Wild Coho Salmon Exist,
by Jonathan Brinckman
The fisheries service denies an emergency listing of the species as endangered;
a decision will come next year
The National Marine Fisheries Service said Friday it would consider listing Columbia River coho salmon under the federal Endangered Species Act, handing conservation groups a victory.
Oregon Trout, the Native Fish Society and Trout Unlimited had argued that populations of wild coho spawn naturally in the Sandy and Clackamas rivers, and the federal agency's decision Friday means it now agrees.
If the agency protects the fish, the listing could mean sharp catch limits or closures of sport and commercial fisheries that pursue the hundreds of thousands of coho raised in hatcheries operated by the federal government and the states of Oregon and Washington.
The fisheries service has a year to decide.
"We're very pleased that they have finally acknowledged formally that these wild fish do exist," said Jim Myron, conservation director of Oregon Trout. "This action is long overdue."
The conservation groups also had asked for an emergency listing of the fish as endangered. The fisheries service denied that request, ruling that the fish are not at immediate risk of extinction.
Conservation groups petitioned the fisheries service in 1990 and again in 1993 to list Columbia River coho. The agency denied those petitions, saying it could find no evidence of the existence of wild fish that didn't come from hatchery stock.
But in July 1999, the state of Oregon listed Columbia River coho as endangered under the state Endangered Species Act. Conservationists said that that decision helped prompt the federal government to consider listing the fish under the far more powerful federal Endangered Species Act.
"In the Columbia, wild coho salmon have been reduced to less than 1 percent of historic run size and are near extinction," said Bill Bakke, executive director of the Native Fish Society. "It is good to see that NMFS is finally rethinking its earlier decisions to ignore these fish."
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