Lawsuit may Force Another Look at Fish Harvests
by Ron Reimann and Darryll Olsen
Tri-City Herald, November 17, 2008
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, environmental groups and the Northwest tribes suing over the latest salmon plan seem to have forgotten the law of unintended consequences.
Their opposition to NOAA Fisheries' 2008 Columbia River Hydro System Biological Opinion (Hydro BiOp), likely will force the federal agency to also re-evaluate its harvest limits for fish listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The fish harvest is regulated under the 2008 Harvest BiOp, the "companion review" for the Hydro BiOp. Both depend on the same body of technical information - referred to generally as the "Supplemental Comprehensive Analysis" - for their scientific foundations.
Intended or not, the lawsuit brought by Oregon and others challenges the legitimacy of the technical information that supports the Hydro and Harvest BiOps.
In other words, a successful lawsuit could result in sharply curtailed harvest rates. Gov. Kulongoski and others need to understand that:
w Many of the key arguments advanced by Oregon officials in their recently filed legal motions against the Hydro BiOp also apply to the Harvest BiOp.
w The Hydro and Harvest BiOps draw their fish survival projections from the same Supplemental Comprehensive Analysis. As a result, any technical "defects" in the report apply equally to both BiOps.
If the court accepts Oregon's arguments and finds the Hydro BiOp, or a portion thereof, "legally deficient," this decision would force the conclusion that the Harvest BiOp must be set aside as well.
But that argument doesn't work the other way around. If the hydro system essentially is operating with high fish survivals, it only puts more pressure on harvest management.
Harvest levels have been recently in the 45 percent to 50 percent range for fall chinook, including ESA-listed Snake River fall chinook. If certain proposals to limit the catch are actually implemented, the harvest rate still will be in the 40 percent range.
In the Columbia River, the allowed tribal and nontribal harvest of ESA-listed fall chinook salmon is about 32 percent. However, the harvest is on a sliding scale and can range from 21 percent to 45 percent.
Since 2000, the total annual in-river catch of chinook salmon has usually exceeded 100,000 fish, with more than 200,000 fish harvested in 2004 (most being fall chinook salmon).
Detailed analyses within one recent harvest review of endangered Snake River fall chinook concluded that current harvest rates will not allow for sustained recovery.
The review also found that newly approved harvests aren't forecast to reach sustained recovery rates until about 2050.
The Hydro and Harvest BiOps are inherently linked -based on joint technical assumptions, baseline data and analyses contained within the SCA.
Court-ordered relief under Oregon's lawsuit to set aside or impair the Hydro System BiOp will equally require a re-evaluation of the 2008 Harvest BiOp.
This action will necessitate an overhaul of proposed harvest regimes to reach the sustainable recovery standards the state insists cannot be currently achieved.
Irrigation from 4 Lower Snake Reservoirs Fact Sheet 1993 by Reed Burkholder