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Responding to De-Listing Petition, NOAA Upholds
Threatened Designation for Snake River Fall Chinook

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 2, 2016

Tyler Barrong of Spokane lands a 34.25-inch fall Chinook while salmon fishing near the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers on Sept. 16, 2014. (Shawn Barrong photo) The Snake River run of fall chinook salmon will retain its threatened status under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to a 12-month determination released last week by NOAA Fisheries.

The determination was in response to a Jan. 16, 2015 petition to delist the species by the Chinook Futures Coalition, an Alaska-based commercial fishing advocacy group.

The Snake River fall chinook was listed as a threatened species in 1992.

The Coalition had reasoned that that Snake River returns, supported to considerable extent by tribal hatchery supplementation programs, have grown to a point that the population meets ESA delisting criteria if both naturally produced and hatchery fish are included in the accounting.

The petition can be found at:

The ESU includes naturally spawned fall-run chinook salmon originating from the mainstem Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam and from the Tucannon River, Grande Ronde River, Imnaha River, Salmon River, and Clearwater River subbasins. It also includes fall-run chinook salmon from four artificial propagation programs: the Lyons Ferry Hatchery Program; Fall Chinook Acclimation Ponds Program; Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery Program; and the Oxbow Hatchery Program.

Although the fall run of salmon has increased in numbers in recent years, NOAA determined that there are uncertainties about sustaining larger returns of wild fish to the Snake River and that the Snake River fall chinook salmon "evolutionarily significant unit" should remain an ESA-listed species.

Among those uncertainties are whether the strong returns in recent years can be sustained, whether improvements in natural productivity will continue and finding a resolution to the influence of hatchery production on the wild population, NOAA said.

"We conclude that the Snake River fall-run Chinook is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and will remain listed as a threatened species under the ESA," NOAA said in the Federal Register.

However, the species' status is improving somewhat. NOAA concluded that the status of the fall chinook population is currently considered viable. Its rating for abundance and productivity is considered low risk, as is its rating for spatial structure. Diversity is still considered moderate risk.

Some 9,345 fall chinook salmon redds (gravel nests) were counted in the Snake River and tributaries between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams in 2015. That's the highest number of redds counted since surveys began in 1988 and is the result of the third highest adult Snake River fall chinook return -- 59,300 in all -- since the four lower Snake River dams were completed in 1975.

The previous high mark, set in 2014, was 6,715, about 30 percent fewer redds than in 2015. In 1990, only 384 adult fall chinook were counted at Lower Granite Dam, located 107.5 miles upstream from the Snake's confluence with the Columbia.

Returns have increased to 56,565 adults in 2013 and 60,868 in 2014.

The returns include record numbers of natural-origin fish that are returning to spawn. That includes 21,142 natural-origin fish in 2013, 14,172 in 2014 and 16,212 in 2015, as estimated by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, or about 28 percent of the total return of adults to the area.

NOAA said it combined its evaluation of the delisting with it five-year review of West Coast salmon and steelhead. It published both its decision to uphold the threatened listing and a five-year status review of four Snake River ESUs in the May 26 Federal Register.

The five-year review assesses the Snake River fall-run chinook ESU, the Snake River sockeye salmon ESU, the Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon ESU, and the Snake River steelhead distinct population segment (DPS).

The fall run of Snake River chinook had historically spawned in the upper mainstem river and tributaries upstream of Idaho Power's Hells Canyon complex of dams. That population no longer exists.

Swan Falls Dam, built in 1901, blocked access to 157 miles of river, including the historically productive fall-run chinook habitat in the middle Snake River downstream of Shoshone Falls, a natural barrier to further upstream migration, NOAA said.

The Hells Canyon Dam Complex was built in the late 1950s and 1960s, permanently blocking anadromous fish from the remaining spawning areas in the middle mainstem. The loss of access to habitat reduced spawning habitat for the remaining population -- the lower mainstem Snake River population -- to about 20 percent of its historical area.

"Since the 1990s the proportion of natural-origin spawners in the Snake River fall-run Chinook ESU has continued to decline. From 2010--2014, on average, 31 percent of spawners were of natural origin, compared to 37 percent (2005--2009), 38 percent (2000-- 2004), 58 percent (1995--1999), and 62 percent (1990--1994) in preceding years," NOAA said (

NOAA said it integrated its 12-month determination with its five-year status review in order to ensure the Chinook Futures Coalition's petition was based on the best scientific and commercial data available. NOAA is required under the ESA to review the status of listed species every five years, according to NOAA spokesperson Michael Millstein.

While it was working on the both the 12-month determination and the West Coast status reviews, NOAA released a proposed recovery plan on November 2, 2015 for the Snake River fall run of chinook salmon.

Related Pages:
"Responding To De-List Petition, NOAA Fisheries Announces Status Review For Snake River Fall Chinook" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 4/24/16
"NOAA Fisheries Releases Draft Recovery Plan For Snake River Fall Chinook; $5.2 Million In New Costs" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 11/6/15
"NOAA Fisheries Releases Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan:25 Years Of Actions At $101 Million" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 6/12/15
"2014 Snake River Fall Chinook Redd Estimate Highest Total Since Surveys Began In 1988" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 2/6/15

Responding to De-Listing Petition, NOAA Upholds Threatened Designation for Snake River Fall Chinook
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 2, 2016

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