Editor’s Notebook: So How Are Columbia River Salmon And Steelhead Doing? Status Reviews Should Tell Us

So in chatting with an acquaintance this past weekend, he asked me if the salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River are recovering? My casual, unsatisfying answer was “depends on what fish and where.”

But it’s a good question.  

Is the 25-year, billion dollar effort to de-list ESA threatened and endangered basin salmon and steelhead on an upward trend, showing survival improvement?

Though there are some bright spots, seems like a good answer would be that it’s a flatline at best. And that’s not me saying it, that’s what the federal government says.

NOAA Fisheries is required under the ESA to review the basin’s 13 listed stocks every five years to assess risk and determine if each should be delisted, reclassified from endangered to threatened or from threatened to endangered, or whether the fish should keep its current classification.

It is this status review process in which the science tell us if the salmon and steelhead are showing survival improvements.

The last review was issued June, 2016. Unless one thinks dramatic changes have taken place in the last three years to improve salmonid survival (I can think of none), the 2016 review is probably a close representation of today’s status for these fish.

But I could be wrong. NOAA Fisheries is now gearing up for another five-year status review, due in 2021. Maybe the scientists will find some improvement not clearly evident today.

The federal government in that 2016 review said not a single fish stock listed as threatened or endangered warranted a change in status. Good news: No “threatened” species went “endangered.” And none went extinct. Not so good news: no endangered went threatened, no threatened delisted.

“Many species have either improved or remained stable since the previous review in 2011, but none of the species reviewed have declined significantly or improved such that a change in listing status is warranted,” NOAA said in a 2016 announcement. “This means that the species’ conditions have not significantly declined but also that they have not improved enough to reach the next threshold on the path to recovery.”

But the federal goal indeed is the recovery (and maintaining recovery) of Columbia River salmon and steelhead. Many who follow the issue casually want to know in general if efforts are on the right track. Is money being well spent? Are the fish numbers improving?

But, unfortunately for the casual observer, the answer only comes by looking at these fish stock by stock.

As of 2016, here is what the federal government is saying about the Basin’s ESA-listed salmon and steelhead:

(If you live in the Columbia River basin, you will find a fish near you)

* Upper Columbia Spring Chinook

Includes naturally spawning spring-run chinook salmon in the major tributaries entering the Columbia River upstream of Rock Island Dam (near Wenatchee) and associated hatchery programs.          

2010 Risk Category: In danger of extinction

2010 ESA Listing: Endangered

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook

Includes all naturally spawned populations of spring/summer-run chinook salmon in the mainstem Snake River and the Tucannon River, Grande Ronde River, Imnaha River, and Salmon River subbasins, as well as fifteen artificial propagation programs.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Snake River Fall Chinook

Includes fish spawning in the lower mainstem of the Snake River and the lower reaches of several of the associated major tributaries including the Tucannon, the Grande Ronde, Clearwater, Salmon and Imnaha Rivers. Historically, natural production was mainly from spawning in the mainstem of the Snake River upstream of the Hells Canyon Dam complex. The spawning and rearing habitat associated with the current population represents approximately 20 percent of the total historical habitat.

 2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Upper Willamette Spring Chinook

Includes all naturally spawning populations of spring-run chinook salmon in the Clackamas River and in the Willamette River, and its tributaries, above Willamette Falls, Oregon, as well as several artificial propagation programs.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Declining

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Lower Columbia Chinook

Includes all naturally-produced populations of chinook salmon from the Columbia River and its tributaries from its mouth at the Pacific Ocean upstream to a transitional point between Washington and Oregon east of the Hood River and the White Salmon River, and includes the Willamette River to Willamette Falls, Oregon, with the exception of spring-run chinook salmon in the Clackamas River. The population spans three distinct ecological regions: Coastal, Cascade, and Gorge.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Declining

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Lower Columbia Coho

Includes all naturally spawned populations of coho salmon in the Columbia River and its tributaries in Washington and Oregon, from the mouth of the Columbia River up to and including the Big White Salmon and Hood Rivers, and includes the Willamette River to Willamette Falls, Oregon, as well as multiple artificial propagation programs.

