Idaho Chinook deserve more spill

By Tom Stuart

Bonneville_damLast summer, more than a million fall chinook salmon returned to the Columbia River. This blessing for the Columbia and its fishing towns has lessons for Idaho, where returns of our most valuable salmon, spring/summer chinook, were poor in 2013 and have now been poor three years in a row.

First, a million fall chinook in the Columbia shows Idaho the sweet promise of what we could have. Fishing was great for people and businesses on the Columbia this year. And large numbers of uncaught salmon gave back to the circle with their deaths, nourishing their next generation and all other life along the river. Imagine 400,000 wild spring/summer chinook — 10 times this year’s return — streaming regularly into the heart of Idaho. Imagine the boon to people and towns. This isn’t nostalgic reverie. It can happen, with good policies.

Second, most of those fall chinook returned to the Columbia’s Hanford Reach. Hanford Reach has two qualities critical for salmon: it flows freely, and its salmon have only four dams to deal with as they migrate to and from the ocean. Its salmon have a living river and face half the dams Idaho’s salmon do.

Third, Hanford Reach salmon have benefited since 2006 from regular water spills over their four dams each summer, moving ocean-bound young salmon the safest way possible. This moderate but guaranteed spill occurs because Idaho fishermen and the Nez Perce Tribe, among others, won it by court injunction in 2005. It’s been in effect for eight years, and it is working.

Of course, Idaho’s salmon and steelhead have also benefited from these regular spills. But with eight dams to get past, the benefits are more a holding pattern against extinction than a truly restorative measure. Most scientists agree that restoring the lower Snake River, by removing four unnecessary dams, is the best restorative measure.

Right now, the lower Snake dams, and their damage to Idaho salmon, remain. So, Idaho fishing groups are focused first on expanding spill at the eight dams between Idaho and the ocean. After eight years’ proven success from the moderate spill levels ordered by the court, science, common sense and business sense agree that the smart step is to expand spill for five to 10 years. This will further boost salmon survival and also test how much spill alone can do to put salmon on a path to recovery.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed an expanded spill test for the Snake and Columbia and is asking for federal support for it. The most recent salmon plan, released by NOAA Fisheries Jan. 17, does not include expanded spill; we are disappointed, and this serious omission and other shortcomings in the plan may force us back into court.

Free-flowing rivers work. Idaho hosts 5,000 miles of free-flowing salmon habitat, the most in the lower 48. But eight dams, not two or four, choke access to Idaho. As long as they stand, lesson three from Hanford Reach fall chinook applies: Spill works, and a several-year test of expanded spill, across different water years, should occur at federal dams now. The NW Energy Coalition, which has a better track record on spill costs than dam agencies do, says costs are relatively small and affordable. Our best salmon scientists and most experienced fishermen project that more spill will bring more salmon.

Some scientists believe expanded spill could help salmon enough to take lower Snake dam removal off the table. We doubt it, but there’s a way to find out. If you need a reason, look at what a million fall chinook did last year for fishing, fishing towns and the river itself on the Columbia.

Tom Stuart is a longtime board member of Idaho Rivers United and the current board chair of the national Save Our Wild Salmon coalition.

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Biologists are forecasting the best run of fall chinook salmon to the Columbia River in almost a decade

salmon_chinookphoto courtesy Idaho Fish & Game

Biologists are forecasting the best run of fall chinook salmon to the Columbia River in almost a decade with expectations for a record-high return of bright fish to central Washington.

The forecast, released late last week, predicts a return of 677,900 fall chinook to the Columbia, the highest return since 2004 and significantly larger than the actual return of 512,300 a year ago.

Particularly encouraging is the forecast for a record-high 432,500 “upriver brights,’’ mostly wild-spawning fish produced from the free-flowing Hanford Reach downstream of Priest Rapids Dam near the Tri-Cities.

The highest actual return of upriver brights was 420,700 in 1987. Upriver brights fuel catches at places such as the mouth of the Cowlitz River, Kalama, Vancouver and Government Island.

“Upriver bright chinook have been the foundation of fall salmon stocks since their big comeback in the 1980s,” said Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There are a number of actions that have contributed, including protection of the free-flowing Columbia River in the Hanford Reach, the United States salmon treaty with Canada, and improved dam passage conditions for migrating juveniles.”

