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PLF Files Lawsuit to Block Federal Regulation Slashing Fishing Season by More than Half Despite Record Numbers of Salmon

Eugene,OR; June 03, 2005: Two Oregon fishermen’s associations and workers and families dependent on the fishing industry today filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, arguing that the agency’s decision to slash the 2005 commercial trolling chinook salmon fishing season by more than half violated federal law.

Local fishermen, coastal business owners, and other workers, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, say that the Fisheries Service ignored the fact that there are record numbers of returning salmon, failed to consider hatchery salmon, and disregarded the severe economic and safety impacts of the regulation. The agency’s decision threatens families, businesses, and communities dependent on the fishing industry from Portland to San Francisco, PLF said in a lawsuit filed today in the United States District Court in Eugene.

“Hundreds of fishermen and businesses are facing bankruptcy because the federal government won’t let people fish despite the fact the ocean is teeming with salmon,” said , managing attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation’s Northwest Center at a press conference today, surrounded by fishermen and their families. “We’re bringing this lawsuit to stop the federal government from wreaking economic devastation on fishing communities up and down the Pacific coast for no good reason.”

“It’s not just a single fishing season that’s at stake here, it’s the future of thousands of hardworking American families and a way of life that has existed for over 100 years. People employed throughout the fishing industry are going to lose their fishing vessels, their homes, and everything they have, and once that happens, these communities are not going to be able to recover. It’s impossible to overstate the seriousness of this situation,” Brooks said.

PLF says the harm of the dramatically shortened season goes well beyond the fishermen themselves, and also will have a devastating impact on fishing vessel deckhands, fish plant workers, stores that sell gear and ice to fishermen, seafood processors, seafood market owners, local restaurant owners and restaurant workers.

NMFS’ decision to virtually eliminate the 2005 season for salmon fisheries off the coasts of Oregon and California is based in large part on the agency’s “selective counting” of only naturally spawned chinook salmon, ignoring the record numbers of chinook that exist when hatchery spawned chinook also are counted. PLF says that federal law does not allow NMFS to treat hatchery and naturally spawned salmon differently or to issue harvest regulations based solely on naturally spawned salmon numbers.

When hatchery fish are included, the 2005 forecasts for chinook returns support a large harvest. In fact, the 2005 findings of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which recommends fishery management decisions to NMFS for Pacific salmon fisheries, show that the Central Valley Index (a combination of Sacramento River chinook and Central Valley chinook) forecast is the highest on record and twice the 2004 preseason forecast, and that the Klamath River fall chinook forecast is 1.11 times the 2004 preseason forecast.

PLF’s lawsuit also charges NMFS with disregarding the economic and safety impacts of its harvest regulation on commercial chinook salmon fishermen and small businesses dependent on the commercial chinook salmon fishery, as required by federal law. Congress—concerned that conservation measures were threatening the survival of fishing communities—mandated under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act and the Regulatory Flexibility Act that NMFS must examine the potential economic impacts of regulations on fishing communities, and identify alternatives that minimize those effects.

“Congress made it clear that the Fisheries Service must not put overzealous conservation efforts before the safety and livelihoods of fishermen and fishing communities, but the Service completely disregarded that duty here,” Brooks said.

PLF says NMFS’s ill-considered policy is just the latest in a long line of needless regulations to protect salmon that are adversely affecting people and businesses on the west coast.

“People and businesses continue to suffer under regulations to protect salmon. Farmers and ranchers have their water shut off, families cannot afford to build homes, businesses close, and now fishermen cannot fish, all to protect salmon that don’t need protecting,” Brooks said.

In 2001, Mr. Brooks and PLF won a landmark court victory in Alsea Valley Alliance v. Evans, 161 F. Supp. 2d 1154 (D. Or. 2001), which invalidated the federal government’s illegal exclusion of hatchery salmon in the listing of Oregon coast coho under the Endangered Species Act. The court ruling forced NMFS to develop a new policy for listing salmon throughout the west. NMFS is expected to issue the new policy this month.



Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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