Tag Archives: columbia

Explosive Condit dam removal: more Columbia salmon on winter menu?

Kim Pokorny of the Oregonian reports progress on cleaning up the White Salmon River, a tributary on the lower Columbia, in preparation for an October 26 explosive removal.  This is good news for future foraging by southern resident killer whales who are known to target main stem Columbia fish when foraging on the Washington and Oregon coasts.

On Oct. 26, after years of wrangling among Washington’s Klickitat and Skamania counties and the environmental and tribal groups that teamed with dam operator PacifiCorp, a hole will be blown through the bottom of the dam and about 2.2 million cubic yards of sediment will pour through and rush three miles downriver to the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia rivers.

It will be interesting to compare the sediment and fish dynamics between this dredging and explosive technique with the more progressive removal of the Elwha dams.  This is the fall of falling dams!  Hurrah!

Big fall chinook run expected on Columbia

Today’s Weekender Report from WDFW suggests SRKWs could have some good eating off the mouth of the Columbia this fall.  Does anyone have a read on how the Fraser chinook runs are faring this summer?  Why don’t killer whale conservationists have an easy way of monitoring the abundance of northwest salmon?

Anglers are reeling in chinook salmon off the coast, pulling up pots full of crab in Puget Sound, and casting for trout in alpine lakes on both sides of the Cascades.  Summer fisheries are in full swing, and anglers can look forward to even more great fishing opportunities in the days ahead.

A prime example is the Buoy 10 salmon fishery, which runs Aug. 1-28 at the mouth of the Columbia River. A big run of 776,300 fall chinook is expected to return to the big river this year, and fishery managers predict that anglers will catch approximately 11,000 of them between Buoy 10 and Rocky Point, 16 miles upriver.

“Buoy 10 is a very popular fishery, drawing tens of thousands of anglers every year,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  “Fishing tends to start out slow, then accelerates quickly through the month of August.”

Glimpses into the Columbia spring chinook fishery

In our on-going efforts to monitor Pacific salmon dynamics and interpret them from the perspective of southern resident killer whales, today brings news of a 6-hour commercial net fishery opening on the lower Columbia River.  It’s amazing that it’s even worth going out in a boat when the catch is limited to the first six hatchery-origin chinook!  I guess one can infer there about 200 boats in the fleet, based on the limit and the predicted total catch of about 1200 chinook (70% from upper Columbia and Snake Rivers).

From the southern residents’ perspective, interesting questions are how many fish are expected and when are they arriving (especially compared to past years).  The columbian.com article ends with this:

The forecast is for an upper Columbia run of 198,000. Through Sunday, a total of 262 spring chinook have been counted at Bonneville Dam.

The source of these data was revealed by a recreational fisher’s guide to catching spring chinook on the lower Columbia as the Fish Passage Center (FPC) which is in the business of counting fish in the ladders of the many Columbia River dams.  The guide also gave a big-picture description of the overall spring run timing as “about 6 weeks in late March through April” and provides a nice summary of how the fishery follows the fish up the various tributaries of the Columbia, starting with the Willamette (because OR releases hatchery fish there a couple weeks before WA).

It would be interesting to juxtapose the timing and locations of all available winter/spring orca sightings outside of Puget Sound from past years with the time series of spring Columbia (and Fraser?) fish passage.  For starters, here is a link to Columbia adult fish passage data, some of which are summarized in the following graph that shows the spring chinook run is just beginning on the Columbia.  And here I was thinking that commercial and recreational openings would not occur until some substantial portion of the run had made it to the spawning grounds!

Now is the time of year when the NWFSC crew would typically be preparing for their spring cruise to search for southern residents on the outer coast of WA, including off the Columbia where they have observed SRKWs feeding on chinook from the upper Columbia and Snake .  Unfortunately, NOAA funding and/or ship logistics have ruled out such a cruise this year.

Safina on orcas in LA Times


Save the salmon — and us

Above is a link a nice Op-Ed piece by Carl Safina.  Below is my response, submitted today to the L.A. Times.