Another forecast for a record high is for bright fall chinook returning to the hatcheries of the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools of the Columbia River Gorge. The forecast is for 70,000 in 2013.

The actual return in 2012 was 46,300 and the existing high is 67,400 in 2003.

Fall chinook returns to the Columbia are categorized in six different stock groups.

Four of the groups are “bright’’ fish, while two are “tules,’’ which are dark-skinned and generally less desirable in mainstem Columbia sport and commercial fisheries but power Washington ocean and Buoy 10 fisheries where they are brighter.

Here’s a look at the six stocks:

Lower River hatchery — These are tules headed for hatcheries such as Cowlitz, Kalama and Washougal. The forecast is for 88,000, which is similar to the five-year average of 87,000 and the 2012 return of 84,800.

These fish are important because they are used as surrogates in fisheries to determine the strength of wild-spawning chinook in the catches.

Lower river wild — These are bright wild-spawners, mostly in the North Fork of the Lewis River downstream of Merwin Dam, but also in the Sandy and Cowlitz rivers. The forecast is 14,200, equal to the 10-year average and similar to 13,900 of 2012.

Bonneville pool hatchery — Another tule stock, these chinook are headed mostly for Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery in eastern Skamania County. The forecast of 38,000 is about 40 percent of the 10-year average and quite a bit less than the actual return of 56,800 in 2012.

Bonneville upriver brights — These are produced at Bonneville Hatchery on the Oregon side of the Columbia downstream of Bonneville Dam. The forecast is for 35,200, which would be almost triple the 12,400 of 2012 and similar to the average of 39,100.

Pool upriver brights — These are reared at Little White Salmon, Klickitat and Umatilla hatcheries. The forecast, as mentioned above, is 70,000.

Upriver brights — Besides Hanford Reach, these are produced at Priest Rapids and Ringold hatcheries and the Snake River, plus lesser numbers in the Yakima and Deschutes rivers.

Coho — Finally, some good news about Columbia River coho salmon. The biologists predict there will be 501,100 Columbia-origin coho out in the ocean this summer, a much better number than the forecast of 317,200 in 2012 and the bleak actual return of 170,300.

The five-year average is 404,700 coho.

“It’s good news, better than we’ve seen for a while,’’ said Steve Watrous of Vancouver, Washington sport-fishing representative to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

While it takes 700,000 to 1 million coho to have excellent fishing in August and September at Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia River, a half million coho is a move in the right direction, Watrous said.

The forecast calls for 331,600 early coho and 169,500 late coho.

Early coho enter the Columbia River from mid-August to mid-September and tend to migrate south from the river mouth while in the ocean.

Late coho enter the Columbia from mid-September into late November with the peak in mid-October. They migrate north from the Columbia River.

A large number of early coho normally results in better catches at Buoy 10. Article taken from here.

Nearly 40 per cent of Atlantic salmon is being killed by parasites, researchers believe

Salmon louse may affect up to 55% of population
Fears it could harm genetic variability of species already at risk

By Mark Prigg

PUBLISHED: 00:00 GMT, 7 November 2012 | UPDATED: 17:27 GMT, 7 November 2012

Nearly 40 per cent of Atlantic salmon is being killed by parasites, researchers believe.

A study found that 39 per cent of the fish are being lost to the parasitic salmon louse, which spreads from fish to fish and feeds on surface tissue.

The true mortality figure could even be as high as 55 per cent, reports journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Martin Krkosek, of New Zealand’s University of Otago, was part of a team which studied surveys of thousands of hatchery raised salmon young – or smolts – as they were released into rivers.

Half received parasiticide treatment and the other did not, and all were tagged on release.

Twelve months later, after a year in the North East Atlantic, the recovered fish were examined.

The researchers estimate that nearly 40 per cent of the salmon was dying because of the lice.

They found that although the parasiticide significantly increased their chance of survival, in all 39 per cent of the fish had been killed by the parasites.

Dr. Krkosek said that a further worry was that because salmon tended to return to their native rivers, it meant that the parasite could easily infect small populations of the fish.

He said: ‘The concern therefore is not only for a 39 per cent loss in salmon abundance but also for the loss of genetic variability and its associated potential for adaptation to other environmental changes.

‘Our results supply manipulative field evidence at a large spatial scale that parasitism may be a significant limiting factor for marine fish, fisheries and conservation.’

