From the NATIVE FISH SOCIETY

NATIVE FISH SOCIETY CONSERVATION REPORT June 2006 By Bill Bakke, Director OREGON COASTAL COHO MANAGEMENT: ODFW has constructed another coastal coho plan aimed at rebuilding native, wild coho salmon. It is important to review previous assessments and plans before responding to the present plan. For coho the state has done a number of evaluations and in 1982, the ODFW adopted its first species plan aimed at coastal coho salmon. To fully understand the present coho conservation plan (2006) it must be placed in the context of other planning efforts. One important question to ask is whether the goals of the earlier efforts were achieved. In digging through NFS files I came upon some interesting information. In 1950 the agency biologists documented a 26 year decline in coho catch and abundance from 1924 to 1950, saying that since 1935 the decline has been even steeper. The authors say that “In spite of improvements (in hatchery practices) the decline has continued.” The base period for the first coho conservation plan (1982 Coho Plan) was from 1950 to 1979. In reading this plan, a major concern the ODFW biologists had was the continuing decline of wild coho salmon in coastal streams and in the Columbia River even though breakthroughs in hatchery nutrition and disease control had improved hatchery performance. This problem led them to speculate about ocean survival, and competition between hatchery and wild fish in streams as well as in the ocean. In the 1982 Coho Plan the ODFW expressed concern for the decline of wild coho and the potential loss of genetic diversity. Since the 1960s when hatchery coho production improved releases of hatchery fish increased to compensate for the reduction in coho survival and they point out in the 1982 Coho Plan that “Depressed wild coho salmon populations and improved hatchery rearing procedures led to an accelerated hatchery program in the early 1960’s. The total release of hatchery smolts in the Oregon Production Index (OPI) area increased from 7.5 million in 1960 to over 60 million in 1981. Much of the increase in recent years has resulted from private aquaculture operations on the Oregon coast.” This same document presents information indicating stocking more than 25 million hatchery coho results in lower adult coho survival. The 1982 Coho Plan contains the following observations: “Wild stocks have declined (as a proportion of production) from about 46% of the ocean harvest in 1969 to approximately 25% for the period 1977-1980.” “A record high stock size of 4.1 million (adult coho) occurred in 1976 followed by a recent record low of 1.1 million in 1977. From 1977 to 1979 the abundance has averaged only 1.5 million and the expected stock size in 1980 is approximately 1.2 million. The Columbia River runs of coho salmon generally paralleled trends in the OPI area through 1967. Columbia River runs peaked in 1970 at 868,000 fish but have generally been reduced since 1971, averaging 280,000 fish for the period 1972-1979, partly in response to increased catch rates by fisheries in the ocean. The combined ocean and in-river harvest capabilities exceed the current annual production capability of the coho salmon resource.” In 2005, Columbia River coho were added to the Federal Endangered Species Act list as a threatened species following a petition to list them in 1990. “Coho salmon spawning in standard coastal index streams have been annually counted since 1950. Similar counts have been obtained in lower Columbia River tributaries since 1949.” “Published escapement data indicate that wild stocks in coastal streams and the Columbia River have generally declined since 1965.” (This of course ignores the continuing decline since 1924) “Concurrently, production of hatchery smolts increased, following development of the Oregon Moist Pellet and improved disease control. Therefore, the spawning escapement data were divided into two time frames for trend analysis; that is, 1950-1964 and 1965-1979 for coastal stocks and 1949-1964 and 1965-1979 for Columbia River stocks.” “During the period 1950 to 1964, there was no measurable change in the escapement of (coastal) coho salmon. In contrast, during the period 1965-1979, the escapement of jacks and adults declined at an average annual rate of 9.3% per year.” This decline follows the massive increase in hatchery coho production. “Wild coastal stocks of coho salmon are presently underescaped. The optimum spawning escapement of adult coho in Oregon coastal rivers is estimated to be about 200,000. Since 1972 the coastal escapement has only averaged about 129,000 adults.” “The downward trend of wild stocks spawning in the Columbia River since 1965 was even more pronounced than among the coastal stocks. The combined jack and adult escapement has declined at an average annual rate of 20.3% per year since 1965. In contrast there was no significant directional trend in the spawning escapement from 1949 through 1964.” Excessive harvest rates, an increase in hatchery production of 52.5 million fish, habitat degradation