Fishing Groups Blast WA DOE

Sport and commercial fishing interests today blasted the Washington Department of Ecology’s decision to deny a petition to aid downstream migration of threatened salmon by increasing water releases in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

“In denying our petition which would allow for increased spill, Ecology is ignoring the number one tool available to help our Northwest salmon economy recover and become strong again,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, in a press release. “Spill is a proven, effective action that helps to ensure that there will always be sustainable salmon runs for the people and communities that depend on them. But with Washington’s standards in place, the fish will be denied the spill they so desperately need.”

NSIA and others filed the petition March 8 but say DOE shot it down in a decision dated last Friday, May 7.

“This is an extremely disappointing decision,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a trade organization for West Coast commercial fishing families. “We filed this petition to help give salmon more of what they need to survive, as well as help the coastal and inland communities who depend on them for their livelihoods.  In denying our Petition, Ecology is ignoring both science and economic reality.”

According to a press release from the group, which also includes Earthjustice, even in low water conditions, spilling water over the dams has helped produce some of the best returns of salmon and steelhead seen in many years. The returning salmon have given a shot in the arm to sport and commercial fisheries in the Columbia River at a time when the rest of the West Coast salmon fishing picture has been a disaster.

However, spill in the Columbia and Snake Rivers is currently artificially constrained by Washington’s total dissolved gas (TDG) standards and the petition sought to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill water in greater volume than is permitted under current restrictions. Ecology is refusing to spill to levels requested by fish managers for protection of baby salmon as they make their journey to the ocean, the press release says.

It continues, saying Washington’s standards allow a TDG level of 120 percent in the area immediately below a dam’s spillway (the tailrace), but erroneously restrict it to 115 percent in the area just above the next dam downstream (the forebay). The petition asked Washington to remove the 115 percent forebay TDG limit or increase it to 120 percent, since the current limit is artificially capping what regional fish managers have said is needed for increased salmon survival. In 2006, for example, the existing 115 percent limitation reduced spring spill for salmon migration by 4.1 million acre feet, and led to reduced numbers of salmon and steelhead that survived migration through the lower Columbia and Snake River dams, according to the Fish Passage Center.

“The State of Oregon did the right thing and changed its spill standard last year to benefit salmon, but Washington is simply refusing to follow suit – even though both states considered the issue in a joint process,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin in the release. “We had hoped Washington would follow that lead and adopt the same common-sense, biologically-sound approach to give endangered salmon a better chance of surviving. Unfortunately, that proved too much to expect, and salmon will suffer due to this disappointing decision.”

A long article in a recent Northwest Fishletter looks at how spill in the Columbia and Snake has affected sockeye stocks.

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