The Upper Columbia steelhead "evolutionarily significant unit" is proposed for downlisting from endangered to threatened, and the Lower Columbia River coho salmon should be given protection under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries announced May 28.
Otherwise, the Columbia Basin's species list would remain the same, according NOAA Fisheries. The agency made the announcement regarding the status of 12 listed Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead species and one candidate species. Included in the review were 14 other West Coast stocks that spawn in Oregon and California streams that pour into the Pacific Ocean and into Puget Sound.
The listing determinations follow an intensive 2 1/2-year review of the fishes' status that included judgments of the naturally produced stocks' relationship with their hatchery produced brethren.
The stock that triggered the broad assessment of listed West Coast salmon and steelhead - the Oregon Coast coho - would remain on the list at least for now, according to NOAA's proposed listing determinations. That could change later this year.
NOAA today noted a "remarkable rebound" in the Oregon Coast coho's status. The federal agency will await a joint state/federal scientific review of the problems that caused a previous decline and the extent to which those problems have been addressed through the Oregon Plan and other conservation efforts.
If those efforts substantially mitigate the coho "evolutionarily significant unit's" extinction risk, NOAA Fisheries officials say they will re-open the listing determination to consider the best and most recent scientific and commercial data available.
The host of status reviews and proposed "re-listing" determinations will now be available for public review and comment for 90 days. A final determination is due in a year. Such reviews are normally undertaken every five years or so, but the motivation for the West Coast reviews was an September 2001 order by Oregon U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan.
The judge declared that the 1998 Oregon Coast coho listing decision made improper distinctions when it included both hatchery spawned and naturally spawned coho salmon in the Oregon coast coho ESU, then listed only the naturally spawned fish under the ESA. Hogan remanded the case to NOAA so that it could reconsider the listing consistent with the issues raised in the judgment and based on the "best available scientific information available."
NOAA in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working concurrently on a new hatchery policy to apply in listing decisions that addresses the concerns expressed in Hogan's 2001 order. That policy does not, the agency stresses, throw open the door to allow all hatchery fish to be included with wild fish in evaluation of population trends that determine if a stock is imperiled.
"This hatchery policy will re-enforce NOAA's commitment to protect naturally spawning salmon and their ecosystems," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., under secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
A NOAA press release announcing release of the status reviews and hatchery policy say the latter's "central focus is unchanged from prior policy: the conservation of naturally spawning salmon and the ecosystems upon which they depend." The policy would consider hatchery fish that are closely related to naturally spawning salmon in all of the current ESA-listed salmon groups.
During a press conference today NOAA's Northwest regional administrator, Bob Lohn, described a bad news/good news scenario. The bad news is that none of the stocks had recovered sufficiently to deserve delisting.
While much progress has been made, still lacking are "strong assurances that the (fishes') future will be secure," Lohn said. He said that the region must build on successes it has had a restoring fish habitat, improving hydrosystem survival, improving hatchery management and other measures to guarantee that future.
"Although this status report does not propose major changes in the current classification of listed stocks, many of these stocks are in much better connection than when they were listed," Lohn said. "Favorable ocean conditions have helped, but local recovery efforts are also making vital contributions.
The good news is that "of the 27 ESUs, we have good data on 18 and 16 of them have shown very substantial upturns. It does show that restoration is paying off and there is hope for recovering salmon runs," Lohn said.
In the Columbia Basin, two stocks - the Snake River sockeye salmon and the Upper Columbia spring-run chinook - would remain in more restrictive endangered classification under the proposed determinations. Endangered stocks are believed to be in danger of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future throughout or in part of their range. The threatened classification means that a stock is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable unless restoration actions are taken.
The sockeye was listed in 1991, the first Columbia Basin salmonid stock to garner ESA protection. It is now warded off from extinction entirely by a captive broodstock program that is attempting to rekindle sustained natural spawning. The Upper Columbia spring chinook stock remains among the most imperiled.
The Upper Columbia steelhead ESU is proposed for downlisting to threatened. NOAA's report notes that an assessment of the effects of hatcheries on the Upper Columbia steelhead ESU's extinction risk "concluded that hatchery programs collectively mitigate the immediacy of extinction risk in total in the short term, but the contribution in the foreseeable future is uncertain."
The other listed Columbia stocks would retain their current threatened status - the Lower Columbia River, Upper Willamette River, Snake River fall-run and Snake River spring/summer-run chinook, the Columbia River chum salmon, and the Upper Willamette River, Lower and Middle Columbia River and Snake River steelhead ESUs.
The Lower Columbia River coho ESU would move from candidate status to being listed as threatened.
Information provided by NOAA highlights two Columbia Basin species with potential for delisting - Snake River fall chinook and Middle Columbia River steelhead.
NOAA's report notes that "actions under the 2000 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion and improvements in hatchery practices have provided some encouraging signs in addressing the ESU's factors for decline" for Snake River fall chinook. NOAA acknowledges the contributions of stocks from Lyons Ferry hatchery in increasing fall chinook returns in recent years.
The status report also recognizes dramatic increases in middle Columbia River steelhead abundance that is buoyed by positive short-term productivity in all production areas.
The report says that the Middle Columbia ESU is an "exceptional opportunity to secure specific conservation measures that would help ensure the ESU's viability over the long term and likely to bring the ESU to the point where ESA protections are no longer necessary."
NOAA said that "in the event that certain actions are undertaken to address limiting factors prior to the final listing determination, NOAA Fisheries will re-open the listing determination for this ESU."
One other West Coast stock was downlisted from endangered to threatened - the Sacramento River winter-run ESU. The protections for the Central California Coast coho ESU would be enhanced if it is moved from the threatened to the endangered list as is proposed.
Other West Coast stocks would remain classified as threatened under the proposed determination - the Ozette Lake sockeye in Washington, the Central Valley spring run, California Coastal and Puget Sound chinook salmon, the Central California coast, the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast and the Oregon Coast coho, the Hood Canal summer -run chum and the Southern California, South-Central California Coast, Central California Coast, California Central Valley and Northern California steelhead.
Both the proposed listing determinations and the draft hatchery policy will be published in the Federal Register early in June and will be open for public comment for 90 days. Public meetings or "workshops" will be scheduled to allow interested parties the opportunity to present their views on the NOAA products. The proposed listings would become final determinations a year from now. The hatchery policy will on a faster track and will be published as a "final rule" shortly after its comment period closes, according to NOAA.
For all the documents related to the proposed listings and proposed hatchery policy go to (http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/AlseaResponse/20040528/index.html)