Thursday, November 28, 2013

Triple Thanksgiving Update: Salmon run prediction wrong again, Bureau of Reclamation doles out KBRA funding, KlamBlog hiatus

This year all those who harvest Klamath River Chinook salmon ought to be particularly thankful. That's because all fisheries – commercial and sport, in-river and ocean, tribal and non-tribal – had plenty of opportunity to catch all the salmon they desire. While final catch numbers are not in, it appears that most fishers did not reach the quota allocated for their industry, tribe or sport.

Yurok subsistence fishers at the "Mouth"

The model used to predict Fall Chinook Salmon run size is supposed to get better over time as more years of spawning data are incorporated. Judging from the 2013 pre-season prediction, however, that model still has a long way to go before it will yield accurate estimates of how many Klamath River Fall Chinook are available for commercial, tribal and sport harvest in the Pacific Ocean and Klamath River.

While final totals won't be available until February, preliminary Fall Chinook counts for the Trinity, Klamath, Salmon, Scott and Shasta Rivers indicates that the actual 2013 in-river Fall Chinook Salmon run may be as little as 50% of the pre-season prediction issued by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC). That prediction was for a record breaking 273,000 Fall Chinook to enter the river system.

The PFMC's run-size forecast is used to set harvest quotas for ocean commercial, ocean sport, tribal commercial, tribal subsistence and in-river sport fisheries. Harvest quotas in turn are supposed to guarantee that a sufficient number of Klamath Chinook get to spawn in their natal streams. According to the PFMC, 41,000 Chinook must spawn naturally within the Klamath-Trinity River Basin in order to assure maximum production of adult salmon three and four years in the future.

The apparently wide discrepancy between the predicted and actual run size has even fishing advocates like journalist EB Duggan wondering whether the Klamath-Trinity Basin will "be able to make the needed escapement sustain the run or are we going to be short?”

If you are confused by all the numbers, estimates, counts and quotas you are not alone. Salmon allocation processes and politics remain a mystery even for many who have a stake in proper salmon management. KlamBlog believes that the best guide to understanding Klamath salmon fisheries management and allocation remains “Understanding Allocation” by legendary Klamath fisheries biologist Ronnie Pierce. 

Ronnie Pierce's report, however, does not explain the very human factors which influence harvest levels and allocation of Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook Salmon. Prominent among those human factors is the dominance on the PFMC - and on other regional ocean fishing councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act - of industrial, tribal, government and sport fishing interests and organizations which have an economic, cultural and bureaucratic stake in maximizing the number of fish available for harvest by humans. Under these circumstances, regional fisheries councils have a tendency to be overly optimistic and to allocate more fish for harvest than ought to be allocated. The result can be missed targets for spawner escapement and depressed or even threatened fish stocks down the line.

The tendency to over-allocate and therefore to over-harvest ocean fish stocks is not, however, only a problem in US ocean waters; the phenomenon is world-wide. For those who want to better understand the dynamics of overfishing and the resulting world-wide decline and loss of ocean fisheries, KlamBlog recommends the web page dedicated to the topic

The Klamath Wildcard

One factor which may account for poor PFMC Klamath Fall Chinook run-size predictions is in-river water conditions during springtime and how those conditions impact the number of juvenile salmon which make it to the ocean in a given year.

Emerging from spawning gravels in the spring, most Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon begin their long journey to the sea immediately upon emerging. All those baby salmon must negotiate the Klamath River in order to reach the ocean where they will feed and grow for 3 to 5 years before returning to fresh water to spawn. Due to extremely bad water quality in the mainstem Klamath River, however, a number of those young salmon succumb to fish diseases; dying before they can reach the ocean.

Klamath River fish disease investigations have documented that most Klamath River juvenile salmon are disease infected by the time they reach the lower river. How many young salmon die before reaching the ocean, however, depends on how bad Klamath water quality is during spring; that, in turn, is a function of flow.

When spring flows are low, most juvenile Klamath salmoinids are infected with 
fish diseases; Trinity River juvenile salmonids had a low infection rate in 2001

In years when there is abundant snowpack and/or late and persistent spring storms, spring flows in the Klamath and its tributaries are higher and the chronically poor water quality in the Klamath, Scott and Shasta Rivers is ameliorated. During these “good years” many more juvenile salmon make it to the ocean and, therefore, more salmon return to the Klamath-Trinity River Basin three and four years later.

