Suit filed to block hatchery salmon in
FOUR ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS filed
suit Thursday against Olympic National Park, two federal agencies and
the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, seeking to block restocking the Elwha
River west of Port Angeles with hatchery-raised salmon as part of the
Elwha dam-removal project.
The groups argue in their suit —
which had been threatened for months — that the hatchery plan
violates the federal Endangered Species Act and undermines the recovery
of native fish in the river.
The removal of the Elwha and Glines
Canyon dams, starting last summer, will open up 90 miles of fish
The $325 million project calls for
release of about four million juvenile salmon plus non-native steelhead
into the Elwha River each year, including during a five-year fishing
moratorium. The lawsuit argues, among other points, that those releases
will hamper wild fish recovery.
The suit was filed by Wild Fish
Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers
Steelhead Committee and the Wild Steelhead Coalition against Olympic
National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and representatives of the Lower Elwha tribe.
There was no immediate comment from
the tribe, ONP or the other defendants.
But in September, Robert Elofson,
river restoration manager for the Lower Elwha, noted that without
stocking the Elwha with nonnative fish, the tribe might not have
anything to catch at the end of a five-year fishing moratorium because
wild runs will still be too fragile.
(See previous Sept. 19 story, "Wild
fish advocate to sue over Elwha hatchery steelhead," http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20110919/news/309199995
Here's a news release about the
FROM WILD FISH CONSERVANCY PO Box 402
Duvall, WA 98019 · Tel 425-788-1167 · Fax 425-788-9634
Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish
Conservancy, 206-310-9301 Brian Knutsen, Smith and Lowney, PLLC,
Citing warnings from agency and
independent scientists, four conservation groups filed suit today
against several federal agencies and officials of the Lower Elwha
Klallam Tribe (in their official capacities) for violating the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) and ignoring the best available science
and threatening the recovery of killer whales, Chinook salmon, and
native steelhead by funding and operating fish hatchery programs in the
The groups agree with federal and
state scientists and a recent review by the Hatchery Scientific Review
Group (HSRG) that restoration of the lower Elwha River and
recolonization of the pristine upper Elwha River above Elwha and Glines
Canyon dams should prioritize recovery of wild fish.
The proposed reliance on large-scale
hatchery releases undermines ecosystem recovery and violates the ESA.
Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly
Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition have
brought the suit against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries
Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives of the
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
The federal government is spending
nearly $325 million for the dam removal project, opening nearly ninety
miles of pristine riverine habitat in Olympic National Park, much of
which is designated a wilderness area.
Rather than allowing wild salmonids to
naturally colonize this pristine habitat, the agencies and the Tribe
are going ahead with a plan that will release approximately four
million juvenile hatchery salmonids annually throughout the recovery,
including the continued release of non-native steelhead during a
five-year fishing moratorium.
The hatchery releases will be
supported by a new fish hatchery on the Elwha River built with $16.4
million of Stimulus Act funds.
State and federal agency scientists
pointed out that the current plan gives no measureable goals for wild
fish recovery, provides no timetable for ceasing the hatchery
production, and that ultimately, wild fish recovery is going to be
hampered by the hatchery fish.
A review released this week by the
independent Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), which was
organized and funded by Congress, has echoed these concerns.
“While the Tribe played an
essential role in removing the dams,” said Kurt Beardslee,
Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy, “their intent to now
plant millions of hatchery fish in disregard of the scientific evidence
undermines salmon recovery in the Northwest and the goals of the ESA.
"However you look at it, it's a
horrible precedent if left to stand.”
Will Atlas, chair of the FFF Steelhead
Committee, stated “The science does not support planting of
hatchery fish into this productive, pristine habitat.”
“This action is
necessary,” said Rich Simms, president of the Wild Steelhead
Coalition, “so that wild, not hatchery, steelhead will be
restored to the Elwha and the Olympic Wilderness."
“Their plan is vague and
uncertain about how and when these hatchery interventions will
end,” said Pete Soverel, president of The Conservation Angler.
“The Elwha deserves far better but will end up compromised like
most of our other rivers if this plan is implemented.”
The groups believe that spending $325
million to open a wilderness watershed but then stocking it with
hatchery fish is poor public policy and will likely provoke taxpayer
skepticism toward salmon recovery and future efforts at dam removal.
The groups support the right of the
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe to harvest salmon and steelhead, but argue
that intensive hatchery production throughout the recovery will reduce
the capacity of wild salmon and steelhead to recolonize the newly
available habitat, harming ESA listed Puget Sound steelhead, Chinook
salmon, and southern resident killer whales that depend on Chinook
salmon for their survival.
The groups are represented by Smith
and Lowney, PLLC, of Seattle.
Wild Fish Conservancy is a non-profit
organization dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the
Northwest region's wild-fish ecosystems, with over 2,500 members.
Wild Fish Conservancy's staff of over
20 professional scientists, advocates, and educators works to promote
technically and socially responsible habitat, hatchery, and harvest
management to better sustain the region's wild fish heritage. For more
information, visit us at http://wildfishconservancy.org or follow us on Facebook at http://facebook.com/wildfishconservancy.