Northwest states and Canadian provinces have launched a letter-writing and lobbying campaign to assure that a $1 million appropriation line item in the Department of Interior’s fiscal year 2012 budget is spent to help cut off the spread of invasive quagga-mussels from a main source – the Park Service’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
The move comes from The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, state of Idaho, Colorado River Fish and Wildlife Council and Pacific Northwest Economic Region. The NPCC is comprised of representatives of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington; the Colorado council represents fish and wildlife agencies from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. PNWER includes membership from Northwest states and Canadian provinces.
The appropriation bill language directs the “implementation of mandatory operational inspection and decontamination stations at Federally-managed or interjurisdictional water bodies considered to be of highest risk,” but doesn’t specifically mention Lake Mead.
All want to prevent the spread of quagga, and zebra, mussels from the Southwest to the Northwest. They fear devastating consequences to the Northwest region’s water-related infrastructure such as hydro projects and irrigation systems and to its environment.
Quagga mussels, a species native to eastern Europe, were initially introduced in the 1980s throughout the Great Lakes and the Ohio River and Mississippi river basins, likely taking the ride across the Atlantic Ocean on cargo ships. Quagga mussels were first detected in the American West in January 2007 at Lake Mead, a reservoir on the Colorado that straddles the Arizona-Nevada border. Quagga or zebra mussels have since then been found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah, but not in the Pacific Northwest.
They have spread via a number of pathways. Adult mussels easily cling to hard surfaces such as boats and can be spread when boats are trailered from one waterbody to the next. “Of immediate concern are the high risk vessels leaving mussel-infested federal water bodies such as Lake Mead,” according to a January letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar from Celia Gould, Idaho state Department of Agriculture director and head of the state’s Invasive Species Council.
“More than a dozen fouled boats have been intercepted by the Idaho program that came directly from federally managed waters on the lower Colorado. The majority of these boats originated from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.”
“If quagga mussels and zebra mussels make their way into Pacific Northwest waters, the impacts of these species throughout our region will be extreme – affecting fishing, drinking water, irrigation pipes for agriculture and residential communities, and recreational pursuits such as boating,” Gould said. “Additionally, the economic, social and recreational pursuits influenced by hydropower and other dams will be impacted, as well as gold courses, hatcheries and the aquaculture industry. The consequences of introducing these aquatic invasive species to Pacific Northwest waterways would be devastating.
“If an effective mussel containment program could be implemented at LMNRA in the near term, this action would greatly reduce the number of contaminated boats entering Idaho’s waters,” the Idaho letter said.
PNWER likewise is urging the Northwest congressional delegation to support increased funding for inspections at Lake Mead. A letter dated Feb. 2 asks federal agencies to “implement a comprehensive and effective boat decontamination effort at Lake Mead and other infested water bodies in the West.
“All boats leaving infested waters must be subject to inspection and removal of attached mussels and larval mussels in standing water,” the PNWER letter says. “Quagga and zebra mussels are spreading rapidly through the West on trailered, recreational boats. These mussels are projected to cost millions of dollars to mitigate their impacts if they become established in our region.
“A recent study of the hydropower facilities on the Columbia River indicated that mussels, if they become established, will cost about $25 million per year in added maintenance. These costs, of course, will be passed on to consumers, a potentially crippling blow to an already struggling western economy,” the PNWER letter says. “The State of Idaho has projected that zebra and quagga mussels will cost residents of that state $91 million per year. In addition, these and other aquatic invasive species will have incalculable impacts on native fish and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, with potentially devastating impacts on threatened and endangered salmonids.”
“While our states have established watercraft inspection and decontamination stations, the chance of contaminated boats entering our waters would be much lower if an effective mussel containment program could be implemented at Lake Mead National Recreation Area,” according to a Feb. 3 letter from the NPCC signed by Chair Joan Dukes of Oregon. “Furthermore, it is critical that such a program be implemented without delay, as seasonal boats will begin returning to Pacific Northwest waters in early spring.”
The $1 million this year would help. But it may be a drop in the bucket in an effort that would have to be sustained over time.
“The enormity of the problem” has been daunting for the Interior Department and Park Service, according to the NPCC’s public affairs chief, Mark Walker. Walker said the Park Service has estimated it would take 72 new full-time equivalent positions at the massive park to implement mandatory inspections of all the boats that come and go 24 hours per day and seven days per week.
The 1.5 million acre park includes Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the United States, and Mohave Lake. There are eight developed boat ramps at Lake Mead, each that can handle about 10 loadings and/or unloadings at one time, according to Park Service biologist Brian Moore.