In essence, Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon production is a gamble, dependent on notoriously fickle snow pack, spring storms and resulting stream flow conditions. It is likely that the variability of spring flows – and the resulting variability in water quality conditions year-to-year - explains why Chinook Salmon runs in the Klamath-Trinity River Basin are extremely variable as well as unpredictable. Run-size estimates displayed below demonstrate the huge variability in the Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook run over time.

Years when few adult spawners return to Klamath streams correlate with low 
flow, poor water quality and high juvenile disease three and four years earlier 

In search of certainty

Just as agricultural producers seeks “certainty” in the water supply available to them, fishers and the fishing industry would like greater certainty (that is, less variation) in how many Fall Chinook Salmon they will be able to catch each year. Greater certainty will not come, however, in relation to snowpack and spring storms. In fact, if climate change predictions for the Klamath River Basin prove accurate, snow pack will be generally lower but even more variable than at present. Spring storms will also remain unpredictable.

There is, therefore, only one way to provide greater salmon run size predictability – and therefore greater stability - for those dependent on Klamath-Trinity Basin Chinook Salmon. If water quality improves, the rate at which juvenile salmon descending the Shasta, Scott and Klamath Rivers will become disease infected and die will go down no matter the level of the snowpack or how many storms come in spring.

Taking down PacifiCorp's Klamath River dams will help improve Klamath River water quality somewhat. But the main source of the Klamath River's poor waster quality is agriculture in the Upper Basin and in the Shasta and Scott River Basins. Unfortunately, prospects for cleaning-up agricultural pollution in those areas are not good.

We have had agricultural pollution clean-up plans in place in the Shasta, Scott and Upper Basin for over six years; but water quality has not improved significantly in those areas. KlamBlog believes the main reason we have not seen significant improvement in water quality in spite of many millions of taxpayer dollars invested in agricultural operations for "conservation" and "restoration" is the reticence of water quality officials in Oregon and California to require riparian protection and to effectively regulate polluted agricultural wastewater discharges. 

State bureaucrats will write plenty of clean-up plans which the EPA will review and approve; but until those bureaucrats summon the will to effectively regulate agricultural operations, water quality will not improve.

Unpacking the reasons efforts to regulate agricultural pollution in the Klamath River Basin have been so spectacularly ineffective is a complex topic and must await a future post. Stay tuned!

BOR doles out KBRA funding

It's official: the United States Bureau of Reclamation has declared that the KBRA and KHSA were “entered into by the Department of Interior on February 18, 2010.” The announcement came in an obscure document dated November 15, 2013. Solicitation Number R14SS98002 announces that Reclamation “intends to negotiate a Firm Fixed Price, Single Source Purchase Order, with Klamath Water and Power Agency (KWAPA), 735 Commercial Street, Klamath Falls, OR 97601-6243.” According to the solicitation document “the proposed contract action is for Reclamation's participation and obligations under two existing agreements with bearing on the acquisition of Federal power,” i.e. the KHSA and KBRA.

Reclamation's declaration may come as a surprise to those who believe propaganda issuing from KBRA/KHSA promoters. For almost three years, these promoters have been telling us that the feds could not commit to the Klamath Dam and Water Deals unless and until Congress endorses and funds them. KlamBlog has long insisted that the KBRA and KHSA are not only being implemented by the feds but that the deals are themselves creations of the Interior Department which reflect federal priorities rather than the will of those whom are called "stakeholders".

We now have it from the horses mouth (so to speak).

What is certain in these two deals is federal priorities - including taking care of Reclamation's own irrigators whom KlamBlog has dubbed the Irrigation Elite because of the many benefits - and the distinct competitive advantage – bestowed upon them by Reclamation with funding from US taxpayers. 

What remains uncertain in the KBRA and KHSA is benefits to tribes and the environment. Those benefits are sometimes wholly rhetorical and where they are real they depend on special funding authorized by Congress and not on Reclamation's regular funding which is apparently reserved via sole source contracts for the Irrigation Elite.

In KlamBlog's view that proves the wisdom of the admonishment: If you want to know what is really going on with American Government, just follow the money.

KlamBlog hiatus

KlamBlog is going on vacation for a couple of months; look for new posts coming your way in February. Until then, have a peaceful and thankful holiday season and remember to trust but verify!