A Fish Out Of Water: Northwest Salmon Be Damned

The Corps and the BPA want to eliminate or reduce summer spill on these dams, leaving salmon vulnerable and compromising not only the already endangered fish in the Snake River, but the non-ESA protected salmon and steelhead in the mid-Columbia River

03-11-2004 // NWF Media Team

Anglers, Native American tribes, the Endangered Species Act, conservationists and state fish and wildlife agencies in Washington and Oregon all agree-fish need to remain in water to survive. Someone should tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).

Juvenile salmon need to remember that very important first swim from their birthplace to a location downstream so they may return later to spawn. Someone should tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration. 

Snake River salmon and steelhead are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Someone should tell…

As long as the four Corps-owned dams, which generate power for the federally owned and operated BPA, remain on the lower Snake River, the safest way to transport juvenile salmon and steelhead is through spill, which is the process of "spilling" water over the dams during the spring and summer months, aiding the migration of juvenile fish downstream.

Alternatives to spill include forcing juveniles to make it through the turbines on each dam (a treacherous endeavor at best) or manually barging the young fish, a process that leaves them susceptible to disease, confuses migratory instincts and has a high mortality rate-oh, and it costs a fortune in tax dollars.

The Corps and the BPA want to eliminate or reduce summer spill on these dams, leaving salmon vulnerable and compromising not only the already endangered fish in the Snake River, but the non-ESA protected salmon and steelhead in the mid-Columbia River. And the Bush administration is ready to grant them permission to do this, in what John Kober of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) calls, "a direct violation of the Endangered Species Act, the Northwest Power Act and national treaties."

"The administration continues to push the system at the expense of fish. How much more can they take? As anglers, we must be concerned about the impacts to both listed and non-listed fish from eliminating or reducing summer spill," said Paula Del Giudice, a 24-year member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) and Center Director for NWF's Northwestern Natural Resource Center in Seattle.

This "test" as the administration is calling it, of the effects of reduced spill is unnecessary. The effects of cutting spill were tested in the spring and summer of 2001 when young fish migrating to the ocean suffered the lowest in-river survival since salmon were first listed under the ESA.

"If summer spill is eliminated in 2004, the devastating effects of thousands and thousands of destroyed salmon and steelhead on anglers, businesses and probably the entire Northwest economy will be felt for several years. The alternatives are unacceptable. I use to work on those barges and they are a death sentence for salmon and steelhead populations. But hey, the important thing is that BPA saves a few bucks," said Washington Wildlife Federation President Mark Heckert.

The federal salmon plan is currently being rewritten by the Bush administration. In May of 2003 Judge James Redden of the federal district court in Portland, Oregon ruled that the federal plan was in violation of the ESA. NWF led a coalition of groups in the suit that challenged the legality of this plan.

The Bush administration currently has until May of this year to submit a new plan to the court but is expected to decide on whether to reduce or eliminate spill in April, prior to the court's deadline.

This reduction of summer spill is just one example of the BPA's relentless desire to increase power production at the expense of fish and the anglers who depend on them. By far, the most viable solution is for the Bush administration to consider removing the four lower Snake River dams as the federal salmon plan is rewritten. Please visit the NWF website at www.nwf.org for more information or contact NWF's John Kober at 206-285-8707 (x.108) or kober@nwf.org.

If there is something you would like us to cover in a future Outdoor Alert, or if you have comments or suggestions, please contact us at kjones@nwf.org or (703) 438-6099

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