Federal agencies Wednesday released a new report describing the second year of progress in implementing a NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 biological opinion that outlines protections for salmon and steelhead affected by the Federal Columbia River Power System.
The 32-page 2009 Progress Report and other background material released by the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration is available at
“Fish are returning in numbers we haven’t seen in decades and to places they haven’t been for decades,” said Lorri Bodi, BPA’s acting vice president for Environment, Fish and Wildlife. “It’s good evidence of the way states, tribes and federal agencies are working together on behalf of fish and communities.”
The biological opinion, still under ongoing litigation over its validity, specifies performance standards for safe passage of juvenile fish past each federal dam. The agencies say tests so far indicate that results are on track to meet those standards through a combination of spill, surface passage improvements and other actions.
The report says surface passage improvements for fish are now in place at all federal dams on the Lower Columbia and Snake rivers, improving survival of migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Passage improvements such as spillway weirs, also called fish slides, help speed young fish downstream past dams by keeping them near the water surface, where they naturally migrate. Installation of a spillway weir at Little Goose Dam on the Snake River last year means all eight federal Snake and Lower Columbia dams now provide surface passage for fish. Tests at Little Goose found that 99.4 percent of yearling chinook, 99.8 percent of steelhead and 95.2 percent of sub-yearling chinook passed the dam safely, says the 2009 progress report.
“Almost all of the fish are coming through the dam safely now and we’re on track to meet passage standards at all of the other projects,” said Witt Anderson, Director of Programs, Northwest Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The report says in-river survival of juvenile Snake River steelhead migrating to the ocean in 2009 reached its highest level in 12 years.
Regarding adult passage, the report says survival rates of ESA-listed adult chinook and steelhead through the FCRPS dipped below adult passage performance standards in 2009 for five of the six stocks.
Three of the five stocks that fell short of the BiOp performance standard were within five percent. Two stocks, Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon and Snake River steelhead, were significantly outside the adult performance standard.
“Adult system survival reductions may be related to modifications made at dams to improve juvenile outmigration, injuries and mortalities related to sea lion predation, unquantifiable levels of mortality related to fisheries, and unaccounted levels of straying,” says the report.
In addition, adult return data “continue to confirm that smolt transportation during May is correlated with higher adult steelhead returns than is in-river migration and somewhat higher returns for chinook. Nevertheless, under adaptive management, the Action Agencies are continuing to spill during this time period (May 7-20) and monitoring the adult return data to see whether this relationship changes based on improved in-river conditions.”
Among other observations included in the report:
--- Federal agencies in 2009 restored water to salmon and steelhead streams that otherwise dwindle or run dry at the same time fish are returning to spawn. The 190 cubic feet per second of flow restored to streams in the Columbia River Basin last year exceeds the average amount of water consumed by Portland and nearby cities. The agencies since 2005 have protected and restored stream flows totaling more than three times the average water use of Seattle and Portland combined.
-- Efforts to redistribute a large colony of Caspian terns in the Columbia River estuary helped reduce their predation on juvenile salmon and steelhead from about 15 million fish in 1999 to 6.4 million in 2009. However, double-crested cormorant predation on these fish is a growing concern, and agencies are accelerating efforts to address the issue. Together cormorants and terns consumed 17.5 million juvenile salmon and steelhead in 2009, about 15 percent of all those that reached the estuary.
-- The agencies in 2009 reopened nearly 265 miles of spawning and other salmon and steelhead habitat that had been blocked by impassible culverts, diversions or other obstacles. Since 2005 the agencies have restored access to a total of 845 miles of habitat.
-- Dam modifications and spill/surface passage improvements appear to be on track to achieve the hydrosystem performance standards of 96 and 93 percent average dam survival for spring and summer migrating fish, respectively.
-- In response to reduced juvenile fish survival due to avian predation at John Day Dam observed during the summer 2008, an expanded avian deterrent wire array was installed downstream of the dam and predator hazing efforts were increased. Future actions will
include installing a new spillway deflector in spillbay 20, which will allow more flexibility in spill operations and may help further reduce avian predation by allowing smolts to exit the tailrace faster.
-- Hundreds of on-the-ground actions were completed throughout the Columbia Basin in 2009 to improve tributary spawning and rearing habitat for numerous populations of salmon and steelhead. Many new projects are being prepared for future implementation.
-- Several estuary projects were successfully completed in 2009. A few are behind schedule but are scheduled for completion in 2010. Many new estuary projects are under development for completion in 2011-2012.
-- Predation continues to be a serious issue for the survival of both juvenile
and adult salmon and steelhead. The report says future management actions must focus on controlling predation by native and non-native species.
-- Predation by Caspian terns on juvenile fish continues to suggest that successfully relocating much of the tern nesting colony away from East Sand Island, where fish are most vulnerable to predation, will reduce mortality of juvenile salmonids. Diet studies have shown that steelhead
smolts appear to be particularly vulnerable to predation, especially by Caspian terns.
-- Total avian predation on young fish has increased as a result of a nearly threefold expansion of a colony of double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island and predation by terns and cormorants from other colonies (Crescent Island, Rock Island, Foundation Island, Potholes Reservoir, etc.). “Successful management of avian predation must be based on a broader framework, both in terms of the geographical area covered and the community of all potential avian predators present within that area,” says the report.
-- Predation by northern pikeminnow is being successfully controlled, with significant survival benefits. Examination of predation by nonnative species, such as shad, walleye, and bass, is underway. Management of non-native species predation may conflict with state management of
exotic warm-water game species (walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, Northern pike, catfi sh, etc.) for sport fisheries. “Action agencies must proceed with sensitivity to other management jurisdictions through well designed basic research within this topic area,” says the report.
-- The amount of fish eaten by sea lions continued to increase in 2009, with an expanded catch estimate of 4,489 adult salmon and steelhead. Increases in Stellar sea lion abundance and salmon predation in 2009 may be countering some of the expected reductions from efforts by the states to remove sea lions.
-- The Snake River sockeye captive broodstock and conservation/ supplementation program returned high numbers of adult fish in 2008 and 2009. This indicates that conditions have potentially moved from handfuls of adult fish on the brink of extinction to a more stable base for this program, which will be expanded in future years under the BiOp.
-- Reconditioning of wild-born female kelt steelhead may increase the abundance of repeat spawners, but there is not yet enough information from ongoing research to assess reproductive success of the reconditioned repeat spawners.
-- Adult fish returns in 2009 were good, with counts of adult and jack summer chinook, fall chinook, steelhead, and coho counts being below the 10-year average. The Snake River sockeye return was particularly strong with a record 1,219 adults counted at Lower Granite Dam. Snake River steelhead returns also broke records for both the overall return and the wild component of the run.
“This is likely a result of both the survival improvements made in recent years and excellent ocean conditions. It is not likely that current levels will be sustained, and future variability is expected. Action Agencies will be looking for overall trends that are stable and increasing at the species level,” says the report.