3 thoughts on “Saving salmon means spreading risks among diverse populations, important new study says

  1. A little more on the regional choices to be made by the “owners” of the salmon resource – general and tribal publics – in the Columbia Basin: If, as some recommend, we close the hatcheries that have been built to replace wild stocks that were knowingly extirpated in the pursuit of other benefits from the Columbia River Basin, fishery benefits will all but end. How long will the general public and their elected representatives continue to make the enormous financial investments and tough policy decisions that are required for salmon recovery if there are no tangible benefits in the form of catch-and-keep fisheries? Not very long, in my opinion. Further, it is not at all conclusive that simply getting the right genetic mix in wild populations will overcome the demographic drag imposed on populations by the unnaturally high mortality rates associated with human development of the Columbia Basin. It is likely that some form of supplementing natural stock productivity will be necessary for the foreseeable future.

  2. Most people are unlikely to link this story to Southern Residents, but they should.

    Compare the new study with the following statement from the brand-new Columbia River salmon plan, which looked at whether chinook mortality from the hydrosystem might jeopardize Puget Sound orcas: “Columbia basin hatchery production offsets losses to the killer whale prey base [that are] due to the existence and operation of the hydrosystem.” P. 130.

    That is the extent of the analysis. There are more words, but that’s the equation. Simple: Hatchery fish “offset” wild fish mortality, ergo the wild fish mortality is not likely to adversely affect SRKWs, even though the science has for a while been pretty clear that hatchery fish don’t have good long-term prospects, as the new research confirms in spades.

    And again from the new salmon plan: “As discussed in the 2008 [Columbia River biological opinion], the operation and configuration of the [Columbia River hydrosystem] causes mortality of migrating juvenile Chinook, which in turn results in fewer adult Chinook in the ocean and reduced prey availability for killer whales. However, NOAA determined that hatchery production contained in the 2008 [salmon plan] more than offsets losses to the killer whale prey base and the action does not reduce the quantity of prey available to the whales.” p. 134.

    The population today is the same as it was in 2005, when they were listed. Yet they need to grow, says NOAA, by 2.3 percent per year to be delisted. That is, they need to get from 88 to 163 whales. Relying on hatcheries, of which NOAA itself says “There is no evidence that a population consisting predominantly of fish produced in hatcheries can persist over the long run,” seems a big risk for SRKWs.

    NOAA is failing to look out for the SRKWs’ most important source of chinook. Our senators need to hear that this failure matters to people all over Washington, and people are looking for some leadership to find solutions outside the courtroom.

  3. Robert, many thanks for continuing to publish thoughtful articles on salmon issues. As a commercial fisherman trying to earn a living in Washington state, I am in a horrible bind over hatcheries. However, as your article rightly points out, it is the loss of ecological diversity that is causing the collapse of genetic diversity among salmon stocks. Loss of habitat due to human development on the west coast is the single largest contributor to endangered species listings of salmon. The hydro development of the Columbia and Snake, Klamath, and Sacramento Rivers has endangered the salmon populations of those basins and cost thousands of high paying jobs in the fishing industry. Those jobs in agriculture are just replacements for the jobs lost in fishing… and perhaps a net loss of jobs.

    The very best humanity can do is to restore the rivers to free flowing condition and then do nothing but protect the habitat. Salmon will slowly find a way to reclaim their rivers – regardless of their current genetic fitness. There are many examples of this happening in living memory: Lake Washington/Cedar River sockeye were artificially introduced in about 1935 and are now considered “native” by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Upper Columbia River Bright Fall Chinook spawning in the Hanford Reach were a result of salmon displaced from MacNary pool (in the 1950s?)

    There are a few bright spots in massive restoration projects, the Elwah being the farthest along, the Klamath dams hopefully being the next and the four lower Snake River dams under discussion in the CRFPS BIOP. Should the federal government (NMFS) actually want to uphold the law (ESA) they will have to analytically demonstrate that there will be a recovery of Snake River salmon populations even with the existence of the dams. The current NMFS analysis shows that the population growth metrics of Snake River salmon are not trending towards recovery, but rather show very unsound population trends, in spite of this years healthy runs. The one alternative that analytically shows improvements in salmon populations is removal of dams in the Lower Snake.

    For NMFS to show any consistency in their insistence in genetic diversity and lowering dependence on hatcheries and the policy implications on fisheries, they must also hold the dams to the same standards of impacts to genetic diversity and their existence causing the public to insist on hatcheries. To do otherwise in the CRFPS BIOP is to simply accept extinction while attempting to blame fisheries for thedamage caused by dams.

    Joel Kawahara
    Commercial Fisherman