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Fall Chinook Run Slightly Downgraded; Large Numbers Of Unmarked Steelhead Showing Up
Posted on Friday, September 10, 2010 (PST)

Expectations for this year's Columbia River upriver fall chinook salmon and summer steelhead runs were lowered this week, though not by much, based on fish counts thus far at Bonneville Dam.

 

The Technical Advisory Committee met Wednesday to review fall chinook and steelhead run projections and decided that the largest component of the fall chinook run -- the upriver brights -- is likely to total 295,800 at the river mouth, as compared to the preseason forecast of 319,200 adult fish. Most upriver brights are fish bound for mid-Columbia locales such as the Hanford Reach and Priest Rapids Hatchery and the Snake River basin.

 

TAC's federal, state and tribal members also downsized the Bonneville Pool Hatchery forecast from the preseason total of 162,900 to 141,000. The BPH stock is made up primarily of fall chinook tules produced at Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery.

 

TAC also forecast this week that the "A" run of upriver summer steelhead would total 325,000 as counted as Bonneville, located near river mile 146. That's down a bit from the preseason forecast of 337,500.

 

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Guy Norman noted Thursday that the updated forecasts where within 10 percent of what was forecast in preseason. Fisheries are managed based on the forecasts to assure impacts on protected stocks, such as lower river hatchery chinook, "B" steelhead and upriver bright fall chinook, are kept within prescribed limits. The B steelhead and upriver bright fall chinook stocks include wild Snake River fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the lower river hatchery chinook serve as a surrogate in evaluating fishery impacts on wild, listed Lower Columbia chinook.

 

The relatively on-target preseason forecasts have allowed Oregon and Washington managers to let sport fisheries play out as planned. Likewise tribal commercial fisheries continue on course.

 

The Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia was closed to chinook retention as scheduled on Sept. 1 though the catch (6,900 chinook and 9,000 hatchery coho) was less than expected (12,500 chinook and 11,900 coho).

 

About 51 percent of the chinook caught there were LRH, which was much higher than anticipated. The Buoy 10 overage contributed to an expected exceedance of the catch allocation by the Columbia mainstem sport fishery. The goal was hold the in-river LRH catch to 5,030 or less. The projected catch once lower river and Zone 6 (mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville Dam) are completed is 5,410 LRH.

 

The lower river mainstem from the mouth of the Lewis River near Longview, Wash., down to Tongue Point just above Astoria, Ore., closes to chinook retention at the end of the day Saturday. The mainstem above the Lewis River remains open.

 

Through Thursday a total of 248,116 fall chinook had been counted passing over Bonneville's fish ladder. The summer steelhead tally, which includes A and B stocks, so far (July 1 through Sept. 9) is 327,228.

 

"We are seeing an unexpectedly large number of unmarked steelhead," TAC Chair Kathryn Kostow of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Columbia River Compact Thursday. The Compact, which sets mainstem commercial fisheries, is made up of representatives of the ODFW and WDFW directors. Data gathered in-season will soon be analyzed to ascertain the composition of the "unclipped" stock, i.e. the percentages of wild and unmarked hatchery fish.

 

The fall chinook daily counts at Bonneville have all been above 13,000 since Aug. 30 with a peak count of 21,612 on Sept. 5. Thursday's count was 15,534. The steelhead counts have been relatively steady in the 3,000 to 4,000 fish range daily since Aug. 24.

 

Fishery officials estimate that the total mainstem sport catch of fall chinook this year will 26,270, about 6,000 fewer than anticipated in preseason.

 

The non-Indian commercial fleet landed 22,520 chinook during August fisheries from Bonneville down to the river mouth. That's slightly higher than the 19,440 catch expectation. The gill netters are expected to harvest about 5,000 more chinook during September and October outings.

 

The projected commercial LRH catch by the commercial fleet is 5,560, which is above the preseason target of no more than 4,760. WDFW and ODFW staff told the Columbia River Compact Thursday that the total chinook harvest in ocean fisheries is expected to be less than expected, so additional in-river impacts will likely be available. The combined ocean-Columbia catch is used to gauge the LRH impacts.

 

The Compact on Thursday approved an extension of this week's commercial tribal fishery in mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville to include Saturday. Also approved was a tribal commercial fishery that begins at 6 a.m. Monday in Zone 6 and continues through 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17.

 

The four treaty tribes engaged in the mainstem fisheries -- the Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Yakama -- estimate that they will have caught 69,442 chinook, including 47,060 URBs, and 16,421 steelhead, including 3,846 B stock fish, by the end of the day Saturday.