Huge Fraser River sockeye run raises spirits, questions

September 20, 2010

Sockeye salmon. (NOAA)

By Peter Ladner

The Fraser River sockeye are back!  It’s hard to comprehend such a windfall—30 million salmon, the biggest sockeye run since the estimated 39 million in 1913, totally unexpected, running contrary to all the dreary trends of collapsing and declining fish stocks in oceans around the world.

British Columbia’s wild salmon fishing industry, sputtering badly after years of tiny openings and boat buybacks, has scrambled to dust off every scrap of unused equipment and call back long-lost customers as it momentarily relives the glory days when thousands of people made reliable livelihoods catching, processing and selling fish.

It’s like a flashback to remind us what’s possible, how liquid assets will just swim up to our rivers and nets and feed us and our businesses if we just stop, ah, er, umm— actually I can’t say exactly what we have to stop or start. There’s the rub.

This is all a huge, wonderful mystery. It would be nice to say that we could crack it and change a few things and guarantee this happens every year. But as renowned University of British Columbia fishery researcher Daniel Pauly says, “It’s surprising that after a half-century of focused research we are apparently incapable of predicting anything.’

Last year, only about 1.7 million Fraser River sockeye came back at the end of that particular four-year-cycle, although 10.6 million were predicted. Reacting to public anger and shock, the federal government announced the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, which is finally getting its membership and mandate sorted out, to find out what happened. Earlier this year, one prediction from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was “a 50 percent chance that 11.4 million will come back, with estimates ranging from 4.6 million to 29.8 million.” In other words, we don’t really have a clue. Fish farms, climate change, habitat destruction, drift net fishing, seals, over-fishing, warming temperatures, First Nations catches on the rivers have all been fingered as the cause of declining stocks.

Dr. Brian Riddell, CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, thinks we should be monitoring Georgia Strait bio-systems for answers. “The only thing that could cause these swings is in the Strait of Georgia,” he says. “The first 6-8 weeks are critical, when the juveniles are going out to sea.” Sockeye spend the first year of their four-year life cycle in fresh water before heading out to the open ocean.

While we may not know what causes particular fisheries to collapse and return, the bigger, darker planetary picture is quite clear: We’re down to catching the last 10 percent of wild fish left on our planet. We know that 90 percent of the all the large fish and sea mammals that could feed us are gone, not just in some places, but all over the world.

That includes tuna, swordfish, sharks, marlin, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder. We also know that if present rates of overfishing continue, all the stocks we fish will have collapsed by the middle of this century — within 40 years. That hasn’t changed with one good run of Fraser River sockeye.

The one part of the fishing mystery we do control is how much we take for human use. “Overfishing is the biggest problem our oceans face,” says John Nightingale, president of the Vancouver Aquarium. “Quite simply, our marine species cannot reproduce fast enough to keep up with the hunt.”

Another reliable expectation is that if we stop fishing in a particular area, fish will multiply. The Vancouver Aquarium is demonstrating this with its reintroduction of black rockfish near Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. They were fished to extinction in local waters in the 1990s. Today, transplanted baby black rockfish from the west coast of Vancouver Island have established what the Aquarium thinks is a breeding population. And at the south edge of downtown, herring roe have been spotted for the first time in decades — on the newly-created island by the Athlete’s Village site in False Creek.

The words “marine protected area” actually crossed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s lips in late August, in reference to the Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area at the mouth of the Mackenzie River in the Beaufort Sea, home to one of the world’s largest summer populations of belugas. Unfortunately, a portion of this “conservation area” has been set aside for oil and gas drilling, but it’s a start.

Let’s look on this sockeye bonanza as a tantalizing reminder of what our wild salmon fishery could be again. The Cohen commission should keep inquiring. One good catch in a century doesn’t make an industry.

Peter Ladner is the founder of “Business in Vancouver” newspaper and a former Vancouver City Councillor. He is currently a Fellow at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue. He can be reached at

Kenai closed to king salmon fishing for rest of month

Catch and release, other waterways not off the hook


Published: June 4th, 2010

Facing a disastrous return, state biologists will close king salmon fishing on the Kenai River, the state’s most important sport fishing stream, while imposing restrictions on nearby waterways.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, all sportfishing for Kenai kings — including catch and release — will end for the rest of the month.

