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Wild Fish Conservancy files motion to halt the illegal use of Mitchell Act funding for 10 Columbia River hatcheries

Jul 15, 2016

PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 · Tel 425-788-1167 · Fax 425-788-9634 ·
[email protected]

Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167
Brian Knutsen, Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC, 503-841-6515
David H. Becker, Law Office of David H. Becker, LLC, (503) 388-9160

Wild Fish Conservancy files motion to halt the illegal use of Mitchell Act funding for 10 Columbia River hatcheries

Friday, July 15, 2016- Today, Wild Fish Conservancy filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for Oregon, seeking a court order prohibiting the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) from disbursing any funding for the operation of ten federal Mitchell Act hatchery programs that release hatchery fish which harm wild Lower Columbia River (LCR) Chinook and coho salmon.

Congress enacted the Mitchell Act in 1938, in an effort to mitigate adverse effects to wild salmon in the Columbia River Basin resulting from the construction of dams, water diversions, logging, and pollution. NMFS distributes funds appropriated under the Mitchell Act that Congress has allocated to hatchery programs. In the past six years, NMFS has disbursed between $13.7 and $22.7 million each year to fund 63 hatchery programs that release more than 50 million hatchery fish into the Columbia River and its tributaries annually.

Over 80% of the fish in the Columbia River basin are of hatchery origin. These hatchery fish, bred in artificial conditions, are less fit to reproduce than the few remaining wild fish. But when the hatchery fish spawn with the wild fish, they reduce the fitness of wild fish, and put the recovery of the LCR fish species in jeopardy. A congressionally-chartered scientific review in 2009 identified harm to wild populations when more than 5% of the fish spawning with wild populations are of hatchery origin. NMFS has explained that it supports the standard that hatchery stray rates should be managed such that less than 5 percent of the naturally spawning population consists of hatchery fish from a different area. Today, the levels of hatchery fish in the Lower Columbia River exceed 80% and 90% for many wild populations, making their extinction almost certain.

“Wild Columbia River salmon face a high risk of extinction,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Despite the dire condition of these species, public funds are used to raise and release about 54 million Chinook and 17 million coho hatchery fish into the lower Columbia River and its tributaries every year—mostly from Mitchell Act-funded hatcheries. NMFS, in charge of recovering ESA-listed salmon, is complicit in funding their extinction. An injunction against funding these programs is necessary to protect wild fish from further harm until NMFS complies with its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”

Federal agencies are obligated under section 7 of the ESA to consult on any action it funds to ensure that that action “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species.” However, since at least 1999, NMFS has failed to comply with the ESA consultation requirements for nearly all 63 programs. Consultations prior to 1999 are outdated, as several salmon and steelhead population units in the Columbia Basin have since been listed under the ESA and considerable new scientific information about the many ways hatchery fish can harm wild, ESA-listed, salmon has become available. Both the new listings and new scientific information required that previous consultations be re-initiated immediately.

The hatchery programs funded by NMFS under the Mitchell Act adversely affect the ESA-listed species in a variety of ways, including facility effects, fish removal activities, genetic and  ecological interactions, fishery effects, and monitoring and evaluation. NMFS is therefore required to consult on these effects under section 7(a)(2) of the ESA. NMFS has failed to initiate or reinitiate consultation and is in direct violation of the ESA for failing to do so.

This motion focuses narrowly on NMFS’s funding of ten hatchery programs operated on behalf of NMFS by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) that harm LCR Chinook and coho salmon.

Wild Fish Conservancy is represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC of Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, and the Law Office of David H. Becker, LLC, of Portland, OR.



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