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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Experimental Fish Program Starts at Dams

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to establish nonessential experimental populations (NEP) of threatened Chinook salmon in central California and threatened Middle Columbia River steelhead trout in Oregon that have been affected by dams, according to a pair of recent regulations.

Experimental populations can be established under a special section of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) if they will further the conservation of the listed species, the regulations noted.

Congress enacted the 2009 San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act as a result of 18 years of litigation launched by a coalition of environment groups. The settlement included provisions to reintroduce the Central Valley (CV) spring run Chinook salmon to the San Joaquin River from its confluence with the Merced River upstream to Friant Dam. This evolutionarily significant unit of salmon was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. "The CV spring-run Chinook salmon runs in the San Joaquin River were extirpated as a direct result of the completion of Friant Dam and the associated operation of the Friant-Kern and Madera irrigation canals which caused the river to run dry in many locations," the proposed Chinook salmon rule said.

The agency maintains that the use of CV spring-run Chinook salmon from donor populations for the experimental population is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species in the wild, since only small numbers of fish from natural populations will be removed and a captive broodstock program will be established for the reintroduction.

In the case of the Middle Columbia River steelhead distinct population segment, listed as threatened in 1999, the fish were blocked from reaching their spawning grounds by the three dam complex of the Pelton Round Butte Project on the Deschutes River. The NOAA's fishery service has authorized an NEP for the reintroduction of the fish above the Round Butte Dam from hatchery fish, according to the final steelhead trout rule.

The relicensing of the Pelton Round Butte Project provided an opportunity to reestablish the steelhead fish runs upstream. The license requires fish passage around the Pelton Round Butte Project and is also part of a settlement agreement entered into by the licensees and 20 other parties, including government, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and environmental groups, the rule said.

Due to license requirements, a structure has been constructed to provide downstream passage for juveniles. The juveniles are marked as they leave the NEP area. Returning adults are collected in traps and released above Round Butte Dam, the rule stated.

The steelhead NEP expires in 12 years. The agency expects that the fixed duration "will encourage local landowners and municipalities to develop conservation measures in a timely manner," the final rule said.

Comments on the salmon proposed rule are due March 4, and the steelhead final rule is effective Jan. 15.

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