News Articles

Important articles published by national and regional news outlets related to wild salmon restoration in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Greg Moore 

March 21, 2019

1sockeye.web 2Changes in the economics of hydropower generation in the Pacific Northwest are giving anadromous fish advocates optimism that four dams on the lower Snake River could soon be removed. The dams are widely blamed for being the main cause of salmon and steelhead declines in Idaho since they went into operation in the 1960s and ’70s.

“The lower Snake River dams are not economically viable in the larger context of what’s happening in the Pacific Northwest,” said river guide and Idaho Conservation League board member Jim Norton during a symposium at The Community Library in Ketchum on March 13-14. “I’ve never been more convinced that this is the moment.”

In an interview, Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Kevin Lewis said he agreed.

The causes of that optimism are a widening spread between the price of Bonneville Power Administration electricity and market rates, looming high maintenance costs at the lower Snake dams and flat demand for power in the region.

“Our power customers have expressed significant concerns that BPA’s recent pattern of rising costs and rates is unsustainable,” the federal agency states in its “2018-2023 Strategic Plan.”

The plan goes on to say that “Bonneville is committed to remaining a cost-effective power supplier, but its cost advantage has eroded. A substantial challenge is low wholesale power prices caused by persistently low natural gas prices and ever-increasing renewable energy expansion during a time when electric loads remain flat. Supply is outpacing demand. . .”

The plan also notes that BPA “faces cost pressure from maintaining aging generation infrastructure” and “increasing costs to meet fish and wildlife obligations.”

The most significant maintenance cost coming up is $1 billion to replace 22 of 24 turbines on the four Snake River dams by 2035, Norton told the audience in a mostly filled library lecture hall last Wednesday night.

According to the strategic plan, fish and wildlife costs account for about 25 percent of BPA’s direct power costs; combined with the financial impacts of spill, those costs account for about one-third of BPA’s power rates.

“They are on their way to going effectively broke, if it weren’t for their access to capital markets [to borrow money],” Norton said. “The long-term trend is against them.”

A crucial time for BPA will come in 2028, when all its 20-year power-sale contracts with its 142 public-utility customers expire.

During a presentation in Portland in March 2018, BPA Administrator Elliott Mainzer noted that the agency’s power price is close to $10 per megawatt-hour over the average wholesale market price, adding that “if that spread opens up more I think we’re going to look at some significant problems” keeping customers, who will be free to buy power from other suppliers after 2028.

Norton equated the potential situation to a run on the bank.

“If a couple of large customers decide to exit together, it could be catastrophic for spreading the cost to other ratepayers in the system,” he said. “If people start exiting, everyone’s going to race to get out the door.”

Norton said BPA has run down its cash reserves from $900 million in 2006 to about zero now. It has stayed afloat due to borrowing, primarily from the U.S. government.

At the end of 2017, BPA had consumed $5 billion of its borrowing authority, leaving $2.7 billion remaining, the 2018-23 Strategic Plan states.

“Based on projections from BPA’s most recent rate filing, this source of financing will be depleted by 2023, putting BPA’s future capital program at risk,” the plan states. “To continue investing in and maintaining the tremendously valuable federal power and transmission assets, BPA will need to look beyond its traditional financing source and consider an ‘all of the above’ capital financing strategy.”

Mainzer said during his presentation in Portland that he’s “not in a panic mode, but I’m in a very, very significant sense of urgency.”

This looks like a good time, Norton and other conservationists say, for BPA to unload poorly performing assets. On that list could be the Snake River dams.

Those dams were built primarily to create a 140-mile-long water route for barges to transport grain from Lewiston, Idaho, on its way to Portland, Ore. They produce far less electricity than do the four big dams on the lower Columbia River. In addition, the run-of-the-river dams on the Snake produce about half their annual power during spring runoff, outside of the peak demand season during winter.

“They are contributing to what has become a problematic surplus for the federal power family,” Norton said.

Most of that surplus had been sold to California, Norton said, but since 2008 that state has been installing a lot of solar power, greatly reducing demand there.

Norton said that if the lower Snake dams are removed, they will not immediately need to be replaced by other sources of power. He said a projection for the power surplus 10 years from now equals the total output of the four lower Snake dams.

