March 26, 1995 in Nation/World

Salmon: A Fight For Survival

 

More than a century ago, salmon ran thick in the Columbia River Basin. Millions of fish struggled up free-flowing rivers to spawn in pristine inland waters. No more.

Dams, over-fishing, farming, logging and other activities have combined to kill out dozens of wild salmon runs and sharply diminished others. The Snake River sockeye and chinook are almost gone.

Highlights of the Snake River salmon recovery plan

The National Marine Fisheries Service has released a draft version of its 500-page plan to save three endangered stocks of Snake River salmon: fall chinook, spring/summer chinook, and sockeye. A series of 7 p.m. public hearings will be held, including ones at the Lewiston, Idaho, Community Building on May 15, and the Richland, Wash., Federal Building on May 24. The plan’s price tag: $160 million a year beyond current costs, to be paid by electricity users and federal taxpayers. The recovery plan could be final by the end of the year. It calls for changes in four areas.

Hydropower

Eight power-producing dams lie between Snake River salmon spawning grounds and the Pacific Ocean, where they spend their adult lives. Some fish are killed passing through the turbines. Others die in the reservoirs behind the dams, which slow their journey and expose them to predators.

The recovery plan would:

Keep more water in upstream reservoirs in winter, so it’s available for release in the spring to help migrating salmon. Require a 1999 decision about whether to draw down the four Lower Snake River reservoirs or return them to natural river conditions, in order to provide faster flows. Barge fewer young fish around the dams. Send more water over spillways to keep fish away from turbines.

Harvest

Massive harvesting of wild fish is a thing of the past. But some endangered fish, especially fall chinook, are accidentally caught along with hatchery fish.

The recovery plan would:

Change rules for ocean and river fishing to protect fall chinook. Develop alternative fishing methods to allow for live release of wild fish. Negotiate with Canada to rebuild chinook runs. Buy back fishing permits, gear and boats in ocean troll fishery and non-Indian gillnet fishery in the Columbia River; phase out the latter entirely.

Hatcheries

Genetically weaker hatchery-bred fish have hurt wild stocks by cross-breeding, competing for food and habitat, and introducing disease.

The recovery plan would:

Cap hatchery production at the 1994 level of 197 million salmon to avoid crowding out wild fish. Limit interactions between natural and hatchery-reared fish to reduce crossbreeding, competition, predation and disease. Create gene pools to preserve characteristics of species. Breed wild fish in captivity, then release them to bolster dwindling populations.

Habitat

Human activities have damaged salmon breeding grounds by smothering spawning gravel with sediment, stripping streamsides of cooling vegetation and reducing the number of pools where fish seek shelter.

The plan would:

Build upon Pacfish, a sweeping new set of federal rules that limits logging, mining, grazing and other streamside activities in eight national forests. Give top priority to streams in the best condition. Continue requiring fisheries service approval for each timber sale, mining operation or other activity that could damage spawning streams. Control exotic species, and other salmon predators and competitors.

A salmon’s life

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: Looking Back 1806: “There was great joy with the natives last night, in consequence of the arrival of the salmon.” - Capt. Meriwether Lewis 1840s: First farm irrigation systems installed near Walla Walla and Lewiston. 1855: Treaties signed between the U.S. government and Indian tribes. “The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds…is further secured to said Indians.” 1880s: Damaged soil and water quality become noticeable after 30 years of mining, logging and grazing. 1902: Reclamation Act authorizes federal aid to settle land and develop farms. 1908: “The salmon fisheries of the Columbia River are now but a fraction of what they were 25 years ago.” - President Theodore Roosevelt, arguing for congressional fishing regulations. 1912: Ocean commercial trolling for salmon begins off the mouth of the Columbia. 1916-20: Columbia River salmon canneries reach their peak production: 550,000 cases per year, 48 pounds per case. 1933: Rock Island Dam near Wenatchee is the first dam completed across the Columbia. 1937: Bonneville Power Administration created. President Franklin Roosevelt dedicates Bonneville Dam by picturing the day “when every community in this great area will be wholly electrified.” 1949-1957: Ten dams are planned or completed in Columbia River Basin. 1958: All non-Indian commercial fishing above Bonneville Dam is closed. 1963: United States and Canada sign first Columbia River Treaty, to coordinate water storage in the upper river basin and maximize U.S. power production. 1967: Hells Canyon Dam begins operation, blocking salmon from the upper Snake River. 1973: Congress passes the Endangered Species Act. 1974: U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt rules that tribes with treaty rights to fish can take half the harvestable salmon. 1975: The last Snake River chinook fishing season. The Army Corps of Engineers completes Lower Granite Dam, the last of eight dams the Snake River salmon must pass. 1979: Petitions filed to list some runs of Columbia River salmon under the Endangered Species Act. They’re withdrawn pending passage of the Northwest Power Act. 1980: Last salmon cannery on the Columbia River closes. 1980: Congress passes the Northwest Power Act, which allows Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington to form the Northwest Power Planning Council. The council’s first fish and wildlife program — aimed at making up for losses caused by hydropower dams — calls for doubling salmon runs in the next decade. 1985: U.S. and Canada sign Pacific Salmon Treaty, limiting ocean harvests and committing to fish enhancement efforts. 1988: Power council puts 44,000 miles of stream off-limits to new dams because they contain important habitat. 1988: Snake River coho salmon declared extinct. 1991: The American Fisheries Society reports that 214 populations of Northwest salmon face some risk of extinction; 60 are already extinct in the Columbia and its tributaries alone. 1991-92: National Marine Fisheries Service adds Snake River sockeye, spring/summer chinook, and fall chinook to the endangered species list. 1992: Acknowledging that its goal of doubling salmon runs has failed, the power planning council writes a new recovery strategy. 1994: Federal judges blast both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Northwest Power Planning Council for catering to hydropower interests and failing to do enough to save the salmon. The council then calls for dramatic changes in river operations, including reservoir drawdowns. 1995: The National Marine Fisheries Service releases its recovery plan for the endangered Snake River salmon. The plan calls for big changes, giving fish higher priority than power production in operation of federal dams.

