Oregon Position Statements
Statement on Willamette Basin Fisheries (December 2018)
Introduction: The Oregon Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (Oregon CCA) was established in 2007 and has been involved in issues directly related to Willamette River salmon and steelhead since that time. Recent events have generated increased interest in Oregon CCA's position and activities related to the Willamette River basin. It is important to note that CCA Oregon is not party to any coalition nor is it sponsoring a campaign related to the Willamette. Its “business as usual” and for over ten-years CCA Oregon has been, and continues to be, engaged in meaningful activities at local, state and national levels to help protect endangered salmon and steelhead populations, and enhance consumptive fisheries on the Willamette and its major tributaries. As a grassroots organization CCA Oregon's membership establishes its advocacy priorities in line with adopted positions. Paid professional staff provide experience, expertise, knowledge and recommendations, but the majority of CCA Oregon's advocacy is accomplished by dedicated, hardworking non-paid volunteers.
Purpose: This statement was prepared to provide an abbreviated outline of the history and development of the Willamette Basin as it affects salmon and steelhead stocks to improve knowledge and understanding by CCA Oregon's members, and others; to highlight CCA Oregon's activities and achievements in this regard, and; to outline CCA Oregon's future areas of emphasis relating to the Willamette Basin.
Background: The Willamette River system and its fisheries are extremely complex. For over a century the Willamette and its tributaries have been manipulated by more than 20 major dams as well as a complex series of levees, dikes, and channels to control the river's flow. The dams on the Willamette's major tributaries are primarily large flood-control, water storage, and power-generating dams.
Often referred to as the “Willamette Valley Flood Control Project” (Willamette Project) thirteen of these dams were built from the 1940s through the 1960s to be operated by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), and eight of those produce hydro power. The flood-control dams operated by the ACOE are estimated to hold up to 27 percent of the Willamette's annual runoff.
Most of the Willamette Project dams are “high-head” dams over 250 feet tall that block access to roughly half of the historic salmon and steelhead habitat and spawning grounds on the Willamette's major tributaries. As partial mitigation for the dams, the ACOE built five hatcheries and associated facilities, which have supported vital consumptive fisheries from Eugene to Astoria. However, the hatcheries have also reduced the genetic diversity of fish stocks in the Willamette basin.
For more than 60 years the ACOE has been providing these mitigation hatchery fish resulting in critical sportfishing opportunities in the Willamette and its major tributaries, along with the lower Columbia River. In recent years however, the ACOE has failed to fully fund the mitigation hatcheries which has required political pressure to help ensure compliance and supplemental funding from the state of Oregon.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed by the US Congress in 1973. Since then upper Willamette chinook and upper Willamette steelhead have been listed on the ESA as threatened. As a result the ACOE (along with the Bonneville Power Agency and Bureau of Reclamation) were required to evaluate conditions and develop and implement plans to protect and rebuild these imperiled stocks.
In response the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a Biological Opinion (BiOp) in July, 2008. The objectives of the BiOp were to determine the effect of the Willamette Project dams and if their continued operation would affect the existence of ESA listed species. The BiOp concluded that more needed to be done to protect Upper Willamette chinook and steelhead. According to the BiOp not implementing the NMFS changes would result in destroying or adversely modifying their critical habitat.
The required changes include establishing fish passage (downstream) at three dams (Cougar, Detroit and Lookout Pass), temperature control downstream of another dam (Detroit), changes in downstream flows, screening of irrigation diversions, improved hatchery practices and facilities and habitat improvement. NMFS concluded that with these changes the Willamette Project could continue to operate without threatening the continued existence of the two Upper Willamette salmonid species or destroying their critical habitat.
CCA Oregon's activities related to the Willamette Basin: This summary is intended to highlight CCA Oregon's activities related to the Willamette Basin and should not be considered comprehensive.
Applicable position statements:
- “CCA Oregon supports harvest plans focused on conserving and protecting northwest wild salmon and steelhead stocks and opposes harvest plans that do not adequately protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.”
