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Snake's Salmon Decline

by Staff
Fly Fish News Service, September 8, 2006

Scenic Lower Snake River canyon with an impounded reservoir. Returns of spring/summer chinook salmon to the Snake River were especially low this year, and the fish are back to the low population levels that led to their listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1992. The Snake River spring/summer chinook migration season officially ended on August 17.

This year's return of wild spring/summer chinook is forecast by the Idaho Department of Fish to be 9,500 making this year the first since 2000 that this population will have dipped below 10,000 fish, and the fourth time in five years that its returns have declined from year to year. NOAA Fisheries' interim recovery goal for this fish stock is nearly 40,000 fish, a level that has only been reached twice since the four lower Snake River dams were completed in 1975.

"The Snake River Basin has great salmon spawning habitat, and it has the potential to be home to the biggest wild spring chinook run in the Northwest," said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. "But four high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake River are preventing salmon recovery and draining our region's resources. The benefits of these four dams can be replaced, but once this fish run is gone, it's gone for good."

Recent press statements by NOAA Fisheries failed to address the decline of Snake River spring/summer chinook or any other salmon or steelhead stock listed under the Endangered Species Act. Instead, NOAA Fisheries emphasized this year's relatively strong returns for the summer component of the upper Columbia summer/fall chinook stock. This salmon stock is not listed under the Endangered Species Act.

"Once again, the Bush administration is cherry-picking an isolated piece of good news from a bigger picture that's pretty grim," said Rhett Lawrence of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. "The administration should be focusing on helping the salmon runs in the most danger, like those in the Snake River -- not taking credit for the fact that not every single run in the Columbia Basin is endangered."

Snake River spring/summer chinook are one of four Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act. The other three species are Snake River sockeye, fall chinook, and steelhead.

Snake River sockeye are faring particularly poorly -- fewer than 10 fish are expected to return to Idaho's Redfish Lake to spawn this year. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Independent Scientific Review Panel recently recommended against continued funding of an emergency life-support hatchery for Snake River sockeye, in part due to a lack of commitment by federal and regional leaders to address key factors, such as poor habitat in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, that stand in the way of recovery.

Snake's Salmon Decline
Fly Fish News Service, September 9, 2006

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