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Commentaries and editorials

Cantwell Pushes NOAA to Reduce Delays in
Approving Hatchery Genetic Management Plans

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 26, 2016

"Washington state hatcheries contribute 28,000 jobs statewide and nearly $5 billion in economic activity every year. ..."

A hatchery steelhead soon meets its end in the hatchery from which it came. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has weighed in on hatcheries management, demanding that the federal government eliminate bureaucratic delays for plans that govern hatchery operations in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

This week, Cantwell targeted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for delays in approving Hatchery Genetic Management Plans that are required under the ESA. Without the approved plans, Washington's salmon hatcheries are left vulnerable to lawsuits and closures, Cantwell says.

So far, NOAA has approved only 52 out of 391 genetic management plans, and Cantwell is pressing the agency in regard to the lack of plan approvals.

Sam Rauch, NOAA deputy assistant administrator, has responded that the agency has been having trouble processing the plans, but efforts are underway to expedite the process.

"We increased our staff such that we can increase the throughput to 55 plans a year . . . We are behind and don't expect by the end of the year we will get them done," Rauch said.

Cantwell pressed for NOAA to speed up the approvals.

"At 55 a year it would take us another six years to process those plans and the lawsuits being to stop hatchery production would obviously bring havoc for the industry," Cantwell said.

Lawsuits regarding hatcheries and fish farms in the Puget Sound are clear and present, with the plaintiffs claiming that the operations do harm to wild fisheries. The main plaintiffs have been the Wild Fish Conservancy, a group of organizations including The International Federation of Fly Fishers, the Washington Fly Fishing Club, The Conservation Anglers, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition.

On Feb. 16, the Wild Fish Conservancy filed a lawsuit that contends the government has failed to complete and implement a recovery plan for threatened Puget Sound steeelhead as required under the ESA.

The conservancy says the government has not completed a recovery plan for Puget Sound steelhead since the species was listed under the ESA in 2007 and being assigned the highest recovery priority. Final recovery plans should be completed within three years, the plaintiffs say.

"It's been over eight years since Puget Sound steelhead were listed as threatened under the ESA," said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. "NOAA just announced it will be another four years, making it 12 year or more in total until they have completed the final recovery plan. That's much too long of a delay given the status of the species. Major decisions are already being made in the absence of this plan, including determinations on the levels of harm that are deemed acceptable from hatcheries, what rivers are going to be managed for wild steelhead, and which important steelhead habitats must be protected and restored."

The Wild Fish Conservancy has been pursuing legal challenges related to salmon farms in the Puget Sound and salmon hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest, contending they present harmful effects to wild fish populations.

Cantwell's office sees things differently.

"Salmon hatcheries are a central part of the fishery management strategy in the Pacific Northwest and support fisheries by supplementing the total stock available for fishing," a Cantwell press release states. "Washington state hatcheries contribute 28,000 jobs statewide and nearly $5 billion in economic activity every year. Many hatcheries have submitted draft Hatchery Genetic Management Plans to NOAA for over a decade, yet NOAA has only reviewed and approved 13 percent of plans."

Related Pages:
Study Looks at Cost Effectiveness of Habitat Restoration Compared to Hatcheries by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 4/3/15
Wild Fish Advocates Threaten Suit Over Hatcheries by Rich Landers, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, 1/20/16

Cantwell Pushes NOAA to Reduce Delays in Approving Hatchery Genetic Management Plans
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 26, 2016

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