 

The catch expectation for next week includes 31,900 chinook (including 19,800 URBs) and 6,000 steelhead (including 1,500 B fish). The total estimated catch by the end of next week would represent an impact on 22.6 percent on the URB run and 5.4 percent on the Group B steelhead. Under a management agreement between the states and tribes, the tribes are allowed up to a 25 percent impact on the URB run and a 20 percent impact on the B run.

 

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* New Complaints Against 2010 Salmon BiOp Say Jeopardy Standard Remains Defective

 

U.S. District Court James A. Redden on Tuesday granted permission for the state of Oregon and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups to file amended complaints in a long-running lawsuit that has brought legal challenges to a series of federal strategies for protecting salmon that swim up and down the Columbia-Snake river hydro system.

 

On Wednesday, the state delivered its third supplemental complaint and the coalition, represented by Earthjustice, filed its sixth supplemental complaint. The lawsuit began with a challenge to the 2000 Federal Columbia River Power System "biological opinion." Redden declared the 2000 BiOp and its successor, the 2004 BiOp, unlawful.

 

Both updated complaints target a supplemental FCRPS BiOP issued May 20 by NOAA Fisheries Service and adopted, via official records of decision, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. The 2010 BiOp updates a NOAA Fisheries strategy released in May 2008 that the federal agency said avoided jeopardizing the survival of 13 salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

 

The 2008 BiOp was also challenged in district court, but Redden has yet to rule on the legal merit of that salmon protection strategy. Meanwhile, the federal agencies developed an Adaptive Management Implementation Plan to bolster the 2008 BiOp, but Redden decided that the AMIP could not be considered in judging the legality of the 2008 BiOp.

 

The judge earlier this year ordered a remand so that the science underpinning the 2008 BiOp could be updated and the AMIP be made an official part of the legal record being considered in the lawsuit. The product of the remand is the 2010 supplemental FCRPS BiOp, which includes the entire 2008 BiOp and makes the AMIP as part of its "reasonable and prudent alternative." The RPA outlines hydro system operation and capital improvements that would be implemented to improve fish survivals and includes off-site measures, such as habitat improvements.

 

The supplemental complaint filed by Earthjustice this week seeks review of the 2010 BiOp, the 2008 BiOp as incorporated into the 2010 BiOp, and the "acts and omissions" of the Corps and BOR, including their supplemental records of decision, in response to the 2010 BiOp and their records of decision adopting and relying upon the 2008 BiOp, for violations of the ESA, the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

 

Both complaints filed this week ask that the judge declare the 2010 BiOp illegal and order NOAA Fisheries to reinitiate ESA consultation with the Corps and Bureau, which operate the dams in the FCRPS. The complaint filed by Earthjustice said renewed consultation is needed "in order to prepare a biological opinion for the FCRPS, its operations, and any related actions that complies with the requirements of the ESA" and other statutes.

 

The complaints take to task the jeopardy analysis -- the biological methodology used to evaluate whether the survival of listed stocks is jeopardized by the FCRPS hydro projects – relied upon in the 2008 and 2010 BiOps.

 

"The 2010 BiOp does not address or alter in any way the legally-flawed jeopardy standard developed exclusively for the 2008 BiOp," according to the complaint filed Wednesday for the National Wildlife Federation and other members of the coalition. "NWF has described the defects of this jeopardy standard in some detail" in past filings.

 

"The 2010 BiOp, for its part, does not even discuss the jeopardy standard it employs in reaching its updated no-jeopardy finding. Instead, as noted above, it generally reports updated results for the three 'trending towards recovery' metrics and extinction risk analysis that were part of the jeopardy standard in the 2008 BiOp.

 

"But it does not further illuminate or justify the jeopardy standard in the 2008 BiOp," the NWF complaint says.

 

"The 2010 BiOp also does not correct or address the gaps, omissions, and arbitrary conclusions on which NOAA relied to reach a no-jeopardy finding for the RPA in the 2008 BiOp."

 

The federal agencies on Aug. 27 filed with the court the administrative record – documents and other information used in developing the supplemental BiOp – for the lawsuit. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Oregon and the coalition, have 45 days from the filing of that administrative record to file supplemental summary judgment motions. Then the federal defendants and allied parties have 45 days to submit motions for summary judgment and opposition memoranda.

 

The judge in a June 8 scheduling order said that no further briefing will be allowed following defense filings without permission of the court, and that the court would set a hearing date for oral argument at its convenience.

 

The supplemental BiOp and related documents are posted online at http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Salmon- Hydropower/Columbia-Snake-Basin/final-BOs.cfm

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