Meanwhile, no naturally-produced kings — fish with their adipose fin intact — can be harvested from the smaller Kasilof River in June. The river sees both hatchery produced and natural fish.

And farther south on the Kenai Peninsula, bait will be banned on Deep Creek as well as the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers, while a bigger swath of Cook Inlet at the mouth of the Anchor will be off-limits.

“It’s a real big part of the community,” Tom Vania, regional management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said of the Kenai. “The Valley went through this last year, and those choices are never easy. But our responsibility is first and foremost to the resource.”

This season’s Kenai run has started so poorly that biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game fear it may fall well short of the minimum number of fish they seek to perpetuate healthy runs — 5,300 kings.

But even strong parent years offer no guarantee the offspring will return strong. The parents of these Kenai kings spawned four, five and six years ago, all years with strong returns.

“The department projects a total run of about 3,800 fish, indicating that with additional harvest it is likely the … escapement goal will not be achieved,” said area management biologist Robert Begich in the emergency order.

Through Wednesday, only 739 kings have been counted swimming past the fish-counting sonar at river mile 8.6. No more than 75 fish have been counted any day since sonar operations began May 16.

Only 15 swam by Wednesday.

Stretching 82 miles from Kenai Lake to Cook Inlet, the Kenai River supports the largest sport fishery in the state, from huge king salmon to chunky rainbow trout to colorful Dolly Varden and acrobatic silver salmon. Kings occupy the top rung, and many of the 400-plus Kenai River guides registered with the state chase the largest salmon this time of year.

King fishing will close downstream from the outlet of Skilak Lake for the remainder of June.

From July 1-14, it will be closed upstream from the Soldotna Bridge to the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai River upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway Bridge.

Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai Sportfishing Association, said “we applaud the department” for acting, but voiced qualms about how it was carried out.

Fish and Game should have first moved to catch and release rather than making the jump from fully open to shut.

“The department should always use that tool (catch and release),” he said. “You might have had another week to collect data.”

This year’s return is the worst since at least 2002, when the early run also was closed early. But there are some differences — that closure came about a week later and the minimum escapement goal was higher, about 7,200 fish; today it’s 5,300 fish.

That run finished with 6,185 fish upstream.

Although Fish and Game’s preseason outlook called for a below-average run, this year’s Kenai return is the lowest ever at this date, Vania said. When a series of big tides this week that normally pushes a slug of fish into the river failed to do so, biologists acted.

“We would have loved to have taken a step-down measure,” Vania said. “But the counts just went the wrong way. We’re kind of forced to just close.”

Nobody knows exactly why king returns have sputtered, though Vania and other biologists say that because the problem is widespread there is a problem at sea rather than in individual rivers.

Other troubled rivers include:

• The Deshka, where only nine kings have passed the river’s fish-counting weir in the last six days — and just 76 all season. Typically, the Deshka doesn’t peak until mid-June, so biologists are hoping that the fish are merely late. Before the season, they forecast a return of 31,000 kings — well above the river’s minimum escapement goal of 13,000 fish. The Deshka return has come up short the last two years.

• The Chuitna, Lewis and Theodore rivers on the west side of Cook Inlet, which were all closed by biologists this spring after failing to meet their escapement goals for years.

• Kodiak’s Karluk and Ayakulik rivers, where disastrous returns forced biologists to either ban king fishing or resort to catch-and-release only. Both rivers are seeing returns down about 90 percent from what they were during the middle of the decade.

The Kenai closure will pinch the more that 400 guides licensed to work the Kenai River as well as a variety of other businesses. The sportfishing association has estimated that Upper Cook Inlet recreational salmon fishing produces $104 million in income, and the Kenai River is a chunk of that.

“Not just the guides, but the stores in the area, the restaurants, the hotels, the taxidermists, the gas stations,” noted UAA economics professor Gunnar Knapp. “A whole variety of people — starting with the guide.”

Some king salmon anglers will fish elsewhere on the Peninsula or make other recreation plans.

“It will all depend on how long it lasts,” Michelle Glaves, executive director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, said of the closure. “If somebody has a trip planned, guides will take their clients elsewhere to fish.”

That should make the June 11 reopening of the upper Kenai River and the Russian River to red salmon and trout anglers especially anticipated this year.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.