In his 1/24/10 opinion “Save the salmon — and us,” Safina points out that new research says orcas prefer salmon.  But the in-press analysis of prey scraps by NOAA’s Brad Hanson is more specific: like humans, the southern resident killer whales’ first choice for a summertime meal is the biggest, fattiest, salmon around — the Fraser River chinook.  Along the west coast, the biggest chinook are associated with the biggest river systems (the Fraser in the summer; the Columbia and Sacramento in the winter) because it takes a big, strong fish to swim thousands of kilometers inland (e.g. to Idaho).  For the orcas’ sake, we need to prioritize chinook recovery in the biggest rivers.

To keep the orcas visiting the Salish Sea during the summer, we should all be more involved in conserving the chinook (and other salmon) runs of the Fraser river, along with recovering stocks in the rivers of western Washington.  We Americans should get more involved in the battle raging in British Columbia between Norwegian salmon farms and advocates of wild Fraser sockeye like Alexandra Morton.  Her proposed actions to protect sockeye smolts from diseased farm fish will also help baby chinook on their way to the open Pacific, and thereby ensure future meals for southern residents.  Activists can also help the orcas by bolstering conservation efforts in Washington State, like the recent delta restorations in the Skagit and Nisqually rivers, or the removal of Elwha river dams (now starting in 2011 thanks to stimulus funds).

To prevent extinction of orcas we must protect their winter food sources.  We need to call our legislators, most importantly the recalcitrant Senators from Washington, to initiate a new approach to salmon management in the Pacific Northwest.  The current plan for Columbia salmon is a Bush-era cop-out that parasitized new-NOAA-head Jane Lubchenco like a B.C. sea louse jumps a Fraser sockeye smolt.  To recover, the Columbia/Snake salmon need innovative, dramatic action — including dam removal — not the business-as-usual that led to salmon ecosystem collapses first in England and then along the Atlantic seaboard (read “King of Fish” by David Montgomery for historic perspective).  The best idea I’ve heard is to place a salmon specialist on the President’s Council on Environmental Quality to mandate and facilitate a new regional collaboration already called for by Congressional leaders from Oregon and Idaho. 

One year into the Obama administration is a good time to call for such high-level solutions.  We should demand full funding of the recovery plan and research to support it — both of which have been under-funded by ~70% since the southern residents were listed as endangered.  Oh, and the word “orca” should be in the next salmon treaty, too, because it appears that they are at the table from California to Alaska — whether human fishers like it or not.

Columbia River sea otters after 100y?

Interesting that the WA sea otters (a transient orca food source?) may be expanding their range from the NW coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Though the Salish Sea habitat is certainly appropriate for them, they apparently are rarely seen east of a line between Port Angeles and Race Rocks. Reference http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/whc/seadoc/pdfs/VanBlaricom01.pdf
clipped from www.dailyastorian.com
The reappearance of sea otters this month at the mouth of the Columbia River after an absence of perhaps as much as a century is heart-warming news in its own regard and also powerfully symbolic.
Russian hunters, eventually joined by Britons, Canadians and Americans, decimated a West Coast sea otter population once estimated at up to 300,000. Native people were drafted into the international trade, trading pelts for western goods, until only 1,000 to 2,000 otters remained when the slaughter finally was banned in 1911.
Even in the remote Aleutian Islands, sea otters have taken four steps forward and three steps back, with the population plunging from as many as 100,000 in the 1980s to around 6,000 by the year 2000. This may be because orcas shifted to preying on otters after environmental-related declines in their preferred menu items – seals and sea lions.
A self-sustaining population of otters has been reestablished along the northern Olympic Peninsula and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  blog it

Snake River Salmon on KUOW

The most prominent appeal in this discussion was whether we can move away from litigation and towards more collaborative processes to restore the wild populations of Columbia salmon and steelhead. The agreement between 3 tribes and federal agencies (the “Columbia Basin Accords”) may be a step in the right direction. However, many feel the 2008 biological opinion (“BiOp”) is not acceptable and that the Federal agencies need to have their feet held to the fire (by Judge Redden, potentially .

