U.S. Representative Helen Chenoweth
Oversight Hearing on Columbia/Snake River Salmon Recovery
Subcommittee on Drinking Water, Fisheries and Wildlife
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
October 8, 1998

I want to thank my colleague from Idaho, Chairman Dirk Kempthorne, for the invitation to speak on this very important issue. In the great Northwest fish debate, the stakes are high, especially in Idaho.

As the debate continues to rage -- and I believe that a good, honest, public debate is healthy -- I am troubled by what appears to be a lost sense of purpose and priorities by our federal and state agencies, as well as the tribes. It appears that some people are more concerned about style, rather than substance; about agendas, rather than science; and about pre-determined outcomes, rather than considering all factors.

The Implementation Team (IT), the body of representatives of agencies charged with implementing the 1995 Biological Opinion, established the Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypothesis, known as PATH, which is made up of two dozen scientists.

Just two weeks ago, a mere four scientists issued a preliminary, un-peer reviewed report to PATH that comes to absolutely NO conclusions about fish. No recommendations are made. No scientific weight is given. Not enough information was considered. Yet, someone -- presumably the agencies -- leaked and spun it to the press. What was written about the report in the press, and the facts contained in the report, are worlds apart. No where in the report does it conclude that the dams are responsible for the decline in salmon and steelhead runs -- NOWHERE. You wouldn't know that by reading the press. I compliment the extreme environmental community's "spin-machine." They've made something out of nothing.

Additionally, I have a few concerns about how PATH has operated. If the IT and PATH are to maintain any credibility whatsoever in the fish debate, then it is imperative that PATH utilize and consider all -- I mean ALL -- available scientific information. Yet, it is my understanding that the PATH facilitator has limited the amount and type of scientific information allowed to be used by PATH working groups.

I've read that the four scientists who issued the PATH report were limited in their consideration of scientific facts. For instance, the computer models relied upon considered only spring chinook; Snake River fall chinook were left out. I also understand that they were not allowed to consider other alternatives, such as changing hatchery practices, or prohibiting commercial harvest, as well as the consideration of predators, spawning bed enhancements and others. If this is true, it is unacceptable. When making a scientific determination, ALL options must be considered; especially when the report is being touted as proving breaching the dams is the only solution.

Mr. Chairman, it is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that the integrity of the scientists, the scientific evaluation and process be unblemished. When I hear that PATH scientists are unable to consider all relevant data, models and factors, I am troubled. PATH's credibility is at risk. All information must be considered.

Mr. Chairman, there are a few other issues that I'd like to quickly address. As you know, water is the very life-blood of Idaho. It fuels our agricultural based economy. Yet, it is likely that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will call for even more Idaho water for flow augmentation in its 1999 Bi-OP.

Study after un-challenged study indicates that flow augmentation does not have any impact on fish return rates. NMFS' own PIT-Tag research shows that there is no correlation between flow augmentation and salmon survival. The State of Idaho's Department of Water Resources says that flow augmentation does not reduce smolt travel time down the river, nor cool the temperature of the water. Drs. Jim Anderson and Darrel Olson's models show no correlation between augmentation and survivability.

So why does NMFS continue down this proven road to failure? Why won't NMFS look at other factors?

It has recently come to light that Rice Island, formed from the Columbia River dredging operations -- and I know Mr. Chairman that you've done a lot of work on this -- has literally 20 million PIT-Tags on it -- 10 million from last year alone. Now I'm not a fish biologist, but I have visited Rice Island and toured the BPA hydro system. What I do know is that the PIT-Tags didn't swim onto Rice Island. The smolt are indeed making it past McNary Dam and into the estuary. But they are eaten by the millions by the Caspian Tern. Why isn't this being addressed?

In 1994, Congress directed NMFS to report to Congress the impacts of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals on salmonids. In other words, NMFS is required by law to tell Congress just exactly how many endangered fish are being eaten by protected sea lions and seals. Yet, Congress has never received this report. Again, I am not a marine biologist, but I've seen first hand how the seals and sea lions literally line up to eat their fill of protected, expensive fish. Since Congress has not received this report, I again question whether the science is being shaped to reach a pre-determined outcome. If so, it's unacceptable.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, what about the impacts of commercial and sport harvest? To my knowledge, salmon are the only endangered species that you can hunt. When the taxpayers are asked to spend a billion dollars to save the fish, and when the regions economy is crippled, this is ludicrous.

Recently, NMFS approved yet another commercial salmon harvest on the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. Tribal gill nets capture thousands of chinook and steelhead only to sell them at one to two dollars per pound to commercial fish buyers. Threatened and endangered chinook and steelhead headed for Idaho are caught along with the Hanford Reach fall chinook. Historically, this fishery has taken 40 percent of the total fall chinook run with large incidental catches of steelhead.

I want to be clear, I do not take issue with tribal cultural and ceremonial salmon harvest seasons that generally occur in the spring, however, this fall chinook gill net harvest is solely commercial. A commercial harvest of endangered fish? This is ludicrous.

I received a letter from Washington State Senator Bob Morton, who is also the Vice President Pro Tempore. He and a colleague, Washington State Rep. Cathy McMorris, flew over the Columbia River to count gill nets. Between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam, Senator Morton counted 395 gill nets. Without objection, I ask that his letter be included in the record. Mr. Chairman, this is beyond ludicrous. It is insane.

Until these issues are addressed, it is my position that NMFS has no credibility in this issue.

Chairman Kempthorne, I want to thank you for allowing me this time. I look forward to working with you as Governor next year.