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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington’s Steelhead Hatchery Programs Violating ESA

Wild Fish Conservancy filed suit in federal court today against the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, alleging that the agency’s planting of “Chambers Creek” steelhead in Puget Sound watersheds is in violation of the Endangered Species Act
Mar 31, 2014

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, PLLC, 971-373-8692

For Immediate Release: Monday March 31, 2014

Washington’s Steelhead Hatchery Programs Violating ESA


Wild Fish Conservancy, a Puget Sound-based conservation group, filed suit in federal court today against the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), alleging that the agency’s planting of “Chambers Creek” (also known as “Early Winter Hatchery”) steelhead in Puget Sound watersheds is in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  When the NOAA Fisheries Service listed Puget Sound steelhead under the ESA in 2007, they explicitly excluded Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead from ESA protection because of its long history of domestication in WDFW’s hatchery programs. The widespread planting of the Chambers Creek hatchery stock across Puget Sound watersheds harms wild Puget Sound steelhead, wild Puget Sound Chinook salmon, and bull trout, all listed as “threatened” under the ESA.  WDFW has continued to operate its numerous Chambers Creek steelhead hatchery programs without permission from the NOAA Fisheries Service.  The complaint was filed in the US District Court for western Washington in Seattle.

“Contrary to popular belief, hatcheries are not helping wild fish recover; instead, research shows hatcheries are harming wild fish and impeding their recovery,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy.  “Many well-meaning anglers are avid supporters of steelhead hatcheries, unaware of the harm that hatcheries are causing to the very sport they care so much about.  Unfortunately, they and the general public have been misinformed, even by WDFW itself.”   

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that hatchery-origin steelhead adversely affect wild steelhead by causing negative genetic effects, attracting predators, competing for food and habitat, and also when hatchery steelhead prey on wild salmon and steelhead.  In addition, hatchery facilities block habitat and degrade water quality, adversely affecting wild fish.  The unpermitted Chambers Creek steelhead hatchery programs in Puget Sound are the sole subject of the suit, because rather than aiding wild steelhead, these programs harm wild steelhead and prevent their recovery.  

In 1969, the steelhead was declared Washington’s official “state fish.”  Despite that recognition, wild Puget Sound steelhead populations have steadily declined.  Since being listed as threatened under the ESA in 2007, the five-year average of Puget Sound wild steelhead abundance is about 25% of what it was in 2004, and less than 3% of what it was in 1900.  

“Ironically, what one hand of WDFW gives, the other takes away:  they are planning to spend public funds to raise and release nearly one million Chambers Creek fish annually, which in turn undermines the public funds invested in wild fish recovery,” Beardslee continued.  “But fully recovered wild steelhead populations would fulfill WDFW’s mandates to provide recreation and recover wild fish.”  

The group is represented by Smith and Lowney, PLLC, of Seattle.

Attachment: Complaint filed 3/31/2014

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