Testimony of Danny Consenstein
Columbia Basin Coordinator
National Marine Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Before the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Drinking Water, Fisheries and Wildlife
United States Senate
October 8, 1998

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on Columbia and Snake River salmon recovery. My name is Danny Consenstein, and I am the Columbia Basin Coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

I would like to discuss our efforts to protect and recover imperiled salmon and steelhead stocks throughout the Columbia Basin. The species that have been listed or proposed for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act have affected almost every watershed in the Basin. The salmon's life cycle is complex and its migration vast in changing ocean conditions. Hundreds of human activities have destroyed salmon habitat and brought salmon populations to the brink of extinction: timber harvest, farming, mining, irrigation and water development, road-building, urbanization, damming, dredging, hydropower operations, fishing, fish hatcheries -- the list is quite long.

Viable recovery strategies must tackle all aspects of the salmon life cycle and look carefully at the ecological requirements of diverse species. We believe that a basin-wide plan can be developed in the region to restore healthy salmon runs while maintaining a strong, healthy economy in the Pacific Northwest. We are committed to using the best available science and a comprehensive approach. There are no quick fixes, no silver bullets. -- I would like to briefly describe actions we are taking to restore these threatened stocks in the areas of 1) harvest management, 2) hatchery reforms, 3) habitat protection, and 4) improvements to the hydropower system. I would also like to describe ways we are trying to reduce predation in the river, in the estuary, and in the ocean.

Harvest

Commercial, recreational, and tribal treaty fisheries have been substantially restricted. In decades past, harvest rates on hatchery and wild stocks often ranged from 60 to 95 percent. For example, for Snake River stocks, the total fishing mortalities for spring/summer chinook have been limited to 510 percent for the past 15-20 years, and are not considered a significant impediment to recovery. Fall chinook harvest mortalities for both ocean and in-river fisheries have been reduced by 30 percent or more from pre-listing rates. For steelhead, recreational harvest is limited to marked hatchery fish only, and tribal fishing this year has been reduced from the 32 percent rate allowed under the Columbia River Fish Management Plan to a 10-15 percent rate on B-run (late-run) steelhead.

Hatcheries

Because of these ESA listings, we have proposed hatchery reforms that focus on the status of natural populations. Federal agencies have consistently advocated use of locally adapted broods. In the future, we may advocate more aggressive use of hatcheries in areas where the risks of extinction are highest in the near term, such as captive broodstock programs similar to that for Snake River sockeye. After a broad assessment of the sub-regions of the Basin, priorities could be set about where supplementation would be used, and not used, based on the relative likelihood of successfully restoring and sustaining naturally reproducing populations. Federal fishery agencies also recognize that hatchery practices must also support our trust responsibilities to Indian tribes and congressionally-mandated mitigation programs.

Habitat

In the tributaries, land and water management actions, including water withdrawals, unscreened water diversions, stream channelization, road construction, timber harvest, livestock grazing, mining, and outdoor recreation have degraded important salmon spawning and rearing habitats. On federal lands, the Northwest Forest Plan provides significant protection for salmon habitat on the west side of the Cascades. East of the Cascades, the federal agencies have been working with local communities through the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project planning process to protect federal lands. To protect non-federal lands, NMFS has promoted a variety of activities. We completed a major Habitat Conservation Plan with the Washington Department of Natural Resources protecting over a million acres of state-owned land in Washington State. We are coordinating with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to ensure their guidance to farmers includes measures to protect salmon habitat. We are coordinating with the Farm Service Agency to ensure that Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program dollars benefit salmon and improve water quality.

Hydropower System

To improve conditions in the mainstem Columbia and Snake Rivers, the NMFS 1995 Biological Opinion on the operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System calls for an interim policy of "spread the risk." Inriver migration conditions are being improved using techniques such as increased spills over the projects, increased flows, physical improvements to the dams, and aggressive surface bypass development and testing. The system for transporting migrating juveniles is also being improved to reduce mortalities. These interim improvements have had the result of raising survival rates of juvenile spring/summer chinook salmon through the hydra system to Bonneville Dam in the 1990's to a level that is roughly double the low-point in the 1970's. Improvements to inriver migration and transportation are being actively monitored and evaluated to provide empirical data to inform the recommendations that will be made in 1999 about the federal hydropower system. Additional research is also being conducted on the relationship of water flows through the system to the survival of juvenile salmon.

Predation

The 1995 Draft Proposed Recovery Plan for Snake River Salmon called for actions to control predation in the migration corridor by northern pikeminnow (squawfish) and other native fish in the reservoirs, marine mammals, and birds. I would like to describe our ongoing efforts in the areas of predation by fish and marine mammals, and our recent actions to address predation.

Avian

Recent studies indicate that rapidly increasing populations of colonial nesting water birds living in the Columbia River Estuary may be having impacts on listed salmon and steelhead. We expect continuing research will be conducted to evaluate the extent and effect of that predation. NMFS believes that a short- term strategy for reducing avian predation should be developed immediately and completed for the 1999 out-migration season.

