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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Federal Agencies Must Reconsider Net-pens’ Effects On Puget Sound

In an April 28 ruling, the US District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of Wild Fish Conservancy in a lawsuit the organization brought against the NOAA Fisheries Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2008.
Apr 29, 2010
WILD FISH CONSERVANCY
PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 • Tel 425-788-1167 • Fax 425-788-9634 • info@wildfishconservancy.org

Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167
Brian Knutsen, Smith and Lowney, LLP, 206-860-1394

The US District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the NOAA Fisheries Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the effects of Atlantic salmon net-pens on Puget Sound’s orcas and salmon, and this time use the “best available science” as mandated by the federal Endangered Species Act.  In an April 28 ruling, Judge John C. Coughenour ruled in favor of Wild Fish Conservancy, a conservation group based in the Seattle area, in a lawsuit the organization brought against the federal agencies in 2008.  

Puget Sound’s orcas and a number of salmon species are protected under the ESA and the law requires federal agencies to “consult” whenever their actions “may affect” ESA-protected species.  The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needed to consult with NOAA when EPA was considering state regulations that allow net-pens to exceed “sediment-management standards” in areas below and around the net-pens.  EPA and NOAA determined that there was not likely to be adverse effects to threatened and endangered salmon, but the Court found that this decision was not based on the “best available science” as the ESA requires.

“Incredibly, EPA did not consider the recovery plans for Puget Sound orcas or Chinook salmon, even though those plans are based on the best available science” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy.  “Even more incredibly, NOAA did not point this out to them.  Agencies cannot simply ‘cherry-pick’ those reports that support some pre-determined conclusion.”    

“The Court correctly found that the agencies’ failed to meet the ESA’s ‘best available science’ standard by ignoring their own recovery plans for the species,” said Brian Knutsen, attorney with the firm of Smith and Lowney, LLP, who represented Wild Fish Conservancy on this case.  The Court has ordered the agencies to re-evaluate whether “formal consultation” under the ESA is required, and “this time” to use best available science.

“This is an important win for listed salmonids wherever they are found because there is a tremendous amount of information on the effects of net pens,” continued Beardslee.  “Those data, along with the recovery plans, should have been used by the agencies in their determinations.”

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