A draft environmental impact statement for proposed harvests of Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead in the future is out for review and comment.

The draft EIS lays out six potential pathways towards meeting harvest goals. It was developed jointly by NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and is a part of new negotiations for managing and regulating fisheries in the Columbia River basin over the next ten years.

The 10-year old US v Oregon agreement, which guides Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead harvest, is set to expire at the end of 2017. The agencies have been working a year on the draft EIS that NOAA Fisheries says will give the agency the information they will need to sign a new 10-year harvest agreement.

Preparing an EIS is a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act. The document must be completed before the federal parties can sign the 2018-2027 US v Oregon agreement, according to Michael Milstein, spokesperson with NOAA Fisheries.

The draft EIS lists six alternatives for setting harvest policies, none of which at this time is a preferred alternative, according to Milstein.

Alternative 1 extends the current agreement out for another 10 years. It would use a blend of harvest policies, including abundance-based management, escapement-based management and harvest rate management, depending on the specific salmon or steelhead stock. This alternative recognizes that stocks vary in their conservation requirements, with some providing abundant opportunity for harvest and others requiring more protection from harvest encounters.

Alternative 2 uses abundance-based management. It establishes harvest levels based on the status of the fish stocks. It provides more protection when the abundance of a given stock is low and the conservation need greatest, and more harvest opportunity when abundance is high.

Alternative 3 uses a fixed harvest rate management framework that would apply a fixed harvest rate to each fishery regardless of abundance. Harvest rate is the ratio of fishery related mortality for a group of fish over its abundance in a defined period of time.

Alternative 4 uses an escapement-based management framework. Escapement refers to the number of fish surviving a given fishery at the end of the fishing season and reaching a specified location where the fish can be enumerated. In cases where the projected run size is below the escapement goal, escapement goal harvest policies are sometimes coupled with a de minimis level of harvest opportunity to meet minimal needs for tribal fisheries and limited access to other harvestable stocks.

Alternative 5 uses voluntary fishery curtailment. Under this alternative, the sovereign parties voluntarily curtail harvest activities for an extended period of time. It may include some very limited treaty fishing opportunity to meet base ceremonial needs of the tribes. The parties may adopt a voluntary extreme harvest curtailment policy when the continued viability of the stocks is at imminent risk. This alternative does not meet the purpose and need for the action insofar as it does not provide for meaningful tribal harvest as guaranteed by Treaty and it provides no opportunity for non-treaty harvest. This alternative provides the benchmark required by NEPA in that it represents the alternative with the lowest fishing harvest.

Alternative 6 is a no action alternative with uncoordinated harvest. Under this alternative, the existing agreement would expire without a new agreement. While it is uncertain what would transpire under this situation, NMFS anticipates that the state and tribal parties would implement harvest independently according to their own uncoordinated interpretations.

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