“The Pacific Northwest is awash in power,” he said.

Idaho Rivers United Director Lewis said in an interview that barge traffic on the lower Snake has dropped by half over the past 20 years. He said farmers co-ops in the Palouse, near Lewiston, have built several “unit loaders,” big loops of railroad track to allow trains to be loaded with grain. That allows the grain to be shipped by rail anywhere in the country, and not just to Portland.

“Changing needs, on the agriculture side and on the energy side, are making the dams obsolete,” he said.

Despite its admission of challenging times, the BPA expresses optimism that its carbon-free power will continue to be valued as part of efforts to combat global warming.

In fall 2016, the BPA (which sells the power from the dams), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which operates the dams) and the Bureau of Reclamation began a Columbia River System Operations Review to update their long-term plans. The review includes analysis of navigation, hydropower, irrigation and fish conservation. According to the BPA 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, the review will also produce a recommendation on the future of the lower Snake River dams. A draft EIS available for public comment is scheduled to be completed by March 2020 and a final EIS by Sept. 30, 2020.

March 17, 2019 

Eric Barker

dam.lowergraniteLEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The way dams and storage reservoirs on the Columbia River and its tributaries are managed could change dramatically in a short five years if negotiators from the United States and Canada don't strike a deal.

At issue is the Columbia River Treaty, a transboundary agreement that has governed flood risk management and hydropower production for more than five decades. The treaty is evergreen, meaning it doesn't have an end date unless either nation decides to sever the agreement following a 10-year notice. Neither side has given that notice, but both are engaged in talks led by the U.S. State Department and Global Affairs Canada aimed at updating the treaty, The Lewiston Tribune reports.

Under the current terms, the way flood risk is managed changes dramatically in 2024, and that could affect Idaho water. Right now, three huge storage reservoirs in Canada and one in Montana do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to reducing flood risk in places like Portland and Vancouver, Wash. The treaty was precipitated in part by the 1948 Vanport Flood near Portland, that killed 15 people and displaced more than 18,000 who lived in a low-lying development.

The dams are managed jointly by the U.S. and Canada, and the treaty dictates that reservoirs behind Mica, Arrow and Duncan dams in British Columbia are drafted to hold back more than 15 million acre-feet of water during spring floods.

The water captured by the dams is released later in the year, and Canada is compensated for 50 percent of the released water's potential hydropower production as it moves downstream through U.S. dams.

Flood control

Starting in 2024, the Canadian dams will no longer be obligated to provide downstream flood control protection unless the United States first demonstrates it has done all it can to reduce flood risk by capturing spring flows in its reservoirs. Once that happens, the U.S. can "call upon" Canada to capture water behind its dams.

Under such a scenario, reservoirs in the U.S. would likely be drawn down much lower than they are now prior to spring runoff, threatening the potential for them to refill. And it's not clear which U.S. dams would have to participate.

The U.S. believes its large storage dams named in the treaty — Libby, Hungry Horse and Kerr in Montana; Dworshak, Brownlee and Albeni Falls in Idaho; Grand Coulee in Washington and John Day Dam in Oregon — would have to be tapped to provide additional flood control. Canada interprets the treaty to say all dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries south of the border would have to play a bigger role in flood control. Under that scenario, dozens of other dams and reservoirs would be involved. For example, dams that provide local flood control or capture water for summer irrigation may have to help in systemwide flood control.

Nor do the two sides agree on what constitutes a flood large enough for the U.S. to "call upon" Canada for help. The U.S. side believes flows projected to reach 450,000 cubic feet per second at The Dalles Dam in Oregon would meet the requirement. Canada believes projected flows would have to reach 600,000 cubic feet per second.

The value of water

The flood control regime isn't the only difference negotiators are trying to bridge. The treaty gives Canada the right to half of the hydropower that can be produced in the U.S. by the water the Canadian dams hold back and then ultimately release — known as the Canadian entitlement. Depending on market prices, the power can be worth $150 million to $300 million per year. Those power payments, plus 30 years of hydropower purchased by U.S. companies at the onset of the treaty, paid for the construction of the dams in Canada.

