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Snake River Sockeye:  It's Time to Count Only Natural-Origin Fish.

SOS has asked the NW Power and Conservation Council to count only natural-origin Snake River sockeye salmon in all future assessments of the status and needs of this endangered fish.  The request comes a few months before a second Snake River sockeye hatchery opens, which means the already-wide gulf between the total return of Snake River sockeye, and the total return of sockeye of natural origin, will grow even wider.  The text of this letter to the NPCC is pasted below; with PDF versions of the SOS-NPCC letter and a chart of Snake River sockeye returns developed by Bert Bowler also available for download.



June 24, 2013

Bill Bradbury, Chair;
Jennifer Anders, Vice-chair; and
members Bill Booth, Tom Karier, Henry Lorenzen,
Phil Rockefeller, Pat Smith, and Jim Yost

Northwest Power and Conservation Council
851 SW Sixth Avenue, Suite 1100
Portland OR 97204

Dear Chairman Bradbury, Vice-chairwoman Anders, and Council members Booth, Karier, Lorenzen, Rockefeller, Smith and Yost,

An article in the newest Council Quarterly – On Many Fronts, a Fight to Restore Sockeye – leaves a generalized and inaccurate impression of the condition of endangered Snake River sockeye salmon. I hope this amplification will be of assistance.

I attach a chart of Snake River sockeye returns from 1954 through 2012, prepared by fisheries biologist Bert Bowler from Idaho Department of Fish and Game data.

Last year, 53 natural-origin Snake River sockeye returned to Redfish Lake. This is 2% of the recovery goal of 2,500 natural-origin fish. The highest recent return was 180 natural-origin fish in 2010, about 7% of the recovery goal. These are better than the routine single digit returns in the 1990s. But they are still abysmally low, and provide next to no ecosystem value, economic development opportunity or cultural benefit.

This is at odds with the cheerful tenor of most Snake River sockeye stories in recent years. The main reason is that those stories count hatchery sockeye (also shown on the attached chart). There may have been sound reasons to do that in the past, but no longer.

Natural-origin sockeye drive the species’ legal status, since the recovery goal is 2,500 natural-origin fish. Biologically and in terms of ecosystem function, the natural origin fish must also be the sharp focus, since only they are functioning in the full ecosystem that Snake River sockeye inhabit. For economic development, the natural origin fish must also be the focus if sustainability, self-sustainability, durability, stability, legal status and actual presence of the economic attribute being developed matter.

The genetic identities and relationships between the hatchery and natural-origin sockeye matter a good deal within the hatchery program. But the legal, biological, ecological, and economic differences that distinguish them make natural-origin sockeye the necessary focus for policymakers and people outside the program.

The Snake River sockeye hatchery program is a special case, which most groups in our coalition considered a sound emergency step over a decade ago. But those who opposed or cautioned about it were right to fear the emergency program would be used to mask or come to substitute for politically tougher but necessary actions to achieve self-sustaining natural recovery of the fish in its habitat. That habitat extends from central Idaho lakes downstream through the federal dam system to the estuary and ocean. Its condition, most notably through the dam system, is not yet good enough to restore Snake River sockeye. This is one reason our coalition is working hard to expand salmon spill and reduce salmon barging.

We believe that now, just before a second Snake River sockeye hatchery comes on line, is exactly the right time for the Council, and its federal counterparts, to explicitly reaffirm the goal of restoring natural-origin Snake River sockeye in their habitat as quickly as possible. We therefore urge the Council to stop including hatchery fish counts in its assessments of endangered Snake River sockeye returns, and instead focus only on natural-origin fish. That will provide policymakers and Northwest people the most relevant knowledge and clearest focus for sockeye investments, actions, and evaluations.

The closest Snake River sockeye have come to their recovery goal since being ESA-listed in 1992 is to achieve 7% of it, and that in just a single year. The most critically endangered salmon in the Columbia Basin in 1992 remains so 21 years later.

Thank you for considering this information and request.


Pat Ford, executive director
Save Our wild Salmon Coalition
902 Pueblo Street
Boise ID 83702 208-345-9067

cc: Steve Crow, executive director
Tony Grover, fish and wildlife division director
Mark Walker, public affairs division director



Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.




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