In 2001, Federal District Court Judge Michael Hogan threw a monkey wrench into ESA protection for sensitive salmon and steelhead stocks with his decision in Alsea Valley Alliance v. Evans. In the decision, the judge ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to reconsider its listing of Oregon Coast coho salmon in light of the potential contribution that hatchery fish may make to their status. Some anti-ESA interests latched onto Judge Hogan’s 2001 ruling as a basis for a biologically wrong argument – that large numbers of artificially produced hatchery fish justify pulling protection for the few naturally-spawning wild fish that remain.
NMFS released a new hatchery policy in 2004 to address how hatchery fish should be considered in salmon listings. Fortunately, after reviewing the status of most of the salmon stocks, even in light of the new hatchery policy, NMFS decided to maintain the ESA listing status of all but one stock. Industry groups were not satisfied with this outcome, insisting that Judge Hogan’s decision meant that wild salmon must not be listed under the ESA if hatchery fish are abundant These groups filed a lawsuit to challenge the listings. Pacific Rivers stepped in to ensure that wild fish are protected.
Pacific Rivers wanted to make sure that sensitive salmon stocks retain essential ESA protections and that these protections are not reduced on the basis of abundant hatchery fish. Protection of sensitive species through listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is an essential ingredient in most conservation strategies. Threatened populations of salmon, steelhead and trout would likely go extinct without ESA protection. We were successful in achieving our goal when the Ninth Circuit upheld the ESA listing status for 16 salmon stocks on March 16, 2009.