All posts by John Twa

Dear Cathy McMorris Rodgers

July 12, 2017

 

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, U. S. House of Representatives (WA-05)

Jaime Herrera Beutler, U. S. House of Representatives (WA-3)

Dan Newhouse, U.S. House of Representatives (WA-4)

Kurt Schrader, U. S. House of Representatives (OR-05)

Greg Walden, U. S. House of Representatives (OR-2)

 

Greetings:

 

You recently sponsored a bill in the U. S. House of Representatives designed to protect the operation of the four lower Snake River (LSR) dams from environmental review and stop implementation of a scientifically-proven means (spill) of aiding threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. Your statements in the press release addressing this bill, posted on McMorris Rodgers’ website, demonstrate either a lack of knowledge about the LSR dams or an attempt to deceive your constituents, colleagues in Congress and all Americans. Here are facts of which you are hopefully aware.

 

Hydropower

Those who wish to mislead the public frequently combine the power output of the Columbia River with that of the Snake, purposely failing to acknowledge that the LSR dams contribute little to the Northwest’s power supply. These four dams provide less than 4% of the electricity in the Pacific Northwest power grid and only 6.5% of the Northwest’s hydropower. They produce much of their power when demands for electricity and market price are both low.

 

PNW wind energy capacity is now three times greater than the combined capacity of all 4 LSR dams. The Pacific Northwest enjoys a surplus of energy, at times requiring wind turbines to be shut down and electricity to be exported at a negative price.

 

Savings in energy costs related to fish mitigation alone justifies breaching the LSR dams.

 

Navigation

Freight transport on the LSR’s four reservoirs has declined by more than 50% over the past 20 years.  Barges no longer carry logs, lumber, paper, pulp, or pulse. Even grain volume, which makes up over 90% of all freight, has declined 45% over the same period.

 

Every barge of grain that leaves the Port of Lewiston carries a taxpayer subsidy of over $20,000 to pay for channel dredging, navigation operations and maintenance. This figure does not include the many millions of dollars spent every few years on major lock rehabilitation. Commercial navigation on the LSR principally provides government-subsidized transportation of a government-subsidized crop.

 

Flood Control

The LSR dams are run-of-the-river dams that provide no flood control. Lower Granite dam actually creates flood risk to the principal city on the waterway—Lewiston, Idaho.  The arrival at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers of over 2 million cubic yards of sediment each year perpetually adds to that flood risk and creates additional future costs to be borne by federal taxpayers.  Flood control as justification for maintaining the LSR dams is a false claim.

 

Irrigation

Only one reservoir in the LSR dam complex — behind Ice Harbor Dam— provides irrigation for between 13-17 land owners/farms on one-third the acreage the Corps of Engineers projected in claiming benefits for the LSR project. Water would still be available if Ice Harbor were breached, but at a higher (non-subsidized) cost. Irrigation as justification for maintaining the LSR dams is a weak argument that applies to a single dam.

 

Juvenile Fish Migration

Among the more egregious of the false claims made in the press release addressing the proposed legislation is that of the survival of Snake River juvenile salmon and steelhead through the 8-dam Columbia/Snake River complex.  The oft-repeated statement “an average of 97% of young salmon successfully make it past the dams” belies a juvenile fish survival rate through the dams and reservoirs of about 54% for wild Chinook and 45% for wild steelhead. Further losses then occur below Bonneville Dam due to avian predation and delayed mortality caused by the rigors of dam passage. In 2015 the juvenile survival rate Lower Granite to Bonneville for the Snake River’s most endangered fish, Idaho’s sockeye salmon, was 32%. In 2016 this rate declined farther to a mere 12%. The 97% claim is false. Repeating it constitutes political hucksterism.

 

In 2013, NOAA Fisheries acknowledged that no juvenile fish passage survival improvement had occurred over the previous 13 years—despite the expenditure of over $700 million on just the 4 lower Snake River dams for so-called “fish passage improvements.”  Stated NOAA: “Chinook survival through the hydropower system has remained relatively stable since 1999 with the exception of lower estimates in 2001 and 2004.” No significant change has occurred in the past four years. Claiming otherwise is lying.

Adult Salmon Returns

As with hydropower, LSR dam supporters deceive the public by using data for the combined Columbia/Snake system, purposely ignoring the vast differences in fish numbers in these two rivers. As sponsors of the House Bill in question, you likewise employ this deception in claiming the achievement of “record fish returns.”

