Sportsfishing Interests Face Ten More Years in the Wilderness

News from the Front #92:

By James Buchal, author The Great Salmon Hoax [here]

The Feds have been centralizing all natural resource decisionmaking and putting it under wraps ever since Nixon sent Judge Boldt out here. So the action in salmon decisionmaking, at least for Columbia River harvest issues, is in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. Public observers learned at a December 12, 2007 status conference before Judge Redden that the Federal government and the Northwest States and Tribes had privately advised the Court of a new ten-year secret harvest deal back in September. The deal will become final when and if NOAA Fisheries issues a biological opinion approving the deal in the next couple of months.

Judge Redden is overseeing the new biological opinion on dam operations, not harvest, but at the December 12th status conference, the attorney representing the State of Washington explained that the two opinions were “intertwined”. More specifically, he told Judge Redden: “. . . we need to get that [dam biological opinion] done in order to prop up what needs to be done in United States v. Oregon in the associated harvest [biological opinion]”.

What did he mean by “prop up”? Most people think Judge Redden’s opinions are about offsetting harm from dam operations, but when NOAA Fisheries models only the effects of dam operations on salmon populations, it can’t find that they threaten to wipe out salmon. So NOAA Fisheries is going to hide future harvest rate increases in the biological opinion on dam operations, even though it knows this is not how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work. The Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries even admitted in testimony before the Northwest Power & Conservation Council in November that “if you scrupulously used the rules for writing a biological opinion [on dam operations], you wouldn’t include future biological opinions [on salmon harvest that are yet to be written]”.

For all practical purposes, the process of tweaking dam operations was finished years ago, and now the whole game is to raise electric rates to fund program spending for Northwest States and Tribes that can serve as alleged “mitigation” for overfishing listed stocks. NOAA Fisheries is supposed to assess whether harvest increases themselves jeopardize salmon in harvest biological opinions, but it hasn’t really done so for years. Back in 2001, an outside, blue-ribbon panel even told NOAA Fisheries that the harvest biological opinions it was issuing “demean scientific common sense”.

The problem for sportsmen is that they get nothing out of all this crookedness. The dam-funded habitat programs that NOAA Fisheries bribes the States and Tribes with don’t really do much for fish, and deflect attention from what is going on in United States v. Oregon. Details of the new deal have been leaking out piece by piece. First, the Nez Perce Tribe suddenly declared that they are entitled to half of the Snake River hatchery steelhead, a move that Idaho sportsfishing interests described as “devastating”. Next, details were released to the “Columbia River Salmon Fisheries Visioning Process” (which ostensibly includes numerous sportfishing representatives, but is heavily tilted to commercial harvest interests) and then published in the Vancouver Columbian. Non-Tribal interests are going to get fewer spring chinook unless runs exceed 271,000 fish. The fall chinook harvest deal appears to be a sliding scale rising from 20% Tribal and 1.5% non-Tribal shares of the smallest runs to 30% Tribal and 15% non-Tribal at run sizes likely never to be achieved.

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