The park gets 25 million visitors annually, and can see as many as 5,000 boats on Lake Mead on weekends.
“It’s really hard for us to regulate all of the boats” with the available staff, Moore said. The emphasis since 2008 has been on “slipped” boats – water craft that is moored at the park’s licensed marinas. Boats that are moored for a time are the most likely to become contaminated.
The concessionaires that run the marinas must include in the rental contracts the requirement that boats be inspected before they leave the marinas. The park service also posts notices “on every dock and every gate” about the need for boat inspections. But, given the traffic, and again lack of staff, it’s easy for boat owners to skirt such requirements, Moore said. The inspections cost the boaters time and money.
Inspections at the six main park entrances pose logistical and funding issues as well. Since complete inspections and decontamination can take up to five hours, as an example, for a house boat, the entrances would become clogged given the current infrastructure. More law enforcement personnel, as well as inspection personnel, would be needed.
The Park Service does have, again, since 2008, four permanent inspection/decontamination stations working primarily at the marinas. Each was purchased at a cost of about $250,000 and cost $5,000 to install, Moore said. The LMNRA also has two portable units operating.
“We’re trying to get the boaters to comply,” Moore said. “We’d like it to be zero,” he said of the number of contaminated Mead-origin boats found at Northwest inspection stations.
Lower Columbia River salmon and steelhead sport harvests, in some cases, were the best on record in 2011 and, with rosy return forecasts for many species, the fishing should be good again in 2012, according “preliminary draft” data compiled by the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
A “2011 Adult Returns and 2012 Expectations, Columbia River” wrap-up says that a record (since at least 1980) 147,000 angler trips were taken during the 2011 lower Columbia fall fishing season.
The “lower” Columbia stretches from Bonneville Dam at river mile 146 down to Tongue Point at river mile 18 just upstream of Astoria, Ore. The fall season begins Aug. 1. The previous high was 117,975 angler trips in 2009.
Anglers landed a record 28,200 adult fall chinook from the lower Columbia mainstem during the August-October fall season, as well as a record 12,100 summer steelhead. That fall chinook catch bested a total 26,195 adults kept in 2003.
The bountiful fall followed a summer season, which began June 16, that saw a record 5,200 adult “summer” chinook salmon taken by anglers, as well as 2,400 “jacks,” on the lower Columbia. Jacks are young fish that return to freshwater after only one year in the ocean.
During May-July a total of 12,900 summer steelhead were caught and kept by sport anglers in the lower Columbia, which is also a record.
The nearly 25,000 summer-run steelhead kept between May and October 2011 was the highest on record (since at least 1975), far surpassing the 2010 total of 18,324.
In August, 2011 a total of 11,160 steelhead were caught and kept in the lower river. That’s a record for any single month since at least 1969. It broke the record set the previous month — 8,549 steelhead.
The total steelhead “handle” – the total number of fish reeled in, including steelhead that were released — in August was also a record at 18,509. The previous high total was 15,934 kept/released in July 2009. The record catches are largely due to angler enthusiasm, but relatively large runs helped the cause.
The estimated 378,056 salmonid angler trips to the lower Columbia in 2011 is a record. It broke the previous high of slightly more than 371,000 angler trips in 2010, according to data assembled by the WDFW’s Joe Hymer.
A total of 364,900 upriver summer steelhead were counted climbing up and over Bonneville this year. That’s similar to the recent 10-year average.
According to the year-end estimates a total of 11,700 adult spring chinook salmon, and 5,500 3-year-old jacks, were landed during the 2011 season that began in earnest March 1. A total of 154,900 angler trips were taken during the spring season, which included 79 open fishing days, which amounts to 74 percent of the 107 days between March 1 through June 15.
Oregon’s Willamette River spring run proved to be particularly targeted with 22,400 chinook kept during 123,500 angler days. That catch total is the highest since 1991. Anglers must release unharmed unmarked spring chinook and steelhead.
Most hatchery produced fish are marked with a clipped adipose fin. Most of the unmarked spawners are wild fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Fishery managers estimate that a total of 80,254 Willamette spring chinook returned to the mouth of the Columbia in 2011. The Willamette feeds into the Columbia at Portland. About 21 percent of those returning fish were wild.
The 2012 preseason forecast is for a return of 83,400 Willamette spring chinook salmon to the mouth of the Columbia in 2012. The run should include about 60,700 4-year-old fish. About 21 percent of the run is forecast to be wild.