Historically, the Snake River produced an estimated half or more of all the anadromous fish in the Columbia Basin. However, in 2014 just 14% of the Chinook counted at Bonneville Dam were Snake River fish. For Coho the percentage was 6%, for sockeye it was less than half of one percent. The same pattern held in 2015 at 15%, 3.5%, and 2/10ths of one percent. Claiming that salmon numbers at Bonneville Dam provide meaningful and honest information about fish numbers on the Snake River, let alone about the Snake’s threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, is beyond the pale.

In 2015, 99% of adult Snake River sockeye died before reaching their spawning grounds. The Idaho Fish and Game Department has predicted 2017 and 2018 will see steelhead returns lower than those in the 1980s, with the Clearwater River’s once famous wild B-run steelhead numbers predicted to be a mere 1000 fish in 2017.

The true measure of successful recovery of threatened and endangered fish species is the smolt-to-adult return (SAR) ratio. Mere survival (non-extinction) of wild fish species requires a minimum 1% SAR, while recovery of Snake River salmon and steelhead requires a 2%-6% SAR. From 1993-2013 the SAR for wild Chinook salmon averaged .89%. The return exceeded the minimum 2% SAR needed for recovery during only 2 of those 20 years. Idaho’s Snake River sockeye are on the brink of extinction. No Snake River threatened and endangered salmon or steelhead species is on a path to recovery.

The claim of “record runs of fish” in a bill designed to maintain the status quo on the lower Snake River is deliberate deception.

The High Cost of Failure

Several other statements you have made about the LSR dams fall beyond this communiqué—for example, your twisted claim that science should govern dam operations rather than politics while you undertake to assure that politics continue to defy science. However, one additional topic must be addressed. While I question your claim that “one-third of our electric bills pay for fish passage,” we do know the cost to taxpayers and ratepayers of supporting mostly failing salmon and steelhead recovery in the Snake and Columbia Rivers has topped $15 billion. As noted above, at least $700 million has been spent just on “system improvements” designed to increase the rate of juvenile fish passage on the four LSR dams. However, overall juvenile fish survival rates have not improved over the past 20 years, smolt-to-adult wild fish returns remain below the level needed to avoid species extinction, and no Snake River threatened and endangered species is on a path to recovery. Three federal judges over a twenty-year period have declared plans for the operation of the federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers illegal.  Despite all of this information, you 5 Northwest members of the U. S. House of Representatives, who claim to be fiscal conservatives, have sponsored a bill to continue pouring more taxpayer and ratepayer money into an atrociously expensive, flawed and failed experiment that is destroying two of the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic species —Pacific salmon and Southern Resident Killer Whales— while inflicting economic hardship on small communities from the Pacific Coast to the interior of Idaho.

A boondoggle is defined as “a wasteful or pointless activity that gives the appearance of having value; “ and “a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft.”

The lower Snake River dams meet both definitions. Your referenced House Bill does as well.

 

Linwood Laughy        Kooskia, Idaho      lochsalaughy@yahoo.com

Idaho scrambling to fill hatchery quotas of spring chinook

hatchery
Idaho Spring Chinook in Trouble

Idaho Fish & Game Scrambling to Fill Hatchery Quotas of Spring Chinook

Abysmal run of fish to Clearwater River prompts use of nets and elite anglers to gather broodstock for hatcheries

By Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune

Idaho Fish and Game officials are taking some extraordinary measures to help ensure hatcheries on the Clearwater River aren’t short of adult spring chinook.
Regional Fisheries Manager Joe DuPont said the hatcheries collectively are about 1,500 fish short of the goals for adult returns, known as broodstock. To help close the gap, department employees will use nets to try to capture spring chinook that return to the South Fork of the Clearwater River. They have also recruited help from anglers on the Clearwater’s North Fork to assist with the effort.
This year’s spring chinook run fell well short of preseason predictions. Returns to the Clearwater River and its tributaries were so low that biologists feared hatcheries might not make their spawning goals, and the fishing season was closed early. Although there is still time for hatchery chinook to return to hatcheries, those fears are starting to play out.

Adult hatchery chinook returning to Red River, a tributary of the South Fork, are collected at a trap on the river and later trucked to hatcheries. It is common for many of the fish to stop short of the trap and instead spend time in deep pools.
“They have done a lot of habitat work with log jams and the fish just kind of hang in there, and a lot of the hatchery fish never go up (to the trap),” DuPont said.

