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Laws and Regulations to Protect Wild Fish

There have been laws to protect wild fish in Washington almost as long as there has been a “Washington.”  The first state legislature passed a law requiring fish passage at any obstruction built in a stream or river.  Besides the state laws that deal directly with fish, there are laws regulating human activities relating to lands and waters.  There are also federal laws that affect wild fish as well as lands and waters and at least one international treaty, the Pacific Salmon Treaty.  Some of those federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act, give great authority – and responsibility -- to the state.

In 2000, Northwest author Daniel Jack Chasen wrote a review of how well some of these laws are working to promote salmon recovery. This paper, “The Rusted Shield” was commissioned by the Bullitt Foundation, and written shortly after some of the first Endangered Species Act listings of Puget Sound salmonids.

A landmark US Supreme Court decision of 1994, argued over a proposed hydroelectric project on the Dosewallips River, said that a decrease in water quantity can be considered “pollution,” it also upheld Washington’s use of the “antidegradation policy” that it enacted as part of its federal Clean Water Act responsibilities.  In 2009, Wild Fish Conservancy staff biologist Mark Hersh published a review of state initiatives and the antidegradation policy in West-Northwest Journal of Environmental Law and Policy (a publication of the University of California-Hastings).  The University holds a copyright to the publication, but reproduction is permitted for personal or classroom use.  Contact Mark Hersh ([email protected]) if you have any questions or comments on “The Clean Water Act’s Antidegradation Policy and Its Role in Watershed Protection in Washington State.”

The Pacific Salmon Commission is the body formed by the governments of Canada and the United States to implement the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

The Endangered Species Act is administered by both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service

The Clean Water Act is administered by the Washington Department of Ecology, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Department of Ecology also administers the state’s Water Pollution Control Act and the Surface Water Quality Standards.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife administers the Hydraulic Code (governing work in or near waterways) as well as other laws on fish, including the current version of the fish passage law mentioned above.

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