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Lawsuit Challenges Use of Hatchery Fish in Counts

by Peggy Andersen, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 7, 2006

Conservation groups Thursday challenged a new government policy that includes hatchery fish in counts used to determine the status of dwindling salmon and steelhead runs.

In a federal court lawsuit the plaintiffs also challenged the downlisting of upper Columbia steelhead -- from endangered to threatened -- that has resulted from that policy.

"The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect wildlife's ability to sustain itself in the wild. And that means the focus is on wild steelhead in rivers, not steelhead that are produced in hatcheries," said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of six plaintiff groups against the National Marine Fisheries Service and its regional director, Bob Lohn.

Calls to the agency after business hours were not immediately returned.

The lawsuit also challenges the fisheries service's decision not to split wild and hatchery steelhead and salmon into separate listing units, "even though it also found that those hatchery fish pose a threat to the survival and recovery of the wild steelhead. By treating hatchery fish as eligible for listing status, NMFS is acting contrary to the Endangered Species Act."

The downlisting of the upper Columbia steelhead was published in the Federal Register in January. The new listing policy was published last summer.

That's about the same time that lower Columbia coho salmon were listed as threatened instead of endangered, Goldman said.

She contended that decision also was based on a count that included hatchery fish.

"This could lead to a future where we have salmon that are produced in hatcheries instead of salmon sustaining themselves in their native streams," she said.

"Because hatcheries can pose a threat to the wild salmon and steelhead survival and recovery, they must be managed to promote the (Endangered Species Act)'s goals rather than listed under the act," the lawsuit said.

"Lumping wild and hatchery steelhead together ... runs counter to the best available science, including the views expressed by NMFS' scientific advisers and other esteemed scientific bodies," it added. The lawsuit said the policy also marks a reversal in course by the fisheries agency.

It asked the court to set aside the downlisting of upper Columbia steelhead, declare the listing policy invalid and order the fisheries service to reconsider a request to consider wild and hatchery fish separately.

The listed plaintiffs are Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Pacific Rivers Council, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Native Fish Society and the Sierra Club.

Peggy Andersen, Associated Press
Lawsuit Challenges Use of Hatchery Fish in Counts
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 7, 2006

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