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Salmon Managers Receive Poor Review

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, September 7, 2001

As a healthy string of upriver bright chinook continued to cross McNary Dam, a national conservation group Thursday issued failing grades to the region's salmon managers for 2001.

The poor review was hardly a surprise given the near-record drought that curtailed major efforts to make the Columbia and Snake rivers more hospitable for fish.

But it does provide a reminder that the region is one year closer to a 2003 review called for in the federal salmon plan that could refocus attention on the roles of the lower four Snake River dams.

"Every year, federal agencies fail to meet the flow and temperature targets," said Michael Garrity at American Rivers in Washington, D.C., which completed the annual river report card. "Congress should begin laying the groundwork for partial removal of the lower Snake River dams because that is what likely will be needed."

While the future of the Snake dams will continue to be debated, there is widespread agreement that 2001 went poorly for high-profile fish recovery programs mandated in the federal plan released by the National Marine Fisheries Service late last year.

According to one monitoring group, young fish migrating this spring suffered the worst survival rate since 1993 when estimates first were done using tags embedded in the fish.

Also, American Rivers found that the Columbia and Snake rivers failed to meet temperature and flow standards in six of eight categories -- then blasted federal salmon managers for missing the mark "by the widest margin ever."

"This is the kind of opportunistic criticism that I find distasteful," said Brian Gorman, spokesman for NMFS. "No one could argue that this year was business as usual. It wasn't. But given the reality of what we all had to deal with, I think everybody performed as well as could be expected."

He said the reviews called for in the federal salmon plan will consider whether agencies did what they were supposed to do -- and the power emergency declared this year is among the alternatives. The power emergency allowed the Bonneville Power Administration to use water for hydropower production rather than for fish operations.

"This is one of those years when all the bad things that could happen seem to have happened," said John Harrison, spokesman for the Northwest Power Planning Council in Portland. "We are very low on water, and we had robust returns of adult fish to rivers that are historically dry in some places."

Take the Yakima River and its tributaries, which are so low the state Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday advised anglers that it's hard to get into the water without disturbing fish crowded in narrow channels.

That's not to say all salmon news was bad this year. A huge spring chinook run and a solid fall chinook run have provided ample fishing opportunities and anecdotal evidence of brisk supply sales to anglers around the region.

"The one bright spot was the ... resuscitation of the salmon economy even for one year, " said Chuck Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "What if people could count on this every year? Imagine the commerce that would be revived or spring up around it."

And there appears to be good news on the horizon from the Power Council, which reports that enough water was saved by cutting back fish operations to power a city the size of Seattle for almost four months. That should help the region come winter when power needs generally are the highest.

"We have saved a lot of energy by not spilling (water)," Harrison said, noting the council still is about a month away from releasing its official winter power forecast. "But we did damage to the fish, and we know that."

Mike Lee
Salmon Managers Receive Poor Review
Tri-City Herald, September 7, 2001

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