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Tough Year for Smolts

1962 Views 2 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  juro
Especially for Snake R in-river migrants. From The Oregonian:

Fish survival rates plunge to near-record lows in 2001; future effects unknown



Survival rates of the young salmon and steelhead that rode the Columbia River to the sea this spring and summer were among the lowest ever recorded, preliminary state and federal data show.

What that will mean in two to four years, when those fish return to spawn as adults, is unknown. That's because more than half the young fish that migrated to the ocean this year did not remain in the river but instead were trucked or barged past federal dams.

Because of the drought and the regional energy shortage earlier this year, the federal government sharply reduced the amount of water it allowed to spill through the dams.

On Wednesday, tribal officials and conservationists criticized federal officials for that decision, which they said led to lower survival rates for fish that remained in the river. They also said the Bonneville Power Administration failed to release enough water from storage dams to carry young fish safely downstream.

"It was even worse then we feared," said Bob Heinith, hydrosystem coordinator for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "There was no water released for fish, and when there was spill, it was too little, too late."

The federal salmon recovery plan normally requires that billions of gallons of water be diverted each spring and summer from the dams' turbines and instead sent over spillways, giving young salmon a safer way past the dams. This year, after power prices soared, the BPA said it would risk bankruptcy if it was forced to buy electricity on the open market. As a result, it spilled only 10 percent of the amount called for in the recovery plan.

Fish suffered because a regionwide drought reduced flows to the second-lowest level since record keeping began in 1929. That slowed the river and raised temperatures, which can kill young migrating salmon.

Federal biologists said they could not determine whether fish were hurt more by the drought or the ramped-up power generation.

State and federal biologists track the survival of young salmon with tiny microchips implanted in about 1 million young fish each year. The Fish Passage Center, a BPA-funded organization that monitors juvenile and adult salmon, reported that: 30 percent of the spring/summer chinook that remained in the river survived their journey from Lower Granite Dam in Eastern Washington to Bonneville Dam. That compares with the average survival rate of 43 percent from 1995 to 2000. 4 percent of the steelhead that remained in the river made it from Lower Granite to Bonneville Dam, compared with an average of 46 percent from 1995 to 2000. 53 percent of the chinook that remained in the river made it from McNary Dam to Bonneville Dam, compared with 64 percent in 2000. 23 percent of the steelhead that remained in the river made it from McNary Dam to Bonneville Dam, compared with 58 percent in 2000.

"We hurt fish in a lot of ways this year," said Margaret Filardo of the Fish Passage Center.

The odds of a young salmon being transported by barge or truck varied widely depending on where it came from.

From 80 percent to 90 percent of the Snake River fish were transported this year, because no water was spilled in 2001 through any of the four federal dams on the lower Snake River. The federal recovery plan requires that as many Snake River fish as possible be transported when river flows are low.

From 50 percent to 75 percent of the upper Columbia fish were transported because McNary Dam has a collection system. But none of the lower Columbia fish were transported because the dams on the lower river have no system to load fish into trucks or barges.

"If the fish were lucky enough to make it to one of the collector projects and they ended up in a barge, they probably fared better than the fish in the rivers," said Jim Ruff of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "We'll know that in two, three and four years." You can reach Jonathan Brinckman at 503-221-8190 or by e-mail at [email protected]
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Yuck! Also noticed that the 'natural' food supply this year in the upper Rogue appears to be well below that of the previous years. Usually a ton of cadis cases per rock; nowhere the number this season. A bleak forcast?

Double Yuck.
This is really serious. After four decades of barging smolt around the dams, it has been proven that the only successful responses in terms of adult returns have corresponded to high spill volumes. In other words barging has been a failure for 40 years and even if it were successful it only helps replace native steelhead strains like Snake river "B" fish with hatchery drones.

Diversion methods for smolts in eastern rivers have failed miserably while atlantic salmon populations tether on the brink. Screens, new turbine designs, ladders are all very ineffective means of ensuring smolt survival due to technical, cost or design issues.

A very successful approach in Europe is to build branch streams that flow around the dams in a natural way, providing whiteater rafting, fishing, and two-way natural passage with imprinting on the way down as well as passage on the way up. This is very expensive but one would think after the initial cost how would it compare to 40 years of failed barging?

As I understand it, the only promsing method of impacting smot survival is to flow water through the spillways during smolting season, which has been proven to have a significant and measurable impact on smolt survival and corresponding adult returns.

Does anyone know the correlation between this years big returns and the spillway handling in the year these fish smolted? Without researching it I would venture to guess that it was a big spill year - virtually all big returns were.

The failure of federal and local government to balance the survival of key species in our region with industry greed is really pathetic. We need to assure minimum spill volumes during smolt seasons regardless of economic factors, otherwise we need to develop more intelligent means like the natural spillways in Europe.

BTW - If one investigates the power consumption levels of big business like Intalco (aluminum) and their close ties with PNW power tyrants and, you'll find that our electricity bills subsidize bauxite ore refinement operations by $10m-$15m/per annum.

How ironic that in a year of record returns we put greed before good for the runs and force the majority of smolt through the big concrete cuisinarts as another generation swims by in the other direction.

It's shameful that we so easily put greed and human-centric needs and desires ahead of our obligations to be stewards of nature.
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