Wednesday, March 24, 2010



This study is an evaluation of the failure to incorporate science into fishery management on the Columbia River for salmonids over the last 80 years. It is the road not taken and the consequences of not taking a science-based program for fish has lead to ESA protection, extinction, and reduced fisheries at the expense of billions to the public that funds this work.

The authors present a lucid and distressing account of what has taken place in the name of fish management, presenting a time-line of events that comprise a series of decision points that could have meant salmon and steelhead recovery rather than degradation. If salmonid sustainable decisions had been made it is likely that there would be fewer fish listed for protection under the ESA because they would be healthy and productive. But that was not the road taken. Fish management is deaf to science, turning away from a factual and rational fish management program that is based more on agendas, politics, and funding than it is on healthy wild salmonids in productive watersheds. The outcome for these decisions is what we now have a future that is likely to cause the extinction of salmonids, hatchery and wild, in the Pacific Northwest. As fish managers try to compensate for bad decisions they are delivering a likely outcome that is expensive biologically and a waste of public funds. The public is paying for it with billions of dollars and lost opportunity. This study is important to read because it sets out a history of our collective failure to be effective stewards of our salmon and steelhead. Knowing how we failed paves the way for correcting this 150 year dedication to it.

Abstract.—The Pacific Northwest states of Oregon, Washington, California, and Ida-ho are engaged in a massive effort to restore depleted populations of Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. The region’s largest watershed, the Columbia Basin, is the focus of what has been called the world’s largest attempt at ecosystem restoration. After 26 years of implementation, the failure of the program to achieve its modest recov-ery goal was the result, in part, of a failure to incorporate the latest science into the program. The fundamental assumptions and principles that guide the selection of recovery tasks and their implementation were not based on the latest scientific under-standing of the salmon production system. Three impediments to the incorporation of science into management and recovery programs are identified: an inadequate conceptual foundation, fragmented institutional structures, and political interference. Each impediment is illustrated and discussed using case histories from the Columbia River.

The Timeline: (taken from the text)

1893: R.D. Hume, recognized differences in salmon populations from different streams and incorporated those observations into management recommendations.

1933: Anticipating the work of Hume and later the research of Willis Rich on salmon management, some fish culturists recognized the implications of the stock concept of management that was not desirable, so the Oregon Fish Commission constructed salmon management units to facilitate harvest regulations and these artificial constructs were sometimes referred to as stocks. The importance of biological stocks received little attention for the next several decades.

1939: However, it was not until 1939 that Willis Rich, after reviewing the results of salmon tagging experiments, describes the importance of the stock concept for Pacific salmon to describe the biological organization of salmonids.

1970s: Interest in biological stocks surfaced again and in the 1980s and 1990s management agencies began inventorying biological salmon stocks.

1995: Fifty-seven years after Rich identified stocks as the basic unit of management, researchers reported that one of the factors contributing to the decline of the lower Columbia River stocks of coho salmon was the continued stocking of universal donor coho stocks in the lower river tributaries, essentially ignoring the stock concept.

2010: Today, 71 years after Rich’s paper, the harvest of salmon in the Columbia River is not based on escapement targets for biological stocks, but on mixed stock aggregates defined as fish passing convenient counting sites such as mainstem dams. This approach does not take into account the different productivities of the individual stocks or the variation in habitat quality of the different tributaries. This is not limited to the Columbia River. Fisheries science has recognized the importance of the biological stock as the basis of sustainable management; however, that realization has not yet been incorporated into all appropriate management activities in Columbia River Basin.

The Power Planning and Conservation Council:

1980: The U.S. Congress enacted the Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act. One purpose of the act was to create parity between fish and power production from dams. To implement this act, Congress created the Northwest Power and Conservation Council made up of two representatives from the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana and directed them to develop a fish and wildlife restoration program funded by the Bonneville Power Administration using power revenues. (It should be noted here that the National Marine Fisheries Service had already initiated a review of upper Columbia River and Snake River salmon and steelhead for protection under the Endangered Species Act, but this effort was dropped in the belief that the Power Council and the authority given it by Congress would provide the funds and measures to save the salmon. Bakke)

1982: “The first fish and wildlife program was adopted by the Council characterized as the largest ecosystem restoration program in the world. The Council estimated the pre-development salmonid abundance in the Columbia River was 10-16 million. This abundance has declined to an average of 2.5 million fish, most of which are of hatchery origin. A goal was set to “double the run” a common goal at the time, but have failed to do so. The total run ranged from 750,000 to 3 million fish, largely the result of improved ocean environments. However, from 1982 to 2003 the Council spent 1.16 billion in direct funding of the fish recovery program. When indirect expenses such as forgone power production to improve fish passage at dams is included the total cost during this time period is 6.45 billion dollars.”