The speakers made a strong suggestion that salmon fisheries will be closed again this year south of Cape Falcon. This is due to the poor condition of the Sacramento River runs, but will also presumably help protect runs from the Kalamath, Rogue, and OR coastal rivers. Ocean conditions north of Cape Falcon are looking about the same as last year (moderate) and we may have a stronger Columbia Coho year. The Pacific Fisheries Management Commission will meet next week; folks will probably start fishing around May 1.

Rob of Trout Unlimited was clearest: There are 1000s of miles of good habitat in the Snake River Basin (NE Oregon and Idaho). If you took down the 4 lower Snake River dams, you would enable wild runs to access that potential salmon refuge. We haven’t had a regional dialogue about realistic solutions to the goal of salmon recovery (to which most parties agree)! The courtroom encourages battle lines, not a serious, creative problem-solving approach. At the end of the day, the only way to have sustainable runs is to have access to habitat in healthy river systems. We’ve spent about $8B on salmonid recovery since initial listing in 1991 and the long-term trends are generally pointing towards extinction of wild runs.

Jerry (42′ salmon trolling fisherman) was also well-spoken: Rail is a good competitor for transport which is the main service provided by the lower Snake River. A problem with 400ton barges is that smaller wheat farmers must aggregate their product and can only get commodity prices. Rail cars could allow an organic wheat farmer to differentiate their product. This year we’re still looking at survival. Eight years from now I hope we’ll have honest commitments from the hydrosystem (the BPA and Army Corp have been too insulated by past administrations). Recent biological opinions have downplayed the impacts of the hydrosystem and have especially avoided the elephant in the room: the lower Snake dams.

clipped from kuow.org

Salmon and the Snake River Dams

03/05/2009 at 9:00 a.m.

Snorkeler with salmon, 1999. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives.

Snorkeler with salmon, 1999. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives.

KUOW 94.9 FM



Phil Rigdon is the Director of Natural Resources for the Yakima Nation. He is also a member of the Yakima tribe.
Rob Masonis is Vice President of Western Conservation of Trout Unlimited. He is a sport fisherman.
Stuart Ellis is on the habitat committee of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. He works for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.
Jeremy Brown is a commercial fisherman from Bellingham.
Are salmon on the verge of being moved? Tomorrow, an Oregon federal judge will hear a case which may decide the fate of the salmon runs of the Columbia and Snake River basins.
blog it

NW salmon forecasts and fisheries dates

Here is an excerpt from yesterday’s WDFW announcement that describes the forecasts for many Columbia and Salish Sea salmon runs.  To Pat’s credit, there was a quick correction to a painful error (suggesting that adipose-clipped fish weren’t hatchery fish).  In conjunction with the process-map in the previous post, these dates should help us orca-advocates be in the right place at the right time to “speak for the whale’s” share of NW salmon…  Better speak now before they start shooting orcas like the CA sea lions lounging at the Bonneville debacle…

Preseason salmon forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes, were released today at a public meeting in Olympia.

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2009 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through March before finalizing fishing seasons in early April.

While several salmon runs are up this year, fishery managers still face a number of challenges in crafting fisheries that meet conservation goals for weak salmon stocks, said Phil Anderson, WDFW’s interim director.

“Conservation of wild fish will continue to be our top priority,” Anderson said. “We will work hard with tribal co-managers and our constituents to create fishing opportunities for hatchery fish while ensuring that we are successful in meeting conservation objectives for wild fish populations.”

One constraining stock this year is the Bonneville Pool hatchery fall chinook run, a major contributor to Washington’s coastal fisheries. Although the overall return of Columbia River fall chinook is forecasted to be higher than last year, catch quotas for chinook in the river and the ocean will likely be low because of the poor Bonneville Pool return and restrictions needed to protect wild salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

While salmon forecasts are up overall in the Columbia River, coho and chinook returns to Puget Sound are expected to be slightly down this year.

A few individual Puget Sound coho stocks, including the Skagit and Stillaguamish, are expected to return at low levels and will require additional protective measures this summer, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW. The overall summer/fall chinook forecast for Puget Sound, where wild chinook salmon are listed for protection under the federal ESA, is 222,000 fish, a slight decrease from last year’s forecast.

