Cowlitz Management- whaddafug? - Spey Pages
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-02-2008, 11:36 AM Thread Starter
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Exclamation Cowlitz Management- whaddafug?

has anybody got the inside scoop on the coming changes in hatchery production and wild steelhead management on the Cowlitz? I just got my copy of Northwest Fly Fishing, read the article, and am understandably concerned. It's supposedly the first river (but not the last) where these management changes will be implemented.
In fifteen years of fishing that river that I've NEVER seen an adipose fin on a steelhead, caught by me or anyone else. How can WDFW decide, without publicly disclosing facts, how they're going to salvage a race of steelhead that are seemingly extinct?
I'm all for restoration of wild populations, and if there's bait and motor bans, C&R only, or anything else I'm behind it. But giving Tacoma Power relief from their contractual responsibilities for mitigation, without any clear indication that there's even a genetically distinct population of wild fish left to restore...well, would it be crass to say THAT SMELLS FISHY? The old switcheroo?
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-02-2008, 12:38 PM
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Simple answer is that it is cheaper for Tacoma PUD (I think that is who it is) and the WDFW to not plant Hatchery fish. Stupid if you ask me but that is the simple answer. I believe this was all set in motion a number of years ago and there were public meetings on this. Friends of the Cowlitz fought this hard and think they pretty much go screwed. There are some rivers like the Cow that need to be managed for harvest and that means hatchery fish.

Just my humble opinion.

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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-02-2008, 01:14 PM Thread Starter
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thanks for the response JJ
same occurs to me too- there are other rivers in this area where Wild fish actually DO still return, where this management strategy of natural repropagation might fly. The Green, Puyallup, maybe even the Nisqually if a few have managed to escape the nets there. Lots of rivers in WA actually.
'course the nets would have to come out, the logging would have to rollback 1/2 mile from the streambed, etc etc.

as always, it's the $$$.
I've heard it mentioned a lot recently, and read in print, that the hidden motive of many of these management "strategies" is to simply eradicate steelhead, and therefore render all conservation arguments moot. Brrrr.
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-02-2008, 01:28 PM
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That appeared to be the objective of B.C.'s government until[maybe/hopefully] a buzzsaw of locally organized resistance rose up and struck back.That should energize us all.We should realize that maybe we "do have some power" if we raise enough hell.
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-12-2008, 07:11 PM
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I'm not sure where to begin. The Lewis Co. PUD decided in the 1980s to build Cowlitz Falls Dam, with the assistance of BPA for financial help. Friends of the Cowlitz was first on the scene with a proposal that the dam include fish passage and the restoration of anadromous fish to the upper Cowlitz River. FOC won an out of court settlement with BPA for fish passage at Cowlitz Falls Dam. BPA pledged to provide fish passage at CFD.

However there are two other dams, Mossyrock and Mayfield, owned by Tacoma Power downstream of Cowlitz Falls. Tacoma had to relicense those dams with FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) because the old license expired in 2000. An extensive relicensing proceeding occurred from 1995 to 2000 and involved Tacoma of course, and FOC, CPR-Fish (an offshoot of FOC), WDFW, WDOE, USFWS, NMFS, TU, American Rivers, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and possibly others that I don't recall.

All the parties involved favored restoring anadromous fish to the upper Cowlitz basin. Opinions regarding how to go about this varied among the agencies and groups. Some wanted a combination of hatchery and natural production, to maximize total fish production, and others wanted natural fish production, or something in between.

Since there had been no effective passage for about 30 years, the native wild stocks were extirpated. Restoration would be through the introduction of hatchery fish into the upper river. The hatcheries contain the genotype of the native fish, as native Cowlitz fish were used to create the hatchery runs. Complicating this some more, Cowlitz chinook, chum, and steelhead were caught up in the ESA listing of lower Columbia River fish in 1998. The ESA listing imposed rules that hadn't been counted on at the outset of this action.

Reintroduction began in 1995 by stocking, variously, chinook, coho, and steelhead fry, smolts, and adults into the upper basin. These unmarked fish have returned to barrier dam, been identified by their lack of mark, and returned to spawn naturally in the upper watershed. And they are now producing bonafide "wild" or at least naturally produced smolts. There are fair numbers of wild coho, lower numbers of steelhead, and quite small numbers of wild chinook. However, there are wild salmon and steelhead in the Cowlitz, even if you haven't seen or caught any.

