Wild Fish Conservancy Lawsuit Seeks Consultations to
There has been a flurry of filings in recent days over litigation challenging the potential harm that Puget Sound commercial salmon farms can pose to wild salmon populations.
The lawsuit, filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy last November, is being presided over by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in the Western Washington District Court. The Wild Fish Conservancy complaint basically contends that fish raised in the Puget Sound salmon farms, despite good intents, are harmful to wild fish populations.
The Wild Fish Conservancy is also leading a recently filed lawsuit over alleged harmful impacts of inland Mitchell Act hatcheries on Columbia Basin wild salmonids listed under the Endangered Species Act.
But the most recent filings by the Wild Fish Conservancy pertain to commercial salmon operations in the Puget Sound, alleging that the farmed fish present risks to wild salmon.
The Puget Sound chinook salmon and Hood Canal summer-run salmon are listed as endangered species. The lawsuit contends that commercial salmon farms -- there are currently eight floating penned facilities in the Sound-- "pose myriad risks to wild salmonids, many of which are well-studied and documented."
"Defendants deny each and every allegation in the complaint that has not otherwise been expressly admitted, qualified or denied," states a response from defendant government agencies that was filed on Feb. 8. It requests that the court dismiss the lawsuit.
Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service "deny every statement, matter, allegation and thing in the plaintiff's complaint" unless that complaint is modified in the future.
On Feb. 9, the Wild Fish Conservancy filed an amended complaint, but the basics of the allegations remain intact: "Commercial salmon farms pose myriad risks to wild salmonids, many of which are well-studied and documented. Despite known risks and harms, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Environmental Protection Agency determined in 2008 that commercial salmon farms in Puget Sound are not likely to have any adverse effect on threatened wild salmonids. The agencies thus declined to fully evaluate and minimize harmful effects from these operations through a formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act."
The revised complaint goes on to point out that a 2008 court determination that the government's determination on the salmon farms did not meet Endangered Species Act standards, and it directed the agencies to reconsider their findings. But the agencies concluded again in 2011 that commercial salmon farms are not likely to have adverse effects on threatened salmon species.
The Wild Fish Conservancy's litigation has triggered a rapid response.
On Feb. 11, hatchery operators Icicle Acquisition Subsidiary, LLC, and American Gold Seafood intervened on behalf of the defendant government agencies.
Also on Feb. 11, Judge Pechman issued an order requiring the participating parties in the case to submit briefs in support of their arguments by Feb. 25. A date for oral arguments has yet to be scheduled.
There are currently eight floating penned facilities in Puget Sound.
NOAA Fisheries and the Environmental Protection Agency, the main defendants in the case, determined in 2008 that salmon farms in the Sound are not likely to have any adverse effect on threatened wild salmonids.
"The agencies thus declined to fully evaluate and minimize harmful effects from these operations through a formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act," the lawsuit states. "The court found that the 2008 determination did not meet ESA standards and ordered NMFS and EPA to reconsider their findings. Remarkably, the agencies concluded again in 2011 that the Puget Sound commercial salmon farms are not likely to have any adverse effect on threatened salmonids and that formal consultation under the ESA is unnecessary."
The lawsuit adds that "the next year there was an outbreak of the infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) at three commercial salmon farms near Rich Passage at the southern end of Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Such outbreaks artificially amplify the number of viral particles that would otherwise occur due to the number and density of fish contained at the farms."
The salmon farms are operated by Icicle Seafoods, and they produce an estimated 10 million pounds of salmon annually.
The outbreak occurred at a time when wild juvenile salmonids were migrating near the farms and "likely had significant adverse effects on the wild fish," the lawsuit states, adding that the 2011 decision against pursuing a formal ESA consultation has not been revisited.
The lawsuit seeks to have the court order a formal consultation to fully evaluate the risks the farms may pose to wild salmon.
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