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New Assessment of ESA Stocks
Shows Reduced Risk of Extinction

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, August 15, 2003

An updated NOAA Fisheries analysis of fish stocks in the Columbia Basin shows that the health of nearly all stocks listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act improved in 2000 and 2001. Most fish runs increased in both years, mainly due to improved ocean conditions.

The analysis, which made its public debut July 30 at a meeting of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority in Portland, is NOAA Fisheries' first look at just how much the runs have improved since the agency implemented its 2000 Biological Opinion. The BiOp spells out 199 different actions needed to recover chinook, sockeye and steelhead stocks that have been listed under the ESA.

The new assessment shows that the number of spring chinook returning to many index streams in Idaho has significantly improved the fish's chances of recovery in the past three years. Only steelhead in Idaho and the upper Columbia River seem to have shown little improvement in the past two years.

The steelhead results are "likely to be an error," NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Bob Lohn said. This is because the results don't track from the large numbers of wild steelhead that have returned to the basin in the past few years, he said. The steelhead work will be re-done, Lohn added.

The new assessment, called the "lambda" analysis, estimates the rate of change needed to reduce a stock's extinction risk to only 5 percent over the next 100 years. Overall, the lambda analysis will be only one measure out of several metrics that his agency will use to complete the status update, Lohn said. NOAA will also look at population sizes, trends in population and underlying causes of decline as it develops a new jeopardy analysis while the current BiOp is being revised under court order.

The latest analysis shows less risk of extinction for Snake River spring and fall chinook, but it also shows Snake River steelhead aggregations going both ways.

The extinction risk of upper Columbia chinook also seems to be declining, but risk to upper Columbia steelhead may be increasing, according to the new assessment--which also noted that a future change in methodology should show better numbers for steelhead after new calculations are completed.

Lower Columbia chum salmon have improved enough to be at little risk of extinction. The analysis showed that no changes are needed in the chum salmon population size to reduce its risk of extinction.

The changes in status of the fish stocks may result in some stocks being removed from the ESA list by next year, when NOAA finishes re-writing the BiOp to address the concerns of an Oregon federal judge. Lohn said NOAA Fisheries is not simply amending the BiOp, but creating a new one. By the time the new BiOp is finished, he said the fish run data from 2002 and 2003 will also be included, which is likely to reduce extinction risks even further. Returns from those years have also benefited from improved ocean conditions.

Bill Rudolph
New Assessment of ESA Stocks Shows Reduced Risk of Extinction
NW Fishletter, August 15, 2003

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