2000 – 2003: “Salmonid runs increased to 3 million, however, monitoring at the ecosystem level is inadequate to determine how much of this increase was due to the effects of the ocean environment or the fish and wildlife program.”

1982 to 2002: After twenty years the fish and wildlife program has failed to reach its goal of doubling the runs.

1999: The Independent Science Group (ISG) was asked by the Council to review the scientific foundation of the Council’s fish and wildlife program (FWP) when the run declined to 750,000 fish in 1995. The ISG reported in 1999: “After reviewing the science behind salmon restoration and the persistent trends of declining abundance of Columbia River salmon, we concluded that the FWP’s implied conceptual foundation did not reflect the latest scientific understanding of ecosystem science and salmon restoration.”

The authors of this paper ask: “How could the Council’s salmon recovery program, with its massive financial backing, fail to incorporate the latest science?”

The authors make a “distinction between fishery science and fishery management including restoration programs. Fishery science includes the body of research conducted by academic and fish and wildlife management institutions, and others. Fisheries management includes programs and policies intended to conserve and/or recover fish resources and their habitats.”

“The incorporation of the latest science into management and recovery programs is not automatic…impediments exist to the incorporation of fishery science into the Columbia Basin’s principle salmon recovery program.”

1994: The Council’s fish and wildlife program included nine measures of importance to wild salmonids:

1. Develop a Policy to protect wild spawning populations.
2. Evaluate salmon survival throughout their life history to understand the ecology and capacity of the basin.
3. Adjust hatchery releases to river carrying capacity.
4. Collect baseline data on population status and life history of wild populations.
5. Conserve genetic diversity.
6. Review procedures for conducting population vulnerability analyses.
7. Evaluate systemwide and cumulative impacts of existing and proposed artificial production projects.
8. Establish a biodiversity institute.

The authors confirm that these are the elements that are basic to an ecosystem approach to salmon recovery in the basin. However, the fish managers disagreed and did not implement any of the measures. Instead, the managers decided to submit measures related to hatchery supplementation and new hatchery construction.

The authors say, based on recommendations of scientific panels that the “Council’s attempt to incorporate an ecosystem approach to salmon recovery consistent with the latest science was thwarted by the implementation proposals submitted by salmon managers.” In conclusion the authors say, “Both the Council and the fish managers bear responsibility for the failure to implement the 1994 fish and wildlife program consistent with the latest science.”

Hatchery Production:

1878: The first salmon hatchery on the Columbia was established on the Clackamas River by the commercial packers to boost the declining salmon catch.

1903: There is evidence in the record that “some biologists recognized that they had little scientific basis for their hatchery programs.” Chamberlain (1903) said, “Until the salmon industry or the people choose to pay for several years of careful, expensive investigation, propagation must be taken on faith. Without this, even if our fish-eries should increase, we could not be sure it was from the hatchery work…”

The authors say, “The success of hatcheries was taken on faith for another 20 years when two evalu-ations of artificial propagation were under-taken. The study showed that artificial propagation was no more effective than natu-ral propagation. Following the publication of those results, hatcheries in British Columbia were closed. The statistical analysis of Co-lumbia River hatchery releases and adult harvest did not find evidence that artificial propagation influenced the supply of salmon to the fishery; however, those findings had no effect on the operation of hatcheries in the Columbia Basin (Lichatowich 1999).”

“…managers used artificial propagation to mitigate for the expected loss of salmon production. Hatcher-ies were relied on to make up for lost habitat, even though fish culturists had not yet dem-onstrated the efficacy of artificial propagation (Lichatowich 1999). Biologists still took the success of hatcheries as a matter of faith, or “idolatrous faith” as one biologist described (Cobb 1930).”

The Secretary of Interior in the 1930s responded to the construction of mainstem dams on the Columbia and assembled a board of consultants to evaluate the threat mainstem dams to salmon. The uncertainty of hatchery mitigation lead the board to recommend that hatcheries be treated as an experiment “only for so long as the results may reasonable appear to justify its continuation.”

The Power Planning and Conservation Council began a review of hatchery propagation sixty years later and that review confirmed the idea that hatcheries are experimental and should be evaluated. The authors conclude, “ Given the status of salmon in the Columbia Basin, it’s clear that artificial propagation failed to achieve its early objectives of maintaining the supply of fish to the fishery and its later objectives of mitigating for lost habitat.”

In 2003 the Independent Scientific Advisory Board for the Council “concluded that even though it was considered experimental, (hatchery) supplementation was being carried out in a way that will make comprehensive evaluation unlikely. Implementation of ‘experimental’ uses of hatcheries without actually carrying out the experiment is a persistent problem.”

As a consequence, the authors conclude, “After more than a century of use…artificial propagation not only failed to meet its goals, but it has contributed to the depleted state of the salmon.”

