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Responding to De-List Petition, NOAA Fisheries Announces
Status Review for Snake River Fall Chinook

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 24, 2015

Salmon nests, known as redds, in the Clearwater River. Fall 2013 saw a record number along with an equally record number of returning salmon. The National Marine Fisheries Service said this week it will initiate a status review of Snake River fall chinook in response to a petition to delist the fish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

"We, the National Marine Fisheries Service, announce a 90-day finding on a petition to delist the Snake River fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) (Snake River fall-run Chinook) Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Snake River fall-run Chinook ESU was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1992. We reviewed the status of the ESU in 2005 and again in 2011 and concluded that the ESU's classification as a threatened species remained appropriate," the agency said in the Federal Register.

"We find that the petition presents substantial scientific information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. We hereby initiate a status review of the Snake River fall-run Chinook ESU to determine whether the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information pertaining to this species."

Comments must be received by June 22, 2015.

An Alaska-based commercial fishing advocacy group on Jan. 16 submitted a petition with NOAA Fisheries asking the federal agency to consider dropping the Snake River fall chinook salmon "evolutionarily significant unit" from the Endangered Species Act list.

The Chinook Futures Coalition petition reasons 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.

(See CBB, Feb. 6, 2015, Alaska Group Files De-Listing Petition For Snake River Fall Chinook)

The petition states that Snake River fall chinook populations meet the standards for delisting, and that the population's "short-term extinction risk is zero and its long-term extinction risk is less than 1 percent."

It goes on to assert that the fish "have met the abundance and productivity criteria set forth in the 2011 5-year review and the petitioner presents abundance and productivity data made available since the 2011 5-year review, for the years 2010 through 2014."

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.

The incidental "take" of naturally produced listed fish is generally prohibited or limited by NOAA while the harvest of hatchery fish is allowed. Those ESA limits drive harvest management.

NOAA found that the petition includes a substantial amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that delisting is warranted. "We find the analysis of additional data presented and referenced in the petition regarding the abundance and productivity of Snake River fall-run Chinook since the last status review in 2011 meets this standard, and that it presents substantial scientific evidence the petition action may be warranted," NOAA states.

The petitioners claim that five ESA listing factors have been met: There has been no destruction, modification, or curtailment of chinook habitat or range that justifies continued listing; there is no over utilization of Snake River fall chinook; predation and disease are not present and predation is less than a factor now compared to when the species was listed; that existing regulatory mechanisms are adequate as evidenced by increasing numbers of chinook; and that while drought may be a consideration, the operation of the regional hydropower system "ensures that sufficient waters will be available for Snake River fall-run Chinook in the future."

A total of 6,715 Snake River fall chinook salmon redds, or river-bottom spawning nests, were estimated in the Snake River Basin during 2014 -- the highest count recorded since surveys began in 1988.

The 2014 estimate was 324 redds more than the previous high of 6,391 redds in 2013.

Regarding the role of hatcheries in salmon and steelhead listing determinations under the ESA, NMFS in the Federal Register says its "Hatchery Listing Policy's purpose is to provide direction to NMFS staff for considering hatchery origin fish in making listing determinations for Pacific salmon and steelhead."

"Among other things, the Hatchery Listing Policy: (1) Establishes criteria for including hatchery stocks in ESUs and DPSs; (2) provides direction for considering hatchery fish in extinction risk assessments of ESUs and DPSs; and (3) provides that hatchery fish determined to be part of an ESU will be included in any listing of the ESU.

"The Hatchery Listing Policy also provides that status determinations for Pacific salmon ESUs and steelhead DPSs will be based on the status of the entire ESU or DPS and that in assessing the status of an ESU/DPS, NMFS will apply the policy in support of the conservation of naturally-spawning salmon and the ecosystems upon which they depend, consistent with section 2(b) of the ESA.

"Finally, the Hatchery Listing Policy provides that hatchery fish will be included in assessing an ESU's or DPS's status in the context of their contributions to conserving natural self-sustaining populations."

Snake River fall-run chinook spend 1 to 4 years in the Pacific Ocean, depending on gender and age at the time of ocean entry. Most chinook return to the lower Columbia River in August and September, and the adults enter the Snake River between early September and mid-October.

Comments on the status review must be submitted by June 22 to:!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-0039

More information on the delisting proposal can be found at:

Related Pages:
Group Files to Delist Snake River Fall Chinook by Bill Rudolph, NW Fishletter, 2/5/15
2014 Snake River Fall Chinook Redd Estimate Highest Total Since Surveys Began In 1988 by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 2/6/15 Alaska Group Files De-Listing Petition For Snake River Fall Chinook by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 2/6/15

Responding to De-List Petition, NOAA Fisheries Announces Status Review for Snake River Fall Chinook
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 24, 2015

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