WSC Newsletter Spring, 2011
In this issue
- Land for Salmon
- EPA to Study Impacts on Bristol Bay Salmon
- Taimen Extinction Risk Highlighted in New Study
- Japanese Tour U.S. Fisheries
- Kamchatka's First Salmon Council
- ALSO: Mapping California's Strongholds; the Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act; Visual MSC Launches; and Events and Updates.
Thousands of acres purchased on Washington's Clearwater and Oregon's Kilchis rivers will benefit key populations of wild salmon and steelhead
Olympic Peninsula, Washington--Two new tracts of land have been set aside for the protection of salmon and wildlife in thanks to a partnership between WSC and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Although WSC is not in the business of purchasing land, we have acted in an advisory role on a number of key land acquisitions. Two years ago, TNC consulted with us regarding an opportunity to conserve a vital piece of lowland habitat for wild salmon along the Clearwater River, a tributary of the Queets. WSC provided important data to build arguments for increased protections of Chinook and other wild salmon populations in the region. We are happy to share that in February TNC announced the purchase of a corridor about 11 miles long and a mile wide along the Clearwater River with the expressed goal of bringing salmon back to their historical levels.
The Clearwater is nationally recognized as a salmon stronghold by the North American Salmon Stronghold Partnership and Quinault Indian Nation. However, its spring/summer Chinook salmon population is in serious decline and reestablishing the temperate rainforest ecosystem is critical to bringing back healthy populations.
"We support and applaud The Nature Conservancy's visionary efforts toward ecological restoration of this area, which will partner with our own efforts to restore the declining salmon populations for our future generations," said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation.
"We can help secure a healthy future for people and wildlife by managing this stretch of forest for salmon habitat." - Karen Anderson, The Nature Conservancy
WSC was also able to play a key role in the acquisition of property along the lower Kilchis River in Oregon. After receiving a generous gift from the Mintkeski family, we partnered with TNC to make the purchase of 68 acres. The Kilchis is one of five major tributaries of the Tillamook Bay and supports significant wild population of Chinook, coho, and chum salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. This scenic river is particularly valuable as a stronghold for chum salmon, representing the southern extent of the species' distribution in North America, and is vital to ESA threatened Coastal coho populations.
Historically, the two regions have been managed for timber and dairy. New protections and management will help bring balance and restore the rivers and forests to their former magnificence.
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will conduct a scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska to determine how potential large-scale development projects, such as the proposed Pebble Mine, would affect water quality and salmon populations in the region.
The EPA is conducting its assessment in response to a petition by southwest Alaska tribes and commercial fishing organizations who are requesting that the agency exercise its veto authority under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to prevent "an unacceptable risk of irreparable harm to water, fishery and wildlife resources." Additionally, the agency's decision comes in response to a letter from over 360 hunting and angling groups and businesses to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, urging her to use EPA's Clean Water Act authority to "withdraw waters and wetlands in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed from future specification as disposal sites for dredge and fill activity associated with mining operations."
Early concepts of the proposed Pebble Mine indicate that the project will be massive, extracting over 10 billion tons of ore and creating what would be the world's largest impoundment of mine waste. Since the Bristol Bay watershed produces tens of millions of salmon annually and supports the most abundant and diverse sockeye salmon run in the world, yielding an average of 29 million adult fish per year, the mine would likely have a severe detrimental impact on wild salmon populations and on the economic, cultural, and health benefits that salmon provide to the region.
"Gathering data and getting public input now, before development occurs, just makes sense. Doing this we can be assured that our future decisions are grounded in the best science . . ." – Dennis McLerran, EPA regional administrator
WSC is partnering with Trout Unlimited to produce a scientific report on the potential impacts of large scale mining in Bristol Bay--one of the Earth's most extraordinary wild salmon strongholds. We commend the EPA for taking this preventative approach to determine the full impact of mining development in Bristol Bay and will lend support to this effort by sharing our scientific report with EPA upon its completion in the coming months.
Determining the fate of one of the Pacific's most enigmatic species
An important component of WSC's research efforts were highlighted in a recent scientific paper. It describes the environmental factors that have shaped the historical global distribution of Sakhalin taimen and identifies key watershed characteristics that are associated with stable populations.
Taimen, possibly the oldest known surviving species of the salmonid family, face an uncertain future. In its native habitat on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Russia's Sakhalin and Kuril Islands, and the far eastern mainland, over 90% of Sakhalin taimen's historic abundance has been lost due to overfishing and rampant land use development. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the taimen as a critically endangered species.