But the U.S. believes the formula that decides the power value of Canadian water is outdated. Because the formula doesn't account for things like how much of the Canadian water is spilled at U.S. dams to improve fish passage, American hydropower interests say the power payments sent to Canada are as much as 10 times what they are actually worth. U.S. interests want the treaty changed to reflect that actual value of the Canadian water.

"It's one of those aspects of the treaty that really calls out for modernization," said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council at Portland. "The assumptions that went into the formula that created the downstream power-benefit sharing have become outdated over time. It's a lot of power off the federal side of the system that is sent to Canada, and it's a lot of value to ratepayers of the U.S. that we think should accrue to citizens."

Canada's checklist

Canadians also have identified issues they want to solve in negotiations. The dams have dramatically altered local ecosystems and inundated communities and valuable bottomland behind the dams. The Canadians think they should be compensated for that. When Canadian dams are drawn down, water levels fluctuate dramatically, disrupting recreation, fish and wildlife habitat and exposing huge mud flats that can produce dust storms. The construction of Washington's Grand Coulee Dam prior to the treaty, which Canada did not object to at the time, blocked salmon that once returned to British Columbia rivers, harming Canada's First Nations. They want fish passage and salmon reintroduction to be considered. The Canadians also say their dams allowed lucrative floodplain development around Portland. They would like compensation for that service.

The Canadian government wants to retain the post-2024 flood control regime that alleviates pressure on its dams and reservoirs. They also want more say in the way Libby Dam in Montana is managed. The dam backs up the Kootenay River more than 40 miles into Canada and creates Lake Koocanusa. (The river is spelled Kootenai in the U.S. and Kootenay in Canada.)


Talks between the two countries began last May. Those talks are centered on the future of flood control, hydropower generation and ecosystem function, which would be a new aim of the treaty. Several years before negotiations began, the U.S. held domestic talks involving Northwest states, 15 American Indian tribes in the Columbia Basin and hydropower and agricultural interests, to develop goals for treaty modernization.

The tribes on both sides of the border wanted a seat at the negotiating table, but the countries chose to exclude them in favor of small teams.

"The tribes were left out of that conversation in the original treaty," said Scott Hauser, executive director of the Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation. "We feel it's absolutely imperative they are part of it this time."

At the outset, the U.S. is seeking two big goals. First, it wants to avoid the 2024 change in flood control regime. Next, it wants to update the way the Canadian entitlement is calculated. The U.S. also wants ecosystem functions be incorporated in river management. The region spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually in efforts to mitigate effects of the dams on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.

Idaho's Sen. Jim Risch sits in a power position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If the two countries reach an agreement, the updated treaty must be ratified by the Senate. It's up to Risch to introduce the new treaty if and when it's complete.

Risch told the Tribune he intends to flex his legislative muscle.

"The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee decides if it's going to be heard or not," he said. "So it's going to be a good deal for Idaho, or it's going to be no deal at all."

He insists the treaty should only cover flood control and hydropower production. If it includes ecosystem function or anything that might threaten Idaho's sovereignty over its water, Risch said he won't let the treaty be debated. In fact, he said adding ecosystem function is dead on arrival. That means no more flows for fish and no reintroduction of salmon in places they aren't now.

"It's not going to happen," he said. "The third one (ecosystem function) is not in there now, and it's not going to be added. The reason I say that is I believe we would — I think almost certainly — end up on the short end of the stick.

He said he has a chummy relationship with President Donald J. Trump and has spoken to him about the treaty. Risch also has constituents in Idaho urging him to use his position to exclude ecosystem functions. The Idaho Legislature passed a nonbinding House Joint Memorial in 2014 saying an updated treaty must protect state sovereignty over water.

A group of more than 20 water users, from public power companies like Clearwater Power and Idaho County Light to southern Idaho irrigators and navigation interests like the Port of Lewiston, want the updated treaty to exclude ecosystem function.

"It just creates another piece of red tape, another legal hurdle to operate the system," said Paul Arrington, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association. "Both countries have laws and regulations to deal with these issues, and it should remain as such."

