Salmon not threatened after all?

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will review a petition to remove two Pacific Northwest salmon populations from the Endangered Species Act’s threatened list.

The petition, filed by the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners (KAPO), alleges that Puget Sound chinook and Hood Canal summer chum aren’t in danger of extinction after all. NMFS agreed to review it on Feb. 11.

KAPO originally filed the petition in October 2001.

“The Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners is encouraged to see the federal government take a closer look at the ESA listing of the Pacific Coast salmonids,” KAPO president Jan Oleksiak said. “The National Marine Fisheries Service has utilized questionable science and process in its quest to protect salmon ... until we make the effort to discover the real impacts upon the various species, we will never have an effective way to restore the runs.”

Members of KAPO, backed by Portland attorney James Buchal and fueled by a U.S. District Court decision, argue that federal officials must consider both hatchery and wild salmon stocks. The original listing was based only on wild salmon, which NMFS officials say are more genetically diverse.

“We’re hopeful the administration will obey the law and remove the fish from the Endangered Species list,” Buchal said. “It’s been a longstanding irritant.”

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan ruled in September 2001 that the federal government can’t separate hatchery fish from wild fish for purposes of protection under ESA.

NMFS officials decided not to appeal Hogan’s ruling on federal management of Oregon coastal coho, but a Ninth Circuit Court stayed the delisting in December 2001, pending an appeal by conservation groups.

NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said that was when the agency decided to review its hatchery policies and the status of 24 of the 26 listed fish populations on the West Coast.

Federal officials argue that wild fish are much more likely than hatchery fish to naturally propagate the species. Until enough wild fish are spawning in a region, Gorman said, the species hasn’t yet recovered and can’t be removed from the ESA listing.

“We announced the decision to conduct biological reviews late last year when we decided we wouldn’t appeal Hogan’s decision,” Gorman said. “The time was ripe to do a review of the hatchery program and the biological surveys. While Hogan’s ruling definitely got our attention, it was time to review.”

Since NMFS decided to go ahead with the biological review and the hatchery policy review, officials also opted to accept the petition — one of six filed — earlier this month.

NMFS has until Feb. 11, 2003 to decide whether to propose delisting. Then it has another year to decide whether delisting is warranted.

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