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Press Releases

Save Our Wild Salmon

Change in successful program will harm wild salmon, reduce fishing jobs

For Immediate Release - April 7, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - A coalition of fishing businesses, conservation groups and clean energy advocates filed papers in federal district court here today, warning that the Obama administration's proposal to eliminate key in-river salmon protections this year will reduce salmon returns and harm fishing opportunities for years ahead.
The administration wants to eliminate the highly successful program of spilling water over Snake and Columbia river dams during most of this spring's migration of young salmon. Spilling water over the dams is widely recognized as the safest way to get young salmon past the federal dams and out to the ocean, even when river flows are low.
According to the fishing and conservation groups' filing, avoiding "a situation in which federal defendants terminate spring spill on May 1, 2010, with little or no notice and against the best available scientific evidence, the Court should modify federal defendants' proposed order to roll over the existing injunction and require them to obtain leave of Court before terminating spring spill."
Earthjustice attorney Todd True, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the administration's proposal risks undermining the benefits spill has provided over the past several years and could hurt salmon communities throughout the Columbia River basin and up and down the Pacific coast.
"It's really too bad - but not too surprising unfortunately - that the administration is trying to roll back court-ordered salmon protections in order to protect the federal hydrosystem and make more money," True said. "While the proposal is presented as a way to help steelhead survival, that rhetoric simply doesn't match the facts."
Since 2006, and over strong objections from federal agencies, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden has ordered spill to help young salmon's seaward migration. As a result, the region has experienced the highest in-river salmon survival rates recorded since the dams were built. While other Pacific salmon stocks have tumbled, the Columbia and Snake rivers have kept fishing businesses operating. "Judge Redden's river has proved what scientists have said and fishermen have known for years - SPILL, BABY, SPILL," said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "That's what our salmon need, and that's what our businesses need to stay afloat."
In early March, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) submitted its proposal to eliminate much of the Redden-ordered Snake River spring spill to the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) - a scientific group established by the Northwest Power and Conservation Act. As recently as 2008, however, the ISAB said that "spill should be considered the default recommendation rather than simply one of the alternatives," for improving salmon survival.
"We all know that if you can't get the babies to the ocean, you don't get adults back," said Rexann Zimmerman, owner of Hook, Line and Sinker tackle shop in Riggins, Idaho. "We didn't have any good runs at all until they started flushing young fish to the ocean with spill. It's tough to make a living in these small towns if you don't have fish coming back, so it's imperative that we get the babies to the ocean."
On March 12, the ISAB heard for-and-against presentations on the administration's anti-spill proposal. Only NMFS supported its elimination. Other authorities - including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - highlighted major concerns, arguing that eliminating spill will have serious consequences for Snake River sockeye - the most endangered of Columbia Basin salmon - as well as for chinook salmon and lamprey. Additionally, the proposal would provide
little if any benefit to steelhead as compared to continued or increased spill.
The Fish Passage Center, an independent fisheries science entity, called the NMFS' proposal "extreme" and "risky." It estimated that 90 percent or more of Snake River sockeye salmon will be migrating during NMFS's no-spill timeframe. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe compared data from 2005 (a low flow year with no spill) to data in 2007 (a low flow year with full spill); that comparison reveals a vast improvement for sockeye survival with spill.
In 2005, almost 86 percent of Snake River sockeye were trucked and barged down river, and the adult return ratio from and to the Sawtooth Valley numbered 0.00 percent. In 2007, only 53 percent of Snake River sockeye were trucked and barged because of improved spill, and the adult return ratio from and to the Sawtooth Valley was 0.58 percent.
All salmon that migrated to the sea under the spill provisions of 2007 fared much better and returned to the Snake River at higher levels than did their 2005 counterparts.
"It's clear that spill works for salmon confronting these dams," said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. "And let's be clear: Continuing spill will NOT raise electric power rates. The costs of spill are already included in current Bonneville Power Administration rates. What continuing spill will increase is the number of wild salmon in our rivers and our ocean."
For More Information:
Todd True, EarthJustice – (206) 343-7340, x. 30
Liz Hamilton, NSIA - (503) 631-8859
Sara Patton, NWEC – (206) 621-0094
Nicole Cordan, SOS – (503) 703-3733


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