Because taimen reach maturity later and live longer than other salmonids, they are more sensitive to changes in their environment and serve as an important indicator of the health of our rivers and oceans. Due to their small population size and the complexity of their life cycle, taimen have been poorly studied and major gaps in our understanding handicap our efforts to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
Over the last eight years, WSC, guided by the IUCN Salmonid Specialist Group, has worked with our partners in Japan and Russia to fill this gap in our understanding of this unique and enigmatic species. Our research efforts have been focused in three separate areas:
1) understanding extinction risk and describing ecological and genetic differences among a group of key river populations; 2) describing migration and life history patterns; 3) carrying out river expeditions to identify key habitats (particularly spawning habitat) and developing methods to estimate adult population abundance to provide a baseline for our work.
The study concludes that the species is range-restricted due to preference for intermediate levels of precipitation, a requirement for cold temperatures, and minimally developed agricultural land use. In addition, the authors identify the crucial role that intact, low gradient river floodplains play in conserving this species. In particular, large lagoons appear to serve as critical habitat for taimen in the winter.
Through community involvement, education, and science-based strategies to identify and protect taimen strongholds, we have an important opportunity to protect a critically endangered, flagship species. Together we can make a lasting contribution to the health of the Western Pacific's remarkable wild salmon ecosystems. Armed with emerging knowledge from our field and laboratory research efforts, WSC is leading efforts to conserve critical habitat for taimen. We are also working on educational initiatives, strengthening local watershed councils, and encouraging sustainable fishing practices to further advance taimen conservation. Our efforts are focused on northeast Sakhalin, which may support the largest river populations of the species.
The 'river wolf' of Sakhalin
Sakhalin taimen (Parahucho perryi) can live up to 20 years and reach 2 meters in length and over 50 kilograms in mass. The largest salmonid in the world, taimen are dependent on freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats and occupy a unique ecological niche. With their huge bodies, large mouth, and tough-looking features, taimen have earned the nickname 'river wolf' and the symbols for fish and devil are used to make its Chinese character. Its diet can include mammals, ducklings, and large fish--even adult salmon.
The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Forest Bureau of the Taiwan Council of Agriculture, National Geographic Conservation Trust, and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund have supported taimen conservation efforts of the Wild Salmon Center.
Last January, the first public salmon council was created on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula in the Ust-Bolsheretsky district by official decree of the district mayor. This district covers much of southwestern Kamchatka, including the large Bolshaya, Opala, and Ozernaya watersheds with their thriving sockeye runs and booming fishery.
Public salmon councils provide a coordinated, cross-cutting mechanism to implement projects and build public-private partnerships in specific salmon watersheds. Six public salmon councils are currently operating on Russia's Sakhalin Island, leading efforts on anti-poaching, stream restoration and monitoring, public education, and involving local communities in integrated watershed management. In March 2010, representatives from Kamchatka attended a watershed council training seminar on Sakhalin, organized by WSC. Soon thereafter the first steps were taken to create Kamchatka's first council through a partnership between WSC, World Wildlife Fund, and Pacific Environment.
Objectives of the council include local stakeholder involvement in promoting sustainable fishing and the conservation of salmon biodiversity on Kamchatka. The council plans to involve the regional branch of the Federal Fishery Agency, commercial fisheries, enforcement agencies, local people, indigenous groups, and educators. There is strong commitment from the community and local administration with the deputy mayor of the district as chairman of the Council and a local indigenous community leader as secretary of the Council.
The council held its first meeting and seminar in February on fishing tourism and developed recommendations to promote sport fishing and combat poaching in the region. Initiatives include the creation of a Federal Fisheries Protected Zone (FFPZ) on the Bolshaya River, strengthening laws so local residents have fishing rights along with indigenous people, amending fishing regulations to restrict fishing with nets, and increasing poaching penalties. April's meeting will focus on fishery development with the primary goal of ensuring traditional livelihoods of the local community.
In December, during the final week of the last Congressional session, WSC was successful in getting the Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act included in a natural resources omnibus bill ("America's Great Outdoors Act"), a package of over 100 conservation bills introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Despite broad bipartisan support behind many bills in the package, a blanket hold was placed on all bills with new funding authorizations and programs, effectively preventing passage of the legislation.
The Salmon Stronghold Act would create a new U.S. policy to focus federal resources on locally-supported, prevention-based strategies to conserve strong wild salmon populations and healthy watersheds before they decline. The legislation would address threats that transcend watershed boundaries, such as climate change and the proliferation of non-native species, and provide funding for proactive salmon conservation efforts at the watershed level.
