Recovery Plan Progress: Habitat, Hatchery, Harvest, and Hydropower

The upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board is engaging and collaborating with managers across the Columbia River system to identify issues and uncertainties related to long-term recovery. Despite substantial progress across all four management sectors, the 12-year average of natural-origin returns for both species remains well below the goals set for delisting in all four basins.

Habitat: The region has made significant progress in improving the habitat that all life stages of salmon and steelhead depend upon to increase abundance and productivity. We estimate that the region has moved the needle between 4-6 percent from the time of listing toward an estimated restoration potential of 15 percent in improved habitat. We are working with our technical team to update the regional Biological Strategy for prioritizing habitat actions (restoration and protection) with the objective to provide a consistent, repeatable, systematic, and well-documented approach for prioritizing restoration and protection actions.

Hatchery: Hatchery programs have been implemented in the upper Columbia for the purposes of conservation, hydropower mitigation, and harvest. These programs are intentionally managed to enhance the number and success of returning adults, both hatchery and wild. A variety of management tools are used in hatchery programs to reduce risks to wild populations. Because of this, and changes in hatchery-origin and natural-origin returns, the percentage of hatchery-origin spawners has, on average, decreased or remained the same in most populations during the past decade and the risks to natural populations remains manageable. Meanwhile, harvest opportunities have been enhanced by hatchery programs and the risk of extinction for listed species has gone down with more certainty about the number of adult fish returning.

Harvest: The majority of harvest of Endangered Species Act-listed upper Columbia spring Chinook and steelhead occurs in the lower Columbia River and is tightly managed according to return numbers in any given year. Many of these fisheries are mark-selective and target hatchery fish while letting the wild fish return to the spawning grounds. Harvest of listed upper Columbia spring Chinook and steelhead remains low.

Hydropower: Upper Columbia spring Chinook and steelhead pass through seven to nine dams on their way to and from the ocean. Improvements at both the Public Utility District and federal dams in terms of fish passage and predation in the reservoirs has shown promise in improving downstream and upstream survival. Of note is the addition of spill in 2018 and 2019 at the lower four main stem Columbia River federal dams under a mandate by the U.S. District Court of Oregon. At these projects, spill is an effective way to safely pass juvenile salmon and steelhead through the dams.

Background: Salmon recovery in Washington is driven by regional salmon recovery plans. The recovery plans provide the actions and rationale for where to invest and when. Each region reports on the actions implemented related to what is recommended in the regional recovery plan. The information about recovery plan implementation is grounded in the regional organizations’ extensive knowledge of recovery issues and recovery progress.