Judge Asked to Help Salmon
PORTLAND, Oregon, - Fishing businesses and conservation groups in the Pacific Northwest are asking a federal judge to restore more water to six rivers, and put salmon back on track to recovery by managing the rivers in a more natural way. Today, much of the river water is used for irrigation and power generation.
The groups say their plan, put forward Monday in a motion to the court, could increase young salmon survival up to 30 percent and could generate millions of dollars of income for Northwest communities as salmon recover.
The motion was filed by conservation groups and sport and commercial fishing groups in U.S. District Court in Portland before Judge James Redden, who earlier this year ruled that the Bush administration plan for assuring threatened and endangered salmon are not harmed by the federal hydroelectric dam system violated the Endangered Species Act.
The motion calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water over three Columbia River dams in the spring of 2006 - the Bonneville, John Day and McNary dams.
Next summer, the motion asks that more water be spilled over the Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River, and the Bonneville, John Day and McNary dams on the Columbia.
"The 2005 season ended in disaster," said Bob Rees, president of the NW Guides and Anglers Association and a full time professional fishing guide. "With poor projections for the 2006 season on the heels of a disastrous 2005 season, it will be next to impossible to entice anglers into pursuing the magnificent salmon on the Columbia."
The groups are also asking Judge Redden to order that water be held behind dams in the upper basin during the winter at the upper level of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control guidelines so it can be released to speed up river flows in the spring and summer, when juvenile fish are swimming to the ocean. The judge will hand down his decision after hearings on the issue, which are scheduled for mid-December.
The groups' motion is very similar to what was requested last year during the summer migration that resulted in a survival increase of 64 percent for young salmon migrating in-river on their way to the ocean, according to an independent scientific study.
Spill is considered the safest way to move young migrating salmon past dams.
"We need real relief for salmon now," said Joel Kawahara, commercial fisherman and member of the Washington Trollers Association. "That means more water being spilled over the dams and more water in the river so it can act more like a natural river. We need a plan that brings us sustainable, harvestable levels of salmon and that cannot wait during a year of the federal agencies bickering."
"By increasing the number of baby salmon that survive the hydrosystem in 2006, we will be increasing the number of adults that return in 2008 and 2009," said Bruce Buckmaster, board member Salmon for All.
"More adult fish returning means more money to the Pacific Northwest and a healthier economic future for all of us."
In early October, the court gave the federal government one year to rewrite the Federal Salmon Plan, which was ruled illegal in May of this year.
The court said that the federal agencies, working with the states and tribes, must consider all options to achieve the necessary recovery of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers. While the federal agencies states and tribes begin crafting a viable plan for salmon recovery it is of the utmost necessity to take steps to halt the further decline of these fish, and take steps to put salmon and steelhead on the path to recovery.
"Relatively good returns of adult salmon in 2001 provided a glimpse of the enormous benefits these salmon bring when they return to the Columbia and Snake rivers," said Trey Carskadon, president, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "Good salmon runs mean that more boats are built and more people have work and paychecks, builders put people to work as these numbers swell. Real economic benefits are generated through tourist dollars that spill into restaurants, convenience stores, motels and thousands upon thousands of retail operations."
"Sportfishing isn't just a hobby," said Carskadon. "It's an industry that generates billions of dollars of benefit to this region each year."
Without summer spill on the Snake River in 2005, the groups say that about 90 percent of Snake River fall chinook would have been removed from the river and siphoned through a series of tubes into trucks and barges, only to be driven hundreds of miles downstream - a costly federal practice that has not stopped the decline of salmon populations.
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