to California’s Monterey Bay, often arriving there in January.  The presumably feed on salmon returning to or departing WA, OR, and CA rivers.   Below is an interesting article — in part because  members of all three pods have been sighted in the Salish Sea multiple times this November.  It is becoming past the time of year when L and K pods have typically departed for points unknown west of Cape Flattery.  Ken is putting up posters along the outer coast in preparation for their transit southward.  At what point in the decline of CA salmon will the orcas discern that it is no longer worth the trek to Monterey?

This article also speaks volumes about an issue that has been focusing my attention recently: no one in the killer whale and salmon communities in the Pacific Northwest seems to be talking to each other, nor is there open discussion of the “big picture orca/salmon.”   It’s fascinating that the same lack of perspective has persisted in California salmon science. There are heroes akin to Moyle up here — scientists who think at the right integrative level and speak for the endangered species — like Fred “It’s the ecosystem, stupid” Felleman and Ken Balcomb — check out his most recent MASTERFUL synopsis of the orca population trends and salmon abundance.  But we need much, much more of that.  It all makes me wonder whether WDFW/DFO will end up getting a slap on the wrist like the one CA Fish and Game may get.

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Expert sends out SOS for California’s fish

Two-thirds of California’s native salmon, trout and steelhead are headed for extinction unless major changes are made to the way the state’s rivers are managed and protected, according to a report by one of the state’s top fish experts.

“I was surprised that nobody has done an overview of what’s happening to California trout and salmon. Nobody was looking at the big picture,” Moyle said.
Still, Moyle said the breadth of the problem was escaping notice because biologists all were focused on problems with the particular species and rivers in which they were interested.
“You always had the feeling that somewhere there were good populations,” Moyle said. “Things were much worse off collectively than I thought they were.”
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An example of NMFS restricting pesticide use in Oregon

Has this been done in Washington State already?
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Restrictions placed on three pesticides deemed harmful to fish

by Michael Milstein, The Oregonian

Tuesday November 18, 2008, 9:07 PM

Federal fisheries biologists today, concluding that three pesticides used throughout the Willamette Valley harm imperiled salmon, ordered sharp new restrictions on use of the chemical compounds.
The pesticides — chloropyrifos, diazinon and malathion — are among the 60 most used in Oregon, with hundreds of thousands of pounds combined spread throughout the state each year.
Lethal pulses of pesticides wash into streams during storms, said Jim Lecky, director of the Fisheries Service’s Office of Protected Resources. But biologists are more concerned that low levels of pesticides interfere with the ability of fish to zero in on prey and find their way home to their spawning streams.
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WDFW says fish for Blackmouth

After hearing Sandra O’Neill talk about how resident Chinook are so much more contaminated with PCBs and PDBEs than offshore Chinook, I’m wondering if WDFW shouldn’t encourage harvesting of all blackmouth in a manner that maximizes the sequesteration of bioaccumulating toxins in landfills and/or humans.  Maybe we could limit recreational, commerical, and tribal catch of the cleanest Chinook and chum so that orcas have plenty of clean fish to eat and thereby minimize the flux of additional polllutants into their bodies?

Or maybe we should keep orcas from coming into Puget Sound to forage for toxic fish?  Of course, we need to clarify with Sandra where North Puget Sound ends (and toxic fish are less prevalent) versus where Georgia Basin and the Strait of Juan de Fuca begin…

This from the latest email announcement from the WDFW Weekender Report (November 12-25, 2008):

Once the weather does improve, Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist, recommends fishing for blackmouth salmon – resident chinook – in marine areas 9 (Admiralty Inlet) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Anglers fishing Marine Area 10 can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. Those fishing in Marine Area 9 also have a two-salmon daily limit but can keep up to two hatchery chinook per day. Wild chinook salmon, which have an intact adipose fin, cannot be brought aboard the boat in Marine Area 9.

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that there are still a lot of shakers out in the Sound, and suggests using larger spoons and plugs to minimize the catch of those juvenile chinook. “Treat those fish with extreme care when releasing them because they are next year’s crop of blackmouth,” he said.

Dave Dix as guest columnist in Seattle Times

Dave’s doing a good job of getting the Draft Action Agenda out in the public eye. I’ll have to give it a read before the 20th when comments are due, but it’s distressing that he mentions neither the profound risk of an oil spill decimating the southern residents, nor the potential impact of underwater noise on the orcas and their ability to communicate and forage.
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Guest columnist

Orcas are a call to action on Puget Sound cleanup

The recent alarming news that Puget Sound’s orca population may be starving to death is more than just sad news about an endangered species, it’s a clarion call for action to clean up Puget Sound.

 David Dicks

If orcas, which are at the top of the food chain, are dying from hunger, it doesn’t take a marine biologist to figure out what is happening further down the food chain.

While Puget Sound remains a beautiful sight, just below the surface the evidence is clear that Puget Sound is sick and dying: 52 million pounds of untreated toxic chemicals including oil and petroleum products, PCBs and phthalates flow into the rivers, streams, lakes and bays that make up Puget Sound every year, according to a new report being issued today.

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Dave Dix, Brad Hanson, and Robin Baird on KUOW

This is an hour-long conversation about southern resident killer whales involving Dave Dix, Brad Hanson, and Robin Baird on KUOW’s weekday with Steve Sher.  With luck there will be similar conversations about the state of Puget Sound as we all digest the Puget Sound Partnship’s Draft Action Agenda – 06Nov2008.