He said department employees used nets in those pools this week with the goal of capturing about 150 chinook. They caught 99 and will return next week for another round of captures.
On the North Fork, the department has recruited a small group of elite anglers to catch adult spring chinook. Those that are caught will be moved to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka.
DuPont said it’s still possible the hatcheries will meet spawning goals despite the present shortfall. Adult chinook will continue to be trapped at Dworshak Hatchery. Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins has surpassed its return goal, so some of those fish can be moved to hatcheries on the Clearwater.
DuPont said the department also is likely to trap more summer chinook on the Lochsa River than is needed for spawning. Summer chinook in the Lochsa return about a month later than spring chinook but spawn about the same time, in late August and early September. The extra Lochsa fish can take up any hatchery space left vacant by the low return of spring chinook. However, the summer chinook would not be spawned with the springers. Instead, they would be segregated within hatcheries.
“Hopefully we don’t need to do that, but it’s an option,” DuPont said. “We’d rather have the hatchery full of something rather than nothing.”

Steelhead numbers even lower than forecast

Fish counts at Bonneville Dam below that of 2016

steelhead
Are we looking at a collapse of steelhead?

By Eric Barer of the Lewiston Tribune

July 14, 2017

By all accounts, 2017 was never supposed to be a banner year for steelhead

The A-run is forecast to be a little better than last year’s dismal return – which some biologists called a complete year-class collapse – but still well below average. The B-run is expected to be terrible.

It’s too early to freak out, but counts of steelhead passing Bonneville Dam already are lagging behind those of 2016. Steelhead from the A-run, those that tend to spend just one year in the ocean, are arriving now and will be followed by the B-run in late August and September.From June 1 through Tuesday, just shy of 4,000 steelhead had passed the dam. Last year, one of the worst on record for the A-run, more than 20,000 steelhead passed the dam in the same time period.

“If the counts don’t improve and we go along for three more weeks like we have been, then it’s time to start telling people this year is bad and it might be worse than we forecast, but we are nowhere near there yet,” said Alan Byrne, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologist at Boise. “The counts could still improve. The facts of the matter are the Bonneville counts are way below what our average counts are this time of year. But we are only a couple of weeks into the run. We won’t know the strength of the run until the first week of August.”

The preseason forecast calls for a return of 112,100 A-run steelhead to Bonneville Dam, including 33,000 wild fish and 79,100 hatchery fish. Those steelhead will be bound for various parts of the Columbia Basin, and about 50 percent of them are expected to head up the Snake River and pass over Lower Granite Dam.

Fisheries managers are expecting only 7,300 B-run steelhead to pass Bonneville Dam, including just 1,100 wild fish. About 70 percent of them are expected to return to the Snake River, which works out to about 4,340 hatchery and 770 wild Bs at Lower Granite Dam.

“We were fully expecting a very down B-run and not that great of an A-run, but better than last year,” said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “Now it makes me a little uneasy.”

While the numbers of A-run steelhead counted at Bonneville are depressing, DuPont said there may be a glimmer of hope when you single out Idaho-bound hatchery fish. The numbers show the early part of the run is about average compared to those since 2010. But he cautioned the math is based on just two hatchery fish implanted with PIT tags that have passed Bonneville.

“What bothers me more is the big picture, when it’s more than just Idaho fish, when you are looking at all steelhead, counts over Bonneville are way down,” DuPont said.

State of the Snake 07/17/17

The State of the Snake River

It’s the middle of July, 2017.  How is the salmon migration going?  A few lawmakers in the Pacific Northwest have been telling us how great the salmon recovery is going and how valuable the four lower Snake River dams are to the nation.  Let’s take a look at the numbers, as reported by the Fish Passage Center (fpc.org).

Salmon returns to Lower Granite dam, the uppermost of the four lower Snake dams are as follows:

state of the snake
Thus far, Chinook salmon runs in the Snake River have been dismal.

Spring Chinook

2017:  27,357  (44% of 10 year average)

2016:  62,050

10 yr avg:  62,403

Summer Chinook

2017:  7,488  (50% of 10 year average)

2016:  9,388

10 yr avg:  15,008

state of the snake
Sockeye runs are even worse.

Sockeye salmon

2017:  179  (26% of 10 year average)

2016:  682

10 yr avg:  699

Hmmmm… don’t see any records here.

Down at Ice Harbor dam, the farthest downstream of the four lower Snake dams, the yearly steelhead run is starting.  Maybe we’ll see some records there.

state of the snake
Steelhead runs are barely noticeable.

