Saturday, June 1, 2013

Taking on salmon hatcheries - EPIC files a lawsuit, threatens more

The overwhelming majority of fisheries scientists across the US and around the world concluded over a decade ago that fish hatcheries pose significant threats to native fish species. Getting federal and state hatcheries to change operations in order to minimize those impacts, however, has proven difficult to impossible.

That may be changing in Northern California. Armed with a new comprehensive review of fish hatcheries in California,  the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) recently initiated actions intended to change how three Northcoast hatcheries - the Trinity, Mad and Smith River Fish Hatcheries - operate. The hatcheries are either run directly by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or CDFW funds their operation.

A lawsuit challenging operation of the Mad River Hatchery was filed by EPIC on May 17th. Letters of intent to sue over operation of the Trinity and Smith River Hatcheries were also sent to CDFW and other responsible officials. And EPIC may not stop there. The organization recently told KlamBlog that it is closely examining other salmon and steelhead hatcheries, including Iron Gate Hatchery on the Klamath River.

Processing salmon eggs at Iron Gate Hatchery
Selecting adult salmon for egg taking harms genetic diversity 

In each of the three hatcheries EPIC has challenged, the claim is that those responsible failed to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning how the hatchery impacts wild salmon and steelhead populations listed as threatened or endangered pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA requires that a notice letter stating the intent to sue be sent to defendants at least 60 days prior to filing a lawsuit.

In its notice letters, EPIC invites hatchery operators to meet and consult with the environmental group; voluntarily complying with ESA provisions is, therefore, an option. EPIC is represented in this matter by Peter Frost of the Western Environmental Law Clinic (WELC). 

Iron Gate

Built to mitigate for the loss of salmon habitat and production as a result of construction of PacifiCorp's Iron Gate Dam, Iron Gate Fish Hatchery is operated by California Department of Fish and Wildlife and is among those evaluated in the statewide hatchery review.  The review found that, when it comes to applying best science practices, Iron Gate is flunking.

Reviewing scientists found, for example, that Iron Gate's Coho rearing program is in compliance with 16 recommended best practices but fails to comply with 24 other best science practices. Compliance with 5 recommended practices could not be determined from available information.

That certainly means Iron Gate Hatchery is having a significant detrimental impact on wild salmon and steelhead - including Klamath River Coho which are listed as threatened pursuant to the ESA.

Iron Gate Hatchery: built to mitigate for loss of salmon habitat & production 
which occurred when the dam was constructed without a fish ladder in 1961

Unlike hatcheries on the Trinity, Mad and Smith Rivers, however, Iron Gate Hatchery has a Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP) and an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The HGMP is included within PacifiCorp's Interim Operations Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for Coho Salmon.  NMFS approved the PacifiCorp HCP and issued an ITP on March 6, 2012; the final California Hatchery Review Report was issued in June 2012.

Iron Gate Hatchery's failing grade, suggests that the hatchery's Genetic Management Plan was approved by NMFS based on political rather than scientific criteria. Approval of PacifiCorp's HCP and issuance of a take permit are anticipated in the KHSA Dam Deal. NMFS  approval - which ignores the best available science - demonstrates once again how the KHSA and KBRA undermine the integrity of the ESA in the Klamath River Basin.

KlamBlog has disclosed the corrupt manner in which the ESA is being implemented within the Klamath River Basin in several prior posts including the "Brave New World" and "Critical Sucker Habitat" posts. We've termed it "wink and nod" ESA administration. In essence, the ESA is being faithfully implemented on paper even as the laws basic mission - to protect and recover threatened and endangered species - is undermined on the ground.

The corruption of ESA administration is by no means limited to the Klamath River Basin. Federal and state wildlife agencies across the US now regularly elevate corporate and political interests above the needs of the fish and wildlife they are sworn to protect. In other words, institutionalized corruption now permeates fish and wildlife agencies nation-wide.  

