Government says Salmon Runs on the Riseby Associated Press
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, October 2, 2003
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River Basin have grown substantially since 2000, greatly diminishing the risk of extinction, the federal government concluded in its latest report on the status of threatened and endangered stocks.
Of the dozen salmon and steelhead runs, the report said that all except Snake River sockeye are in less jeopardy of extinction than they were three years ago, when the government implemented its most recent plan for rebuilding runs and limiting harm caused by dams.
The federal government filed the report in its first quarterly check-in with a federal judge, who in May rejected the government's salmon-recovery blueprint.
U.S. District Judge James Redden said the government's attempt to use habitat restoration and other steps to compensate for the harm caused by dams fell short of the standards required by the Endangered Species Act.
The judge gave the government one year to reshape the plan.
The status report said the improved prospects for threatened fish do not mean recovery. Rather, the National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies characterized the gains as a reprieve from the collapse of salmon numbers in the mid-1990s.
The report said many factors account for salmon gains, including a natural shift in ocean conditions in about 1998 that has dramatically increased survival of salmon and steelhead at sea. The report also said operators of hydropower dams have improved fish passage, restoration work has expanded freshwater spawning and rearing habitat, and hatcheries and fishing are causing less harm than in previous years.
Witt Anderson, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' fish management office, said in a written statement: "We know that favorable ocean conditions have substantially boosted these adult returns. But we also believe that the money and effort the region has invested in salmon recovery have appreciably contributed to these numbers."
Each year since 2000, salmon and steelhead adult returns have substantially exceeded the 10-year average during the 1990s at Bonneville Dam, Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River and Priest Rapids Dam in the mid-Columbia basin. This year's spring chinook run of nearly 200,000 fish more than tripled the 10-year average.
The numbers, however, remain a fraction of what they once were. Based on cannery records and other evidence, researchers have estimated that 10 million to 16 million salmon once crowded the Columbia each year. Without hatcheries, that now release tens of millions of artificially produced salmon, the number of returning adults would drop by more than 80 percent for some stocks.
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