Even others who want ecosystem function added said they agree with Risch on the need to protect Idaho's water. For example, the Nez Perce Tribe, the state of Idaho and the federal government are parties to the Nez Perce Agreement that helped settle hundreds of water rights disputes in the state. Part of that agreement calls for the state to send 427,000 acre-feet of upper Snake River water downstream each year to help migrating salmon and steelhead.

"I share his concerns on Idaho's water," said Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and a member of the Nez Perce Tribe. "Years ago I was part of the (Snake River Basin Adjudication.) We worked long and hard with a diversity of interests to bring some peace to the issue. I am as sensitive as he is in protecting the agreement."

Pinkham said that doesn't mean ecosystem function shouldn't be on the table. He said the talks could still produce provisions to improve conditions for fish in the basin that are beneficial to both sides. He cites the recent agreement between states, tribes and the federal government that will spill more water at Snake and Columbia river dams yet allow hydropower production part of the time as an example of creative solutions that are possible.

"Those are great solutions that help the energy sector and help fish, and if we can find the same kind of creative options in the Columbia River Treaty I want us to stay open to that," Pinkham said.

Canada's cards

Canada might seem to be in a position of power. The U.S. wants to maintain the current flood control regime and yet pay its neighbor less for the water it holds during spring runoff.

But Canada may have difficulty fully flexing its muscle. Jim Heffernan, a policy analyst at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said Canada also wants to protect its own downstream communities from flood, which may require it to hold back much of the spring flows even before the U.S. asks it to. In addition, he said Canada's hydropower system was constructed to operate on the regime in place for more than 50 years. That means the country would likely have to run the system in much the same way it does now to maximize its power production.

"Because of the way they built their system, they have to operate it the way they do now," Heffernan said. "To hurt us they have to hurt themselves."

Canada also benefits from the water spilled at U.S. dams to help salmon. Heffernan said both sockeye and spring chinook returning to the Okanogan River in Canada have improved because of fish-friendly management of U.S. dams. If salmon were reintroduced above Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams so they could recolonize rivers in British Columbia, Heffernan said those runs, too, would benefit from spill at U.S. dams.

"Sockeye salmon and spring chinook returning to the Okanogan watershed in Canada are currently benefiting from changes we made to the system for U.S. stocks," he said. "That is a really important point, because they gloss over that."

A chance to restore balance

Many see a moral reason to include ecosystem function. John Osborn, an environmental activist and physician at Vashon Island, Wash., said the treaty negotiations are a chance to right wrongs to American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nations — and to the environment. He said negotations should address fish passage and salmon reintroduction, climate change, reconnecting rivers to their flood plains and better sharing the benefits and burdens of the dams and reservoirs.

"We are truly blessed to live on one of the most remarkable river systems in the world," Osborn said. "I think it asks us to look at what has happened in really the short amount of time since Lewis and Clark — the profound changes that have benefited some, perhaps many, but come at wrenching costs — and we find a way to bring balance back to the system, and we build reserves. That is going to be absolutely critical in the time of climate change."

March 17, 2019

By The Herald Editorial Board

Orca.LeapingThe state shouldn’t shy away from a discussion of the costs and benefits of breaching four dams.

Nobody said it was going to be cheap. Or easy.

But if two of Washington state’s signature species — orca whales and the salmon on which they depend — are to survive it will take a range of actions, significant funding, some sacrifices and a willingness to adapt.

At last count, 74 Southern Resident killer whales remain in the three family pods that spend part of their year around the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and the larger Salish Sea, down from a peak of nearly 100 about 20 years ago. While orcas face myriad threats to their health, the most significant remains the decrease in abundance and size of salmon, specifically chinook, on which they predominately feed.

State, federal and Canadian fisheries experts are predicting returns of spring chinook to the Columbia River to drop about 14 percent lower than last year’s returns and amount to about half of the 10-year average. For Puget Sound rivers, less than 30,000 wild chinook are predicted to return. Only coho salmon returns are expected to be about 15 percent above their 10-year average.

