Suit Wants Hatchery Fish Counted in Runsby Lisa Stiffler
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 14, 2005
Are salmon born in plastic trays the same as those hatched in streambeds?
Absolutely -- if you're part of a coalition of farmers and property rights and business groups.
No way -- if you're an environmentalist.
And if you're the government agency responsible for saving vanishing West Coast salmon runs, the answer is this: Both have value, but they aren't created equal.
That debate triggered a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based property rights group.
The suit seeks to have the National Marine Fisheries Service add hatchery fish to wild populations when considering the health of salmon runs.
Sixteen runs in Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They include Puget Sound chinook.
"These current listings are illegal," said Russell Brooks, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "We expect the judge to rule that they are illegal and order that when (the Fisheries Service) goes back and reviews the population that they must consider all the salmon."
If that were so, none of the runs would receive federal protection, said Fisheries Service spokesman Brian Gorman.
Without that protection, restrictions on streamside development could be weakened, fishing levels increased and limits on pesticide use near waterways relaxed.
This summer, Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle challenging a federal policy that looks at wild and hatchery fish when sizing up their likelihood of survival.
Last month, a judge refused to dismiss the suit, as requested by the Justice Department.
Environmentalists and many scientists argue that wild and hatchery fish are not the same, saying they behave differently and reproduce at different rates.
"There is not a credible shred of scientific evidence to support that, or even common- sense evidence to support that," said Kristen Boyles, a Seattle-based attorney for Earthjustice.
The Pacific Legal Foundation won a ruling in 2001 by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene that required fishery managers to consider hatchery salmon numbers when determining whether to list wild stocks as threatened or endangered.
"What our policy does not do and what the Pacific Legal Foundation fails to appreciate is this: It does not assume that hatchery fish and wild spawners are one-to-one equivalents," Gorman said. "The judge never said they were, nor did he order us to treat them as equivalent."
Brooks said the new lawsuit asks the court to rule that there should be no distinction between hatchery and wild salmon.
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