Cold Water Refuge For Steelhead

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Cold Water Refuge For Steelhead

This information came to me through Dave Moskowitz, Executive Director of The Conservation Angler an angling conservation organization.  As you probably know, the Columbia River gets to be near lethal temperature for anadormous salmonids during peak summer temperatures, July 15 through September 15. The exception are a few springs and tributaries that are cooler than the rest of the river where fish congregate to cool off. These places have become well know to predatory sport and commercial fishermen. These places have now been designated a thermal refuges, and are now off limits to fishing during the hot water period of July 15 through September 15. I'm in favor of it and hope you are too.

First, The Conservation Angler (TCA) appreciates ODFW’s work developing the Thermal Angling Sanctuaries (TAS) temporary rule concept.

The environmental conditions in and along the Columbia River, together with the depressed adult returns of ESA-listed wild steelhead to the Columbia River and their natal spawning tributaries warrant permanent rule implementation of a strong conservative angling regime. Thermal Angling Sanctuaries are a targeted and discreet strategic regulatory structure aimed to protect ESA-listed wild steelhead migrating in the Columbia River during their summer and fall migration.

The permanent rules are based on years of groundbreaking scientific research, multiple public reviews since 2017 and they include ecologically based measures related to critical metrics, including:

  • Appropriate longer-term averages of historic wild steelhead run sizes,
  • Typical river temperature increases below Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams,
  • Identifiable, understandable, and enforceable rules on location, size, and angling practices.

The widely acclaimed and ground-breaking cornerstone scientific research undertaken by the University of Idaho and Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game and highlighted by the US EPA in their October 2019 Draft provides the credible science-based underpinnings of the conservation principles being applied to these regulations.

Rationale to Adopt Permanent Rules Now:

  1. Creates a strong public understanding of the circumstances, expectations, practices, and benefits.
  2. The temporal application (July – September) addresses a critical period that provides contemporary protection for depressed ESA-listed wild steelhead populations that will require the protection offered by permanent rules as the water quality in the Columbia is not likely to improve in the near-term.
  3. ESA-listed wild steelhead (particularly wild B-run fish) rely on thermal refugia, they are the most threatened salmonid and they face additional angling pressure within their natal rivers.
  4. USEPA and NOAA found that angling encounters within thermal sanctuaries resulted in a loss of migratory benefit to those wild salmonids that used the thermal sanctuaries trying to reduce stress and escape hot water.
  5. The regulations are a significant and important element in regional efforts to recover ESA-listed wild steelhead migrating to Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.

In conclusion, TCA is grateful for the ODFW staff work on these issues. The regulations are appropriate given the ESA status of Columbia River wild steelhead. Also, both current and former Fish and Wildlife Commissions deserve credit for studying, advocating for development of these conservation areas in the Columbia River.

One word of caution to the Commission – it will essential for ODFW to work with the other state agencies responsible for water quality and quantity protection in order to develop impactful plans to protect the cold water sources of these critical salmon and steelhead cold water refugia. EPA’s modeling shows that without action, the number and quality of Cold Water Refugia currently present and providing a safe migratory corridor will steadily erode and disappear by 2040 – a mere 20 years away.

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