The 2012 upriver spring chinook run – fish bound for hatcheries and tributary spawning grounds upstream of Bonneville — is expected to number 314,200, which would be the third largest on record. A total of 67,000 3-year-old jacks returned in 2011, which was the second largest total on record. That led to the prediction that 88 percent of the 2012 upriver run would be age 4 fish.
Going back to records that started in 1969, the 5,160 adult summer chinook kept in this year’s mark selective fishery on the lower Columbia is a record. The previous high was 4,924 fish in a non-selective fishery in 2006. A total of 75,818 angler trips to the lower Columbia during the summer season was the highest total since at least 1973.
And the fishing should be just as good next summer. A record high number of upper Columbia River summer chinook jacks, 35,400, returned to the basin in 2011. That prompted the prediction that 2012 will witness a record, dating back to at least 1980, return of 91,200 summer chinook. It is estimated that 4-year-olds will make up 65 percent of the 2012 summer chinook run.
Anglers in 2011 also caught and kept a record 1,427 sockeye in the lower Columbia, That’s nearly double the previous high total of 900 fish in 2009).
The return of sockeye last year was 187,300. Most were bound for the central Washington/British Columbia Okanogan River basin with a lesser total bound for the Wenatchee River drainage.
The 2012 preseason forecast is for a return of a record 462,000 sockeye, including 1,900 spawners headed up the Columbia and Snake rivers to the Salmon River drainage in central Idaho. The Snake River fish are listed as endangered under the ESA.
Fishermen accustomed to targeting steelhead in the lower Deschutes River are again steamed about water releases 100 miles upstream which they say are warming the water and making it less inviting, and less hospitable, for fish.
“The water down there isn’t any warmer than it usually is,” Portland General Electric senior biologist Don Ratliff says of the water flowing from central Oregon’s Deschutes River into the Columbia River.
“We’re definitely having temperature issues,” said fishing outfitter Grant Putnam, one of those who feels that changed water releases in 2010 and again this year from Pelton Round Butte complex of dams, which is co-owned by PGE and the Warm Springs Tribes, are warming the river in early summer.
The mouth of the Deschutes has long been known as a place where fish headed up the Columbia can rest and escape what is normally a warmer Columbia River.
Those fish either move on toward their natal streams after the Columbia cools, or in some cases stray up the Deschutes to spawn along with wild and hatchery produced local fish. In the interim they are the targets of sport fishers.
As part of the federal licensing agreement for the dams, a 273-foot-tall juvenile fish collection/water mixing tower was installed and began operating in 2010. One of its primary functions is to allow Round Butte operators to mix warmer water from near the surface of Lake Billy Chinook with colder water from the bottom of the reservoir. Round Butte is the farthest upstream of the three dams in the complex and holds back water from the upriver Deschutes and the Crooked and Metolius rivers.
Water quality permits issued by the tribes and Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality as part of the relicensing process prescribe a mixing of the water sent through the dams’ turbines that, for the most part, is warmer in early summer and cooler in late summer.
In the more than 40 years since the dams were built all of the output had come from the lowest part of the reservoir where the coldest water rests. Late in the summer, heat buildup in stored water was reflected in released water that was warmer than it would have been if the Deschutes sources were allowed to mix naturally.
The mixing tower is intended to mimic Deschutes water temperatures that existed before the dams, when the cool waters of the Metolius and the warmer upper Deschutes and Crooked mixed naturally just above where Round Butte Dam now stands.
Those involved in the planning envisioned creating an environment that more closely mirrors conditions in which steelhead and chinook and sockeye salmon populations evolved.
Ratliff and the Warm Springs Water and Soil Department Manager Deepak Sehgal said that the early summer water releases, just two or three degrees warmer than before the mixing tower began operating, only alter river temperature for the first several miles downstream. After that, the sun, movement and warm air in central Oregon’s high desert, canyon country serve to bring the water temperature back to “normal” by the time it reaches the river mouth.
The operational changes “haven’t had any kind of significant effects” on water temperature 100 miles downstream at the mouth, Sehgal said.
And the cooler water in river reaches just below the dam should have positive effects. The warmer early summer flows allows aquatic life, including fish, to blossom and grow on a more normal schedule. The late summer cooling helps bring river pH and dissolved oxygen to healthier levels and helps bring down water temperatures.
Fishing guide Brad Staples insists that the new system is out of whack. Northwest rivers normally flow cold early on as the snowpack melts down, and gradually warm as the summer season progresses, not the other way around. “That’s what I don’t understand,” Staples said of the warmer (than prior to tower operations), then colder releases.
