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Swimming Vs. Barging for Salmon: Scientists at Odds with Feds

April 12, 2010

BOISE, Idaho - Riding the current is the healthier option for baby Idaho salmon and steelhead making their way to the Pacific Ocean, according to a new scientific assessment. That advice will be reviewed by a federal judge who is weighing a request from the Obama administration to stop letting spring water flow around power turbines, because of tight water supplies in the region. That "spill" helps fish get through the system of dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers without being ground up.

The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) has released a new assessment, saying spilling the water is best for the fish, and fisheries scientist Douglas DeHart agrees.

"Consistently, we've seen the very best survival among fish that migrate downstream in the river on their own."

When water isn't available, fish are barged or trucked around dams.

Greg Stahl, assistant policy director with Idaho Rivers United, says his organization views success in getting the baby fish to the ocean through a fishing economy lens, because more fish out means more adult fish back in a couple of years.

"Steelhead seem to be the hardiest of the bunch, but it's clear that for Chinook, and especially sockeye, barging and trucking don't work."

The administration request implies a warning that the use of too much water for spill for the fish could result in higher power rates for the region later.

U.S. District Judge James Redden will make the decision about spill.

More about ISAB is at

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID