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Agency Faults Lack of Data on Fish

by Joe Rojas-Burke
The Oregonian, July 15, 2005

The Northwest power panel suggests cutbacks in harvests
are warranted until more is known about the runs

Lack of information about the effects of fishing may be setting back the recovery of wild salmon populations in the Columbia Basin, an independent scientific panel concluded this week.

The panel went so far as to say the uncertainties in current management are great enough to warrant reductions in salmon catches.

"Our advice would be, if you don't have good quality information, then you have to reduce the harvest rate to avoid damaging the stock," said Brian Riddell, a panel member and senior scientist with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. At the same time, Riddell said more specific information about the effects of fishing fleets could find that the risk is lower than assumed for particular stocks and lead to more fishing opportunities.

"The concern, of course, is that by not recognizing the current uncertainty . . . you put the risk on the stock," Riddell said.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which commissioned the report, has no authority to regulate fishing. Advocates for salmon conservation expressed hope that the independent panel's findings would encourage fishery managers to more accurately account for fishing impacts on Columbia Basin salmon, including 13 stocks listed as threatened or endangered.

Fish spawned in the river and its many hatcheries supply commercial and sport fishing fleets in the ocean off Canada, Washington and Oregon. The river and its tributaries support commercial gill-netter, sport anglers and tribal fishermen.

"We don't know whether that harvest activity is impeding recovery, and I think we need to know that," said Bill Bakke, director of the Native Fish Society. Bakke said better tracking wouldn't necessarily lead to tighter catch limits -- something that already occurs whenever spawning runs fall short in a given year, such as this year's spring chinook run.

Better accounting of fishing effects, he said, would pinpoint populations most in need of urgent habitat protection, along with measures to help fish pass the large hydropower dams spanning the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Fishery managers such as Stuart Ellis with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission disputed the claim that uncertainties warrant reductions in fishing. Ellis said some stocks are struggling mainly because of lost and degraded habitat, and the lethal effects of dams.

"Harvest is the one area that attempts to quantify its impact in considerable detail," Ellis said, compared with the effects of irrigation withdrawals, degradation of habitat by logging and other development. "And harvest -- unlike these other activities -- changes when we become aware of problems. We make appropriate reductions in harvest."

Joe Rojas-Burke
Agency Faults Lack of Data on Fish
The Oregonian, July 15, 2005

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