This sidebar appeared with story: Looking Back 1806: “There was great joy with the natives last night, in consequence of the arrival of the salmon.” - Capt. Meriwether Lewis 1840s: First farm irrigation systems installed near Walla Walla and Lewiston. 1855: Treaties signed between the U.S. government and Indian tribes. “The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds…is further secured to said Indians.” 1880s: Damaged soil and water quality become noticeable after 30 years of mining, logging and grazing. 1902: Reclamation Act authorizes federal aid to settle land and develop farms. 1908: “The salmon fisheries of the Columbia River are now but a fraction of what they were 25 years ago.” - President Theodore Roosevelt, arguing for congressional fishing regulations. 1912: Ocean commercial trolling for salmon begins off the mouth of the Columbia. 1916-20: Columbia River salmon canneries reach their peak production: 550,000 cases per year, 48 pounds per case. 1933: Rock Island Dam near Wenatchee is the first dam completed across the Columbia. 1937: Bonneville Power Administration created. President Franklin Roosevelt dedicates Bonneville Dam by picturing the day “when every community in this great area will be wholly electrified.” 1949-1957: Ten dams are planned or completed in Columbia River Basin. 1958: All non-Indian commercial fishing above Bonneville Dam is closed. 1963: United States and Canada sign first Columbia River Treaty, to coordinate water storage in the upper river basin and maximize U.S. power production. 1967: Hells Canyon Dam begins operation, blocking salmon from the upper Snake River. 1973: Congress passes the Endangered Species Act. 1974: U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt rules that tribes with treaty rights to fish can take half the harvestable salmon. 1975: The last Snake River chinook fishing season. The Army Corps of Engineers completes Lower Granite Dam, the last of eight dams the Snake River salmon must pass. 1979: Petitions filed to list some runs of Columbia River salmon under the Endangered Species Act. They’re withdrawn pending passage of the Northwest Power Act. 1980: Last salmon cannery on the Columbia River closes. 1980: Congress passes the Northwest Power Act, which allows Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington to form the Northwest Power Planning Council. The council’s first fish and wildlife program — aimed at making up for losses caused by hydropower dams — calls for doubling salmon runs in the next decade. 1985: U.S. and Canada sign Pacific Salmon Treaty, limiting ocean harvests and committing to fish enhancement efforts. 1988: Power council puts 44,000 miles of stream off-limits to new dams because they contain important habitat. 1988: Snake River coho salmon declared extinct. 1991: The American Fisheries Society reports that 214 populations of Northwest salmon face some risk of extinction; 60 are already extinct in the Columbia and its tributaries alone. 1991-92: National Marine Fisheries Service adds Snake River sockeye, spring/summer chinook, and fall chinook to the endangered species list. 1992: Acknowledging that its goal of doubling salmon runs has failed, the power planning council writes a new recovery strategy. 1994: Federal judges blast both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Northwest Power Planning Council for catering to hydropower interests and failing to do enough to save the salmon. The council then calls for dramatic changes in river operations, including reservoir drawdowns. 1995: The National Marine Fisheries Service releases its recovery plan for the endangered Snake River salmon. The plan calls for big changes, giving fish higher priority than power production in operation of federal dams.


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