Staples said he and other fishers are working to get a meeting with state and tribal officials to discuss what can be done about the situation.
The 401 water quality permits call for the maintenance of outflows within one degree of the “natural thermal potential.” That potential is a complicated calculation that assesses the volume and temperature of the waters of the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers feeding into the lake, and then factoring in distance, depth, surface area and ambient air temperatures to calculate what the temperature of the water below the dams would have been without the reservoirs and dams in place.
Putnum, who takes measurements early morning, noon and late afternoon each day he is fishing, said temperatures at the mouth have been “2-3 degrees warmer on average from they should be” in early summer. And those flows are also about that much warmer than the Columbia, which is atypical. High flows coming down from record snowpacks in the upper Columbia and Snake have persisted. They along with cooler than normal air temperatures across the Columbia basin have served to keep Columbia River water cooler than normal this year.
Staples and Putnam say that conditions have indeed changed since the tower began operating 100 miles upstream. Those changes, in turn, “have affected our catch rates,” Putnam said. “The steelhead have not been biting as well as we would like.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s regional fishery manager, Rod French, likes the fish recovery goals lined out in the licensing agreement, which include measures to reintroduce steelhead and salmon above the dams and provide passage at the dams, as well as implement habitat improvements downstream. But he doesn’t leave the tower blameless.
“It’s definitely had an effect” on water temperatures downstream, French said. “It’s warmer in the summer than it has been historically (since the dams were built).” The steelhead fishing season in the Deschutes started slow, probably because a high, cool Columbia seemed to delay the upstream migration.
“Fishing was not as good in July” as it is normally and water condition would well be a factor, he said. There has been no evidence of fish mortalities of other ill effects from the warmer water, French said. “But the temperatures have cooled a bit and the fishing has gotten better.”
The computer-programed water mixing at Round Butte has performed well this year, PGE’s Ratliff said.
In order to follow changing natural thermal potential projection, dam operators began mixing in more cold water July 1, going to a 15 percent cool/85 percent warm mixture, then shifted to 20-80 percent July 14 and 25-75 July 19.
“We were still chasing it,” Ratliff said of trying to keep pace with a changing thermal potential value. The mixture was changed to 30 percent cool / 70 percent warm August 1. Another 5 percent cool would likely be added.
French said it is still too early to tell the level of steelhead straying into the Deschutes this year. Since 1977-78 the estimated number of strays has ranged from less than 1,000 to more than 23,000. A certain number of the strays counted at Sherars Falls each year backtrack and resume their journey up the Columbia.
To see a fact sheet about Round Butte operations go to deschutespassage.com.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $102 million construction contract as part of the project to overhaul the generators in the Third Power Plant at Grand Coulee Dam.
The contract was awarded to Andritz Hydro Corporation of Charlotte, N.C. and will be funded by the Bonneville Power Administration — a regional federal power marketing agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that is self-funded with ratepayer dollars rather than federal taxpayer dollars.
Located on the Columbia River about 90 miles west of Spokane, Wash., the Grand Coulee Dam provides about one-quarter of the total generation of hydroelectric power for the Columbia River System.
“Overhauling the generators in the Third Power Plant is vital to ensuring adequate electric power in the Pacific Northwest,” said Salazar. “This is a great example of not only how the Department of the Interior is working to support clean, renewable energy for the American people but also of how working in partnership with DOE and BPA enables us to do so more efficiently.”
Three of the six generating units in Grand Coulee Dam’s Third Power Plant will be overhauled. These generating units are more than 30 years old, installed in the mid-1970s. The mechanical parts of these units have never been replaced and are beginning to show wear, which reduces reliability and increases power outages.
The generators and turbines will be dismantled and inspected and components will subsequently be either refurbished or replaced and reassembled. Each unit will take 17 months to replace and only one unit at a time will be overhauled. Work begins in March 2013.
Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1941, and today serves as a multi-purpose facility providing water for irrigation, recreation, fish and wildlife, hydroelectric power production and flood control.
Lower Columbia hatchery operations funded through the Mitchell Act provide nearly half of the salmon and steelhead caught by sport and commercial fishers in the Columbia River basin, according to a recent study.
That hatchery output provides a “substantial” economic boost, particularly to rural communities up and down the Columbia River and along the coast, resources economist Tom Wegge said.
Wegge of TCW Economics briefed fishery officials on the recently completed study Tuesday in Portland. The federal, state and tribal hatchery co-managers were gathered for what is believed to be the first Mitchell Act program annual meeting. NOAA Fisheries Service organized the meeting.
