OLYMPIA—The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today formally endorsed a scientific process to evaluate the biological options for restoring wild salmon and steelhead stocks on the Snake River.
The Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses (PATH) continues to evaluate seven proposals for the operation of dams on the Snake River that could improve fish runs.
PATH remains an on-going process that was established to contribute key biological information to any future decision concerning the future operations of the Snake River hydro system.
The motion stated: "The Fish and Wildlife Commission fully endorses PATH as the preferred process for developing biological information contributing to the decision- making process concerning alternatives for recovery of Snake River salmon and steelhead, and that the commission directs the department to continue its involvement in the PATH process."
"PATH does not decide it is time to breach dams, it says this scientific process is an important component in the decision to returning salmon to sustainable levels," said Kelly White, chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
"We are talking about salmon and steelhead stocks that are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and teeter on the brink of extinction. PATH is just one step in the decision-making process for saving them, but it is an important one," said Lisa Pelly, a WDFW commissioner.
Commission Bob Tuck commented, "It is fair to call PATH the region's attempt to get its arms around this 2,000-pound marshmallow we have been wrestling with for half a century and come to regional consensus on the biology. It is the preferred process over the chaos we have had."
Commissioner Will Roehl stressed, "We are factoring biological information into a bigger decision. The PATH process is not a decision-making tool in and of itself."
Guy Norman, WDFW Columbia River policy lead, said the National Marine Fisheries Service will document the biological information concerning actions that may recover salmon and steelhead for an environmental impact statement to be developed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The PATH information is expected to be a major contributor to the biological information contained in the EIS.
The Corps of Engineers' EIS will consider a number of additional elements, including economic and social considerations as well as historical, cultural, water and air quality, engineering and construction aspects of any alternative actions to the dams. The draft EIS is expected to be completed in late summer of 1999 at which time it will be available for public review. A final decision-making document is expected in early 2000.
In other business, the commission enacted1999-2000 fishing regulations that:
- Protect sea-run cutthroat trout by requiring catch and release in all marine areas and Willapa Bay streams. They also set daily bag and fish size limits for streams and allow for selective gear rules regulations and closures where cutthroat populations require special protection
- Forbid the cleaning or filleting of fish and shellfish in the field if size, weight or sex restrictions control the harvest of the species
- Delegated to the director the authority to set seasons for Columbia River smelt
- Prohibited the retention of herring in Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) south of a line from Ediz Hook to Partridge Point from Jan. 16 through April 15 and all year in Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands) north of a line from Sandy Point to Patos Island to the Canadian border. The closures are designed to conserve low stocks
- Make other minor changes in fishing regulations