2010 Risk Category: In Danger of Extinction

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable/Improving

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Snake River Sockeye

The ESU includes all anadromous and residual sockeye salmon from the Snake River Basin, Idaho, as well as artificially propagated sockeye salmon from the Redfish Lake captive propagation program.

2010 Risk Category: In Danger of Extinction

2010 ESA Listing: Endangered

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Improving

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Columbia River Chum

Includes all naturally spawned populations of chum salmon in the Columbia River and its tributaries in Washington and Oregon, as well as four artificial propagation programs.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Upper Columbia Steelhead

Includes all naturally spawned anadromous steelhead populations below natural and manmade impassable barriers in streams in the Columbia River Basin upstream from the Yakima River, Washington, to the US-Canada border, as well as six artificial propagation programs: the Wenatchee River, Wells Hatchery (in the Methow and Okanogan Rivers), Winthrop NFH, Omak Creek and the Ringold steelhead hatchery programs.

2010 Risk Category: In Danger Of Extinction

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Improving

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Snake River Steelhead

Includes all naturally spawned anadromous steelhead populations below natural and manmade impassable barriers in streams in the Snake River Basin of southeast Washington, northeast Oregon, and Idaho as well as six artificial production programs: the Tucannon River, Dworshak NFH, Lolo Creek, North Fork Clearwater River, East Fork Salmon River, and the Little Sheep Creek/Imnaha River Hatchery steelhead hatchery programs.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable/Improving

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Middle Columbia Steelhead

Includes all naturally spawning populations of steelhead using tributaries upstream and exclusive of the Wind River (Washington) and the Hood River (Oregon), excluding the Upper Columbia River tributaries (upstream of Priest Rapids Dam) and the Snake River.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable/Improving

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

* Upper Willamette Steelhead

Includes all naturally spawned anadromous steelhead populations below natural and manmade impassable barriers in the Willamette River, Oregon, and its tributaries upstream from Willamette Falls to the Calapooia River.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Declining

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

 Lower Columbia Steelhead

Includes all naturally spawned anadromous steelhead populations below natural and manmade impassable barriers in streams and tributaries to the Columbia River between the Cowlitz and Wind Rivers, Washington (inclusive), and the Willamette and Hood Rivers, Oregon (inclusive), as well as multiple artificial propagation programs.

2010 Risk Category: Likely To Become Endangered

2010 ESA Listing: Threatened

2016 Recent Risk Trend: Stable

2016 Change in Risk Category: No

—-

Quite a list.

Meanwhile, a more recent 2018 evaluation by Washington State’s Salmon Recovery Office said not making progress are the Upper Columbia River steelhead, Lower Columbia River chum salmon, Lower Columbia River coho salmon, Lower Columbia River fall chinook, Lower Columbia River spring chinook and Snake River spring and summer chinook.

Showing signs of progress towards recovery, but not yet in the near-recovery category, are Mid-Columbia River steelhead, Lower Columbia River steelhead, and Snake River steelhead.

Overall, seems like salmon and steelhead recovery is in somewhat of a holding pattern until we get the new word from the federal scientists in 2021. We will find out then whether any of these fish are a step closer to what NOAA calls “the next threshold on the path to recovery.”

— Bill Crampton

(Comments? Disagreements? Contact me at billcrampton@bendcable.com)

Also see:

— CBB, Feb. 16, 2018, INDEPENDENT SCIENCE PANEL REVIEWS UPPER COLUMBIA RIVER SPRING CHINOOK RECOVERY EFFORTS https://www.cbbulletin.com/independent-science-panel-reviews-upper-columbia-river-spring-chinook-recovery-efforts/

— CBB, Feb. 13, 2015, NOAA LAUNCHES 5-YEAR STATUS REVIEW OF ESA-LISTING FOR 13 COLUMBIA BASIN SALMON, STEELHEAD STOCKS https://www.cbbulletin.com/noaa-launches-5-year-status-review-of-esa-listing-for-13-columbia-basin-salmon-steelhead-stocks/

— CBB, August 16, 2011, NOAA FISHERIES STATUS REVIEW: 13 COLUMBIA BASIN SALMON, STEELHEAD STOCKS TO RETAIN ESA LISTING https://www.cbbulletin.com/noaa-fisheries-status-review-13-columbia-basin-salmon-steelhead-stocks-to-retain-esa-listing/

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