Delisting of Snake River
by Laura Berg
A petition from an Alaska commercial-fishing group to delist Snake River fall Chinook was rejected by NOAA Fisheries, the agency announced May 26.
The request, by Chinook Futures Coalition, was the first formal effort to remove one of the 13 species of Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead from protection under the ESA.
In a Federal Register notice, NOAA Fisheries acknowledged Snake River fall Chinook have had strong returns in recent years and their status had improved since they were listed in 1992.
But the improved abundance of wild fish is likely due to large numbers of hatchery fish spawning naturally and returning as wild fish, the agency said.
Abundance is only one measure considered in delisting, the notice continued. The other metrics--species productivity or growth rate, spatial structure and genetic diversity--were evaluated and did not meet the criteria for delisting, the agency said.
Chinook Futures Coalition requested the delisting in January 2015 because of concerns that protected Snake River fall Chinook would limit the number of Chinook that could be legally caught. The Snake River fish travel north to waters off Alaska.
NOAA Fisheries rejected the group's demand that hatchery and naturally spawned fish be treated equally during the agency's five-year status review process.
The federal notice quoted a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which said "the ESA is primarily focused on natural populations," and that a demand for equal treatment of hatchery and wild fish during the review process "simply finds no grounding in the statutory text of the ESA."
In the May 26 Federal Register notice, the agency noted that one of the scenarios for recovering Snake River fall Chinook would involve reintroduction of the species above Hells Canyon Dam, a proposal the agency released last November.
Federal officials listed Snake River fall Chinook as threatened and partly attributed their decline to habitat loss caused by dams.
In a separate notice in the same issue of the Federal Register, NOAA Fisheries concluded all 17 Pacific salmon evolutionarily significant units, the 10 steelhead distinct population segments, and the southern DPS of eulachon "shall remain listed as currently classified."
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