Steelhead

2017:  1,443  (15% of 10 year average)

2016:  4,240

10 yr avg:  9,688

Wow, definitely not a record.  Unless you are talking about record lows.

state of the snake
Water temperatures at Lower Granite dam hit 68+ F. This is not good for salmon.

What does the future hold?

So, should we expect a recovery this year?  Probably not.  Temperatures in the Snake River at Lower Granite dam have hit 78 F on the surface already, and are 68 F at a depth of 20 m where the water is drawn for the fish ladders.  Salmon like cool water and this hot water slows their migration and can even cause death. Attempts by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the water below 68 F have been unsuccessful.  Dworshak dam on the Clearwater River is normally used to cool the Snake River by passing water through it’s turbines.

This year those efforts are hampered because the largest turbine is out of service.

state of the snake
Temperatures at Ice Harbor are over 70 F

If they spill water instead, it drives up the dissolved gas levels which can be toxic to salmon and steelhead, especially juveniles.  So the Corps faces a dilemma… spill water to cool the adult salmon in the Snake River but potentially poison all the juvenile fish at the Dworshak fish hatchery, or not spill water to save the hatchery juveniles but potentially kill the adults migrating in the Snake.

 

It’s a rotten situation that the US Army Corps has placed itself and the salmon in.  There is still one alternative that the Corps has, but is unwilling to try.  That would be Alternative 4 in the 2002 EIS, the EIS under which they are currently operating the dams.  Alternative 4 involves drawing down the reservoirs and returning the Snake to a free flowing river.  It is the only way to save the Pacific Northwest’s salmon.  But the US Army Corps of Engineers seems perfectly content with allowing the extinction of the remaining salmon and steelhead stocks.

Rising temperatures threaten lower Snake River salmon

temperatures
Steadily rising water temperatures in 2017 threaten salmon

July 2017

July has been a rough month so far for endangered salmon and steelhead migrating through the lower Snake River.  High air temperatures and lack of cloud cover have heated the reservoirs behind the four lower Snake River dams to 68 degrees and beyond.  At such high water temperatures, the salmon migration slows and it can cause mass mortality (remember 2015?).  Water temperatures on July 12th were 3 degrees higher than in 2016 and the 10 year average.  And they were equal to 2015.

Dworshak

In the past, Dworshak dam on the Clearwater River has been used to supply cold water that mixes with Snake River water to bring the temperatures down.  But that is not entirely possible in 2017.  Dworshak can release water in two ways:  one is to discharge it through the turbines and the other is to spill it through or over the dam.  If water is discharged through the turbines, it does not add considerable dissolved gases to the water.  But spilling water does increase the dissolved gas content and it if not monitored, can cause salmon and steelhead mortality.  Juvenile fish, like those in the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery just below the dam, are particularly susceptible to Gas Bubble Trauma (GBT).  The Nez Perce Tribe and the US Fish and Wildlife Service operate this hatchery.

The Problem

The US Army Corps of Engineers has been working on turbine 3, the largest of the turbines at Dworshak, for many months.  Work was supposed to be completed earlier this year.  But the contractor doing the work made an error and now the turbine is not expected to be operational until 2018.  So this leaves the US Army Corps in a bind.  Do they spill water to keep the river cool but poison the juvenile fish at the hatchery?  Or limit spill to a certain level and let the river heat up?  Total Dissolved Gas (TDG) limits are set by the state to protect fish.  A waiver has been issued by Idaho to allow the dam to spill more water and inject higher TDG levels into the river.  But thus far these higher levels of spill have not been able to keep the river below 68 F.

temperature
The decline of Snake River salmon.

The Solution

Endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead are already in dire straits.  Their numbers dropped precipitously when the four lower Snake dams were built in the 1960’s and 70’s.  This landed them on the Endangered Species List.  Billions of dollars have been spent to recover them, but it has not worked.  In 2015, hundreds of thousands of adult salmon and steelhead died in the Snake and Columbia Rivers due to heat stress.  Over 50% of the juveniles headed to the ocean died that year on their way to the ocean.   With so few juveniles making it to the ocean, very few adults are returning this year.  There is only one solution to this problem.  At the very least, Lower Granite reservoir needs to be drawn down THIS YEAR.  And the remaining three dams in subsequent years.  Without this urgent action, Snake River salmon and steelhead don’t stand a chance.