“We intend to do this every year from now on,” said NOAA Fisheries’ Rob Jones, who heads the Northwest Region’s Propagation and Inland Fisheries Branch. NOAA Fisheries, which allocates money appropriated by Congress to fund the Mitchell Act program, organized the two-day session as an opportunity for co-managers to update each other on the status of their individual projects and the program as a whole. The meeting was conducted under the theme: “Helping to support Resilient Fisheries and Sustainable Economies.”
The Mitchell Act was enacted in 1938 to provide for conservation of anadromous (salmon and steelhead) fishery resources of the Columbia River. The program now has three primary components, according to the agency:
- Operation of 17 fish hatcheries (which is down from a high of 25 hatcheries and major rearing ponds) with the release of as many as 70 million juvenile salmon and steelhead annually in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Rising costs and level funding over the past 15 years has resulted in a number of programs being shut down, Jones said. Mitchell Act facilities once produced more than 124 million smolts annually.
- Construction, operation and maintenance of more than 700 fish screens at irrigation diversions to protect juvenile salmon and steelhead in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
- Ongoing operations and maintenance of 90 fishways enhancing adult fish passage to nearly 2,000 miles of stream habitat.
NOAA Fisheries retained TCE Economics to conduct an analysis of the economic contribution of salmon and steelhead produced in Mitchell Act-funded hatcheries in the basin. The analysis is similar to that conducted for the “Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Inform Columbia River Basin Hatchery Operations and the Funding of Mitchell Act Hatchery Programs” that was offered for public comment this past autumn.
The EIS when finalized will be used to develop a NMFS policy direction that will 1) guide NMFS’s distribution of Mitchell Act hatchery funds and 2) inform NMFS’s future review of individual Columbia River basin hatchery programs under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The draft EIS analyzes and compares the direct, indirect and cumulative effects, including economic impacts, of operating all 178 hatchery programs in the Columbia River basin under a full range of five alternatives. The analysis previewed this week focuses just on the Mitchell Act facilities.
The Mitchell Act hatcheries are largely in the lower river, stringing from Elochoman, Grays River and Big Creek down in the lower estuary to Ringgold on the mid-Columbia. Involved in the program are the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe with Oregon, Washington and the USFWS winning the vast majority of the funding.
The fish produced by the remaining Mitchell Act programs now provide about 46 percent of the salmon and steelhead caught in the Columbia River basin, the study says. That’s a surprising total given that money spent to produce those fish represents only about 10-15 percent of the money spent on artificial propagation in the basin, Jones said. The Mitchell Act hatchery operations cost about $17.3 million per year, according to the new study. The study estimates that 21 percent of the adult salmon and steelhead caught along the Oregon and Washington coasts are of Mitchell Act origin.
In the Columbia basin, Mitchell Act smolts account, on average, for 70 percent of the adult salmon and steelhead caught in commercial fisheries (tribal and non-tribal) and 26 percent of the fish caught in recreational fisheries. Along the coast 17 percent of the commercial catch and 27 percent of the sport catch originated in a Mitchell Act Hatchery, according to the study.
For the purposes of the study the commercial catch was estimated to 110,647 Mitchell Act salmon annually in the Columbia River basin with 42, 049 harvested by tribal fishers. More than 90,000 of the fish caught were coho.
The sport fishery in the river yields 47,209 Mitchell Act fish. To calculate the economic benefits the study estimates a coastal catch of 57,001 Mitchell Act fish by commercial fishers and 37,194 by recreational fishers.
The research indicates that 870 full and part-time jobs are sustained by the program. That amounts to an infusion of $36 million in personal income overall. That includes 705 jobs and $30.1 million in personal income in Columbia River economies and 166 jobs and$6.4 million in personal income along the coasts of Oregon and Washington.
The sport catch of Mitchell Act fish annually generates, on average, $12.3 million in trip-related spending by recreational anglers in the basin and $2.9 million along the coast.
The commercial harvest of adult Mitchell Act fish produced on average $2.3 million in economic (es-vessel) value to harvesters in the Columbia River basin and $2.4 million along the coast. “From a fisheries aspect, the Mitchell Act is crucial,” Jones said.
The 20-year-old northern pikeminnow management program has matured to the point of nearing a major milestone – reducing that species’ consumption of juvenile salmon and steelhead by 50 percent from pre-program levels.
“We feel all of our modeled prognoses are coming true,” Russell Porter of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission told the Northwest Power & Conservation Council during its December meeting in Portland.
