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Bush Proposal would Cut Salmon Catch,
Close Harmful Hatcheries

by Staff and News Service
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 26, 2006

To save Northwest salmon, the Bush administration wants to focus on reducing the number of threatened and endangered fish being caught by U.S. and Canadian fishermen and closing hatcheries that are harming wild spawners.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, announced the new policy Wednesday at a meeting in Portland of salmon scientists, many of whom have concluded that only remnant runs of wild Pacific salmon will survive unless people make major changes in the way they live.

The announcement triggered markedly different responses from conservation groups.

The message that fishing needs to be reduced and hatcheries scrutinized, "that's something Washington Trout has been saying for a long, long time," said Ramon Vanden Brulle, a spokesman for the non-profit group.

Washington Trout and three other conservation groups filed a notice of intent on Wednesday to sue the federal government for failing to set catch limits for Puget Sound salmon at levels allowing for recovery. An organization representing commercial fisherman bristled at Connaughton's remarks.

"It's a diversionary tactic," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "The administration has done everything it can ... to avoid dealing with the big issue in the Columbia (Basin), and that is the dams."

Jack Williams, the chief scientist for Trout Unlimited and former fisheries chief for the Bureau of Land Management, said Connaughton's proposals were "clearly inadequate."

Connaughton said extensive work has been done restoring freshwater habitat and making hydroelectric dams less lethal, and it is time to shift the focus.

"We cannot improperly hatch and we cannot carelessly catch our way back to salmon recovery," Connaughton told the scientists.

Connaughton, the top environmental adviser to President Bush, outlined the new policy at the Salmon 2100 Conference, where 350 scientists from government agencies, universities, Indian tribes and conservation groups gathered to consider new ways to stop the extinction of wild salmon.

The Salmon 2100 report, produced by 33 scientists and policy analysts, concludes that too many people using too much energy and too many natural resources make it inevitable that, without a major overhaul in the way people live, wild Pacific salmon will be reduced to remnant runs.

Current salmon runs are 5 percent of historical levels, said Robert Lackey, a fisheries scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency and chairman of the conference. Wild runs disappeared from Europe, most of Asia and the U.S. Northeast as populations grew.

Human population in the Northwest and British Columbia is likely to increase from 15 million to 65 million over the next century.

Lackey said Connaughton's proposals did not address the four primary drivers of wild salmon declines -- a market economy that gives salmon short shrift, rapid human population growth, increasing demand for clean water and human lifestyle choices that ignore the needs of fish.

And while Vanden Brulle found the announcement in line with his group's goals, he warned that it was not an excuse for abandoning habitat restoration and an examination of the dams.

The administration has repeatedly pledged its support for the hydroelectric dams. The new focus grew out of a commitment to end overfishing in all of the nation's oceans and efforts to renew the fisheries law of the land, the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act, Connaughton said.

Scientists have long blamed hatcheries for producing salmon that dilute the gene pool, spread disease and compete for food and habitat, while being less fit to survive in the wild.

Connaughton said NOAA Fisheries will review the 180 Columbia Basin hatcheries over the next 12 months and closing those harming salmon and helping those aiding recovery.

Associated Press
P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler contributed to this report by The Associated Press.
Bush Proposal would Cut Salmon Catch, Close Harmful Hatcheries
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 24, 2006

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