Sockeye & Steelhead return to Bonneville dam 07/03/17

Spring Chinook Salmon

The spring Chinook run is over at Bonneville dam.  The final tally:

2017:  83,624

2016:  137,215

10 yr avg:  150,783

Summer Chinook Salmon

Summer returns are now in progress at Bonneville dam:

2017:  63,253

2016:  81,652

10 yr avg:  69,802

As if those numbers were not depressing enough…

Sockeye Salmon

sockeye
I wonder if any of these sockeye will make the journey to Idaho this year…

The sockeye salmon run is well underway.  Current returns at Bonneville dam:

2017:  67,621

2016:  300,833

10 yr avg:  239,986

At this point, 2017 is at 22% of 2016 and 28% of the 10 year average.

Steelhead

steelhead
Where are the steelhead?

Steelhead returns at Bonneville dam have also begun:

2017:  5,389

2016:  16,420

10 yr avg:  17,085

These returns are less than a third of 2016 and the 10 year average returns.

Whatever the federal agencies are doing to save salmon, it’s not working.  Time to exercise Alternative 4 in the 2002 FR/EIS (breaching).  And the sooner the better.

Lower Snake Summer Passage Report 7/3/17

Spring Chinook

spring summer
Final chart of 2017 spring Chinook returns at Lower Granite dam.

The spring Chinook run has come to an end on the lower Snake River.  The finally tally for 2017 was dismal compared to last year and the 10 year average, with a 56% decline.

2017:  27,357

2016: 62,050

10 yr avg:  62,403

 

Summer Chinook

summer chinook
Summer Chinook returns at Lower Granite dam are running 50% below the 10 yr avg.

The summer Chinook run is not fairing much better.  It is currently half the 10 year average.

2017:  5,329

2016:  6,045

10 yr avg:  10,837

Counts taken at Lower Granite dam and reported by the Fish Passage Center (fpc.org).

But I thought we were having record fish returns?

This data does not support the reports of “record fish returns” cited by Washington Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers in her latest attempt to save the dams.   Record fish returns have been proclaimed by several groups including our own federal agencies like the US Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration, and Bureau of Reclamation.  Here is the chart they showed the public at the CRSO Open Houses last fall.  Looks great doesn’t it?

CRSO data
CRSO Open House data.

But if one were to look back farther in history, they would find a different story.  Here is a graph from Idaho Fish and Game going back to 1955.

chinook returns
IDF&G data shows the real story.

Recent returns are far from being records.  This is nothing more than data manipulation to support their cause.

“There are 3 kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

-Mark Twain

Policy Considerations, June 2017

policy considerations
US Army Corps 2002 EIS

Policy Considerations:  How and Why Breaching the Four Lower Snake Dams
Can Happen This Year

1.   The Corps of Engineers has inherent fiduciary responsibilities to insure existing projects continue to provide economic benefit, do not harm the environment and are technically sound throughout the project life. They do not need a Federal Judge to order a correction but can do so as an independent action.

2.   The dams have a Benefit to Cost ratio of 15¢ on the dollar (.15 to 1) in terms of National Economic Development, the standard by which the Corps must measure economic benefit. Corrected Cost and Economic conclusions based on Corps data and planning processes show breaching via channel bypass has benefits ranging from 4 to 20 to 1 with Regional effects adding more than 5K jobs in E. Washington and Lewiston.

3.   #1 and #2 are why the Corps can put the projects into a “non-operational” status. This does not change the project Purpose thus does not need Congressional Authorization.

4.   The 2002 Environmental Impact Statement, signed by the Corps Division Commander, states, the Alternative for further Systems Improvements, is unlikely to recover juvenile salmon migration (and after nearly $1 billion has not) and is no better than the existing condition or doing nothing, and that breaching provided the highest probability of meeting survival/recovery of listed Snake River Stocks. From a NEPA standpoint, this operable EIS provides the process documentation to undertake
breaching and is consistent with recent court rulings.

5.   Corrected costs for breaching via channel bypass are $339 million instead of the $1.3 to $2.6 BILLION stated by BPA in their March 2016 “Fact Sheet”. Corrected assumptions provide a far simpler removal of the earthen portion of the dam
requiring only the simplest of design and contracting; essentially a Time and Materials contract for renting bulldozers and loaders to notch the dam for hydraulic removal and placement of armor stone, if required. Time to contract award is a matter of a few weeks and easily within the Contracting expertise of the Corps.