“It’s important that we continue working to recover and protect wild salmon populations in Puget Sound,” Pattillo said. “One management tool we can use that helps with those recovery efforts and allows us to provide meaningful recreational fishing opportunities is mark-selective fisheries.”

In the last two years, WDFW has added several recreational mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound. These fisheries allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon – marked with a missing adipose fin – but require that they release wild salmon.

Pattillo said consideration of additional mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound, as well as in the ocean, will be on the agenda during this year’s North of Falcon meetings.

A bright spot for Puget Sound this year is the pink salmon run. More than 5.1 million pink salmon are expected back to Puget Sound streams this summer, nearly 2 million more fish than forecasted in 2007. The smallest of the Pacific salmon species, the majority of pink salmon return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years.

Another strong fall chum salmon return also is forecasted for Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound, where the run is expected to total nearly 915,000 fish. But a Lake Washington sockeye fishery is unlikely this year. The sockeye forecast is about 20,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.

Meanwhile, coho returns to several coastal rivers, including the Hoh and Quillayute, are expected to be up this year, Pattillo said.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 8-13 in SeaTac with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters off the Pacific Coast.

Seven additional public meetings have been scheduled in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2009 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:

* March 4 – Grays Harbor fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano.
* March 5 – Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 Third St., Raymond.
* March 11 – Puget Sound commercial fisheries discussion, 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
* March 11 – Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
* March 16 – Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.
* March 19 – Final Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay fisheries meeting, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
* March 19 – North of Falcon salmon fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick.

Two public North of Falcon meetings, which involve planning fishing seasons for Washington’s waters, including Puget Sound, also will take place in March. The first meeting is scheduled March 17 at the Lacey Community Center, and the second meeting is scheduled March 31 at the Lynwood Embassy Suites. Both meetings will begin at 9 a.m.

The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 4-9 meeting in Millbrae, Calif. The 2009 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming meetings will be posted as they become available on WDFW’s North of Falcon website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/ .

Strong spring chinook run on the Columbia

Here we are in mid-February, a couple weeks into the blackmouth opening in the Salish Sea, and WDFW is opening up recreational fishing for spring (winter?) Chinook running in the Columbia [see today’s email announcement below].  This makes me wonder where the southern residents are at the moment and what the run timing looks like for California Rivers, coastal OR rivers, and the Fraser.  Why in the world isn’t a simple Gantt diagram for this famous phenomena!?

This is the first time I’ve gotten a sense of when the spring run gets going and it’s earlier than I expected.  Yesterday Sam Wasser showed us some plots that suggest that southern residents are about as well fed as they are all summer when they first show up in ~June.  That got me wondering whether Fred Felleman is right — that their main source of annual sustenance is the really big, oily spring Chinook destined for the highest parts of the biggest river systems (and fisher’s dinner tables, now).


February 12, 2009
Contact:  WDFW Region 5 Office, (360) 906-6708

Columbia River spring chinook season reflects projection of strong runs

OLYMPIA – Anglers will be able to fish for spring chinook salmon from the mouth of the Columbia River to Bonneville Dam through mid-April under initial seasons adopted Wednesday, Feb. 11, by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.  Anticipating a strong run of spring chinook to the upper Columbia River and improved returns to the Willamette, the two states agreed to provide significantly more days of fishing – particularly below Hayden Island – than last year.

According to the pre-season forecast, nearly 300,000 upriver spring chinook are expected to enter the Columbia River this year, which would make this year’s return the third highest since 1977.  An additional 37,000 “springers” are also expected to return to the Willamette River, up from 27,000 last year.

“This is shaping up to be a very good year for spring chinook fishing in the Columbia River,” said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  “The first fish have just begun to arrive, and we hope to see a lot more of them in the months ahead.”

Below Hayden Island, the new season provides 30 days of spring chinook fishing in March and April, compared to just 12 days last year.  During those two months, anglers also will have 39 days – up from 36 days last year – to catch and retain spring chinook from Hayden Island upriver to Bonneville Dam.

