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NOAA Kicks Off Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force: Can Salmon Recovery Efforts Be Integrated?
Posted on Friday, January 27, 2017 (PST)

An all-inclusive region-wide effort to connect various salmon recovery efforts was set in motion by NOAA Fisheries this week as it held its first Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force meeting.


The first meeting was a long-time in the making with NOAA having first announced its intentions to convene the Partnership in October 2015. Finally, Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday this week, January 24 and 25, a diverse group of “stakeholders” filled a room at the Port of Portland offices to get to work to find common ground in salmon recovery goals and efforts.


Multiple, sometimes overlapping, recovery plans are present across the region, Barry Thom, regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, told the group of more than 35 people.


He said the meeting of diverse interests is a “new forum unlike anything that has come before.”


The idea of a Partnership actually took form out of NOAA’s 2012 Columbia Basin Assessment. Thoms said at the Partnership meeting this week that the Assessment effort pointed out an absence of long-term integrated salmon recovery goals in the region, although there are many different plans for recovery, and that those plans are not all working in the same direction. The Assessment also highlighted NOAA’s leadership role and that the region needed to have a broad conversation about recovery, he concluded.


“Can we integrate these responsibilities and use the stakeholders in this room to plan that integration?” he questioned, asking the group to work together to “define our salmon future. Without goals and a common purpose, we will continue to spin our wheels.”


Thom fashioned his introductory remarks at the Partnership meeting after a guest editorial he wrote and that appeared in The Oregonian Tuesday morning.


“All of us who call the Columbia Basin home have high hopes for the salmon and steelhead that define our landscape and culture,” Thom wrote. “Now it’s time to weave those hopes together into a shared set of goals for the legendary fish: A vision of what we want for our salmon and what we want from them.”


Among the diverse stakeholder groups present were familiar names, such as three members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee (Jennifer Anders - Montana, Bill Bradbury – Oregon, and Guy Norman – Washington). Also Jim Yost – Idaho - of the Council’s Power Committee was there.


Also at the meeting were representatives from environmental groups (Oceana and Coastal Conservation Association among them), Northwest tribes and port districts, water districts and irrigators, the commercial fishing and fish packing industries, the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association (Liz Hamilton) and recreational anglers, and research organizations such as the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership.


Many of these stakeholders either have their own salmon recovery goals and plans, or they have ideas about what they want with salmon recovery. Many are impacted by actions taken to recover the fish.


“You may feel that you have heard some of this before,” Thom wrote in his guest editorial. “There are overlapping plans and strategies for salmon recovery already.”


Those include federal biological opinions and recovery plans, fisheries management plans with conservation and harvest goals, hatchery production goals, harvest and production agreements, such as US v Oregon, as well as Tribes’ resource management plans, lower Columbia River tribes’ Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit, the Spirit of the Salmon plan. The Council has its Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. At the same time, states and community groups have drawn up recovery strategies at the local level.


Without common, shared goals, it is harder to achieve any of them, Thom said.


“All are important, and all are shaping salmon and steelhead recovery,” he wrote. “All the efforts measure success through their own yardstick, leaving open the questions: Where are we, and our salmon, headed as a whole? Are we using our collective resources strategically and efficiently to get there?”


The Partnership Task Force provides the states and tribes the opportunity to engage with a broader stakeholder community and will serve as the forum for members to begin to understand and discuss others’ viewpoints, to discuss efforts across habitat, hatchery, harvest and hydroelectric activities, according to a rough draft of the Partnership’s operating principles. It also encourages discussion and will develop relationships among the stakeholders.


Looking ahead to what the Columbia Basin Partnership could accomplish, Thoms listed four potential outcomes:


--Goals that address both conservation and harvest/fishing aspirations;

--Goals that are understandable and that have considered various users of Columbia Basin resources;

--Better coordination, more effective use of resources and alignment of strategic priorities;

--Quantitative adult abundance goals at the species, stock, major population group, and population levels for both listed and non-listed stocks.


“These goals will guide us and our decisions for decades to come,” Thom concluded in the editorial. He did say that goals from the Task Force will also be reviewed by others and may see some changes before implementation.


NOAA sought nominations to the Partnership Task Force July 22, 2016, and accepted nominations through September 6, 2016. The Partnership is a subset of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. In that notice, MAFAC said:


“This Task Force will assist MAFAC in developing recommendations on quantitative goals for all salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin – listed and non-listed species – in order to address long term conservation needs, harvest goals, and Tribal/treaty responsibilities for NOAA Fisheries consideration. Shared goals will enhance engagement and understanding by providing a concise, common definition of success; consistent means to measure progress; and improved public support for work across the Columbia River Basin.”


MAFAC members represent a wide spectrum of fisheries, protected resources, marine habitat, environmental, academic, tribal, seafood, consumer, and other related national interests, it said.


More on MAFAC is at


More on the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force is at


A background and discussion paper on the Columbia Basin Partnership can be found at


NOAA plans to host four more Partnership meetings this year. Those are tentatively set for April 4 – 5, June 27 - 28, September 26 – 27, and December 5 – 6.


Also see:


--CBB, July 22, 2016, “Feds Seeking Nominations For New Salmon/Steelhead ‘Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force’”


-- CBB, Oct. 30, 2015, “NOAA Fisheries Forms ‘Columbia Basin Partnership’ To Provide Collaborative Forum On Salmon/Steelhead”


-- CBB, Dec. 14, 2012, “NOAA Launches ‘Situation Assessment’ Of Columbia River Basin Salmon, Steelhead Recovery”


-- CBB, Dec. 20, 2013, “Salmon Recovery Assessment: Who Leads The Long-Term Way? A Re-Defined NW Power/Conservation Council?”


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