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NMFS Releases Salmon Treaty Harvest BIOP

by CBB
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 19, 1999

The conclusion of a recent biological opinion on the Pacific Salmon Treaty -- and the deferring of fisheries management to the state of Alaska -- says that such actions will not likely jeopardize 16 stocks of listed salmon, steelhead or cutthroat trout.

The National Marine Fisheries Service came to that conclusion in a BiOp made public Nov. 12. At the same time, it included a binding Incidental Take Statement that restricts the harvest "exploitation rate" for Snake River fall chinook to a 30 percent reduction over the benchmark years of 1988 to 1993.

Peter Dygert, Branch Chief for the National Marine Fisheries Service’ Sustainable Fisheries Division, says that standard is applicable to all ocean fisheries combined.

Although issuance of the BiOp concludes NMFS’ consultation on the Pacific Salmon Treaty, those talks could start up again if the incidental take is higher than allowed in the BiOp or if other fish species become listed.

After long negotiations, the United States and Canada came to an agreement on how to manage salmon fisheries in southeast Alaska, British Columbia and the Northwest. However, the Pacific Salmon Treaty was contingent on two key items: whether Congress will fund its cost and whether it meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. This BiOp answers the latter question.

NMFS had ruled on the fisheries in 1998, and found that only Snake River fall chinook were significantly impacted, but that the impacts did not exceed set jeopardy limits. However, since that time nine additional salmon species have been listed. The most contentious issue in the Treaty was harvest levels. The United States and Canada, unable to reach agreement, had not set common harvest levels since 1992. So, this is the first time since then that NMFS has ruled on a fisheries management plan containing harvest levels in Canadian fisheries.

Dygert said that fisheries off the coast of Vancouver Island are "quite constrained by the treaty" and one of the stocks that benefits the most is the Snake River fall chinook.

One change from the previous U.S./Canada treaty is the way harvest is determined. The previous treaty set a harvest ceiling for ocean chinook fisheries, but drought, poor ocean conditions and deteriorating habitat caused a decline in abundance. Yet, the harvest ceiling remained the same and, according to the NMFS BiOp, some believed the ceiling was actually an entitlement.

The new treaty sets an annual abundance-based harvest level. Dygert said fisheries in Alaska have been evolving towards this abundance-based standards. "Alaska has managed this way since 1996 and now it is extended to Canada," Dygert said. However, the new management plan is now much more complex because of that change.

"It now includes a much greater specificity as to how all fisheries affecting chinook will be managed, and seeks to address the conservation requirements of a much larger number of depressed stocks, including some that are now listed under the ESA," the BiOp says.

Yet management of northern fisheries (British Columbia and Alaska) with only two managers aren’t nearly as complex as southern fisheries where management plans are being developed by three states and numerous tribes. However, since those management plans are incomplete, this BiOp only deals with the northern fisheries.

In its conclusion, NMFS finds in the BiOp that the treaty isn’t "likely to jeopardize the continued existence of salmon stocks listed as threatened or endangered...." It further concludes that the treaty provides certainty that doesn’t exist without the treaty about how fish will be managed in the north. It "secures major reductions in harvest impacts upon the SRFC [Snake River fall chinook] and other listed stocks in the northern fisheries that would likely not occur absent the agreement." And, the BiOp concludes, the management plan reduces the level of harvest and so improves the "prospects for survival and recovery...."

It says the reduction in harvest by itself may not result in recovery, and "further reductions in harvest impacts associated with some southern fisheries and in other sources of mortality may be required."

Other actions would also contribute to recovery, the BiOp states, including removal of the four lower Snake River dams. "The PATH analysis suggests that drawdown provides the greatest certainty with respect to recovery, but also reveals that lower harvest impacts improve the likelihood of meeting the NMFS recovery goals..." for Snake River salmon.

Link information:
NMFS Northwest

NMFS Releases Salmon Treaty Harvest BIOP
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 19, 1999

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