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Group Tells NMFS to Back Breaching

Associated Press
Spokesman Review
- October 14, 1999

Study Challenges Fisheries Agency Numbers on Barging Salmon

A sport fishing group has called on a federal fisheries agency to stick to science when it considers breaching dams to save salmon runs on the lower Snake River.

The National Marine Fisheries Service hopes to recommend to Congress next year options for restoring threatened and endangered runs of salmon and steelhead. Among the options being studied is breaching four dams in southeastern Washington state.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association in Oregon City, Ore., said recent statements by employees of the federal agency appear to indicate it is backing away from breaching in favor of other options -- such as barging fish around dam turbines.

"NMFS appears unwilling to seriously engage this discussion; instead NMFS seems to have abandoned collaborative science in favor of `empire building,'"Hamilton wrote in a letter sent Monday to National Marine Fisheries Service head Penny Daulton.

Hamilton attached a study, released last week, by a coalition of state, tribal and federal scientists that questions assumptions NMFS made about the effectiveness of barging.

Proposed delays to do more studies on the effectiveness of dam operations are ludicrous when "the science is so clearly stacked in favor of breaching," Hamilton said Wednesday.

There was no answer at the NMFS headquarters in Silver Springs, Md., after normal business hours Wednesday. A call for comment to NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman in Seattle was not immediately returned.

The group's study challenges the fisheries agency's use of numbers to say that barging fish downstream could be a solid recovery measure.

NMFS concluded last spring that breaching has the best chance of fish recovery in a wide range of potential future scenarios but said it is "not certain that breaching is absolutely necessary."

Environmentalists said they sense an attempt by NMFS to delay a decision on the dams.

In April, NMFS officials toured the region, saying new information about barging is showing it's better than previously thought. About 98 percent of fish barged downstream to the ocean survive the trip, but the big question is whether those fish are weaker than fish that make their own way to the ocean.

The fish agency -- in part responding to the calls by many in the region for a solution less drastic than breaching -- is developing a fish-recovery strategy that includes a look at harvest, hydropower, habitat and hatcheries.

Associated Press
Group Tells NMFS to Back Breaching: Study Challenges Fisheries Agency Numbers on Barging Salmon
Spokesman Review October 14, 1999

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