Large nesting colonies of Caspian terns and double-crested cormorants, along with thousands of nesting gulls, have become established on manmade islands in the Columbia River estuary. The islands resulted from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging of the navigation channel. Bird numbers have increased from a few hundred nesting pairs of cormorants in 1984, to 7,000 pairs of cormorants, 8,000 pairs of ferns and 10,000 pairs of large gulls in 1997. Estimates for 1998 indicate continuing increases in numbers of pisciverous birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the principal agency charged under federal treaties with the conservation and protection of migratory birds. The Corps of Engineers has constructed the islands, pile dikes and channel markers where the birds nest and launch their fishing forays. The Oregon Division of State Lands controls the tidelands and the islands built of dredge material. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have responsibilities for both the fish and the birds in the boundary area of the estuary. NMFS has the ESA responsibility and the sustainable fishery responsibility for anadromous fish in the Columbia River. Oregon State University and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission are conducting the research. Federal and state agencies have formed a Caspian Tern Work Group to investigate this issue and help identify needed research and responsible options to address potential impacts.

In the reservoirs, the northern pikeminnow management program is designed to test the hypothesis that predation by northern pikeminnow on juvenile salmon can be reduced by 50 percent by imposing a 10-20 percent exploitation rate on pikeminnow over 11 inches in length. The Management Program was initiated in 1990 in John Day Reservoir, expanded in 1991 to include the mainstem of the Columbia from the mouth to Priest Rapids Dam and the Snake River from the mouth to Hells Canyon Dam. Various fisheries have been implemented to accomplish the 10-20 percent exploitation rate including sport-reward, trap-net, longline, set- net, and dam-angling

fisheries. The sport reward fishery has been the most successful. Management of fisheries in the Columbia and Snake Rivers has been shown to be effective at removing large northern pikeminnow with over 1.4 million removed ( 11.3 percent exploitation rate) since 1 990. Losses of juvenile salmonids to predation by northern pikeminnow are estimated to have decreased to 61 percent of pre-program levels as a direct result of program implementation. However, the proportion of total pisciverous predation on salmonids attributable to the pikeminnow is not known and will vary by river reach, species, and stock.

Marine Mammals

The principal marine mammal species affecting salmon on the west coast are the increasing populations of Pacific harbor seals and California sea lions (collectively called "pinnipeds"). NMFS has monitored these populations and documented a dramatic increase over the past 20 years (5-7 percent annual increase) concurrent with increased interactions with fisheries and conflicts with other resources. NMFS has conducted a number of studies on pinniped interactions, but, where specific conflicts have been identified, management actions are limited because pinnipeds are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Some of the current efforts underway to assess and address pinniped problems in the Columbia River and upcoming recommendations to Congress on potential changes to the MMPA to address pinniped problems are described below.

NMFS is currently collecting data on the extent of harbor seal predation on salmon in the lower Columbia River as part of a NMFS cooperative coastwide program with the States to determine impacts of the increasing pinniped populations on ESA listed salmon and west coast ecosystems. Results of the first year of this program will be available in April 1999.

At the Willamette Falls, NMFS is conducting a cooperative program with ODFW to address the annual occurrence of a few California sea lions below the falls preying on spring chinook and steelhead. Sea lion predation has been monitored over the past three years and several efforts have occurred to reduce predation including placement of barriers in one fishway entrance (that passes fish but not sea lions) to keep sea lions out of the fish ladder, and use of rubber bullets and firecrackers to deter sea lions from the fishway areas. A floating trap was placed near the fishway this past spring in an attempt to capture the sea lions, but none were caught this year.

NMFS is assisting ODFW in a program to mark and track California sea lions in the Columbia River in order to determine their foraging habits and movements in the river, and to identify the specific animals that are causing problems at the Willamette Falls and other interaction sites. Over 100 sea lions have been captured on a trap in Astoria and branded over the past two years.

Pursuant to the 1994 amendments to the MMPA, NMFS has developed recommendations to Congress on addressing the problems with increasing pinniped populations. Last year,

NMFS put out a draft report for public comment on recommendations which include lethal removal of pinnipeds in specific situations where the pinnipeds are affecting ESA listed salmon. Over 3,000 comments were received on the draft, many of which were from groups opposed to any takings of pinnipeds regardless of the impacts pinnipeds may be having on listed salmonids. The final report will be submitted to Congress in 1999 (probably in January) when Congress begins considering reauthorization of the MMPA.

Ocean and Estuarine Research

NMFS's Northwest Fisheries Science Center is conducting research to provide more information on what happens to salmon during the ocean/estuary phase of their life cycle. In looking at the ecology of the ocean and the estuary, the studies will focus on how interactions with other species affect the growth, distribution and health of individual salmon in the oceans.

It is important to remember that when we see predation problems, we see an ecosystem that is out of balance. If an ecosystem has been dramatically altered by human activities, we need to seek opportunities to protect and restore the natural processes that keep predator and prey species in proper balance.

NMFS is committed to using the best available science to develop a multi-species, basin-wide recovery plan for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin. We look forward to working together with the states, tribes, and other stakeholders in the region to complete this plan by the end of next year. Thank you again for the opportunity to present the views of the National Marine Fisheries Service. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have about my testimony.