Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From The Fleet

Jack Fee
Trout Lake, Washington

Since the start of the Iraq War, the US Has spent approximately $720 million a day, every day for more than seven years. The National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA have a $60 million a year budget of which most is spent on studies to make technological fixes on the Dams on the Snake and Columbia River to improve Salmon restoration.

The Columbia River drains a 259,000-square-mile basin covering parts of seven states and one Canadian province. It is arguably the most significant environmental force in the Pacific Northwest. In the last 150 years, 400 dams have been built, of which 11 are run-of-the-river dams across the main stream. This capitalistic domestication of the River has been a disaster for the once strong runs of salmon and the native people tied to the River culture. The last dam was completed in 1973. The Bonneville second powerhouse was completed in 1981.

The wild salmon are disappearing before our eyes.

March 21, 2010 at the Skamania County Interpretive Center, I listened to Robert Stansell (wildlife biologist for the Corps of Engineers) give his "Sea Lion Report." Afterward I had to ask, "How is it an endangered species like the salmon can be preyed upon by a commercial sports fishery, a commercial gill netting fishery and a Native American gill netting fishery?”

I was referred to Cindy Laflure of the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Dept. She informed me that "Fishing for salmon was only allowed when mostly hatchery fish were running." Then concluded with; "Why put the whole burden of conservation on one taker?" It was at this time I learned that Dams and some other industries were given "authorized take" under the Endangered Spies Act issued by the NMFS, whereas creatures such as sea lions, that have evolved with salmon, sturgeon and lamprey eels since the beginning of time – their meals of fresh salmon and sturgeon were considered "unauthorized".

Matt Rossell, spokesman for the group “In Defense of Animals,” spoke out saying, "The increase in sea lions, once on the endangered species list, was a clear sign of a healthy ecosystem and that nature systems have always been thrown out of balance when a large predator has been removed, i.e. wolves or bears."

For example, historically sea lions have never been a large problem because the 20 million salmon that returned each year also kept a healthy number of killer whales up and down the coast dining on sea lions for appetizers. "And if salmon were given the protection they deserved their numbers would increase in kind." Matt also pointed out that when sea lion "take" was lowered the "authorized” take of commercial fisheries was raised, so the lethal removal of pinnipeds does not put more spawning salmon in the River.

Enter the oldest, most important player, in this particular natural system: the Lamprey Eel. David Clagston a Corps fish biologist said, "We are not going to get salmon recovery unless we get lamprey recovery." Lampreys usually don't win beauty contests, they're slow, about three feet long, attach themselves to a larger fish like a hake or pollock or salmon and live on their blood in the ocean for a couple of years, then return, moving in spurts of energy, then attaching themselves with their mouths, then resting. They have great difficulty navigating fish ladders. Their fry or ammocoetes as they are called live in the stream bottoms for five to seven years, and provide food for returning salmon, also returning adults are a favorite food for sea lions and easier to catch than salmon. They're also favorite food of the elder native people. Special "Lamp Ramps" are being developed at the dams and other enhancements are being made, but the lamprey numbers a dwindling fast.

The Northern Pike Minnow, a native predator on salmon smolts, have had their numbers reduced by at least 15 percent through the anglers incentive program (bounty).

So we have "authorized takers", "unauthorized takers" "incidental takers" and believe it or not a "grand taker" who slips right through a crack in "the burden of conservation." The grand taker is the warm water game fish Industry, including small mouth bass, walleye, channel cats, crappie and perch. The first three mentioned kill as many salmon smolts as a run-of-the-river dam! Five to fifteen percent mortality per Dam, 5 to 15 percent mortality to these bony non-native piscivorous predators per reservoir!

These unbridled exotics keep their energy reserves up feeding on the offspring of the five million non-native shad that invade our River annually, so they are in top form when the baby salmon appear on the scene! Problem is; the revenue from the license fees to fish for these interlopers is the "Golden Goose" of the State fish and Wildlife Departments. And the political clout of these angling clubs controls state politicians.

Every agency I spoke with that is working for salmon restoration; NMFS, NOAA and the CRITFC are weary of seeing these non-native predators managed for "sustainable yield" and would like to see them eradicated as a non-native predator.

On September 24, 2008, John Skidmoore of BPA (Bonneville Power Administration) organized a Predation Workshop. This documented event was an attempt to bring more awareness to a pressing issue. One idea that came out of this was; "Implement a system-wide predation study of the Columbia River with Multiple agencies and Tribes involved." Unfortunately it seems like the agencies spend more time and energy butting heads and taking each other to court.

It was common knowledge, I discovered while working on an Alaskan fishing boat, that there would be no halibut fishery if it had not been for the efforts and enforcement of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, signed into law by John F. Kennedy in 1963. But we have no Salmon Czar, to coordinate a plan of recovery. The River and all its tributaries, the estuaries and the ocean constitute a vast area; salmon need to complete their cycle. This has to be seen as the ultimate blessing and opportunity.

Another group, takers equal to or surpassing the dams are the sea gulls, Caspian terns and the cormorants. Sea gulls work the spillways looking for smolts in a state of shock. Wire netting has helped tremendously. There are 9,850 breeding pairs of Caspian terns and 12,090 breeding pairs of double crested cormorants on East Sand Island in the lower Columbia River estuary. Thirty-one percent of the tern's diet is juvenile salmonids and 9.2 percent of the double crested cormorant's diet is juvenile salmonids but there are biologically sound methods to reduce these numbers.

Basically I am calling “foul play” on the warm water sports industry. Myself and a lot of other people don't want to see the pinnipeds take all the rap while a powerful political group catch and release their bony non-native predator fish.

Until all the numbers of all the players are factored into this equation of survival for the Pacific Northwest salmon, no group should be able to slip out from under the burden of conservation. So far the "golden goose" of the game fishing license fees have spelled a death sentence for the pinnipeds, and it is wrong. Every player needs to suit up and show up and lay his cards on the table, and action needs to be taken to balance the numbers appropriately.

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