In 1991 when several populations of chinook and sockeye salmon were listed as protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act (initiated by the public not the fish managers who resisted) it was necessary to evaluate the effect of hatchery fish in the ecosystem and their impact on imperiled wild salmonids. The question that needed an answer according to the authors: “Are artificially propagated fish equivalent to naturally propagated fish for the purposes of listing or delisting Pacific salmon?” NOAA Fisheries answered in the affirmative in by counting wild and hatchery steelhead in the upper Columbia River tributaries so that endangered steelhead could be treated as threatened species, making their protection less of a burden. Environmental groups, including Trout Unlimited and the Native Fish Society, brought this issue to the attention of the federal court. Even though they prevailed in district court it was reversed on appeal by deferring to the expertise of the management agency.

According to the authors, both of whom have participated in Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Council science panels for many years, the Council’s fish and wildlife program lacked an adequate conceptual foundation they describe as “a set of principles, assumptions, and beliefs about how an ecosystem and its fish production system function.” They go on to conclude that the Council’s fish and wildlife program has numerous problems. They say, “Among those problems were the failure to implement any of the biodiversity measures in the 1994 version of the fish and wildlife program; the lack of stock specific escapement targets; the reluctance to deal with the impacts of artificial propagation to the ecosystem beyond the hatchery; and the reliance on an approach to salmon recovery based on halfway technology and command and control management. Halfway technology results in the natural environment and ecosystem function becoming more brittle, less resilient, and less capable of long-term sustainability (Holling and Meffe 1995).”

The Council science panels tried to correct these problems but were ignored. The Council’s fish and wildlife program continued to pour billions of public funds into fish conservation measures, following the direction of the fish managers, that were bound to fail, proving in its grossest sense that money alone will not recover salmon.

The National Research Council reviewed the salmon decline on the Pacific coast and concluded, “The current set of institutional arrangements is not appropriate to the bioregional requirements of salmon and their ecosytesms,” and that, “the current set of institutional arrangements contributes to the decline of salmon and cannot halt the decline.” (NRC 1996)

The authors also say, “For fisheries, (the current institutional structure), favors a conceptual foundation based on simplifying assumptions about production processes and an emphasis on harvest management and artificial propagation. Those activities cause little conflict with the activities and jurisdictions of other institutions. In fact, mitigation hatcheries can help further economic development that conflicts with salmon conservation.”

No factual review of this region’s failure to actually establish a credible salmon conservation management and restoration program is complete without a comment about political interference. The authors define political interference “as the attempt to present a policy decision made for political or economic reasons as the outcome of scientific analysis when the science does not support the decision.

Among many examples it is worth mentioning one of the most egregious examples accomplished by NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency with the responsibility for salmon recovery under the ESA. When they develop their draft hatchery policy and asked a science panel they appointed to review it, NOAA Fisheries rejected that science review. The science panel said the hatchery “policy did not reflect the published scientific research on the differences between hatchery and wild salmon and the implication of those differences for management and recovery programs.” NOAA Fisheries insisted that the panel’s recommendations be taken out of the report. In order to make their recommendations known, they published them in an independent scientific journal.

Further investigation points to political interference of a Bush Administration political appointee. The authors say, “when the scientists are asked to strip out their scientific findings to give cover to a salmon hatchery policy that runs counter to science, then the process has slipped into political interference.”


This important paper documents the failure of the institutions charged to protect and recover West Coast wild salmon populations. They have failed to establish ecological objectives for salmonids; a set of principles, assumptions and beliefs about how the ecosystem and its fish function; failure to base management on stock specific spawner abundance targets; failure to address the impacts of the hatchery program on the ecosystem and the fish; and perpetuation of a simple salmon management model dedicated to stocking salmonids for kill fisheries. The reason this problem persists on the West Coast is that the salmonid management institutions are not accountable for their management programs and how they spend public funds to support it. This problem has continued for 150 years and the authors of this study lay the foundation for a complete overhaul of salmonid management. However this will not take place as long as the public remains ignorant of the cost of this institutional transgression against salmon, steelhead and trout and until Congress continues to fund the old system of management. Reform of salmonid management is well beyond our grasp until the public decides to correct this problem.


Lichatowich, James, A., and Richard N. Williams. 2009. Failures to incorporate science into fishery management and recovery programs: Lessons form the Columbia River. Am. Fish. Soc. Symposium 70:1005-1019.


Chamberlain, F.M. 1903. Artificial propagation. Pacific Fisherman 1: (11) 10.

Cobb, J.N. 1930. Pacific salmon fisheries. U.S. Bureau of Fisheries Document No. 1092. Washington, D.C.

Holling, C. and G. Meffe. 1995. Command and control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conservation Biology. 10:328-337.

Lichatowich, James. 1999. Salmon Without Rivers. Island Press

National Research Council (NRC). 1996. Upstream: salmon and society in the Pacific Northwest. Report of the Committee on Protection and Management of Pacific Northwest anadromous salmonids for the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

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