OLYMPIA — The National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision not to appeal a judge’s ruling throwing out the threatened species listing of Oregon coastal coho salmon could also effect Washington state’s salmon runs.
In September, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan ruled that the agency erred when it lumped hatchery fish and wild fish together in the same group, known as an evolutionarily significant unit, then gave threatened species protection only to the wild fish.
Hogan’s ruling came in an Oregon lawsuit that made arguments similar to those in a 1999 lawsuit brought by a coalition of Washington builders, farmers and cattlemen. That lawsuit challenged the listing of chinook salmon in Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
On Friday, the fisheries service announced that it would not appeal Hogan’s ruling. Instead, the agency plans to make a new policy on hatchery fish vs. wild fish between now and September. Afterward, it will announce whether 23 of the 25 groups of Pacific salmon listed as threatened or endangered species warrant further protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The process will consider newly filed petitions to take those fish off the endangered species list. In the meantime, protection for the fish still listed as threatened or endangered will continue.
Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the decision doesn’t immediately alter the state’s salmon recovery efforts because Hogan’s ruling dealt only with Oregon coho, not species listed in Washington.
"Protections for these species remain in effect, and this agency’s recovery efforts will continue uninterrupted," Koenings said.
Jim Johnson, an attorney representing Common Sense Salmon Recovery, the group that brought the Washington lawsuit, said he has made a settlement offer to fisheries service based on Hogan’s ruling.
"The consequence will be a delisting for Puget Sound salmon and Columbia River salmon," Johnson predicted.
The coalition includes the Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Washington Association of Realtors and the Building Industry Association of Washington.
A fisheries service spokeswoman said the agency’s lawyers are reviewing the offer.
"We’ll continue to have discussions about settlement," said Janet Sears, a fisheries service spokeswoman. "There will be more to come on this one as time goes on."
The lawsuit, ridiculed by the fisheries service when it was filed, challenged the practice of only counting wild populations in assessing the health of regional salmon runs, and argued there was no biological basis for distinguishing between native and hatchery fish.
The group argued that Endangered Species Act restrictions could make it impossible to profit from private land already zoned and used for agriculture are other commercial purposes.
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