The pikeminnow program is funded through the NPCC’s Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program by the Bonneville Power Administration. The PSMFC coordinates the pikeminnow program. The program aims to reduce the size – physically and numerically – of the native pikeminnow population in order to cut down predation on salmon and steelhead stocks, many of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The primary tool is a sport reward fishery
Since 1991, more than three million pikeminnow have been removed from the Snake and Columbia rivers through the sport reward program. In 2009, anglers caught approximately 142,000 pikeminnow.
As a result, annual pikeminnow predation on juvenile salmon in 2009 was estimated to have been cut by 40 percent from pre-program levels. And that number is rising as more of the larger and more voracious pikeminnow (9 inches long or longer) are removed.
“The average size has been gradually decreasing,” Porter said. And the cumulative effects of the removals (a fish removed in 2008 counts toward reduced predation in 2009 and 2010, as an example). Pre-program research indicated that pikeminnow were responsible for most of the 10-20 percent mortality that occurs as young salmon migrate toward the Pacific Ocean through the eight-dam Columbia-Snake mainstem hydro system.
Anglers cashed in 173,112 pikeminnow in 2010 to earn $1.2 million in rewards. One angler earned $81,366 during the six-month season, breaking the individual record for catching specially tagged fish that are worth up to $500. He hooked 13 tagged fish and earned $6,500 in the process.
Anglers get paid $4 to $8 for northern pikeminnow 9 inches and larger caught in the lower Columbia (mouth to Priest Rapids Dam) and Snake (mouth to Hells Canyon Dam) rivers. The more pikeminnow an angler catches, the more the fish are worth. The first 100 are worth $4 each; the next 300 are worth $5 each; and, after 400 fish are caught and turned in, they are worth $8 each. As an added incentive, specially tagged fish are worth $500.
One of those modeling predictions is that a sustained exploitation rate (portion of the reward-size population that is removed each year) of 10-20 percent would result in a reduction in predation of 50 percent.
The exploitation rate in 2010 was 18.5 percent after subtracting tag loss. To estimate exploitation rates, researchers use electrofishing boats in the Columbia and Snake rivers to catch, tag and release pikeminnow. Then they calculate the percentage of those tags that are returned through the sport reward program.
The program has in most years accomplished its goal of achieving a 10-20 percent exploitation rate. With the high rate this past year, the predation reduction calculation should be pushed up into the low 40s, he said.
The Deschutes Land Trust, based in Bend, has purchased for protection the 450 acre Whychus Canyon Preserve northeast of Sisters.
The preserve includes a rugged rimrock canyon, native grasslands, and two miles of salmon and steelhead habitat on Whychus Creek.
“It’s a spectacular wildlife property and offers great opportunities for hiking, fishing, birding, and education,” said Win Francis, co-chair of the Land Trust’s Whychus Canyon Preserve Committee. “More importantly, this project links prior conservation projects along the creek and sets the stage for the additional land protection work that will establish the Whychus Creek steelhead stronghold.”
The Land Trust’s goal was to raise $2.9 million before they exercised their option to purchase the property, which was set to expire on December 31. As of last week, they felt they were close enough to the fundraising target that moving forward with the purchase made sense.
“We’re grateful to all the people that have stepped up to contribute to the Whychus Canyon Preserve in such a short period of time,” said Francis. “This property and this section of creek are dazzling natural areas that deserve permanent protection. The first step of buying the land is complete and now the fun work of restoration and enhancement can begin.”
The largest contribution to the project came from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which distributes a portion of Oregon Lottery proceeds to projects that protect and restore important wildlife habitat. Contributions from the Pelton-Round Butte Mitigation Fund, Portland General Electric, The Nature Conservancy, and a host of individuals and charitable foundations demonstrate broad support for the Land Trust’s Whychus Creek program throughout Oregon and beyond.
Francis noted that “Oregon’s fishing community in particular really stepped up and that support will be critical going forward. The Land Trust is continuing its land protection work in key locations on Whychus Creek and in the Metolius and Crooked rivers – the areas that will provide the foundation for rebuilding wild runs of salmon and steelhead in the upper Deschutes. These efforts will ultimately mean a healthier, more natural, and more complete river system and more wild fish in the Deschutes, which is important to those of us who enjoy steelhead fishing and spending time on Central Oregon’s favorite river.”
The Land Trust is developing plans for enhancement of the property’s fish and wildlife habitat, and will open the preserve to the public once they’ve completed a plan for public use. Francis noted that “while we did identify a portion of the $2.9 million goal for the most immediate and basic restoration and public use requirements, additional habitat enhancement work, trail construction, and other efforts will require additional funding, which is why we’re continuing our effort to raise money for the project. The sooner additional funds are available, the faster the enhancement process.”
