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Judge Rules Sandy River Hatchery Violates ESA

OPB | Jan. 23, 2014 12:06 p.m. | Updated: Jan. 23, 2014 2:14 p.m.

The Native Fish Society says fishery managers aren't protecting wild chinook, coho, chum and steelhead against impacts from hatchery fish released into the Sandy River.

The Native Fish Society says fishery managers aren't protecting wild chinook, coho, chum and steelhead against impacts from hatchery fish released into the Sandy River.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a hatchery on the Sandy River run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) violates the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The plaintiffs in the suit were the Native Fish Society and the McKenzie Fly Fishers, who claimed the hatchery fish compete with wild fish for food and habitat, and pose a risk of weakening the wild fish population by interbreeding and spreading disease.

Judge Ancer Haggerty agreed with the claims made by the plaintiffs:

“The Sandy Hatchery, which has been in operation since 1951, is operated with ‘harvest’ rather than ‘conservation’ goals in mind. There is very little evidence to suggest a hatchery can restore a wild population of fish and the Sandy Hatchery is generally not intended to achieve any recovery goals. Rather, it is undisputed that hatchery operations can pose a host of risks to wild fish. Rather, it is undisputed that hatchery operations can pose a host of risks to wild fish.”

NOAA responded to the ruling with a statement saying the court merely found that it had not fully explained why the hatcheries are not a threat to wild salmon.

“The court did not pass judgment on Oregon’s hatchery operations themselves, which went into effect in late 2012 and have since significantly lowered straying of hatchery fish into wild fish spawning areas — the primary concern expressed by the court and one of the critical responsibilities of the hatchery programs.”

We’ll hear more on this ruling and what precedent it sets for Oregon’s salmon hatchery operations.

GUEST:

  • Michael Blumm: Professor specializing in natural resource law at Lewis and Clark Law School

Editor’s note: This post was modified to clarify the federal law in question.

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