LeFleur noted that the fishery could extend beyond April, but that late-season regulations have not been set because of differences between the fish and wildlife commissions of Washington and Oregon over how to allocate the catch.

In March and April, Columbia River anglers will be able to fish for spring chinook salmon at the following locations and times:

* West power lines on Hayden Island downstream to Buoy 10:   Seven days per week from March 1-15.  Beginning March 16 through April 18, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursdays through Saturdays.
* West power lines on Hayden Island to Bonneville Dam:   Seven days per week from March 1-22.  Beginning March 23 through April 22, fishing will be limited to four days per week, Wednesday through Saturday.
* Tower Island power lines above Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam:   Seven days per week from March 16 through April 30.  The Washington and Oregon bank fishery will also be open from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island power lines.

Until March 1, the spring chinook fishing is open under regulations described in the 2008-09 Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet (good until April 30, 2009).  Anglers fishing for spring chinook salmon may also retain shad and hatchery steelhead, as outlined in the rule pamphlet.

In all areas, anglers are required to release any chinook salmon not clearly marked as a hatchery-reared fish, since a portion of the wild upriver spring chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.  Unmarked steelhead must also be released.  Hatchery fish can be identified by a clipped adipose fin with a healed scar.

Under a new rule approved by the Washington commission, anglers fishing below McNary Dam may retain two hatchery-reared adult salmon or steelhead (or one of each) per day.  However, only one adult chinook salmon may be retained per day downstream from Bonneville Dam.

LeFleur noted that standing rules limit incidental mortality of wild spring chinook intercepted and released in all state fisheries – recreational and commercial – to 2.2 percent of the total run.   “It’s essential that anglers observe the rules requiring the release of wild salmon and steelhead,” LeFleur said.  “Our ability to continue these fisheries depends on it.”

The 6th H of salmon abundance: Heat

The clipping below is from a Daily Astorian article on an EPA report regarding global warming’s potential influence on Northwest salmon.  Of most import for killer whale conservationists are the implications of what James Martin calls a “perfect storm” for salmon: low snow pack with low, warm flows in the summer.
Martin provides a nice quote regarding the economic impact of such a storm:
“In Oregon, Washington and Idaho, it’s a 35,000-job industry, and it’s worth $3 billion dollars per year,” he said. “So it’s a lot more than just a hobby. There’s a lot at stake.”
That’s about 30x the $100M estimate of ecotourism value associated  with the southern residents.
The article also mentions a report co-authored by Martin and Patty Glick called A Great Wave Rising. Dan Drais of Save Our Wild Salmon recently handed me a copy and it looks like an admirable, balanced attempt to bring climate science into the on-going struggle to devise a legal federal plan for recovering endangered fish in the Columbia/Snake basin.  I particularly like that it is rich in reputable citations with which I (and global warming skeptics) can understand the uncertainties in the trends and projections.
A quote from Glick suggests that “Heat” should be added to the 4 H’s that govern northwest salmon abundance: harvest, hatcheries, hydropower, and habitat.  But just last night, David Montogomery claimed the 5th H should be “History” — the history of salmon-human interactions, particularly in Britain and in the Northeast U.S.  So, for me “Heat” has become the 6th H and I’m even more convinced that salmon recovery (linked with killer whale recovery) is one of the most complex, grand environmental challenges of our time.
clipped from www.dailyastorian.com

12/26/2008 11:21:00 AM
The EPA warns that climate change threatens Oregon’s cold-water fish populations
By Michael Burkett
East Oregonian Publishing Group
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report on global warming
contains some dire predictions for Oregon’s time-honored reputation as a Mecca for coldwater fishermen.
Released July 17, the report warns that the time may come when salmon- and trout-fishing trips are no longer much of an option for residents or visitors. EPA scientists further caution that warming temperatures could lead to a 50- to 100-percent decline in Chinook salmon returns in some areas, since salmon require cool water and are extremely sensitive to increasing temperatures.

Once Oregon is hit by a perfect storm comprised of “a little less snow pack, lower summer water flows and higher summer temperatures, bam! We’ll go over a threshold, and suddenly we won’t have salmon or steelhead or trout,” Martin said.
blog it