Columbia River anglers who fish for salmon and steelhead will not be required to switch to barbless hooks next year, but state fishery managers are asking them to do it voluntarily.
“Going barbless only makes sense in these fisheries where we’re trying to maximize survival rates for released wild fish,” said Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Anglers can play an important role in that effort by using barbless hooks.”
Anderson made his appeal to anglers after informing the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission of plans to delay a new rule – originally set to begin Jan. 1 – that would require anglers to use barbless hooks in salmon and steelhead fisheries from the mouth of the Columbia River to McNary Dam.
The Washington commission, which sets policy for WDFW, approved that requirement; the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission did not. Anderson said the prospect of having incompatible fishing regulations on a portion of the Columbia River jointly managed by the two states prompted him to delay the barbless rule for at least a year.
“The two states have worked together for nearly a hundred years to avoid conflicting fishing regulations that would create confusion for anglers on the Columbia River,” Anderson said. “Delaying the barbless rule is disappointing, but we’re going to continue to pursue it.”
Anderson noted that the border between Washington and Oregon – which determines which state’s fishing rules are in effect – is hard to define along the Columbia River. “Down near the mouth, about 90 percent of the river is in Oregon,” he said. “That changes as you move upriver.”
Anderson said barbless hooks, knotless nets and careful handling of released fish are all ways that anglers can contribute to recovery of wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River.
“Anything we can do to rebuild wild runs will ultimately help maintain or expand fishing opportunities for hatchery fish,” Anderson said. “We hope that all anglers will get behind that idea and voluntarily switch to barbless hooks.”
With fall chinook and coho salmon returns turning out to be slightly better than expected, Oregon and Washington fishery managers have decided to give both commercial and sport fishers additional opportunity on the lower Columbia River mainstem.
The Columbia River Compact on Wednesday approved three more fall fisheries for the non-tribal gill-net fleet. An outing last night and another Sunday night target the tail end of the upriver bright fall chinook run with 8-inch mesh nets in the Columbia from Longview, Wash., up to Bonneville Dam.
The third fishery, Thursday is intended to catch primarily coho in Zones 1-3 (the river mouth up to Longview) with smaller mesh gill nets.
Five late fall commercial fisheries in the lower Columbia through Oct. 11 have resulted in a catch of 8,332 chinook, 6,534 coho, 23 chum salmon and 1,047 white sturgeon.
Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife staff determined before the Compact that additional URB fall Chinook “impacts” remain available and thus recommended that the Compact approve this week’s fishery.
Under the terms of a 10-year management agreement between federal, state and tribal managers, tribal and non-tribal harvests are allowed a certain level harvest on certain various fish stocks, such as Group B steelhead bound for Idaho and URBs, in order to limit impacts on the portions those runs that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Compact, which sets mainstem commercial fisheries, is made up of representatives of the ODFW and WDFW directors.
The current run-size estimate for the upriver brights – fish headed for the mid-Columbia’s Hanford Reach, the Snake River basin and elsewhere upstream of Bonneville – is 326,500, which is higher than the preseason forecast of 319,200.
Coho returns appear to be tracking at or above preseason expectations for both the early (188,000 adults to the mouth of the river) and late stocks 98,600), “with 78 percent of the total expected return already accounted for,” according to the Oct. 13 ODFW-WDFW Joint Staff Report.
The coho count at Bonneville Dam, (102,290) has already exceeded preseason expectations (83,000) with a strong pulse of fish still climbing the dam’s fish ladder this week. Daily coho counts have ranged from 1,942 to 6,057 over the past week.
The fall chinook counts at Bonneville, which is located 146 miles upstream from the river mouth, are on a downward trajectory, eroding from a peak of 21,612 on Sept. 5 to counts of less than 200 in recent days. Four treaty tribes conducted a commercial fishery Oct. 11 through Oct. 13 from 6 a.m. through 6 p.m. in Columbia mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville. Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs tribal members were allowed to catch and sell, or keep for subsistence, salmon, steelhead, walleye, shad, yellow perch, catfish, bass and carp.
The total catch in fall treaty fisheries through Sept. 30 is 136,674 adult and jack chinook and 24,043 steelhead. The catch through the end of September included an estimated 10,867 Group B steelhead, which represented 14.7 percent, of this year’s run, and 81,625 URBs, 15.8 percent of that run. Under the terms of the management agreement the tribes can catch up to 20 percent of the B steelhead and 25 percent of the URB run.
