If you haven’t seen the movie “Perfect Storm”, I recommend you rent it, stream it, etc. It’s a good flick about some commercial fisherman on the eastern seaboard that get caught out at sea when two major storm systems collide. But this isn’t about the movie. The storm I’m talking about is coming our way in the form of the current drought and the forming of an El Nino in the Pacific.
This link to NOAA Fisheries site has some great information about El Nino conditions that I won’t detail here. Let’s just suffice to say that it’s bad news for Pacific Salmon and Steelhead. El Ninos occur pretty regularly. Warmer water than normal moves up the coasts of South, Central and North America and impact all inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean – from the bottom of the food chain to the top. The El Nino forming now is expected to be very strong – one of the warmest in the past 50 years. For Salmon and Steelhead, it means less forage fish (food) and a condensed environment. Generally salmon and steelhead experience reduced growth and increase mortality during an El Nino.
This is the rotten cherry on top of a crappy ice cream sundae.
Earlier this week a clogged inlet stopped flowing water from entering the raceways containing 400,000 juvenile salmon at the Rock Creek Hatchery along the North Umpqua River. All of the young fish were killed. My 1st thought was “there’s goes a half million dollars!”.
Those juvenile fish were set to be released into the North Umpqua next spring, to begin their 3-5 year life cycle, with the final stage being a return to where they were released to start the process all over again. 400,000 fish sounds like a lot, and it is, but generally, hatchery returns are around 0.7%- 1.2%. So in the end, we lost 3,000 – 4,500 returning adults 3 to 5 years from now.
What happens to the other 395,000 fish that are released each and every year? I’m guessing that a whole lot of them don’t survive the first week after being released. Let’s jump back a little and look at the process.
Four years ago, 5.2 million juvenile fish (4.6M Chinook, 600K Steelhead) were released into the Willamette Basin Rivers (Coast Fork, Middle Fork and Main stem Willamette, McKenzie, South and North Santiam, Mollala and others). With each fish costing roughly $1 each to raise, this was a sizable investment for the ODFW, NOAA and other government entities. And this is not a one-time thing, it happens every year. Why you may ask? Simple – to replace wild fish runs lost due to the construction of dams.
We replace the lost fish (due to being cutoff from spawning habitat) with hatchery raised fish of similar species so that commercial and sport anglers can continue the business/sport of catching fish.
So, how’d it all work out?
For Spring Chinook, it went pretty well, we have roughly 50,000 Spring Chinook making their way back to the hatcheries they were released from. That’s a return on the investment of 1.1%. It’s the best return of Spring Chinook we’ve seen in the last five years. That’s the good news.
We burned a few gallons of gas and left some rubber on the road to go see The Breach last night in Portland. An awesome film! A fellow movie goer remarked during the Q&A session afterwards – ” I’m overwhelmed, how do I, as an individual, do anything to help?”
Lori and I had a great discussion on the way home about how we can justify taking a stand on the issues when we as a family are a major contributor to so many of the problems. We added to the population explosion by having 8 kids between us. We live in a home made of 95% wood, we heat our home with firewood and electricity. A home which is protected from flood by two dams just upstream. We have a septic tank and drain field within 50 feet of the river and we aren’t all that careful about the chemicals we use within our home. Part of our household income is derived from my fishing guide service. The bulk of my working career has been in the telecommunications industry – a huge consumer of copper. Yup, we’re consumers of the “4 Hs” that are slowly driving nails into the coffin for wild fish species – Hydro, Habitat, Harvest and Hatchery.
The representatives of the 4 H’s (Hydro, Harvest, Hatchery and Habitat) are working overtime to paint a pretty picture here in Oregon. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of TV ads from groups like the Associated Oregon Loggers, Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Northwest River Partners, and others. The commercials feature shots of lush, green forests, and crystal clear mountain streams filled with salmon and steelhead making their way upstream. (Must be buying stock footage from video shot in Alaska). They tout the benefits of the Oregon Forest Practices Rules, Clean Hydropower, Commercial Fishing and other “great” things that those industries provide.
The rules and regulations put into place in the 1970’s were great … for the 1970’s. It stopped the wholesale destruction of Oregon Forests and Farmland, the watersheds within, and the fish and wildlife that resided there. Those 40 year old policies did some good. It probably kept several anadromous fish runs from extinction. (See prior blog post here)
“Clean Hyro” is that latest label used by the Hydropower Industry. In my mind, it’s just lipstick on a pig. We’re talking about dams that were built as far back as 90 years ago! Just how clean can that be. Sure, Hydro doesn’t produce toxic waste in vast quantities, so in that regard, it is clean. But it does have some serious, permanent, long term effects on a river system. The most obvious of course is cutting off access to spawning grounds. Grand Coulee Dam blocked 1,100 miles of natural spawning habitat for Chinook, Sockeye and Coho Salmon, Steelhead, and Lamprey Eels and flooded 21,000 acres of land. It also opened the door for building dams elsewhere on the Columbia and Snake River systems without regard for native fish runs. Today it’s estimated that between 40 -60% of Columbia Basin spawning grounds are inaccessible to anadromous fish. Continue reading