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Commentaries and editorials

Feedback: Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan

by Greg Stahl
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 19, 2015

Re: CBB, June 12, 2015, "NOAA Fisheries Releases Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan: 25 Years Of Actions At $101 Million"

Thanks to the Columbia Basin Bulletin for its June 12 article about NOAA Fisheries' new sockeye salmon recovery plan. The article accurately relays the challenges of recovering this iconic and endangered species, including the formidable challenges posed by eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The article unfortunately also relays the government's costly and misplaced emphasis on hatchery production without challenging it. The truth is there's no way to get to recovery without first addressing the lethal impacts of the dams.

Recovery and removal from Endangered Species Act listing is all about natural or wild fish, and NOAA's new plan completely and unequivocally fails to address their needs. The plan incorporates a federal biological opinion that was ruled illegal in August 2011, and it places a huge and expensive emphasis on hatchery production to make up for its shortcomings on main-stem survival.

The American people deserve better from federal agencies than using illegal Biological Opinions as part of a new plan that gives the illusion of sockeye recovery in 50 to 100 years.

The best measure of salmon health is a lifecycle survival rate, known as a smolt-to-adult survival rate (SAR). SARs of 2 to 6 percent are needed to maintain or recover the species, far more than the current SAR for upper Salmon River sockeye of about 0.5 percent.

The plan ignores lifecycle return rates for sockeye, and this is also one of the failures of the illegal BiOp that's incorporated by reference in the new recovery plan NOAA released this month. Sockeye cannot be recovered without improving their main-stem survival, and the only way to do that is to remove dams on the lower Snake River or, in the meantime, increase spill at dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The work to prevent extinction of sockeye salmon has been remarkable and commendable, and we're all very fortunate to have ongoing recovery processes to debate. However, a continued strong emphasis on hatcheries working toward long-term recovery cannot and will not solve the problem for Idaho's most endangered and iconic salmon.

Related Pages: FEEDBACK: Snake River Sockeye Recovery Plan by Scott Levy, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 11/19/10

Greg Stahl, Idaho Rivers United
Feedback: Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 19, 2015

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