Oregon and Washington officials also decided to reopen the lower river, from Buoy 10 at the river mouth 88 miles upstream to the mouth of the Lewis River at Longview, to sport retention of chinook salmon.
That stretch of river had been closed for chinook since Sept. 12 to reduce impacts to federally-listed wild “tule”-stock chinook salmon destined for several lower Columbia River tributaries. They exhibit a different life-history than “bright”-stock fall chinook, which typically spawn later and migrate farther up the Columbia.
“The tule chinook have moved into the tributaries, so we are able to reopen this area to allow fishing access to other chinook stocks,” said Chris Kern, assistant fisheries manager for ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program. “The chinook run is definitely winding down and we don’t expect many to be caught from here on out but there are still some upriver brights available.”
Under the rule change, the entire Columbia is open to chinook, coho and steelhead fishing through Dec. 31. The daily bag limit is two adult salmon and steelhead in any combination.
Rain gauges have gotten a big shot during the final week of May, in addition to a precipitation blitzkrieg across the Columbia River basin’s midsection to start June.
Example: Idaho’s Clearwater River Basin. In mid-April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that there would be about 35 percent chance this year of refilling the reservoir behind Dworshak Dam on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in west-central Idaho.
The reservoir is a popular summer time playground for boaters and anglers, and a valuable source of water to cool the lower Snake River later in the summer for migrating salmon and steelhead. The North Fork flows into the Clearwater River and then the lower Snake, where in late summer water temperatures climb to levels that are unhealthy for salmon and steelhead.
The 35 percent prediction was based on the fact that the mountains above the Clearwater River basin contained only about half of their average “snow-water equivalent,” and the April 1 Corps water supply forecast was for April through July runoff volumes at 52 percent of average. In mid-April, Dworshak pool was 1,531 feet elevation and inching upward the full pool goal of 1,600 feet by July 1.
By Thursday, things were looking considerably brighter.
“We’re fast approaching a 100 percent probability of refill,” the Corps’ Steve Hall said after a forecast storm materialized, dropping more than 2 inches in nearby Lowell and over an inch in Orofino. There is always uncertainty when considering weather forecasts, but at week’s end the reservoir was filling rapidly.
The dam operators had been idling along, allowing only about 1,100 cubic feet of water per second out of the dam while inflows into the reservoir slowly increased as a result of the annual spring meltdown. In recent days the reservoir elevation had been rising about 1 foot per day to reach 1,583 — just 17 feet from full — by the end of the day Wednesday.
A spate of storms during the last week in May raised the Clearwater drainage’s precipitation total for the month from 94 percent of normal May 24 to 108 percent of normal. And then Tuesday the leading edge of something akin to a pineapple express arrived to dowse the region.
“We’re getting closer to two feet per day right now” Hall said of inflows that were expected to peak at 28 kcfs on Thursday according to Northwest River Forecast Center projections. Rain totals were lesser to the north and particularly so to the south, but the central part of the Columbia River basin received record rainfall in many places.
The Corps, which operates Dworshak, still must balance the desire to refill the reservoir this month with the need to reserve enough space for flood control.
“They were really in the bull’s eye and we’ve got another storm coming in tonight (Thursday),” the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Ted Day said of the Tuesday storm that swept across Portland and directly east into the heart of the Columbia River basin.
That single storm “made a significant difference in the water supply in a number of places,” Day said.
Wetter than normal conditions that prevailed in April and May have helped improve what was a relatively dire situation.
The NWRFC’s May 27 early bird forecast says that runoff past The Dalles Dam on the lower Columbia is expected to be only 66 percent of average from January through July. And the Snake River forecast, as measured at Lower Granite Dam in southeast Washington, is only 60 percent of normal even after the inclement weather of recent weeks.
The Bureau is seeing its system of storage reservoirs filling fast in recent weeks. The rain has dampened irrigation demand and thus eliminated early draws on reservoir water. The Payette River system of reservoirs in Idaho is approaching full, Day said. A month earlier it was predicted that that system would not fill this year.
The Bureau’s upper Snake reservoirs have so far loosed 158,000 acre feet of water, all of it in May, as part of its obligation to supplement flows in the lower Snake and Columbia for migrating salmon and steelhead. Day said that the Bureau expects to provide 427,000, all from willing sellers, this year from its Idaho reservoirs for flow augmentation.
Refill of the upper Snake system is possible though still in doubt, as is topping off the Boise River system in Idaho and the Yakima River system in Washington.