WASHINGTON The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Friday that it will not appeal a federal court decision that removed Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection from Oregon Coast coho salmon.
A spokesperson for the fisheries service said it will instead conduct a comprehensive public review of its salmon hatchery policies and increase its support for local recovery efforts.
Meanwhile, it will maintain current protections for salmon species still listed as threatened or endangered. That would include the transboundary coho south of Cape Blanco.
Bill Hogarth, fisheries service assistant administrator, said, Recognizing the successes of local restoration efforts, we are determined to build on this momentum and bring state, local and tribal groups together to discuss salmon restoration efforts in a new and meaningful way.
Our goal is to apply the best science and take into account public input in developing a salmon protection model that will benefit people, our environment and ensure healthy fish populations for generations to come.
Hogarth said the agency will immediately take several steps to respond to the courts order and provide consistency in future ESA listing decisions.
Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the fisheries service will review and finalize its hatchery policy on including hatchery salmon as part of the stocks listed under the ESA. The review will include public input and should be completed by September.
The fisheries service will review 20 other ESA listings that include hatchery salmon that may be affected by the final policy.
The fisheries service will support and encourage local initiatives to restore salmon runs and will become a full partner in those efforts.
Working with state, federal, tribal and private partners, the fisheries service will continue to protect all currently listed species during the review process.
Hogarth said input and cooperation from state and regional authorities, tribal leaders, sportsmen, conservationists, farmers, interest groups and affected industries would be key to a successful salmon protection policy.
It is essential that this be an inclusive process that takes into account the diverse interests of the Pacific Northwest region and California, he said.
Hogarth said state programs like the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, and Washingtons Statewide Strategy to Recover Salmon, will continue salmon recovery efforts while the hatchery policy is being reviewed.
In 1998, the fisheries service listed Oregon Coast coho salmon, the species north of Cape Blanco, as threatened under the ESA. It did not list hatchery fish from the same stock.
On Sept. 12, Oregon federal district judge Michael Hogan set the listing aside. He ruled the service must include both hatchery and naturally-spawning salmon in determining listing status. He said hatchery and natural salmon must be listed or not listed together.
Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont said if the review indicates the same policy should be used for coho south of Cape Blanco, the inclusion of hatchery fish in the total might remove the population from its listed status.
On the other hand, she said, if the population is still deemed too small, even hatchery coho might be listed.
La Bont said of the review, It could be positive if it means we can be taken off the listing, unless it prevents us from taking hatchery fish. We wont know until September.
Meanwhile, she said, the Pacific Fishery Management Council will continue to regulate the harvest of coho.
If coho south of Cape Blanco are eventually taken off the listing, she said, it would ease the kind of permitting process the port had to go through when putting in new fuel tanks.
La Bont thinks the coho population in the Rogue River is healthy. She said the determining factor in this area could be the coho count in the Klamath River.
Jim Welter, salmon advisor for the Port of Brookings Harbor, said it was interesting that the fisheries service once did not believe the Oregon Plan could sufficiently protect salmon, but now seems to think local restoration plans are the way to go.