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Wild Fish Conservancy Seeks Injunction To Block Use Of Mitchell Act Funds For Basin Hatcheries
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2016 (PST)

The Wild Fish Conservancy is seeking an injunction and restraining order to block the continued use of Mitchell Act funding for salmonid hatchery operations in the lower Columbia River system.

 

The conservancy contends Mitchell Act funds were intended to support hatchery operations that help rather than harm wild fish populations.

 

The complaint seeking an injunction and restraining order was filed July 13 in an Oregon U.S. District Court. It signals an effort on the part of plaintiffs to accelerate proceedings related to a March 31 lawsuit that was filed, making the same or similar allegations.

 

(See CBB, April 1, 2016, “Wild Fish Conservancy Files Lawsuit To Force Federal Consultation On Basin Mitchell Act Hatcheries” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436361.aspx)

 

Since the July 13 filing, the federal defendants have filed a response denying all allegations, saying most allegations require no response.

 

“This motion focuses narrowly on NMFS’s funding of ten hatchery programs operating on behalf of NMFS by (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) and the Washington Department of fish and wildlife,” the plaintiffs state.

 

“Most of the Mitchell Act-funded hatchery programs — and all of the ones that are the subject of this motion — are isolated “harvest (rather than “conservation”) programs, designed to provide fishing opportunities rather than maintain natural populations,” the complaint continues.

 

The hatchery programs that are subject to the restraining order and injunction request include:

-- The Klaskanine Hatchery operated by Oregon Fish and Wildlife, fall chinook and coho;

-- The Big Creek hatchery, Oregon Fish and Wildlife, fall chinook and coho;

-- The Deep River SAFE hatchery, Washington Fish and Wildlife, fall chinook and coho;

-- Washougal hatchery, Washington Fish and Wildlife, fall chinook;

-- Bonneville hatchery, Oregon Fish and Wildlife, fall chinook and coho;

-- And SAFE Coho hatchery, Oregon Fish and Wildlife, coho.

 

All of the challenged hatchery programs operate for the stated purpose of “harvest” rather than conservation, with releases of hatchery fish being concentrated in the lower Columbia River and tributaries, or the Willamette River and tributaries, says the complaint.

 

The complaint charges that NMFS has not consulted with the public and cooperating agencies, as required under the ESA, since the first required consultation was conducted in 1999, and that programs funded under the Mitchell Act “are jeopardizing the continued existence of salmonids.”

 

Since that 1999 consultation, eight salmon species protected under the ESA have been harmed by NMFS’s hatchery programs, claims the complaint, including the Lower Columbia River chinook and coho salmon that the litigation seeks to protect.

 

The complaint points to “entirely undisputed” scientific reviews that have concluded “hatchery fish are less fit for survival in the wild than genetically similar wild fish” and “hatchery releases have a significant negative effect on the productivity of wild populations by competing with wild fish for food and space; diluting the fitness of wild fish when adult hatchery fish stray spawn with wild fish; and by potentially spreading disease.”

 

While some lower Columbia River chinook populations once included as many as 22,000 to 27,000 wild fish, none currently have more than about 500 wild fish and 14 of the 21 populations contain fewer than 50 wild fish, says the complaint.

 

”Despite the dire condition of these species, about 54 million Chinook and 17 million coho hatchery smolts are planted into the lower Columbia River and its tributaries every year — mostly from Mitchell Act-funded hatcheries. An injunction against funding these programs is necessary to protect wild fish from further harm until NMFS complies with its obligations …,” the complaint continues.

 

The Wild Fish Conservancy points out that Congress enacted the Mitchell Act in 1938 in effort to mitigate adverse effects to wild salmon in the Columbia River Basin from the construction of dams, water diversions, logging, and pollution.

 

During the last six years, NMFS funding for Mitchell Act hatchery programs has fluctuated from a high of $22.7 million in 2010 to a low of $13.7 million in 2015 for the purpose of releasing more than 50 million hatchery fish into the Columbia River and its tributaries annually.

 

“Wild Columbia River salmon face a high risk of extinction,” said Kurt Beardslee, the conservancy’s executive director in asserting Mitchell Act hatcheries have played a big part in that downward trend.

 

Repeatedly, throughout their response, NMFS uses the same refrain:

 

“To the extent a response is required, federal Defendants deny any allegation that is inconsistent with the plain language, meaning and context” of documents that have been available related to Mitchell Act hatchery funding, operations and compliance with federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

 

Oral arguments on the case were scheduled for Oct. 3 in a Portland Courtroom 16 before Chief Judge Michael W. Mosman, who has since canceled oral arguments and instead will require a status report on the litigation on Oct. 3.

 

The original, March 31 filing can be found at: http://wildfishconservancy.org/copy_of_news/in-the-news/001.0.complaintMitchellActColumbia33116.pdf

 

The latest filing for an injunction and restraining order can be found at: http://wildfishconservancy.org/copy_of_news/in-the-news/014.00.mpreliminary.injunctionMitchellAct.pdf

 

Also see:

 

--  CBB, January 15, 2016, “Wild Fish Advocates File Notice Against Mitchell Act Hatcheries, 60 Million Smolts Annually,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435862.aspx

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