Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fifteenmile Creek Wild Steelhead Sanctuary Opened to Kill Fishery

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to adopt a staff proposal to open the Fifteenmile Creek Sanctuary where it joins the Columbia River for tribal fishing.  The vote of the commission was 4-1 with Mike Findley voting no. All of the other commission members expressed their dislike for being forced to vote yes, but they did it anyway. The following is testimony of the Native Fish Society in opposition to permanently opening the sanctuary to a kill fishery. 

To:         ODFW Commission
FR:         Bill Bakke, Native Fish Society
RE:         Fifteenmile Creek Sanctuary Steelhead Harvest
The Native Fish Society does not support fishing in designated sanctuary waters in the Columbia River, for such fisheries are inconsistent with the purpose of these sanctuaries, the Native Fish Conservation Policy,  the Endangered Species Act, and common sense for it is not logical or ethical.
Fifteenmile Creek wild steelhead are threatened with extinction and protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.  Fisheries subtract spawners from the spawning escapement.  Wild steelhead returning to Fifteenmile Creek are already harvested by tribal fisheries in open areas for fishing in the Columbia River and even though they must be released by the sport fishery there is an associated kill that increases with water temperature.  The Columbia River during the summer months approaches lethal temperatures for salmon and steelhead and the pool behind Bonneville Dam has numerous thermal refuges to migrating adult steelhead, providing relief from high water temperatures.  Conservation of wild, ESA-listed steelhead is enhanced by having thermal refuges where fish can escape harvest. 
Since the late 1970s the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has worked with landowners in the Fifteenmile Creek watershed to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat.  The landowners in this watershed have a record of cooperation with the state, resulting in important recovery of fish habitat in this basin.  With the contribution of millions of public dollars through state and federal agencies, Fifteenmile Creek has become a model watershed for the state.  How will those who have made investments of funds and land to protect and restore wild steelhead in this stream react to a kill fishery in the Fifteenmile Creek Sanctuary?
The wild steelhead run is listed because it is in jeopardy of extinction.  The conditions in the watershed that contributed to their decline are being addressed and have been for several decades.  The wild steelhead run is tiny.  The minimum number of steelhead needed for a viable population is 500.  But, as the ODFW staff has stated, the adult run falls short of that minimum number for a viable population.  The minimum number of spawners is not the goal; it is what is needed for the wild run to be viable.  The population is stronger with more spawners.  More spawners are needed. 
The consequence of a kill fishery in the Fifteenmile Creek Sanctuary is that fewer, not more, spawners will enter the creek. 

Allowing a fishery in the Fifteenmile Creek Sanctuary is not consistent with the Native Fish Conservation Policy developed by a public advisory group over two years and adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.  “The purpose of this policy is to ensure the conservation and recovery of native fish in Oregon.” (OAR 635-007-0502) 
The first goal of the policy is to “Prevent the serious depletion of any native fish species by protecting natural ecological communities, conserving genetic resources, managing consumptive and non-consumptive fisheries, and using hatcheries responsibly so that naturally produced native fish are sustainable.”  (OAR 635-007-0503 (1))
In order for the Department to make commitments to native fish conservation the Oregon Department of Justice was asked for its opinion regarding the Department’s authority to protect native species.  The ODOJ submitted two letters in 1997 and 2002.  The legal advice given by the ODOJ (1997) stated: The Commission’s and Department’s overriding obligation is to manage to prevent serious depletion of any indigenous species, which thereby enables the Department and Commission to provide optimum recreational and aesthetic benefits.”   This was confirmed in 2002 when the ODOJ told the Department: “The proposed language for the new Native Fish Conservation Policy would establish the conservation of naturally produced native fish species as the Department’s “principal obligation” and first priority for fish management.”

We ask the Commission not adopt a permanent rule to allow fishing in Fifteenmile Creek Sanctuary and to rescind the temporary rule adopted in 2012 to permit this fishery.  We make this request because the proposed permanent rule is not consistent with the Commission’s adopted Native Fish Conservation Policy, legal advice by the Oregon Department of Justice; it does not support recovery or protection of ESA-listed fish threatened with extinction, and it is not supportive of the commitments the public and landowners in the Fifteenmile watershed have made to recover the wild steelhead population. 

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