Fortunately, there are a range of actions already outlined last year — 36 in all — by the state’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force that seeks to address the array of challenges that salmon and orca are facing, including impacts from marine vessel noise and activity that hamper the orcas’ hunt for salmon and the presence of toxic chemicals that affect their health.

At the end of the year, Gov. Jay Inslee, used many of those recommendations to propose $1.1 billion in spending along with other policies that now are under consideration in the Legislature.

That array of solutions deserves lawmakers’ full consideration; one, in particular, because it already faces significant opposition but presents significant promise in restoring salmon spawning habitat that could help restore healthy runs of chinook and other salmon.

Among the spending sought by Inslee is $750,000 that would support the work of further study and discussion on the impacts and opportunities of removing the four “run of the river” hydro-electric dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington, the Columbia River’s largest tributary.

The removal of some of the state’s smaller dams are also among the recommendations, including one on the Pilchuck River. The recent removal of the Elwha Dam on the Olympic Peninsula shows some of the promise in restoring salmon habitat. Five years after its removal, the forecast for the Elwha River shows better returns for wild chinook.

Opponents of removal of the four Snake River dams, notably U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane; and Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, have criticized the proposed study as wasteful because, “breaching them is out of the question.” Backers of the dams have pointed to the dams’ roles in providing irrigation, barge transportation for wheat and other agricultural products and electricity.

A closer look at what the dams provide, however, questions the dams’ actual utility and speaks to the potential benefits for salmon, orca and even the economic health of Eastern Washington if the dams were removed.

We’ve discussed earlier that the electricity produced by the four dams can — and in coming years will — be replaced as new wind turbines and solar facilities are built. A study commissioned by the Northwest Energy Coalition found that the four dams produce about 4 percent of the region’s electricity but could be replaced with a mix of wind, solar and energy efficiency programs that would add about $1 a month to the electrical power bills of most consumers.

Continuing the supply of water for irrigation would require little more than moving the pumping equipment.

And replacing the barge transportation, for which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the dams and their locks in the 1960s and 1970s, is already happening, as shippers have increased their use of rail to transport grain and other crops.

The shift from barge to rail has not gone unnoticed by Eastern Washington farmers, including Bryan Jones, a Colfax wheat farmer who spoke to the editorial board last week.

Jones doesn’t make the choice on how his wheat is shipped; he just pays the 47 cents for a 60-pound bushel to do it. That decision is made by the shipping company he uses, but increasingly his wheat makes its trip by railcar and not barge.

Shipping by barge is not without its costs, particularly to taxpayers who subsidize the dredging and other maintenance performed by the Corps to keep the locks in operation.

Jones is an admitted minority among his fellow farmers in supporting an examination of removing the four Snake River dams, but it’s one-on-one conversations that he has had with farmers and others in Eastern Washington — a few like himself who can recall what the Snake was like before the dams were built — that show the issue isn’t “out of the question.”

“When you talk quietly with them, they begin to see the possibilities,” Jones said.

Along with a deeper investigation of the costs, benefits and changes that removal of the dams would bring, those conversations need to occur among all whose lives are tied to the Columbia and Snake rivers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho: farmers, community members, commercial and sports fishers, tribes, environmental groups, utilities, electricity consumers and many others.

The possibilities Jones sees are for continued viability of Eastern Washington agriculture but also an economy strengthened by investment in a broader renewable energy sector that is already in increasing demand, as well as for the region’s recreational economy that would be buoyed by healthy returns of salmon to the Snake and its tributaries.

Not too surprisingly, what’s good for salmon and orca could be good for us all.

February  26, 2019

By Elaine Williams

Ice.Harbor.DamWater transportation has been temporarily halted between Lewiston and Portland, Ore., forcing shippers to shuffle their schedules.

The navigation lock at Ice Harbor Dam closed Saturday when mechanical alignment issues surfaced on its downstream gate hoist machinery, according to a news release from the Walla Walla District of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Ice Harbor is one of eight dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers between Lewiston and Portland.

The problem was discovered when crews had difficulty opening the gate while they were preparing for the arrival of a vessel. On Monday, the corps sent personnel to the site to evaluate options.

“They have to come up with a path forward,” corps spokeswoman Gina Baltrusch said.

