Petitions to Delist Fish Runs are Acceptedby Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, February 12, 2002
The National Marine Fisheries Service said Monday it will consider five petitions to remove federal protection from 14 stocks of West Coast salmon and steelhead.
The petitions contend that the listings should be thrown out because in each case the fisheries service improperly distinguished between hatchery and wild fish. Those filings followed a Sept. 10 decision by U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan of Eugene, who ruled that Oregon coastal coho should be removed from the endangered species list because the fisheries service protected only wild coho while ignoring abundant hatchery runs.
Although that decision was reversed when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to consider an appeal of the ruling, it has had a significant impact. In November, the fisheries service cited the Hogan decision when it decided to review federal hatchery policy and determine what role hatcheries should play in the restoration of salmon populations.
The agency also said it would re-evaluate 23 salmon and steelhead listings on the West Coast to decide whether large numbers of hatchery fish make federal protection for only wild fish improper.
Six petitions received Hogan's ruling triggered six petitions calling for 15 runs of salmon and steelhead to be removed from the endangered species list. The agency gave weight to those petitions Monday by ruling that five of the petitions, covering 14 runs, "present substantial scientific and commercial information."
The fisheries service has until October to propose removing federal protections for the 14 runs. Under the Endangered Species Act, it could have declined to consider them.
"This gives us some hope that the federal government will do the right thing and delist these salmon," said Portland attorney James Buchal, who filed four of the five petitions. Abundant runs of hatchery salmon in the past two years show that the fish are not imperiled, he said. "Maybe if you have the highest salmon runs ever recorded, salmon aren't really endangered."
Russell Brooks, the attorney who brought the original lawsuit before Hogan, welcomed the agency's decision. "It signifies that the fisheries service accepts the fact that there is a substantial amount of information out there that indicates that delistings may be necessary," Brooks said.
Action called unnecessary
But conservationists criticized the fisheries service for agreeing to consider the petitions. They said the action was unnecessary because the federal government is already reviewing its hatchery policy and its decisions to protect the fish named in the petitions.
"(The fisheries service) is doing a disservice to the very species it is charged with protecting by spending limited resources on these petitions," said Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited in Portland. The petitions present "specious arguments having little, if any, scientific or legal footing," Lovell said.
Janet Sears, a fisheries service spokeswoman in Seattle, said the agency is used to receiving petitions that are 80 or 90 pages long and filled with scientific information. These petitions are much shorter than usual -- some only two or three pages.
But accepting them makes sense because the agency is already reviewing the listings, she said. The petitions were deemed substantive because they refer to the important Hogan ruling, she said.
Fisheries service Web site at www.nwr.noaa.gov/occd/PetitionFindingsFRN.html.
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