The runs have not increased as rapidly as we estimated in large part because necessary improvements in juvenile fish passage have not been made by BPA/Lewis Co. and Tacoma. Tacoma in particular is balking at its license responsibility. The agencies and Tacoma are trying to work this out, but my impression is that the agencies are going to have to bring out the hammer cuz Tacoma is trying to avoid spending big money, which is needed to get effective juvenile fish passage.

As for public disclosure, all this appeared numerous times in every Lewis Co. newspaper plus the Tacoma Tribune. Plenty of effort was made to get the word out, however, Tacoma did not go door to door to every Lewis Co. household to notify everyone, and the law doesn't require them to do that.

Other relevant information on this subject that comes up in fishing forums regards fish production. Anglers seem to feel they are entitled to the fishing they previously enjoyed on the Cowlitz. They may as well get over that. When Tacoma got its original FERC license for the Cowlitz project - after 3 trips to the US Supreme Court (Tacoma won all 3) - Tacoma was willing to do most anything for fish. When fish passage didn't work out as planned in those days, Tacoma promised to replace the entire salmon and steelhead runs of the Cowlitz with hatchery fish. They even signed a mitigation agreement with WDFW assuring XXX number of salmon back to barrier dam every year. Unfortunately, WDFW abused the agreement by scheduling gillnetting in the lower Columbia River so that fewer than the agreed upon numbers reached barrier dam. So hatchery production was ramped up and up . . . and Tacoma caught on. No way would they sign anything like the old agreement for the new license. Tacoma agreed to replace the fish that existed at the time its project was built, but not more than that.

Some of the implications: summer steelhead were not present pre-dam. Tacoma has zero summer steelhead mitigation responsibility. The early winter steelhead are Chambers Creek hatchery stock. Only the late winter fish, alledged by WDFW to be the genetic descendents of the original native stock, are allowed in the restoration program upstream of the dams. So you're seeing a redistribution in hatchery steelhead production. Tacoma originally agreed to spring chinook numbers that were the highest on pre-dam record; in the new license they agreed to the average number, as is generally required in a FERC license.

The upshot is that the numbers of hatchery fish returning to the Cowlitz should be decreasing. The number of wild fish is increasing, and will increase a lot more when Tacoma makes the fish passage investments required in its license. There will continue to be as many salmon and steelhead (hatchery and wild combined) as there were pre-dam. How many other rivers have as many fish as they had in 1960? So keep that in mind as you criticize the changes going on.


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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-12-2008, 11:43 PM
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Thanks Salmo for providing a comprehensive overview of the situation. Wish Northwest Fly Fishing would take the care to go through the facts before raising issues just to stir the pot.
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-13-2008, 08:36 PM Thread Starter
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thanks everyone for your thoughts and responses, I've been out of office and even worse, didn't get to swang a rawd last week.
my original issues were:
a)seeking an inside scoop from someone in the know, on the factual basis for the management decision, eg genetic variation among populations within the Columbia River Tribs. So far, the "genotypes" sound like phenotypes with locale added. Are Cowlitz winter fish genetically unique and is there baseline data to support the assumption that they are unpolluted original stock?
b) if there is a unique strain of genetically pure fish left, has anybody seen them? Green Butt says he's caught one in the lower end but it didn't seem to sit right with him. Has any data been published on the returns of unmarked fish, even if no one can prove they are of Cowlitz origin? If there are few to none, the point is consistent with my onstream observations. Is there any scientific data that shows this run of fish exists? If not, the management decision was made on the basis of hope and politics rather than facts.
c) It's not hyperbole to frame the issue the way I did:
"... giving Tacoma Power relief from their contractual responsibilities for mitigation, without any clear indication that there's even a genetically distinct population of wild fish left to restore...well, would it be crass to say THAT SMELLS FISHY? The old switcheroo?"
Well, maybe it was crass to say. I'm sorry. In my defense, there's a strong historical precedent that leads one to feel cynical. I don't know if anyone gets it that I dual posted this into the "Destinations" forum with tongue in cheek. Before too long the Cowlitz could cease to be much of one. And there's nothing wrong with minding that.

One comment specifically for salmo_g, and this is with all due respect:
I don't want to settle for 1960's returns, I want to see 1860's returns. You can choose to allow expectation drift to occur, constantly settling for less if you like. Stating that 1960's returns were something to wish for is disappointing to hear, especially from someone as obviously knowledgeable as yourself...and attempting to chastise me with it was also disappointing.
I'm jumping string to the politics forum, you guys have fun.
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