Oversight Hearing on Science and Engineering Issues in Salmon Recovery
Thursday, October 8, 1998, 9:30 a.m.

Good morning. I have called today's oversight hearing to bring us up to date on some developing issues in the complex, but vitally important matter of restoring the runs of Pacific salmon and steelhead to the Columbia/Snake River system.

The recovery of the salmon is intertwined with contrary goals, political and personal philosophies, and the economic realities of 21st century America. We have pursued the recovery of these fish with the wealth of a nation and we have, so far, little or nothing to show for it.

The debate over salmon has centered around the use of water resources to provide an alternative to the operation of the Federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The recovery of the salmon in the Columbia/Snake River system will never occur if the debate continues to focus solely on the dams. Recovery of the salmon must take into account all phases of the salmon's life cycle. We will not solve a five thousand mile problem with a one hundred mile solution. A new management philosophy must be utilized. A sharper focus on a number of factors is called for.

Recovery of the salmon will never be achieved by looking at just one problem or just one solution. The salmon will be restored to sustainable levels only by addressing each portion of their habitat during each phase of their life cycle. If that were not enough of a challenge, any plan to recover the salmon must be adaptive and flexible enough to respond to changing conditions. We will not save the salmon with a silver bullet. We will not save salmon by ignoring the legitimate interests of the States, tribes, communities, families and the businesses that depend on the resources of the Snake and Columbia rivers. Each sector will have to make concessions and each State will have to do its part.

It has become common to see a chart depicting a precipitous decline of salmon and steelhead since the last four dams were built on the Snake River. From a larger perspective however, the observed declines began many years before then.

[Chart of fish runs before Bonneville was built]

Yes, we built dams. And, we continued the extravagant harvest of this fish both in the river and the sea. We introduced new predators. We made conditions easier for native predators. And we flooded the river with masses of cookie-cutter hatchery fish.

I believe that while we debate at great length and in excruciating detail the future uses of four run-of-river dams in the lower Snake River, we are nearly ignoring several essential truths about salmon recovery. It is clear to me that we must look at ocean conditions. We must reverse the decline in genetic diversity of the salmon and steelhead runs. And we must get harvest and predation under control. Without these changes in our management of the river, there is no hope that other changes will have much effect.

In today's first panel we have asked three scientists and engineers to share with us some of their work on these essential issues. Our first witness, Dr. Roby began an overview study of avian predation on the Columbia/Snake River system several years ago. In the course of that study, he discovered that one particular species, the Caspian Tern, was having an inordinate effect on the outmigrant salmon smolts due to its preferred method of fishing and the location of its nesting colony. We are hoping to explore with today's witnesses the possibility of non-lethal means to control this excessive predation.

Our second witness is Dr. Cloud, a fish geneticist, who has been studying the genetic effects of hatchery fish on the wild runs of salmon and steelhead. In addition, Dr. Cloud has made a proposal for a gene bank for native Northwest fish that will give some insurance that we can preserve some of the declining genetic diversity for future use.

The third witness is Richard Fisher who works for the Voith Hydro Power generation company. In his work at Voith, Mr. Fisher oversees the development of new technologies, including the Advanced Hydropower Program authorized through the Water Resources Development Act.

In the second panel we will hear how our Agencies have been responding to these issues. I hope that as a result of this hearing we can look forward to new ways to incorporate information coming from our scientists and engineers.

We will hear from Colonel Eric Mogren of the Corps of Engineers how the agency has been responding to the avian predator issue, and the advanced hydropower technology opportunity.

Rolland Schmitten, representing the National Marine Fisheries Service will discuss the avian predator issue, the hatchery and harvest issues, and will have comments on advanced hydropower.

I want to note at this time that the Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was invited has not been able to attend this hearing. I understand that she has recently assumed the Directorship, and that there are many urgent matters that require her attention. I have been assured that the Service wants to play a constructive role in crafting the final decision of the Interagency Task Force on the Caspian Tern and recognizes the critical importance of this issue. The Service has asked David Wesley to be here today to answer our questions.