and a shift in ocean productivity in 1975 all contributed to the continuing decline in coastal and Columbia River coho populations. Establishing a specific goal for spawner abundance is important so that there is an annual feed back to management. The 1982 Coho Plan established specific goals to recover coho salmon. Management was to deliver 200,000 wild spawners to Oregon coastal streams. How successful was the ODFW in achieving this goal? From 1990 to 2004 the average adult spawner abundance is 74,831 fish. The other goals of the 1982 Coho Plan were not achieved either. The wild coho salmon runs continue to decline, and they were eventually listed under the National Endangered Species Act. Based on ODFW’s new plan and assessment, the coastal coho were not provided federal protection, giving the state of Oregon the responsibility to recover coho salmon through the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. This plan relies on voluntary actions by individuals and state agencies, setting aside enforcement of state regulations to protect salmon and their habitats. In the early 1980s coho salmon harvest was intense, driving spawner abundance down to new lows. This fact was finally discovered by ODFW after recognizing an error in the way spawners were counted. The Chief of Fisheries, Jim Martin, said in a January 3, 1995 interview in the Oregonian that his biggest disappointment was not identifying problems with coho salmon earlier, and he assumed personal responsibility for the decline in the coho which was primarily attributed to excessive harvest rates. An important feature in the new Oregon Coho Plan is the concept of low abundance. Because wild coho salmon did not go extinct during very unproductive ocean conditions in the late 1990s, ODFW concluded that not only would they not go extinct but that they are resilient enough to rebound. During this period coho spawner abundance was one fish per mile in some streams. ODFW claims that spawner abundance of 15 spawners per mile to be the new threshold, saying that they would still be viable. In past plans the spawner abundance goal was 46 fish per mile, so the new threshold continues the reductionism approach to conservation. A review by Oregon’s science team (Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team or IMST) said this new low abundance paradigm is “not sufficiently understood to conclude that the populations would survive under similar ocean conditions in the future, and hence are not threatened or endangered.” In other words, the 1982 Coho Plan set a wild coho spawner abundance goal of 200,000, but the 2006 Coho Plan has reduced that substantially, so the declining trend continues and is incorporated into the ODFW planning process as a conservation standard. The question should be whether the state of Oregon can turn around this 82 year decline in wild coho survival and abundance with the new plan or whether it will take stronger medicine than the state is willing to deliver. Believing that coho salmon should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, conservation groups are filing legal action in federal court to as they did once before to encourage the NMFS to list the coastal coho under the ESA and for the state to do its job. This discussion merely points out the fact that the trend for wild coho populations has been declining for at least 82 years and the ODFW plans have been remarkably ineffective in reversing this problem. The state of Oregon has, over this span of years, lowered the spawner abundance goal for wild coho populations and now claims that low spawner abundance is justified biologically even though there is no scientific basis for their claim. Other factors important to recovery of wild coho in both the Columbia River and coastal streams have not been fully addressed. The 2006 Coho Plan failed to address the effect of habitat degradation on wild populations. The plan to improve wild coho survival under the Oregon Plan is based on voluntary actions rather than regulations and compliance from all Oregon natural resource agencies to do their part in coho recovery. In fact, the coho salmon are a good indicator that Oregon is institutionally organized so that recovery of wild coho is an unlikely outcome of state policy. FIXING CULVERTS TO PASS FISH SLOWED BY STATE RULES: Fish do not have full access to spawning, rearing, and thermal refuge areas in watersheds if their access is blocked by culverts. This is not an unusual situation; rather it is all too common on most of our rivers. Rivers look like a tree trunk with no limbs. Juvenile fish are confined to high velocity mainstems during the winter and cannot escape hot water during the summer by seeking out cooler tributaries. These culverts can and do block adult spawners from spawning grounds in tributary streams. Fortunately, counties, using gas tax dollars, are replacing culverts that are fish barriers. Permits to do the work are provided by the Oregon Division of State Lands (DSL). The permitting process was recently changed to facilitate