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(DV) Bacher: Bush Strikes Another Blow Against Salmon Restoration







Bush Strikes Another Blow Against Salmon Restoration:
NOAA Fisheries Puts Hatchery and Wild Salmon Under Same Umbrella

by Dan Bacher
July 2, 2005

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The federal government on June 16 issued its final policy for considering hatchery salmon in making Endangered Species Act listing determinations, putting 131 strains of hatchery fish under the same protection as their wild "cousins".

NOAA Fisheries also determined that 15 populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead would remain protected under the ESA, while it added lower Colombia river coho salmon to the "threatened" list. In addition, the agency changed the central California coho listing from "threatened" to "endangered" status, which "better reflects California's endangered listing under state law."

The agency also delayed for six months a final decision on 10 listed steelhead populations and Oregon coho salmon. These steelhead populations include five populations in California from Southern California to the Oregon Border, as well as populations of the Columbia, Snake and Upper Willamette rivers.

The ESA provides for a 6-month extension of a final listing determination "if there is substantial disagreement on the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination." The agency considered more than 300 strains of hatchery fish in making the determination, spurred by a review of policy mandated by the Hogan federal court decision of 2001, according to Brian Gorman, NOAA Fisheries spokesman.

The decision, Alsea Valley Alliance v. Evans, said the federal government's exclusion of hatchery salmon in the listing of Oregon coast coho under the ESA was illegal. The ruling forced NOAA Fisheries to develop a new policy for listing salmon throughout the Pacific Northwest and California.

The federal government heralded the final decision as a big victory for salmon recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest and California. "This policy reinforces our commitment to protect naturally spawning salmon and their ecosystem," said retired Navy Vice-Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

"A properly managed hatchery program can provide a great boost to natural populations of fish. We intend to use this as a key component of our salmon recovery efforts, which, along with favorable ocean conditions, have contributed to record returns over the past few years," he said.

Trout Unlimited, a nationwide conservation group, said the feds' new hatchery policy "defies science and common sense," although they were relieved that 16 stocks of salmon previously listed under the ESA would remain protected. They forecasted that the new policy would "lead to more controversy and lawsuits and ultimately diminish the protection and hinder the recovery of salmon and steelhead."

"They chose the most complicated, nonsensical and non-scientific option that they could have," said Caitlin Lovell, "NOAA Fisheries could have done the right thing and followed the scientists' recommendation to separate wild and hatchery populations, but they didn't. They had no reason not to do that... what NOAA is doing is very suspicious."

Dr. Jack Williams, senior scientist for Trout Unlimited, concurred. "The conclusion of the vast majority of fisheries science's finest minds who've studied this problem is that hatchery fish and wild fish are different animals and must be managed accordingly, especially under the auspices of the ESA. It's puzzling that NOAA Fisheries would issue a policy that contradicts the advice of its own scientists."

The groups cited scientific reports by the Salmon Recovery Panel and the Independent Scientific Advisory Board that concluded that hatchery fish should be excluded from ESA listings to properly manage them.

In addition, NOAA Fisheries also ruled against the sentiment of the vast majority of the public. Over 90 percent of public comments that NOAA received supported listing only the wild component of individual salmon stocks.

Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said that the agency "overall did a fairly solid job" in their decision.

"The agency is walking a careful line between extremes," said Spain. "In taking a stock-by-stock analysis, the agency is doing a reasonable job at looking at the differences as well as the similarities between hatchery and wild fish. However, I'm not sure that the Hogan decision required them to lump hatchery and wild stocks together."

The NOAA decision occurs in the context of the increasing attacks by the Bush administration and Congress on the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws that protect fish and wildlife habitat. The timber industry, agribusiness and mining industry, united under the banner of the "wise use" movement, have been fighting fish habitat protections relentlessly in court and in Congress.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, an organization that represents property rights activists, won the Hogan Case that resulted in the recent decision by NOA Fisheries. Russell Brooks, PLF lawyer, was unhappy with the federal agency's ruling - and plans to file another lawsuit.

"What amazes me most is that after the agency lists hatchery salmon as threatened with extinction, which is crazy in itself, it then exempts hatchery salmon from ESA protection," Brooks said in an Associated Press article by Jeff Barnard on June 17.

The mixing of wild and hatchery fish in the 131 stocks could in the future create problems for commercial fishermen and recreational anglers pursuing salmon along the California, Oregon and Washington coast.

"Now that the hatchery and wild fish are included in the same evolutionarily significant unit, the states will have to file hatchery management plans, creating more bureaucracy," said Lovell. "Anglers will still be able to harvest fish, but sportfishing and commercial fishing regulations will have to go through more hurdles."

By putting hatchery and wild fish under the same umbrella, the burden of restoration is put on commercial and recreational fishermen, rather on the bad timber, agribusiness, mining and development practices that resulted in the dramatic decline of salmon throughout California and the Northwest. And fishing and conservation groups fear that the new policy will result in more habitat destruction by allowing abundant hatchery fish to count the same as the less common wild fish.

"We're pleased that the wild fish that were protected before will have continued protection in the near term under this policy," concluded Lovell. "But as the same time, it's disappointing that NOAA has seemingly squandered the opportunity to adhere to the science, address wild salmon recovery head-on and resolve the issues that landed us all in litigation the first time around. There's little in this policy to give us hope that we won't end up there again."

Dan Bacher is an outdoor writer, alternative journalist and satirical song writer from Sacramento, California. He is editor of the Central America Connection and contributes to numerous publications and websites, including Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, Because People Matter and the Sacramento News & Review. Email:

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