- "CCA Oregon supports the important role hatcheries have to play in providing harvest opportunities while conserving, sustaining, and rebuilding salmon and steelhead stocks. We also support efforts to improve the efficacy of hatchery programs to ensure that, consistent with native fish conservation, opportunities are not unnecessarily constrained."
- “CCA Oregon supports science-based efforts to decrease the impacts of predation on adult and juvenile fish populations including salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. Many predator populations have reached artificial and unnatural levels due to human actions and conflicting laws.”
- “CCA Oregon strongly opposes the use of non-selective harvest methods.”
Providing a healthy consumptive fishery while protecting and enhancing ESA listed stocks can be a delicate balance. Both are equally important to CCA Oregon members and the angling public. It is with these directives in mind the following activities have been undertaken and achievements accomplished:
- Successfully applied for funds from ODF&W’s R&E board to fund the Molalla/Trout Creek Acclimation Pond to acclimate 100,000 Spring Chinook a year. This provides an improved consumptive fishery. Molalla Spring Chinook were extirpated in 2001-2010. This will provide a reintroduction effort of a self sustaining population.
- Played a pivotal role in the passage of the Columbia River Reforms in both Oregon and Washington that included an end to gillnetting below the Willamette River since 2015.
- Worked with ODF&W to increase production in Willamette hatcheries so enhanced planting in the terminal fisheries would not reduce the level of hatchery Spring Chinook planted in the upper Willamette. Currently the only river receiving a lower number of plants is the McKenzie due to a lawsuit and the ACOE’s refusal to fully plant within the current law.
- Met with the ACOE at the Leaburg Hatchery to emphasize their responsibility to bring the stocking level of Spring Chinook back up to the legal level on the McKenzie following the lawsuits by anti-hatchery groups.
- Lobbied for, and secured, $10 million in ODF&W's budget to fund deferred hatchery maintenance.
- Negotiated an agreement with ODF&W to increase the number of Spring Chinook currently being planted by 170,000 smolts by helping to secure funding for ODFW’s operation of the Leaburg hatchery. The agreement also provides expanded salmon production capacity. Anti-hatchery groups opposed the agreement.
- Secured letter of support from Oregon Congressional delegation supporting full funding of mitigation hatcheries by the ACOE.
- Supported, through member's letters and direct lobbying, ODF&W gaining “Section 120 authority” through NOAA, working within the MMPA, for problem sealion removal authority at the Oregon City Falls.
- Actively involved at the state and federal level, working with congressional leaders, the Columbia River Treaty Tribes, ODF&W, WDFW and other “fish groups” to pass legislation authorizing the removal of problem sealions in the Columbia and its tributaries. In December, 2018, S3119, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act was enacted into law allowing take of sea lions from the Columbia River (above river mile 112) and its tributaries.
As of this writing the condition of Upper Willamette chinook and steelhead runs remain in peril, mitigation hatchery production is being curtailed and most of the required actions contained in the BiOp are far from complete. The ACOE is failing to meet its obligation to Oregon and its citizens to protect our resources, provide viable consumptive downstream fisheries and repair damaged habitat. In fact, the ACOE has yet to start meaningful work to meet many of the requirements contained in the BiOp.
Adding to the challenge, a lawsuit has been filed against the ACOE by “anti hatchery groups” to halt the planting of summer steelhead in the North Santiam River. CCA Oregon is working with state and federal legislators to get that important program reinstated. If current attempts are not successful CCA Oregon will work with ODF&W and state legislators to find continuing funding for that program. CCA Oregon will also continue its work to secure permanent funding for the Leaburg Hatchery to be operated by ODF&W.
CCA Oregon remains steadfast in protecting consumptive fisheries while providing for wild fish recovery. It is imperative that the requirements contained in the BiOp be fully implemented in a timely manner. This includes constructing sorting facilities that have been shown to effectively segregate hatchery reared fish while providing wild fish access to critical habitat without competition.