No date has been set for the lock to reopen. The closure stranded one vessel from Tidewater Barge Lines behind Ice Harbor Dam near the Tri-Cities. A Shaver Transportation grain barge was just below Ice Harbor Dam and couldn’t reach Almota in Whitman County, where it was supposed to be loaded.

Operators of the Lewis-Clark Terminal in Lewiston are waiting for more information before deciding what to do. The terminal, which belongs to CHS Primeland, Pacific Northwest Farmers Co-op and Uniontown Co-op, was supposed to load grain barges Monday through Wednesday this week, general manager Scott Zuger said.

“The system is moving, and when it comes to a sudden stop, it’s just like any other roadblock,” Zuger said. “You have to wait for it to be cleared.”

One sawdust shipment bound for a Clearwater Paper facility at the Port of Lewiston was delivered to an alternate location, company spokeswoman Shannon Myers said. The raw materials unloaded at the site feed Clearwater Paper’s Lewiston plant.

The overnight passenger cruise boats that call on Clarkston and other towns along the Snake and Columbia rivers weren’t affected. They ran until early November last year and are scheduled to resume at the end of March.

The temporary outage at Ice Harbor precedes a previously planned annual maintenance at all eight dams. That work starts Saturday and is expected close river transportation between Lewiston and Portland until March 24.

Friday, March 15, 2019

2salmonballet.webNOAA Fisheries saw the lowest number of juvenile coho salmon in 21 years in offshore test nets in 2017, leading to low returns of coho to the Columbia River basin one year later in 2018 when the fish were adults.

However, in 2018 NOAA netted many more juvenile coho than in 2017 and that signals a better adult coho run in 2019, according to a briefing this week at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Portland.

Much of the reason is improving ocean conditions – cooler water than the ocean warmup during the 2014 – 2017 “blob” with more fat-rich food, said Brian Burke of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Burke and biologists from Washington, Oregon and Idaho briefed the Council Tuesday, March 12, on 2018 fish run results and offered forecasts for 2019.

Overall, the number of salmon and steelhead forecasted to arrive at the mouth of the Columbia River will be higher this year than in 2018, with 1.3 million chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead expected in 2019 compared to last year’s actual return of 665,000 fish, said Dan Rawding, Columbia River policy and science coordinator with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Still, that’s far below the total run of salmonids of more than 3.5 million in 2014.

The upriver component of the total salmonid run is forecasted at 968,000 fish this year compared to last year’s 619,400.

Leading the increase in the total number of fish is coho. Last year the forecasted run size was 286,200, but the actual run size was half that at just 147,300 fish. This year, biologists are forecasting a run size of 726,000 coho.

However, ocean conditions affect species differently, Rawding said, as the various species and runs have different timing when they both enter the ocean and when they return to the river, and each species has its own migration pattern when offshore.

As a result, predicted run sizes for the remainder of the species are simply near or below what last year’s runs were, which was not a particularly good year for most Columbia River species of salmon and steelhead.

Upriver spring chinook will continue a series of years with very low returns: this year the forecast is 99,300 upriver spring chinook at the river’s mouth, which is lower than last year’s forecast of 166,700 fish and the actual run size of 115,000. In years before The Blob, the run size averaged about 200,000 fish, with over 300,000 in 2010 and about 140,000 in 2013.

The forecast for Upper Columbia River spring chinook, listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, is 11,200, including 2,100 wild fish. Last year’s actual run was 12,844, with 1,977 wild, and the forecast last year was a bit more optimistic at 20,100, with 3,400 wild. The 2014 run was about 38,000 fish, with about 4,000 wild.

Upper Columbia summer chinook forecast is down to 35,900 fish from last year’s actual return of 42,120 (the forecast in 2018 was 67,300). Upper Columbia summer chinook have been in a steady decline since 2015’s run of over 120,000 fish.

According to Lance Hebdon, anadromous fishery manager at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, of the upriver spring/summer chinook, some 6,130 natural origin spring/summer chinook will migrate into Idaho this year. That’s down from last year’s actual return of 6,863 (the forecast was 12,655). The 10-year average is 16,912, but the minimum abundance threshold for recovery is 31,750.

