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Judge: Sandy Hatchery Violates Endangered Species Act

A weir designed to catch stray hatchery fish

A Federal judge has ruled that the Sandy Hatchery violates the Endangered Species Act because of its impacts on wild salmon.  The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by Native Fish Society (NFS) and McKenzie Fly Fishers contending that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approval and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s release of hatchery fish illegally threatens the recovery of threatened steelhead and salmon.

Judge Ancer Haggerty’s opinion, issued January 16, 2014, concluded that the Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP) for the Sandy hatchery is not preventing negative impacts on wild fish populations.  The HGMP, proposed by ODFW and approved by NMFS, would release 1 million hatchery smolts per year in the Sandy, acclimating some in the Bull Run River and placing wier traps upstream to catch straying hatchery origin adults. In his opinion, Judge Haggerty wrote “it is clear that the Sandy River Basin is of particular importance to the recovery of four listed species and is an ecologically critical area.” Noting the a spike in stray hatchery Spring Chinook in Sandy spawning areas after Marmot Dam’s removal in 2007, the judge said it was illegal to rely on the agencies’ planned measures to limit hatchery impacts. “Because the use of weirs and acclimation was uncertain to reduce stray rates below targets and because excessive stray rates are harmful to these threatened fish species, it was arbitrary and capricious to conclude that the HGMPs would have no significant impact…

“(T)he court finds that NMFS failed to provide a reasoned analysis of why weirs and acclimation would mitigate the problems caused by stray rates. Without reasonable certainty that these mitigation measures would reduce stray rates, it was arbitrary for NMFS to rely upon them.” 

NFS Executive Director Mike Moody stated “Native Fish Society is not trying to close down fishing of any kind, but rather to ensure recovery of wild fish,” in a press release by the organization.

The plaintiffs seek a science-based approach to wild fish recovery, Moody said. “The science is irrefutable. The law is irrefutable” regarding adverse impacts of hatchery fish on ESA-listed wild salmon and steelhead.

The timeline and details of hatchery changes stemming from the judge’s decision is not yet certain, although the judgement requires that remedies be developed prior to planned 2014 release of hatchery smolts.

Fishing groups, several of whom filed an amicus brief supporting the state and federal agency positions on the hatchery operations, are concerned about the economic impacts of potential reduction in hatchery salmon releases.

Read much more about this decision here:

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