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Fish Advocates Fight Delisting Tactic

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, October 20, 2001

Petition filed by irrigators group is challenged

Several salmon advocates have sent a letter to the Northwest administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service trashing a petition submitted by the Columbia and Snake River Irrigators to delist nine species of salmon and steelhead in the Snake and Columbia rivers.

In the letter, officials from Trout Unlimited, Save Our Wild Salmon, American Rivers and several other groups tell administrator Bob Lohn the petition is lacking scientific and commercial information required for a petition to be considered valid.

"Basically there is no information being submitted in the petition that would indicate why these stocks should be delisted," said Rob Masonis of American Rivers, at Seattle.

"It's a diatribe, not a petition," added Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited at Portland. "A petition in our opinion has to have things like biological information and justification for what he is doing."

Late last month Portland attorney James Buchal filed a petition to delist all species of salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin protected by the Endangered Species Act, as well as spring chinook and steelhead in the Columbia River. The petition was submitted on behalf of the irrigators, the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners and the Skagit County Cattlemen's Association. Buchal based the request largely on a recent ruling handed down by a federal judge in Oregon.

In that case, Judge Michael Hogan ruled the National Marine Fisheries Service erred when it protected wild coastal coho but not hatchery coho, even though they belong to the same geographically distinct subspecies.

The Fisheries Service refers to subspecies as evolutionary significant units and listed wild coho as threatened but not hatchery coho, even though it included them in the same population. The Endangered Species Act says distinct population segments of a subspecies, essentially the same things as an evolutionary significant unit, can be listed but no further division of a species is permitted. Hogan ruled by separating wild salmon from hatchery salmon the service divided the subspecies too far.

Most of the salmon and steelhead listings in the Snake and Columbia rivers were prepared in a similar manner and, according to Buchal, should be reversed.

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for National Marine Fisheries Service at Seattle said it's true that petitions to list or delist a species do need to provide the latest scientific and commercial information available.

"It isn't sufficient to simply tell us you want some fish listed or delisted. You have to provide some kind of evidence that their numbers are so low that they need to be listed or they have recovered sufficiently that they should be delisted."

Gorman said his agency is still considering Buchal's petition. It has 90 days to determine if the petition has merit then up to two years to make a final decision. The Fisheries Service is still considering whether or not it will appeal the Hogan ruling.

Buchal scoffed at the notion that more scientific information needs to be submitted to the Fisheries Service that has been studying salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest for years.

"The point is the evidence is already in the hands of the Fishery Service. I don't have to bring in new evidence when they are already sitting on it," he said. "There isn't a risk to hatchery stocks, this was a hoax to begin with."

Buchal is the author of "The Great Salmon Hoax," and has and also submitted petitions to delist protected species of salmon in Puget Sound and coho salmon and suckers in the Klamath Basin.

Curtis said his group is preparing to submit a petition to list wild stocks of salmon and steelhead on the Oregon coast and the Columbia Basin should the listings be overturned or successfully challenged in court.

Eric Barker
Fish Advocates Fight Delisting Tactic
Lewiston Tribune, October 20, 2001

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