The hatchery origin spring/summer forecast, he said, is 25,701 chinook. Last year’s actual run was 31,820 and the forecast was 53,218. The 10-year average is 58,393.

Fall chinook are forecasted to return this year in higher numbers than in 2018. Some 340,400 fish are expected to return to the Columbia River’s mouth, with 261,100 upriver fish. The 2018 run was less at 291,100 (214,000 upriver) and the forecast was 375,700 (286,200 upriver).

Natural origin fall chinook into Idaho “really is a bright spot,” Hebdon said. They are forecasted at 5,435 fish, also down from last year’s actual return of 6,133 fish (forecast was 6,113), but higher than the minimum abundance threshold of 4,500. The 10-year average is 10,708.

The forecast for hatchery fall chinook into Idaho is 10,016, a little higher than last year’s actual count of 9,936. The 2018 forecast was for 12,013 and the 10-year average is 28,321.

Columbia River chum, which historically did not pass Celilo Falls near The Dalles, Rawding said, will come in this year about the same as last year’s actual run – 10,000 fish. That’s about average for 21st century chum runs, but far below the peak run in 2016 of about 42,000 fish.

Some 42,900 Willamette River spring chinook are expected this year, according to Art Martin, Columbia River Coordination Section Manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. That’s about half-way between last year’s forecast of 55,950 fish and the actual return last year of 39,660. In 2010, about 120,000 spring chinook returned.

The upriver summer steelhead actual return at 100,483 was the lowest on record, Rawding said. The 2019 forecast is just a bit higher at 126,950. Last year’s forecast was 190,350. The return in 2009 was about 600,000 fish, but the numbers have mostly declined since.

For Idaho, natural origin summer steelhead is forecasted at 17,615 fish, higher than the 2018 actual run of 10,834 fish. The forecast last year was 24,780 and the 10-year average is 29,166. However, the minimum abundance threshold at 21,767 fish is higher than the 2019 forecast. Of the total 16,950 are expected to be A-run fish and 665 B-run fish.

“The B-run (natural origin) is pretty low, but the hatchery summer steelhead performed much worse than the wild,” Hebdon said. “Last year the run was actually the worst until you go back to the 1990s.”

The 2019 run of hatchery summer steelhead is forecasted at 43,085, slightly higher than 2018 when the actual run was 38,086 fish (forecasted to be 71,300) The 10-year average is 116,426 fish. Some 38,150 will be A-run fish and 4,935 B-run.

There will be a slight uptick in wild winter steelhead, almost all which are below Bonneville Dam, Rawding said. Some 14,400 are forecasted in 2019, while last year’s forecast was 11,700 and the actual run was 11,323. The return was about 24,000 in 2016, but dropped to about 10,000 in 2017.

Columbia River sockeye are forecasted to continue the low returns experienced the last couple of years, with this year’s forecast set at 94,400 fish. Some 210,915 were forecasted last year, but just 99,000 showed up at the mouth. About 650,000 returned in 2014.

Wild Snake River sockeye, listed as endangered under the ESA, are forecasted to be a very low 43 fish. That’s “because we prioritize hatchery production” as they rebuild the stock, Hebdon said. Just 36 wild fish returned last year, although the forecast was far higher at 216. The 10-year average return is 194.

The hatchery return of Snake River sockeye is also very low, he said, forecasted at 86. Last year’s actual return was 240, the forecast was 162 and the 10-year average is 873.

Spring chinook anglers downstream of Bonneville Dam in 2018 kept 7,500 hatchery fish in 90,000 angler trips. 600 hatchery fish were kept from Bonneville to the Oregon/Washington border and 740 hatchery fish were kept in the Washington waters in the Snake River, according to information provided by Rawding.

Summer season: 1,000 hatchery chinook, 2,400 hatchery steelhead and 400 sockeye were kept downstream of Bonneville in 27,500 angler trips; 430 hatchery chinook and 100 sockeye were caught from Bonneville to Priest Rapids Dam; 3,000 hatchery chinook and 16,100 sockeye were kept from Priest Rapids Dam to Chief Joseph Dam.

