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Coalition Challenges Salmon Recovery Premises

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 6, 2000

A coalition of land-use groups, farmers, ranchers and realtors is challenging current thought on salmon recovery in the Columbia River basin. The Save the Salmon Coalition says that ocean conditions and predation on salmon by other protected species, such as Caspian terns, cormorants and sea lions, have a far greater impact on the abundance of salmon than do inland habitat and hatcheries.

Despite that imbalance, the National Marine Fisheries Service continues to focus nearly all of its efforts to recover salmon on unnecessary 4(d) rules that add layers of government and additional rules for land uses, all which adversely impact private landowners, the coalition says.

The coalition also says there is little difference, other than clipped fins, between today's hatchery fish and wild fish. It calls on the region to implement new hatchery practices, particularly supplementation now used in the region by tribes.

If NMFS had counted hatchery fish on the Columbia River like they did when considering whether east coast Atlantic salmon should be listed, then it would have listed few of the salmon and steelhead now listed under the Endangered Species Act, according to Bill Moshofsky, vice president of Government Affairs at Oregonians in Action, a land use property rights group and supporter of Oregon ballot measure 7, which calls for compensation of landowners when government regulation changes land uses. Oregonians in Action is also a member of the Save the Salmon Coalition.

"We formed this coalition because the ESA listings of salmon are really a push to impose more and more restrictions on land use," Moshofsky said. "But, there is not sufficient proof that land use restrictions have a real connection with salmon. It's time people began to look at what's going on here."

Even if these restrictions are justified, he added, that is a minor factor compared to those posed by predators and ocean conditions. He cited predation on adult salmon by seals and sea lions, whose population has grown from 3,000 in 1910 to 650,000 today, according to coalition literature. In addition, terns and cormorants in the estuary feed on 20 million to 25 million juvenile salmon every year.

"Clearly, these all kill fish," Moshofsky said. "Not being able to put a deck on the back of a house is small compared to this."

Coalition literature says that "homeowners along Johnson Creek and Tryon Creek and hundreds of other creeks across the state are unable to build decks and make home improvements that might in any way impact fish habitat in their backyards; farmers can't till their soil; ranchers can't graze their cattle; tree farmers can't manage their trees," all due to land use laws being driven by NMFS' 4(d) rules.

The coalition says it's unsubstantiated that these restrictions will significantly help salmon recovery. "Instead, the government has focused exclusively on an arbitrary land-use ‘fix' that, in reality, does not promise healthy fish runs."

Moshofsky said the coalition wants to capitalize on more recent events, such as clubbing hatchery fish to protect wild runs, terns on the Columbia River and sea lions up and down the coast, "to discredit the ESA listings, wild fish policies and the failure to face up to the fact that we may have to choose between listed species. What's the point of doing questionable things if the fish will be eaten up later?"

"Also, this year the returns of salmon have greatly increased and that's an indicator that ocean conditions have changed and it is providing more food for fish to feed on," Moshofsky said. "NMFS' river activities may be misdirected."

Although not tested, Moshofsky believes there are some things that could be done to get better production from the ocean. One is to find areas of the ocean where salmon thrive and to propagate through hatcheries those fish that frequent those areas.

"I'm also concerned about those huge fishing nets in the ocean," Moshofsky said. "Even though they are not fishing for salmon, salmon do get caught in those nets, or the nets take so much they deplete the salmon's food supply."

The coalition also believes there is scientific support for restocking rivers with hatchery fish through supplementation. He said 30 years ago people around Lake Michigan got salmon eggs from the Northwest and now they have a thriving fishery. "Salmon are pretty adaptable," he said. "Through sensible and economic hatchery practices we, too, can get salmon back in our rivers and off listing."

Finally, one of the basic tenets of the Coalition is that salmon and steelhead listed under the ESA now would probably not be listed if NMFS had counted hatchery fish when listing was being considered.

Dr. Ernest Brannon, director of the Aquaculture Research Institute and professor of Fisheries Resources and Animal Science at the University of Idaho, supports the view that NMFS should have counted hatchery fish when making its determination.

"This is not an incidental issue. Exclusion of hatchery fish means the programs that intentionally replaced natural production in habitat lost from flooded reservoirs over the last 100 years no longer apply as adequate compensation. That means the results of billions of dollars spent on mitigation for hydropower and irrigation projects to maintain salmon and steelhead with hatcheries cannot apply to recovery of what the NMFS considers endangered or threatened," Brannon writes in "The Salmon Crisis: a lesson in semantics."

He goes on to say that also means that this year's record runs of salmon won't alter the endangered status because most are hatchery fish.

"The irony of the situation is the fact that if hatchery fish were included in the populations of chinook salmon considered at risk in the Columbia, listing them at risk of extinction could not have been justified, and much of the present confusion and exorbitant costs around the ESA in the Columbia would never have occurred."

Moshofsky took this one step further, saying that "if wild fish policies are pursued, it's likely no one will ever be able to fish."

In addition to Oregonians in Action, the Save the Salmon Coalition, which introduced itself to the public Sept. 26, is made up of the Oregon Lands Coalition, Washington State Farm Bureau, Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Association of Realtors, Oregon Cattlemen's Association, Oregon State Grange, Oregon Wheat Growers Association, Citizens for a Sound Economy and Water for Life. Also members are Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and Rep. Jeff Kropf, R-Halsey. Ferrioli is co-chair of Oregon's joint House and Senate Subcommittee for Stream Restoration and Species Recovery, and a member of the joint House and Senate Committee for Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources. Kropf is co-chair of the joint House and Senate Committee for Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources.

It relies on the works of such scientists as Dr. James Lannan, professor emeritus (retired) from Oregon State University; Dr. Don Amend, retired; Dr. William J. McNeil, retired after working at OSU, NMFS, U.S Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and AquaFoods, Inc.; Dr. Brannon; Dr. Gary Wedemeyer, retired after working at the National Fishery Research Center and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Dr. Robert Busch, consultant and adjunct professor in the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington.

by Mike O'Bryant
Coalition Challenges Salmon Recovery Premises
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 6, 2000

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