Summary: CCA Oregon has had meaningful positive influence on issues impacting the Willamette Basin and remains committed to continuing its work with Oregon legislators and agencies to ensure the ACOE meets its obligations to protect ESA listed upper Willamette salmon and steelhead while providing robust recreational fisheries. CCA Oregon supports current efforts to develop passage and establishment of new “wild” fish surrogates as an effort to increase fitness and bio-diversity of naturally spawning salmon where none currently exist. CCA Oregon does not support any action that would reduce mitigation, or other hatchery augmentation, in the Willamette River system until such time as it is demonstrated that natural in-basin production can sustain robust consumptive fisheries.
CCA Oregon Position on Harvest Methods (Adopted July 8, 2008)
“CCA Oregon strongly opposes the use of non-selective harvest methods.”
Non-selective harvest is having a significant negative impact on depleted and ESA-listed stocks of salmon and steelhead. The failure of salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest makes it clear that the restoration and rebuilding of depleted and ESA-listed stocks requires harvest reform to fully realize the investments in hatcheries, habitat, and altered hydro operations.
Restoration and rebuilding of these stocks will require widespread use of commercial and recreational fishing methods capable of targeting stocks strong enough for harvest while minimizing impacts to other less viable stocks. These methods must reduce unacceptably high mortality rates and bycatch levels so that targeted stocks may be fully utilized.
In most cases this will require the live sorting of fish essential to recovery efforts from those that are not. Fish not harvested must be released unharmed and in a fashion conducive to their survival.
State and federal fishery managers and elected officials are strongly urged to accelerate the implementation of harvest reform as a critical component of salmon and steelhead recovery efforts.
CCA Oregon Position on Harvest Management (Adopted July 8, 2008)
“CCA Oregon supports harvest plans focused on conserving and protecting northwest wild salmon and steelhead stocks and opposes harvest plans that do not adequately protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.”
Harvest of Pacific Northwest fish stocks too often occurs at the expense of conservation. Managers tend to base harvest plans on pre-season forecasts that often fail to accurately predict the abundance and/or timing of anadromous fish returns. Fish run forecasting is far from an exact science and CCA Oregon believes that forecasting models, and the harvest decisions based on them, should make conservation and adequate escapement the first priorities. The fish resources of this state belong to present and future Oregonians, therefore harvest should be managed in a manner that first respects conservation and then maximizes economic, social and cultural benefits.
CCA Oregon Position on Derelict Fishing Gear (Adopted July 8, 2008)
“CCA Oregon supports efforts to locate and remove existing derelict fishing gear. We also support sanctions intended to reduce lost fishing gear and provide for timely removal should it occur.”
Derelict fishing gear is an internationally recognized problem that occurs everywhere fishing takes place. The detrimental effect of derelict fishing gear defacing and polluting marine environments has gained worldwide attention and, though increased awareness has inspired some corrective action, it has not been enough. The effect of derelict fishing gear, especially abandoned nets, is to kill untold thousands of fish, seabirds, marine mammals, crabs, and other organisms by continuously fishing long after the gear becomes lost. The use of modern, rot-resistant synthetics compounds and prolongs these ill-effects. Derelict fishing gear has also been identified as a possible source for the spread of invasive species. CCA Oregon supports programs to find and remove derelict fishing gear wherever it exists.
CCA Oregon Position on Hatchery Funding and Reform (Adopted Dec. 8, 2013)
"CCA Oregon supports the important role hatcheries have to play in providing harvest opportunities while conserving, sustaining, and rebuilding salmon and steelhead stocks. We also support efforts to improve the efficacy of hatchery programs to ensure that, consistent with native fish conservation, opportunities are not unnecessarily constrained."
Hatcheries play a key role in the conservation, recovery, and rebuilding of natural populations of salmon and steelhead while providing opportunities for sustainable harvest. Hundreds of hatchery programs operate throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest supplying a large percentage of the harvestable fish in the region.
Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) findings point to the urgent need to implement effective integrated or segregated hatchery broodstock management practices to achieve broodstock standards by including appropriate numbers of natural-origin fish in hatchery broodstock and/or limiting the number of hatchery-origin fish spawning naturally. Unfortunately, many hatcheries lack the funding needed to upgrade facilities and agencies have not implemented all these key broodstock management reforms. CCA Oregon supports science-based efforts to reform hatchery operations consistent with ongoing salmon recovery efforts and urges federal and state agencies to provide the funding and leadership needed to promptly implement these reforms.
We feel that before production levels are changed there needs to be a clear demonstration that while operating at current levels hatcheries are causing a specific conservation problem and that the problem can not be addressed by improved broodstock standards, stocking regimes, increased harvest and angling opportunities or other regulatory actions less likely to reduce opportunity. We further believe that conservation measures should be monitored and periodically reviewed for effectiveness at the population level so that consistent with native fish conservation, opportunities for fisheries are not unnecessarily constrained.
CCA Oregon Position on Catch Monitoring and Evaluation (Adopted July 8, 2008)
“CCA Oregon supports the development and implementation of systematic catch monitoring processes to determine harvest impacts on non-target species. We support mandatory independent monitoring and evaluation of commercial harvest whenever depleted and/or ESAlisted salmon and/or steelhead stocks are present.”
Large scale commercial fisheries targeting abundant species utilized for industrial purposes or direct human consumption have a history of detrimentally impacting other important stocks through bycatch. Loss of even a small number of mature members of depleted or ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks through bycatch can have a severe negative impact. In addition, massive removals of forage fishes can have a direct impact on the health of non-target populations, including depleted and ESA-listed stocks. State and federal fisheries management officials should take aggressive action to minimize bycatch impacts on depleted and ESA-listed stocks and the forage base they depend on for ocean survival.
Independent monitoring can help minimize the bycatch of depleted or ESA listed salmon and steelhead stocks and interrupt potential overharvest of target stocks. CCA Oregon supports mandatory independent monitoring and evaluation of commercial harvests. Observers should have the expertise to identify bycatch and overharvest problems at an early stage, and have the authority to impose appropriate and timely remedies.
CCA Oregon Position on Nutrient Enrichment of the Freshwater Ecosystem (Adopted July 8, 2008)
“CCA Oregon supports the deliberate distribution of hatchery salmon carcasses and /or analogs for the purpose of increasing marine nutrients in freshwater ecosystems where such increase would benefit the ecosystem. We also support natural nutrient enrichment through elevated escapement goals.”
Spawned salmon carcasses provide essential nutrients and energy-rich carbon to freshwater salmon and steelhead rearing habitat. Independent scientific research shows that the planting of hatchery salmon carcasses or simulated salmon carcasses (analogs) translates directly to high juvenile salmon growth rates and abundance as well as improved health of the entire ecosystem. Reduced wild salmon adult returns to freshwater systems have resulted in significantly less marine nutrients and energy-rich carbon compromising wild juvenile growth and abundance as well as the health of the entire ecosystem. Independent scientific reviews have also recommended steps to reduce possible negative impacts to the ecosystem and CCA Oregon supports those findings and recommendations.
CCA Oregon Position on Predation (Adopted May 18, 2008)
“CCA Oregon supports science-based efforts to decrease the impacts of predation on adult and juvenile fish populations including salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. Many predator populations have reached artificial and unnatural levels due to human actions and conflicting laws.”
CCA's Position on Marine Protected Areas/No Fishing Zones (Adopted May 18, 2008)
CCA will fight to protect access for recreational fishermen to all public fishing areas unless...
...there is a clear indication that recreational fishermen are the cause of a specific conservation problem and that less severe conservation measures, such as gear restrictions, possession limits, size restrictions, quotas, or closed seasons will not adequately address the targeted conservation problem.
...the closed-area regulation includes specific, measurable criteria to determine the conservation benefit of the closed area on the affected stocks of fish and provides a timetable for periodic review of the continued need for the closed area at least once every three years.
...the closed area is no larger than that which is supported by the best available science.
...provision is made to reopen the closed area to recreational fishing whenever the targeted conservation problem no longer exists.