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Orcas Dying in Puget Sound

11/06/2008 at 10:00 a.m.

Seven orcas in the Puget Sound region are missing and are presumed dead. What happened? Did food become too scarce when the flow of Chinook slowed down, or is this a much bigger problem? Also, a local agency releases a report on the state of the Sound today. What are the biggest problems in Puget Sound and what can we do to save it?

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Bad news for orca prey research

The funds from the Pacific Salmon Commission could be a great catalyst of research about the behavior and ecology of the Chinook and chum salmon that southern residents appear to prefer. This decrease in endowment coupled with the recent news of losses in the SRKW population — possibly related to starvation — add up to increasing bad news.
Maybe such funds should be invested much more conservatively?  A mix of 70% equities and 30% bonds seems too risky to me.  Of course, this begs the question: “How prudent is it to tie funding for salmon protection and research to interest-bearing accounts?”  The 1999 agreement stipulated that the Northern/Transboundary and Southern funds would be capitalized by the U.S. ($75M and $65M) and Canada ($250k each) and that “annual expenditures shall not exceed the annual earnings from the invested principal.”
With this economic downturn, it seems the fund managers have dipped significantly into the capital itself…
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Fund to save salmon shrinks with economy

$165-million endowment loses more than $35-million, could endanger projects in Canada and the U.S.

VANCOUVER — A $165-million endowment established by the governments of Canada and the United States to fund key salmon projects on the West Coast has been so badly battered by the economic downturn there may be no grant money available for 2009.
Over the past few months, the overall value of the endowment, which consists of two separate funds managed jointly as a master trust by the Pacific Salmon Commission, has fallen by more than $35-million.
This could shut down more than 100 projects in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Alaska that last year got about $10-million in funding.
The full extent of the crisis won’t be known until fund managers sit down with PSC officials in the next few weeks for a detailed report.
But already researchers are being warned to expect a shock.
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Groundfish conservation in Puget Sound

Live blog of a talk entitled “Managing Puget Sound’s Groundfish Resources from the Bottom Up by Wayne Palsson at NWFSC

11:00 Background/motivation

28 species of rockfish, but poor habitat maps (compared with spotted owls, say)

Decline of groundfish like Pacific Cod in south Puget Sound has been prominent in last 10-15 years. Walleye pollock is endangered; 18 species were covered in ESA petitions in 1999. Many PS species are vulnerable.  Copper and quillback petition was judged not warranted in 2006.  2007 petitions are pending for ~5 species.

Lingcod is an exception.  North and south populations have been increasing since about 1995.  Fisheries were restricted ~1990 after overfishing in late 70’s and early 80’s (big drop in catch/trip in 84-85).

11;17 History of habitat studies:

  • Miller mid-1970s — nearshore habitat surveys
  • Moulton 1977
  • Cross 1991, Rocky intertidal
  • Becker 1984, English sole
  • Richards 86-87, depth substrate, relief (sub-based?)
  • Matthews, 1990abc, rockfish, telemetry
  • Murie, 1994, depth, complexity, wall

Rockfish, lingcod, greenling are associated with boulders and walls

Null hypotheses:

  1. Fish are randomly distributed
  2. Distributions are independent of: depth, substrate, slope, complexity, water quality, time, light, food, life stage

11:23 Showed map of continuous bathymetry map in a GIS for all PS, N to Pt. Roberts, and offshore to about outer boundary of Sanctuary

11:24 Bottom trawl surveys (since 1987, ~only in springtime) yield maps with consistent coverage that gets sparse only in SJdF and Georgia Strai [~200 trawls in San Juan Islands since 2001; about 130 are within uniform substrate areas)

  • Starry flounder associated with shallower water
  • Some English sole in S Haro Strait
  • Three geographic groups of similar species: Western Strait of Juan de Fuca, N Puget Sound, and S Puget Sound
  • Depth patterns:  Dover, Hake, Skate are deep species > 120 fathoms; Dogfish and English sole are at all depths
  • Substrate patterns (based on Gary Greene’s multibeam data):
    • flathead sole characteristic of deep mud stations
  • ROV surveys in San Juan Channel (58 in 2004; 70+ in 2005) reveal:
    • rockfish like rocks (especially copper and quillback), so do lingcod and greenling

11:43 Drop camera results (consistent with ROV results)

Philip Block got substrate maps out of NOAA, but still have need for better seafloor maps in the Salish Sea…

11:47 Conclusions: managing from the bottom up

200-300 ROV transects in the San Juans happening now!

11:49 Questions

  1. seasonality? is a factor, but we’ve not looked for it yet
  2. what are threats to sub-tidal habitats?  Not clear what really matters, but likely factors are trawling and climate change
  3. Recreational fishing is a threat to rockfish populations (see recent stock assessment)
  4. What’s controlling population structure?  Fishing, climate change, marine mammal predation… We can probably recover from all these… Ling cod are now dominant biomass at Edmonds.

12:01 end

Orcasphere library revamped

Theses and grey literature related to southern residents can be hard to find and share.  The Orcasphere library eases your pain by providing such documents in PDF format.  Recent additions are the theses of Sara Heimlich-Boran and  Monika Wieland.  Other hard-to-obtain theses that have been archived are those by: Fred Felleman, Rich Osborne, Andy Foote, Shannon McCluskey, and Donna Hauser.

Please comment here if you know of other materials that should be added!