6.   Since Bonneville Power Administration is responsible for approximately 92% of the cost of the Operations, Maintenance, Repairs for the 4 dams and full cost of all Hydropower capital costs, eg., Turbine replacements, as well as Fish Mitigation
required by the 1980 Power Planning and Conservation Act, ratepayer funds, not new Congressional Appropriations, can be used to pay for the breach costs. Under the Fish Mitigation clauses of the 1980 act, BPA could pay the full cost of breaching and could receive a credit on their Federal Debt for the dams should they choose to. They could do this as the most cost effective fish mitigation measure in the Columbia/Snake. System and to avoid loosing more money on generating power at a loss on the 4 dams.

7.   The Lower Snake Navigation system was out of service four months this year with no noticeable effect on farm shipments. Grain shipments continue to shift to truck/rail to Portland and SeaTac or truck/rail/barge to Columbia river ports using Washington States grain shuttle service because it is cheaper than the using LSR Navigation.

8.   Oversupply and balancing power already exist to take up loss of LSRD generation.

Conclusion, all relevant ethical, policy, financial, technical or biological reasons to support a Dec 2018 start of breaching are in place now. To not do so will waste additional $millions and prevent salmon/orca recovery.

Lower Snake Passage Report 6/13/17

lower granite dam
Spring Chinook Salmon passage at Lower Granite Dam

Spring Chinook Salmon

The spring Chinook salmon run continues on the lower Snake River.  As of 6/11/17, 20,617 spring Chinook adults had passed Lower Granite Dam on their journey east to spawning grounds in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.  In 2016, 58,602 fish had passed by this time.  This was similar to the 10 year average of 57,481.  It represents a 65% reduction between 2017 and 2016.

Season Closures

As a result, Idaho Fish and Game officials closed most of the spring Chinook salmon season in the Clearwater Basin.  This is devastating to small  Idaho towns like Orofino, Kamiah, Kooskia, and Elk City.  They depend upon a robust fishing season to bring anglers from around the Pacific Northwest.  Anglers spend money on lodging, gas, groceries, and fishing supplies.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist Brett Bowersox at Lewiston said the run returning to the Clearwater Basin continues to show lower-than-average survival between Bonneville and Lower Granite dams – so poor that the state’s share of the harvestable surplus already has been exhausted. The closure also will help ensure hatcheries get an adequate number of spawners, known as broodstock, to produce the next generation of springers.”   -Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune

Chinook Salmon are a keystone species.  Orcas, bears, and a host of birds depend upon their survival each year. Consequently, as the salmon runs decline, so do these other dependent species.  The single greatest action to save the endangered salmon is the removal of the four lower Snake River dams.  Recovery of salmon becomes more difficult each year they stay in place.

Clearwater Basin Chinook season closure

clearwater snake
Current and Historical Spring/Summer Chinook habitat

Spring chinook fishing closed in Clearwater Basin

No summer season is planned in drainage except for Lochsa River

  • By ERIC BARKER of the Lewiston Tribune

 

Idaho fisheries managers pulled the plug on spring fishing in the Clearwater Basin on Monday after giving the beleaguered season a brief second life.

The four-day-a-week season on sections of the Clearwater and its South and Middle forks that ran Thursdays through Sundays will not reopen this week, nor will it open there later this month for summer chinook. The Lochsa River is the lone exception in the basin. It is scheduled to open to summer chinook harvest June 22.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist Brett Bowersox at Lewiston said the run returning to the Clearwater Basin continues to show lower-than-average survival between Bonneville and Lower Granite dams – so poor that the state’s share of the harvestable surplus already has been exhausted. The closure also will help ensure hatcheries get an adequate number of spawners, known as broodstock, to produce the next generation of springers.

“We are still wanting to protect our ability to get brood, and the most recent information we have showed we needed to shut down even the jack fishery to protect that brood stock,” said Bowersox.

Spring chinook season opened on the Clearwater and its tributaries in late April, but high water and cold flows apparently delayed the run. Fearing a shortage of spawners, the department closed fishing on the Clearwater River and its tributaries and on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers May 22.

Fishing resumed June 3 following a spike of adult chinook passing Bonneville Dam. However, fisheries managers shrunk the number of river miles open in the Clearwater basin and they restricted harvest to jack salmon only – those under 24 inches long.

Anglers harvested 77 jacks and released 170 adults during the season’s brief second life.

Fishing on a short section of the lower Salmon River and on the Little Salmon River will resume Thursday. Bowersox said flows on those rivers are dropping and the fishing conditions should be improving. Anglers caught and kept just six adult chinook on the lower Salmon River last week.

“I suspect fish should start moving in the Salmon River quite a bit more than they had been,” Bowersox said.