A sixty-day notice letter mailed on September 16, 2011 to federal and state agencies charges that these agencies are violating the Endangered Species by ignoring best available science and the needs of killer whales and native steelhead by funding a fish hatchery that will impede the recovery of the Elwha River ecosystem.
A second sixty-day notice regarding the same charges was mailed to Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe hatchery operators on November 16, 2011.
Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition served legal notice that they would file suit against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife under the federal Endangered Species Act. The groups allege that the fish hatchery plan that the agencies are implementing for the Elwha River violates the ESA by harming Puget Sound Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout without the proper authorization.
The federal government has already taken steps to remove Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam and open up miles of pristine riverine habitat in Olympic National Park, with actual demolition scheduled to begin this fall. But instead of relying on colonization of the habitat by wild salmonids, however, the federal and state agencies are going ahead with a plan that includes a new $16 million fish hatchery that will increase production of steelhead not native to the basin.
“This is the world’s largest river restoration project and the wild salmon deserve a chance to come back to the Elwha without having to compete with millions of hatchery fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “The habitat is excellent and the wild fish would colonize it quickly if left alone.”
Will Atlas, chair of the FFF Steelhead Committee, said “The reality is that the annual release of four million hatchery fish means that the Elwha will not reach its potential. In the rush to harvest the abundant hatchery fish we will be repeating the mistakes of the past, depressing the productivity of the habitat we fought so hard to restore.”
Rich Simms, president of the Wild Steelhead Coalition said that the Coalition “hopes that the issue can be resolved for the benefit of wild, not hatchery, steelhead.”
“This is a first time opportunity, unlike other dam removals, because the habitat is pristine,” said Pete Soverel, president of The Conservation Angler. “But we are going to compromise the recovery efforts by out-of-basin, Chambers Creek steelhead stock which NOAA’s own scientists say is unsuitable for Elwha recovery.”
The groups believe that dam removal is a giant step forward to restore the ecosystem but relying on artificial production is counter-productive. The agencies’ plan gives no timetable for ceasing the hatchery production.