By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer
The copious and often costly efforts to boost stocks of endangered fish in the Pacific Northwest appear to be paying off.
An estimated 1.2 million chinook salmon are expected to return to the mouth of the Columbia River this fall, the highest mark since recordkeeping started 75 years ago.
As of Sept. 27, about 850,000 chinook already passed through and over Bonneville Dam, according to the Fish Passage Center. That’s more than double the average for the last 10 years.
Northwest officials said they’re delighted by the fish counts and credited a series of partnerships between federal and state agencies, utilities, tribal groups and other parties.
“This historic run is an encouraging sign that regional efforts to rebuild salmon populations are having a positive impact,” said Bill Bradbury, chairman of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which oversees funding for many initiatives.
“By improving spawning and rearing habitat and carefully supplementing naturally spawning runs with hatchery-bred fish, we are not only boosting the runs but also providing fishing opportunities that contribute to our economy,” he said.
Salmon recovery is a huge component of power costs in the Northwest. Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power to electric cooperatives and other utilities, spent $644.1 million in 2012 on fish and wildlife protection.The spending accounts for about one-third of BPA’s wholesale power rates.
Additionally, a federal judge is weighing a 10-year plan to increase 13 species of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin that are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Biologists attribute this fall’s success story to good weather, habitat enhancements, better hatcheries, spills of juvenile fish over dams and projects that improve the ability of fish to pass safely through dams, among other factors.
“Partnerships and collaboration are rebuilding this run. Focusing on rebuilding abundance allows the region to move beyond unproductive allocation fights and puts fish back on to the spawning grounds,” said Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.