a more streamlined one, but the new permit process has turned out to be an expensive impediment to getting the work done. NFS contacted two people doing culvert work in two counties. I was told that the cost per project has increased to $8,000 to $20,000 per project, cutting the number of culvert projects completed from 10 to 14 per year to 3 to 4 per year. Another person said that the number of projects have not been diminished, but it does affect project selection; we are selecting projects that do not involve fish. Their assessment of the new process required by DSL has been to increase cost rather than value to native fish populations. It is too hard to do the right things for fish. As a consequence of the new DSL permitting process, the expenditure of public funds has increased and benefits to fish passage has decreased. The permitting process is now so complex; one person said that the county is going to contract with consultants to do the permitting process. One reason given for this problem is that staff at DSL is new following an exodus of experienced staff and the new staff does not have a feel for the work being done. The result is an emphasis on filling out the boxes rather than making good projects. COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON SURVIVAL BLACK HOLE: Two published papers grapple with the problem of poor salmon survival in the Columbia River. One is by Phillip Levin and John Williams (2002) published in Conservation Biology. The other is by Carl Schreck et al. 2006 published in the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. In the attempt to reduce passage mortality past dams, the government has opted to transport these juvenile salmonids in barges. Using smolt to adult survival rates the barged fish survive at a higher rate than in-river migrating fish. In the study by Schreck et al. the point is made that even though the barged fish have a higher survival rate there is the problem of delayed mortality following release. The extent of that delayed mortality and its causes are important to resolve. The Levin paper notes that the increased releases of hatchery fish in the Columbia River over the last 100 years has not demonstrated recovery and re-establishment of sustainable populations. They say, “…we observed a strong negative association between releases of hatchery steelhead and smolt-to-adult survival of wild chinook salmon.” Steelhead have been shown to have a competitive advantage over chinook because steelhead average nearly ten times the size of wild chinook smolts. When these smolts outmigrate they are captured at the dams and stuffed into barges for transportation to the river below Bonneville Dam. The chinook are stressed when steelhead are added to the barges. The authors state that there is a “likelihood of a particular negative effect of steelhead hatcheries on the conservation of wild chinook…” In the Schreck paper, barged juvenile salmon survival was compared to juvenile salmon that migrated down the river through the reservoirs and passed the dams. In some years the “run-of-the-river fish may have a higher survival than barged fish due to the mortality associated with barging. Their work identified disease as a factor in poor survival suggesting “diseased and less well-smolted fish may be more vulnerable to birds than healthy individuals. We postulate that the quality (general health condition of migrants reaching the lower Columbia River (by barge or in-river migration) determines subsequent behavior and vulnerability to predation.” Juvenile salmon may be more sensitive to stress. Since almost all migrating juveniles of both hatchery and natural origins are carriers of Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD) it is suspected that survival is poor when these fish enter sea water. In the estuary freshwater overlays saltwater, and diseased salmon tend to avoid seawater and are pushed toward the surface, riding the freshwater lens. They are nearer the surface and more vulnerable to bird predation. The authors say, “Behaviors relating to seawater avoidance are perhaps more of an issue for fish emigrating through the estuaries smaller than that of the Columbia. By affecting behavior, smoltification, disease, and stress status may, thus influence smolt vulnerability to predators.” The Levin paper points out that transporting chinook with larger, dominating steelhead increases the stress on wild chinook. The Schreck paper points out that stressed fish in combination with disease exposes the fish to bird predation as they try to avoid salt water in the estuary and are swimming in the upper water levels. Schreck says, “However satisfactory the initial estimates of low direct mortality may be for the transportation program, the more important problem appears to be the extent of delayed mortality that is realized from transportation stressors.” Bill M. Bakke P.O. Box 19570 Portland, Oregon 97280 503.977.0287 www.nativefishsociety.org >%60·.¸¸.·´¯%60·.¸.·´¯%60·…¸>¸. ·´¯%60·.¸. , . .·´¯%60·.. >%60·.¸¸.·´¯%60·.¸.·´¯%60·…¸>