"Spill baby, spill," say salmon advocates
April 10, 2010 - The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council offered some advice today to federal bureaucrats - keep spilling water over dams on the Snake River to give young salmon and steelhead a fighting chance of safely reaching the Pacific Ocean.
The Obama administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has proposed to eliminate key portions of the spring spill program for young salmon, and instead remove the fish from the river, put them in barges, and ship them downstream to the ocean. Spill is a salmon protection measure that sends water over the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in order to help young salmon migrate through the federal hydrosystem. It is widely regarded as the safest and most effective means of helping these fish reach the Pacific Ocean, as long as the dams remain in place.
"We applaud the ISAB for recommending that spill be retained this spring, and we hope the Obama administration listens carefully. Leaving salmon without an effective way to get past the dams by cutting spill, as the administration has proposed, would be a direct impact to endangered salmon, fishing communities and sound science," said Douglas DeHart, fisheries scientist and former chief of fisheries of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Studies have consistently shown that young salmon which are allowed to migrate in-river with adequate flows and spill return as adults at much higher rates than those transported downstream via barge and truck."
Since 2006, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden has ordered spill to protect migrating salmon after conservation and fishing groups fought to have such measures instituted - over the strenuous objections of federal agencies. The ISAB's report supports the premise behind Judge Redden's spill orders, stating: ". . . the ISAB's assessment of scientific data, references, and analyses that were reviewed leads us to the same conclusion as expressed in our previous review (ISAB 2008-5), specifically that spill should be viewed as a default condition and that a mixed strategy of transportation and spill, as implemented in recent years, is once again the strategy most in accord with the available scientific information."
"This recommendation is important for our economy. Judge Redden's spill means more salmon in our rivers, and more salmon mean more jobs in the Pacific Northwest. Since Judge Redden initiated mandatory spill in the spring and summer, Columbia-Snake salmon populations have been able to hang in there, and our fishing communities are benefitting from his foresight," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. Fishing advocates and conservation groups have expressed grave concern that the 2009 Obama salmon plan rolls back spill - an action all too familiar from failed Bush-era salmon plans. And now the administration is proposing the elimination of spill starting May 1, 2010, citing predictions that 2010 is shaping up to be a low-water year. The Obama administration presented its proposal for cutting spring spill to the ISAB for its consideration on March 12.
The ISAB report took issue with the NMFS proposal by concluding: "Based on ecological principles and considering the uncertainties of the data, using combinations of transport and in-river migration with spill spreads the risk across species, stocks and the ecosystem, while offering an approach to shed light on uncertainties in the data. Allowing a significant proportion of the Snake River stocks to run the river, even in a low flow year, provides more natural river conditions than barging."
"Today the ISAB said, ‘Not so fast, Mr. President.' Spill has been effective, and we need it to continue in this low-flow year," said Jim Martin, former chief of fisheries with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "In fact, NMFS is the odd one out here. Fishery scientists across the region are calling for more spill, not less. Now the ISAB has also concluded that spill is important for protecting the Columbia-Snake's imperiled salmon."
NMFS will now need to decide whether to follow the scientific advice that spill is crucial for salmon protection this year, or whether it will ignore the ISAB's guidance and drastically curtail this key salmon protection measure.
"The future of these iconic fish, along with their cultural and economic benefits, hinges on the long-term restoration efforts we put in place. We sure hope NMFS follows the science," said Spain. "But if NMFS chooses to ignore the science, we may have to ask the court for help. A federal plan that turns back the clock on these protections also turns science on its head. Surely we can do better."
For more information, contact:
Jim Martin - (503) 704-9651
Douglas DeHart - (503) 701-4578
Glen Spain - (541) 521-8655