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Wild Fish Conservancy Files Intent-To-Sue Notice Challenging Operations At Leavenworth Hatchery
Posted on Friday, July 18, 2014 (PST)

Wild Fish Conservancy on July 9 filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act associated with the operation of central Washington’s Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. 


The Washington-based conservation organization says the hatchery harms and kills ESA-listed Upper Columbia River spring chinook salmon and steelhead, and bull trout through a variety of mechanisms. That “take” of threatened and endangered species violates section 9 of the ESA, according to the notice.


The group says that the hatchery and the fish it produces causes take of listed wild fish through a variety of harmful mechanisms, including facility effects, genetic introgression, ecological interactions, broodstock collection activities, monitoring and evaluation activities, and disease transmission.


“Indeed, the hatchery has no ESA authorization whatsoever for the harm it causes to listed chinook salmon and steelhead,” according to the conservation group. “The hatchery is out of compliance with the incidental take statement authorizing harm to bull trout and causing more take of this species than permitted.”


The notice says the USFWS, BOR and BPA are also in violation of section 7 of the ESA for failing to consult with the NOAA Fisheries on the effects of the hatchery on Upper Columbia River spring chinook salmon and steelhead and its critical habitat, and for failing to reinitiate consultation on the effects to bull trout.


“For nearly three-quarters of a century, the hatchery has blocked over 25 miles of pristine habitat on Icicle Creek, the largest tributary to the Wenatchee River,” according to the conservation group.


“Contrary to popular belief the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery is not helping to recover wild fish. Rather, the hatchery uses a non-native hatchery stock of salmon and research shows it has been harming wild chinook, steelhead, and bull trout for nearly 75 years and is now impeding their chances for recovery,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy.


“Over the past fifteen years we have worked with local citizens and representatives of state, federal, and tribal agencies to try to get the Leavenworth Hatchery to comply with state and federal law to protect and restore native fish species listed under the ESA and to restore the integrity of the Icicle Creek ecosystem. It is discouraging to realize that yet again the hatchery blatantly disregards its legal obligations and the needs of the Icicle Creek ecosystem. The saddest part of this is the public is unknowingly paying for it,” Beardslee said.


The Wild Fish Conservancy has over the years challenged, particularly, state and federal hatchery actions that they say harm to naturally producing fish populations. Those challenges include recent actions against the state of Washington for its use hatchery steelhead derived from one creek, Chamber, to populate numerous other river basins in the Puget Sound area and against federal agencies, claiming they violated the National Environmental Policy Act in approving plans to release hatchery fish to the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River.


Federal judges too have recently been hearing hatchery vs. wild arguments filed against Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife operations of hatcheries in the Sandy and McKenzie river basins.


The Leavenworth National Hatchery was constructed between 1939 and 1941 near Leavenworth, Wash., and is located on the banks of Icicle Creek approximately three miles from its confluence with the Wenatchee River, which in turn feeds into the Columbia River.


The Leavenworth notice says that the take of wild fish occurs when two structures constructed in the dam as part of the hatchery’s rearing infrastructure impede or block migration of Upper Columbia River steelhead, Upper Columbia River spring-run chinook salmon and/or threatened bull trout, including spawning and foraging migration.


“Delays in spawning migration prevent successful spawning and cause spawning in less desirable habitat. Take also occurs when the ESA-listed fish are injured and/or killed attempting to migrate past Structure 2, Structure 5, and/or the water intake dam. 


“Take of Upper Columbia River steelhead, Upper Columbia River spring-run chinook salmon and coterminous United States bull trout occurs when the hatchery’s effluent discharges and/or use of water adversely affect the water quality of Icicle Creek, including the water temperature,” the notice says.


“Take through genetic introgression occurs when these hatchery fish are allowed to spawn in the wild and thereby pass their maladaptive genes to the wild Upper Columbia River spring-run chinook salmon. The resultant offspring have markedly reduced fitness, dying at a much higher rate at pre-adult life stages and producing fewer mature adults that return to spawn than would occur with two wild parents.”


The conservation group also says the hatchery errs by using chinook broodstock that is not native to the upper Columbia, and that fish “become domesticated in a hatchery environment and thereby less fit to survive and reproduce in the wild.


The notice can be found at:
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