Wild Salmon Center remains committed to advancing the Salmon Stronghold Act and is working with lead sponsors of the legislation toward reintroduction in the 112th Congress.
Stronghold status is first step towards increased salmon protection
In California, WSC and our partners California Trout and Trout Unlimited completed a two year project to map California's wild salmon strongholds and identify the greatest threats to their long-term health. The assessment scored over 500 distinct wild salmon populations according to three criteria: population abundance/productivity, life history diversity, and percent natural origin (a measure of hatchery influence). The team used this information to identify one stronghold within each of the state's six eco-regions. This eco-regional approach ensures that strongholds reflect not only areas of great abundance but also core centers of genetic diversity. This diversity is essential to buffer against climate change and other long-range threats.
The California stronghold analysis was presented to the North American Salmon Stronghold Partnership, which formally recognized the state's stronghold map. Following a similar review by the California Fish and Game Commission in February, WSC reconvened our partners to initiate the development of the California Salmon Stronghold Portfolio. The Stronghold Portfolio will identify the highest priority strategies necessary to secure the health of California's strongholds and describe approaches to better integrate the protection of strong salmon populations within existing institutions and programs.
In February, Hokkaido chum fishery representatives came to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest for a study tour hosted by WSC to learn more about the principles and methods of wild salmon management in North America. Included were representatives of the Hokkaido Federation of Fishermen's Cooperatives, an umbrella group for over 20,000 salmon fishermen and a likely client for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) full assessment. The group met with representatives of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Hatchery Scientific Review Group.
In 2008, the Hokkaido chum fishery, a large and commercially significant salmon fishery in Northern Japan (over 200,000 metric tons), completed a MSC preliminary assessment. With technical support from WSC and partners, the fishery has spent the last three years implementing a number of fishery improvement projects to be in compliance with MSC standards. This includes the completion of the first ever quantitative stock assessment of Japanese wild chum salmon.
The current management system in Japan focuses primarily on managing hatchery salmon resources. Our Japanese colleagues are in the process of developing a wild salmon policy and management system that would represent a fundamental shift in the way Hokkaido chum are managed. This year, the Kitami region chum fishery (a 60,000 metric ton fishery in Northeast Japan) is planning to enter full assessment phase of the MSC certification process.
While WSC applauds the efforts of our Japanese colleagues to develop a management and conservation system for the remaining wild salmon stocks in Japan, we believe that third party certification should only be awarded to fisheries that meet the highest standards of wild salmon sustainability. There is still much work to be completed in Japan before that standard can been achieved.
Visual MSC was first developed in 2007 to visualize the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) assessment results for wild salmon fisheries in Alaska and increase stakeholder engagement in the certification process.
The new and improved tool now includes the results of a number of new salmon assessments, from Russia to British Columbia. Please take a few minutes to view the state-of-the-art Visual MSC tool and learn more about the sustainability of wild salmon fisheries across the Pacific Rim.
- March 23-26, 2011: WSC staff present at the Annual Salmonid Restoration Conference, San Luis Obispo, California.
- April 14, 2011 (7pm): Wild Salmon Rising Event.Wild Salmon Center and Save Our Wild Salmon present screenings of "Eastern Rises" and "The Greatest Migration"
--stories about two of the greatest salmon rivers on earth. In Eastern Rises (Felt Soul Media), fishing is poetry and Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula is the Holy Grail for fly fishermen who go on an adventure of a lifetime. In The Greatest Migration (EP Films), follow endangered Snake River salmon as they tackle an incredible journey from Alaska to Idaho's wild and rugged Sawtooth Mountains--swimming farther and climbing higher than any salmon on Earth.
Join us at Boothster's at 521 NE Davis in Portland, Oregon, for an evening of films, local brews, wild smoked salmon and gear giveaways! Doors open at 7 pm, films start at 7:30 pm.
- November 15-17: Save the Date! State of the Salmon hosts the workshop "Climate & Salmon: Managing Responses of Salmon to Climate Change" in Portland, Oregon. This international, participatory workshop will examine whether decisions about management of salmon and their habitats can be practically informed by the newest scientific insights on expected responses of wild Pacific salmon to climate and environmental change. A steering committee of leaders in the management, sustainable harvest, and research sectors will guide the agenda and sessions to ensure diversity of perspectives and creative engagement of participants
Registration begins in late spring 2011.