Today, four conservation groups asked the US District Court for Western Washington to halt planned releases of hatchery coho salmon and steelhead into the Elwha River until the Court has an opportunity to determine whether the releases comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In February 2012, Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition filed suit against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. The suit alleges that the agencies and Tribal officials (in their official capacities) are violating the ESA and ignoring the best available science by funding and operating fish hatchery programs in the Elwha River. Today’s motion for a preliminary injunction asks the Court to stop planned releases of hatchery coho salmon and steelhead and the taking of threatened steelhead for use as hatchery broodstock.
“The science is clear that the planting of hatchery fish is detrimental to wild fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Instead of ‘business as usual,’ these hatchery programs need to comply with the ESA.”
The federal government is spending nearly $325 million for the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, which will open nearly seventy miles of pristine riverine habitat in Olympic National Park, much of which is designated a wilderness area. Instead of natural colonization by wild salmonids, however, the agencies and the Tribal officials are going ahead with a plan that will eventually allow the release of more than seven million juvenile hatchery salmonids annually.
The four conservation groups agree with a recent review by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) that restoration of the lower Elwha River and re-colonization of the pristine upper Elwha River should prioritize recovery of wild fish. The proposed reliance on large-scale hatchery releases undermines ecosystem recovery and violates the ESA, and threatens recovery of bull trout and Puget Sound Chinook and steelhead, all listed as threatened species under the ESA. While the groups support the right of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe to harvest salmon and steelhead, spending $325 million to open a wilderness watershed but then stocking it with hatchery fish is poor public policy and will likely lead to skepticism over future salmon recovery efforts, especially dam removal projects.
The groups are represented by Smith and Lowney, PLLC, of Seattle.
- Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167
- Brian Knutsen, Smith and Lowney, PLLC, 971-373-8692