“…if society-at-large wishes to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels, then a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams,” according to a resolution approved recently by 86.4 percent of the Western Division of American Fisheries Society’s members.
The Western Division represents about 3,500 fishery scientists from 13 states and three Canadian provinces and territories, encompassing the entire Columbia River basin. Voting was conducted via e-mail with a June 22 deadline.
The best scientific information available says the four lower Snake River dams and reservoirs are a “significant threat to the continued existence of remaining Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon,” according to the resolution, which is an updated version of one approved by the organization in 1999.
Wild Snake River steelhead and spring/summer and fall chinook are among the 13 Columbia-Snake river basin salmon and steelhead stocks protected under the Endangered Species Act. Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon are not listed but their populations in the Snake are much diminished from historic levels.
The full text of the resolution is available on the WDAFS website at www.wdafs.org
Better dam operations, restored habitat and harvest and hatchery strategies that reduce impacts can improve the lot of wild fish but will not lift the species to sustainable, fishable levels, the resolution says.
The revisions addressed conditions that have occurred since 1999, indicating that although some salmon runs have experienced increases and even record returns, that these large pulses are dominated by hatchery fish instead of wild ones; and that more has been recently learned about the role of these dams and reservoirs in reducing populations of other native fish such as sturgeon and lamprey, as well as the listed salmon and steelhead, according to the WDAFS.
“This resolution simply tells it like it is from the science perspective: if we want to save Snake River salmon, we have to remove the four lower Snake River dams. There’s just no two-ways around that scientific fact,” said Don Chapman, fisheries biologist and former biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“WDAFS did a great job applying the best available science to a tough issue. Let’s hope these scientists’ call for a hard look at removal of the four lower Snake River dams is heeded by this Administration," said Doug DeHart, former Fish Division chief at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and fisheries biologist, "The future of these fish depends on sound decisions informed by this kind of scientific perspective, but it is also crucial for the future of our salmon fisheries up and down the West Coast, and the jobs and the communities those fish support.”
The resolution follows previous AFS assessments in 2004 and 2009 of federal “biological opinions” regarding the impacts Columbia and Snake river hydro projects have on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks. Those assessments indicate that the AFS’ fish biologists believe that restoration of natural river conditions where the four lower Snake River dams occur has the highest likelihood of recovering wild salmon and steelhead.
“Recent incremental improvements and adjustments in management of hatcheries, harvest, habitat and hydropower facilities have not yet produced significant, sustained increases in abundance of wild Snake River salmon and steelhead, Pacific lamprey, or white sturgeon,” the resolution says
The prevailing NOAA Fisheries Federal Columbia River Power System BiOp focuses primarily on habitat measures to improve survival of listed stocks, though it does include actions aimed at increasing salmon and steelhead survival up and down through the hydro system and reducing negative impacts stemming from harvest and hatchery production.
A 2008 BiOp did not reference dam breaching but was revised in 2010 to include the “Adaptive Management Implementation Plan” created the previous year. Among the AMIP provisions was immediate launching by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of a study plan to develop scope, budget and schedule of studies needed regarding potential breaching of the lower Snake River dams.
The AMIP includes biological standards, such a severe declines in populations of listed fish, that would trigger additional remedial actions. A "trigger" could launch those dam breaching studies, which would have to be completed within two years. Then, when those biological and economic studies are completed, the administration could decide whether to pursue congressional authorization for breaching of dams.
“It’s the same old argument,” NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman of the renewed WDAFS call for lower Snake dam breaching as a means of improving conditions for fish.
“But it’s not just biology that we have to deal with,” Gorman said of related socio-economic and political issues. The dams produce electricity and enable navigation all the way to Idaho.
The resolution says that those issues should also be addressed.
“In conjunction with actions to allow the lower Snake River to flow freely, without impoundment, actions to compensate dam and reservoir users, and to address detrimental impacts to habitat, from harvest, and from hatcheries will be required to further increase the likelihood of recovering Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon,”
Established in 1870, the American Fisheries Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources. The Western Division represents about 3,500 fishery scientists from 13 states and three Canadian provinces and territories, encompassing the entire Columbia River basin.
The resolution comes in advance of a federal judges’ ruling on the legality of the current federal government’s Biological Opinion regarding wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake River system.