Steelhead have been in a decline for about a decade in the Columbia/Snake river basins. Not that they were in great shape before the last 10 years, they have been listed as threatened for 21 years in the Snake River Basin (62 FR 43937). Listed again as threatened in 2006 (http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/frn/2006/71fr834.pdf) and after 5-year status review in 2011, again in 2014 (http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/frn/2014/79fr20802.pdf).
And all of that is just a lengthy way of saying since 1997 our federal government has recognized that steelhead in the Snake River Basin are a threatened species. Fast forward to now, this week they gave a revised projection of the 2018 steelhead run based on actual counts since July 1 and projected them to the end of the year. Now, you know I don't put a lot of stock in projections, good or bad, but right now the projection is that this year's run of steelhead in the Columbia and Snake river basins will be worse than last year's terrible run. Let's look at the actual numbers at Bonneville Dam (to get an idea of the number of upriver steelhead this year) and then the actual numbers at Lower Granite Dam to get an idea of the number of steelhead on their way to Idaho and extreme southeastern Washington and Oregon tributaries.
The projection at Bonneville was for a total run of steelhead between July 1 and December 31 to be 96,500 of Oncorhynchus mykiss. Through August 29 and since June 1, 56,948 steelhead had passed over Bonneville. And at Lower Granite Dam, 1,827 steelhead had passed over the last passable dam for fish heading into Idaho (Snake, Clearwater, Potlatch, Salmon rivers, etc.) or SE Washington or NE Oregon streams such as Grande Ronde, Imnaha rivers and Asotin Creek.
This year's steelhead passing Lower Granite Dam is about three times better this year than last year, but at Bonneville (and all fish that get over Lower Granite Dam had to go through Bonneville Dam to get here) there are about 14,000 less steelhead making it over Bonneville this time this year as last year. More alarming to me is the 10-year average. This year's Lower Granite steelhead passage is roughly 18 percent of the 10-year average and steelhead have been in decline for the past decade. The 10-year average steelhead passage at Lower Granite Dam by now is 10,422 fish, so there's an 8,595 steelhead deficit this year. Will that be made up later in the year, maybe, maybe not. Looking at Bonneville's lagging numbers, it doesn't look too promising. Bonneville's actual 56,948 for now is 160,901 steelhead behind the 10-year average for this time of year, which is 217,849. 2018 is shaping up to be a very bad year for steelhead, really it is shaping up to be the third really bad year in a row for steelhead.
Today, the dams are the biggest killer of our steelhead and our chinook and sockeye. And the dams kill at least half and in the case of sockeye, they kill more than 60 percent of the outmigrating fish. Here go here and read this or read the official memo.
Let me pull something relevant to steelhead from that memo to drive home the point. "For steelhead in 2017, estimated survival from Lower Granite Dam tailrace to Bonneville Dam tailrace was 45.9%; slightly below the long-term mean of 46.3%" That says in 2017 54.1 percent of the outmigrating steelhead were lost in the hydrosystem. That says that typically we lose 53.7 percent of the outmigrating steelhead. You're not going to find a bigger killer than the hydrosystem for these threatened steelhead and chinook and for those endangered sockeye.
You won't often hear from the news media or from the so-called action agencies or NOAA or NFMS much about dam mortality, and you won't hear much from the Corps, especially, taking responsibility for dam mortality that extends upstream (they'll own the one side of the concrete to the other side mortality, though they won't go further and do the math for you through the hydrosystem) ask the Corps to own the dam mortality caused by slackwater, invasive predators in that slackwater, loss of life force in the smolts as they have to turn around and swim facing toward downstream when they hit that slackwater and you won't get a lot of ownership on those mortality causes directly attributable to the dams.
If you want to fix a problem, you identify what is causing the problem and then you fix that problem. The dams are the primary killer of threatened and endangered salmonids in the Snake River Basin and 87 percent of fisheries biologists agree that the best chance at recovery for these fish, these iconic fish, is to breach the four lower Snake River dams. We'll never get them breached by the courts where we always win against these illegal biops that continue to show these dams are jeopardizing the long term survival of these fish. Right now, the House of Representatives have passed an irresponsible and fraudulent bill that would protect these dams from breaching and keep citizens out of court to protect them from future illegal biops that continue to jeopardize these fish. You, if you care about these fish and if you care about things like the Endangered Species Act working as I do, need to contact your United States Senators and you need to impress on them that the dam protection bill the House has sent to them must not go forward. And you ought to go to this year's Free the Snake Sept. 7-8.