The Climate Factor 
The negative impact of hatcheries on at risk salmonid and other fish species appears even more significant in light of climate change impacts which - as KlamBlog pointed out in the earlier "Wild Card" post and more recently in the "Water Woes" post  - appear to already be negatively affecting snowpack, water availability and streamflow in the Klamath River Basin. 
new study by the Peter Moyle - the dean of california fisheries scientists - and others assesses vulnerability of California's native fishes to climate change and concludes:                                                                      "82% of native species were classified as highly vulnerable, compared with only 19% for aliens. Predicted climate change effects on freshwater environments will dramatically change the fish fauna of California. Most native fishes will suffer population declines and become more restricted in their distributions; some will likely be driven to extinction. Fishes requiring cold water are particularly likely to go extinct. in contrast, most alien fishes will thrive, with some species increasing abundance and range."
Among the 20 native fish species which the study found most vulnerable to climate change, Klamath Mountains Summer Steelhead tops the list as most vulnerable state-wide. Upper Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook and Southern Oregon Northern California Coast Coho also ranked among the 20 native California fish species most vulnerable to climate change. 
Below are listed the top 20 native California fish found most likely to become extinct in California within 100 years as the result of climate change. Those species followed by an asterisks are already listed as threatened or endangered:
  1. Klamath Mountains Province summer steelhead
  2. McCloud River redband trout
  3. Unarmored threespine stickleback*
  4. Shay Creek stickleback
  5. Delta smelt*
  6. Long Valley speckled dace
  7. Central Valley late fall Chinook salmon
  8. Kern River rainbow trout
  9. Shoshone pupfish
  10. Razorback sucker*
  11. Upper Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook salmon
  12. Southern steelhead*
  13. Clear Lake hitch
  14. Owens speckled dace
  15. Northern California coast summer steelhead
  16. Amargosa Canyon speckled dace
  17. Central coast coho salmon*
  18. Southern Oregon Northern California coast coho salmon*
  19. Modoc sucker*
  20. Pink salmon 

Where are the Klamath's "Salmon Defenders"?

Based on the overwhelming scientific judgment that hatcheries damage native fisheries, one would think the self-proclaimed defenders of Klamath Salmon would have challenged approval of Iron Gate Hatchery's HGMP and issuance of an incidental take permit. But no such challenges were made. Why do leaders of the Yurok Tribe and the Karuk Tribe- who claim that for their people "salmon is everything" - not challenge hatchery operations which fail to implement best-science practices? KlamBlog invites the leaders of these tribes to respond on this blog.

Yuroks harvesting Chinook Salmon at the Klamath's mouth
For some Yuroks Salmon IS everything...but not for tribal bureaucrats

KlamBlog believes reticence to challenge or even criticize those whose actions damage Klamath Salmon is yet another consequence of Klamath deal making. Since signing the KHSA and KBRA, the Yurok and Karuk Tribe have become dependent on PacifiCorp and Bureau of Reclamation funding to keep their fisheries departments and restoration programs running. Furthermore, by signing the KHSA Dam Deal and KBRA Water Deal, these tribes obligated themselves to support PacifiCorp and federal irrigation interests in their quest to obtain ESA take permits.

Students of government bureaucracy will not be surprised that the concern for salmon has taken a back seat to fulfilling deal commitments and, especially, to keeping the tribal government - and the jobs it produces - funded. As with any government, the welfare of tribal bureaucracies tends to eclipse other priorities. Apparently the phrase "for us salmon is everything" has become more rhetoric than reality - if not for tribal people then definitely for tribal government bureaucracies.

Another self proclaimed defender of Klamath Salmon - the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisheries Associations (PCFFA) - claims to follow where good science leads. Yet, PCFFA has always supported hatcheries. For example, in a 2010 letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service, PCFFA called for the federal government to respect "the nation’s obligation, through the operation of public hatcheries, to fully mitigate for wild fish losses." 

There is no indication that the judgment of science on hatcheries - including the hatchery-damning California Hatchery Review - has prompted any lessening in PCFFA's support for maximizing salmon hatchery releases.

Climate change will magnify the negative impact of fish hatcheries on wild fish. But  while PCFFA has a position on climate change, that also has not prompted the organization to alter its promotion of maximizing hatchery salmon releases. We invite PCFFA to present its position on wild salmon and salmon hatcheries on KlamBlog. 


In the Brave New KHSA-KBRA World, it appears that the priorities of those who formerly lead efforts to protect and restore wild Klamath Salmon have radically realigned. The top priority now is fulfilling negotiated "obligations to support" PacifiCorp and well-healed federal irrigation interests. Those tribes which have signed the deals are now careful not to criticize much less challenge the entities providing key funding to maintain tribal bureaucracies -  PacifiCorp and the US Bureau of Reclamation.

While "salmon is everything" rhetoric has not changed, for some Klamath Salmon Defenders the welfare of Klamath Salmon and support for best-science management now take a back seat to political deals and funding.

How sad is that?


Anonymous said...

Hey Felice,

The permit for PacifiCorps' HCP does not include the Iron Gate HGMP, so that hatchery is still not permitted yet.

Anonymous said...

Hatcheries are a cash cow for environmental lawyers right now Period. Mad river should never have been put in that lawsuit. They only pump out 150k smolts which is an incredibly small number considering they could do much more. at 150k, the impact is next to nothing.. however the fishery produces millions in revenue to humboldt county for some of the best steelhead fishing in the pacific northwest. MRH now is struggling to get brood stock because of new policies. Thanks EPIC