Bush Administration Poised to Strip Federal Protections from Pacific Salmon Stocks
Calling it the latest in a series of administration failures to protect imperiled stocks of Pacific salmon and steelhead, conservation and fishing business groups and scientists today condemned a new and as yet unreleased Bush administration policy that could remove federal protection for many, if not most, of the 27 listed salmon and steelhead stocks from the northwest tip of Washington down to southern California and inland to central Idaho.
"This policy circumvents the most basic tenets of the Endangered Species Act and effectively lets the federal government off the hook for any responsibility to recover salmon and healthy rivers and streams up and down the West Coast and inland to Idaho," said Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited. "Hatchery fish certainly have a role in restoring salmon runs and mitigating some of the damage inflicted by salmon declines, but they have no place in determining federal protections."
The new policy, said to be released in June by NOAA Fisheries (the federal agency charged with protection of salmon and steelhead), effectively allows hatchery fish to be considered alongside wild fish in determining whether the wild stocks retain current federal protections. Instead of working to improve river habitat for listed species or to implement other viable recovery measures, the policy instead relies on hatcheries for long-term recovery.
"Wild salmon and steelhead are still at risk of extinction throughout the Northwest," said Jan Hasselman of the National Wildlife Federation. "Rather than address the problems of habitat degraded by logging, dams and urban sprawl, this policy will purposefully mask the precarious condition of wild salmon behind fish raised in concrete pools."
"The Bush administration has proven itself to be no friend of salmon," added John DeVoe of WaterWatch of Oregon. "Under this new policy the wild coho of the Pacific Northwest could go extinct, but as long as we produce millions of manufactured fish in concrete tanks the administration would call it good. This is a continuation of the flawed thinking that strangled water flows in the Klamath River during the summer of 2002 and left us with 34,000 dead salmon."
The groups said the new policy could also have devastating effects on wild stocks through loss of habitat currently protected by the listings. Over 148,000 acres of federal lands in four states are managed to provide habitat for salmon. It could also mean the end of federal safeguards for fish such as requirements to protect sensitive watersheds and to improve the operation of hydroelectric dams.
"Reducing protections for wild salmon means that protections for river habitat will also be reduced," said David Moryc of American Rivers. "And when habitat protections are reduced, clean water is threatened, as are all of the economic and social benefits healthy rivers provide."
A large number of scientists recently have concluded that a policy including hatchery fish alongside wild fish when determining the need federal protections spells danger for the wild stocks.
"The resulting false impression of abundance this policy creates could have devastating effects on wild stocks," said Jim Lichatowich, author of Salmon without Rivers. "Interbreeding between wild and hatchery fish could reduce the fitness of wild populations and reduce their ability to survive, and the productivity of wild populations could be further reduced by forcing them to compete with large numbers of hatchery fish. Relaxed protections on mixed-stock fisheries, too, could lead to over-harvest of wild fish."
The groups are quick to point out that de-listing of salmon and steelhead stocks should be the goal of any group, individual or interest vested in the future of those fish, but that de-listing should be due to the return of strong, healthy fisheries, not simply to avoid the responsibility of species and habitat protection.
"Genuine salmon recovery should be an investment in a future with sustainable, harvestable fish runs as nature intended them, in the wild," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "This new Bush administration policy abandons true recovery and moves us closer to a world where salmon only exist in hatcheries, not watersheds."