Salmon and the State of the Union

Call to streamline government achievable by reversing damage to salmon rivers and streams


Todd True, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1030


Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1033


In last night’s State of the Union speech President Obama called for streamlining government. He used federal oversight of salmon as an example of an area where streamlining might occur. The President said, “Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

Actually the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service is in charge of salmon all the time. The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps out with management of some salmon hatcheries.

Earthjustice attorney Todd True offered this bit of thinking to help the President sort out the complexities of federal salmon management.

“Salmon spend part of their lives in the ocean and part in the freshwater rivers and streams that flow through the states. The National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency of the Department of Commerce, has management authority over salmon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of Interior, manages some of the salmon hatcheries that produce salmon in freshwater to mitigate for the damage we’ve done to the rivers, streams and creeks where salmon spawn, lay their eggs and where young salmon start their lives. Earthjustice agrees with the President’s inclination to streamline federal salmon oversight. The best way to do this would be to make sure the money we spend to restore salmon is guided by the best science and the best scientists. Right now, salmon are in trouble up and down the west coast because political science has trumped biological science. All of the government agencies are too focused on protecting powerful economic interests instead of taking the steps we need to take to bring salmon back and support the communities and people that depend on them.”

Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles added, “Streamlining is fine, but stream protection is what we really need. All federal agencies need to follow the best science that protects and restores salmon habitat and clean water—that’s the way we’ll make sure our economy and environment don’t go up in smoke.”

Earthjustice and its clients have been deeply involved in salmon restoration efforts going back to the late 1980’s when we worked to get federal Endangered Species Act protection for the first salmon species, Sacramento River winter run king salmon. Earthjustice is currently involved in major legal efforts to restore salmon runs on the Columbia and Snake rivers, the Sacramento River and tributaries of the Klamath River. These are the three major salmon rivers on the west coast of the contiguous United States.

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.