Federal agencies squander chance for progress on salmon


  • Gilly Lyons, Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition: (503) 975-3202
  • Liz Hamilton, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association: (503) 704-1772
  • Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations: (541) 689-2000

Another rehash of court-rejected plan could force more legal action

and stall progress toward meaningful salmon protections

Portland, Ore. – Today, the Obama administration’s NOAA Fisheries released a “new” draft plan for protecting endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon that fails to address the issues that triggered federal-court rejection of the three previous plans. If finalized as is, this plan risks continued legal battles just as momentum is building for a broadly supported solutions process.

The government’s final plan must be submitted by the end of the year to meet a court-ordered deadline.

“Unfortunately, the latest blueprint barely changes the plan rejected by the district court in 2011, despite that court’s clear direction that federal agencies must do more to safeguard imperiled salmon and steelhead,” said Save Our Wild Salmon executive director Joseph Bogaard.

Conservation and fishing groups, along with the State of Oregon and Nez Perce Tribe, have successfully challenged previous salmon plans for failing to protect one of the Northwest’s most iconic and treasured species. The groups expressed disappointment with the new draft plan, and about the missed opportunity to change course for salmon in the Columbia Basin.

“Today’s plan squanders three big opportunities: to help salmon, to boost salmon jobs, and to lay the foundation for a broadly-supported collaboration among fishermen, farmers, energy users, and others who want to work toward shared solutions,” said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “This latest draft threatens to continue the deadlock over Columbia and Snake salmon by failing to include the stronger protections that our salmon need and that the law requires. The federal agencies really fall short here, but they still have a chance to get it right in the final plan.”

The opportunity for progress centers on salmon spill – water sent over the dams to help migrating young salmon reach the Pacific Ocean more safely. A basic level of spill has been in place under court order since 2006. Federal, state and Tribal scientists have studied the impacts of existing spill and concluded that it is boosting salmon survival. These scientists say expanding spill could help stabilize or maybe even recover some salmon stocks. But instead of considering this in its draft plan, NOAA Fisheries would allow dam operators to roll back current spill to even lower levels, rejecting sound science in the process.

“A 16-year study indicates that spill is the most effective immediate measure to increase salmon survival across their life-cycle,” said Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association executive director Liz Hamilton. “The court-ordered spill in place since 2006 has been good for juvenile salmon on their way to the ocean, producing more adult fish back to the river, which has in turn helped salmon businesses and the jobs they support. Based upon extensive analyses, we are convinced that salmon managers need to test higher levels of spill to further increase adult returns. Testing expanded spill is consistent with implementation of adaptive management and should be the centerpiece of any credible salmon plan. Instead, NOAA appears to be ignoring this important information and allowing for less spill during a critical time for Endangered Species Act-listed fish.”

Bill Arthur, deputy national field director for the Sierra Club, said the government’s “Groundhog Day” approach to Columbia salmon restoration is getting old.

“Rather than repackaging a failed and illegal plan and hoping for a different outcome, NOAA Fisheries should rethink and redo its approach in the final plan,” Arthur said. “Expanding spill and employing other effective measures will help salmon, help salmon economies, and give regional collaboration a running start – all of which will help the Northwest move away from gridlock and toward real solutions that work.”

Other articles on the report:

New plan for salmon is much like old one

Feds deal blow to Nez Perce Tribe, salmon advocates