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A new federal report enumerates, for the first time, exactly how many wild salmon and steelhead need to survive for them to be removed from the endangered species list. The report, produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), suggests specific annual fish populations in more than 60 tributaries of the Columbia River. The figures are vexingly specific: 426 summer chinook in Idaho's Marsh Creek, and 802 in the Imnaha River, for example. The agency cautions, though, that the target numbers are intended only as preliminary estimates to help regional, local, and tribal stakeholders size their recovery efforts. "We cannot do this alone. We have to get local support," says NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman. "So instead of saying, 'do better,' or 'try harder,' we're saying, 'here's a target to aim for. Here's how you'll know.' "


The report precedes an official recovery plan which NMFS intends to release by the end of the year. It will be the first since the fish were put on the endangered species list 11 years ago.


Most salmon advocates feel the numbers fall short. "It would be a big mistake to think these numbers mean much," says Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, which represents 54 sport, commercial, and conservation fishing business organizations. "What we need to get to in the Columbia and Snake rivers is sustainable and harvestable levels of salmon, as opposed to museum-piece management. And that's what these are."