During the fall season, Buoy 10 anglers caught 11,600 chinook and 6,800 hatchery coho in 67,300 angler trips. The catch downstream of Bonneville was 9,800 chinook, 650 hatchery coho and 1,100 hatchery steelhead in 69,600 angler trips.

Some 6,700 chinook were kept at Hanford Reach in 20,100 angler trips.

Non-tribal commercial gillnetters fishing the 2018 fall season in the mainstem river caught 8,300 fall chinook and 380 coho (spring and summer mainstem fishing was closed to them). Select Area Fisheries (SAFE) gillnetting took 8,700 chinook in the spring, 2,200 chinook in the summer and 15,000 chinook in the fall, along with 12,500 coho.

Treaty gillnetters and hook and line fishers took 10,900 spring chinook, 9,300 summer chinook, 5,400 sockeye, 1,200 summer steelhead in the spring and summer, and 5,000 summer steelhead in the fall. In fall fishing, they took 49,800 fall chinook and 3,600 coho.

Friday, March 15, 2019

CohoFernsWith a strong coho salmon run expected this year, but low estimates of chinook salmon, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has developed three options with quotas for fishing off the Washington coast.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has packaged the three options that include catch quotas and areas where fishing is allowed with the aim of protecting the limited number of chinook, the primary food of threatened southern resident killer whales. WDFW now wants to know what the public prefers. The agency has put the options out for public review and will host a public meeting in March.

The three options for ocean salmon fisheries were approved Tuesday, March 5, by the PFMC at its meeting in Vancouver. With input from NOAA Fisheries, Tribes, states and others, the PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

The three alternatives are designed to protect the low numbers of chinook expected to return to the Columbia River and Washington's ocean waters this year, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW.

"With these alternatives in hand, we will work with stakeholders to develop a final fishing package for Washington's coastal and inside waters that meets our conservation objectives for wild salmon," Adicks said. "Anglers can expect improved opportunities to fish for coho salmon compared to recent years while fishing opportunities for chinook likely will be similar to last year."

Like last year, the 2019 forecast for Columbia River fall chinook is down roughly 50 percent from the 10-year average, WDFW said. About 100,500 hatchery chinook are expected to return to the lower Columbia River. Those fish – known as "tules" – are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.

On the other hand, fishery managers estimate 905,800 coho will return to the Columbia River this year, up 619,600 fish from the 2018 forecast. A significant portion of the Columbia River run of coho contributes to the ocean fishery, WDFW said.

The options include the following quotas for recreational fisheries off the Washington coast:

Option 1: 32,500 chinook and 172,200 coho. Marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) would open June 15 while marine areas 1 (Ilwaco) and 2 (Westport) would open June 22. All four areas would be open daily and La Push would have a late-season fishery under this option.

Option 2: 27,500 chinook and 159,600 coho. Marine areas 1, 3, and 4 would open daily beginning June 22 while Marine Area 2 would open daily beginning June 29. There would be no late-season fishery in Marine Area 3.

Option 3: 22,500 chinook and 94,400 coho. Marine areas 1, 3, and 4 would open daily beginning June 29 while Marine Area 2 would be open five days per week (Sunday through Thursday) beginning June 16. There would be no late-season fishery in Marine Area 3.

Fisheries may close early if quotas have been met.

Last year, the PFMC adopted recreational ocean fishing quotas of 27,500 chinook and 42,000 coho.

WDFW is working with tribal co-managers and NOAA Fisheries to take into account the dietary needs of southern resident orcas while developing salmon fishing seasons, the agency said. The declining availability of salmon and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region's orca population over the past 30 years.

"We will continue to assess the effects of fisheries on southern resident killer whales as we move towards setting our final fishing seasons in April," Adicks said.

Chinook and coho quotas approved by the PFMC will be part of a comprehensive 2019 salmon-fishing package, which includes marine and freshwater fisheries throughout Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington's coastal areas. State and tribal co-managers are currently developing those other fisheries.

State and tribal co-managers will complete the final 2019 salmon fisheries package in conjunction with PFMC during the PFMC’s April meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif.

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