Fishing Businesses and Conservationists Renew Litigation Against Flawed Federal Salmon Plan

Devoid of science, plan violates federal law and harms fishing communities


Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice, (206) 715-4912


Liz Hamilton, NSIA, (503) 704-1772


Glen Spain, PCFFA, (541) 689-2000


Nicole Cordan, SOS, (503) 703-3733

Representatives of fishing businesses and conservation groups today renewed their opposition to the federal salmon plan by filing an updated complaint with the U.S. Federal District Court in Portland, Oregon. The complaint states that the plan, released in May, violates the federal Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and other federal laws.

“We’re unhappy that the Obama administration did not make the changes necessary to comply with federal laws. Now, we have no choice but to ask for the court’s help; this plan is simply that poor,” said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “We and many others have been consistent in pointing out some basic scientific and legal flaws in the salmon plan. The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society identified similar problems, but this administration has ignored those concerns.”

In 2009, the coalition asked the Obama administration to rethink the old Bush-era federal salmon plan. After a similar suggestion by the court, the administration agreed. But instead of making any significant changes in the plan, the administration adopted the Bush salmon plan and added what the administration referred to as the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan (AMIP) – a document that added no additional actions, but instead promised that the administration would monitor the salmon situation closely and would, if salmon populations collapsed to levels not seen since the 1990s, begin to study additional measures to help the listed fish.

This plan was met with serious skepticism. The Western Division of the AFS said the AMIP is “inadequate for ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. Rather than use a precautionary principle to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, the AMIP seems to use a precautionary principle to support the 2008 Biological Opinion and defend the status quo."

In addition, the plan was not put together in a way that complied with federal law. The court offered the federal agencies one last opportunity to get it right, to consider new science and new actions to protect the fish. The administration decided to take another look at the 2008 plan, but on May 20, 2010, the administration released the same plan under a different cover. The administration did not offer a single new additional action to protect salmon and simply concluded that everything it reviewed was generally consistent with the flawed Bush-era plan.

“The federal government simply didn’t pay attention to the scientists, the parties in the litigation, or the law,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Instead, it appears that they left the old plan in place with a few minor, process-oriented additions. We’ve known for two decades that the status quo dam management won’t be enough to restore healthy, fishable salmon runs, but this plan fails to act on that knowledge.”

The plan, according to the coalition, not only adopts the flaws of the past, it compounds those problems and adds new flaws. For example, the plan – while spending pages describing the evidence that climate change impacts salmon – adds not one new action to the plan to help address those impacts. Additionally, although the federal agencies recently clarified that the Snake River sockeye salmon had tripped the triggers in the plan, this plan offers not one new action to help protect that one-of-a-kind species. The Western Division of AFS called the federal agency approach to Snake River sockeye protection “inappropriate.”

“It’s not clear that this plan means much to the Obama administration, but it means everything to our businesses,” said Liz Hamilton of Northwest Sportsfishing Industry Association. “Getting this right means the difference between success for our small businesses and the Northwest way of life they support and setting it up so that salmon are a just a childhood memory for our kids.”

Briefing on the case will continue through the fall. A hearing before the United States District Court in Oregon isn’t expected until at least late in the year. The plaintiffs in this case include: National Wildlife Federation, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Washington Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Steelhead and Salmon United, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Salmon For All, Columbia Riverkeeper, American Rivers, Federation of Fly Fishers, and NW Energy Coalition.

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