A judge ruled Thursday
that salmon trollers in Oregon and California are
stuck with the season they have.
The Pacific Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit
against the federal government in June in U.S.
District Court on behalf of the Oregon Trollers
Association, Siuslaw Fishermen's Association, and
various other organizations, businesses and
individuals. The lawsuit claimed the National
Marine Fisheries Service violated federal law when
managers gutted the salmon season, leaving
trollers no opportunity to fish in June, July and
Their argument centered around three issues: that
record numbers of salmon are returning to West
Coast rivers and managers ignored that fact; that
managers didn't consider hatchery salmon along
with wild populations; and that they disregarded
the economic and safety impacts of the
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin disagreed
on all counts, completely denying the trollers any
He readily dismissed three claims about the
escapement floor - the bottom line number of
Chinook that must swim past the natural predators
and recreational and commercial fishermen and make
it back up the Klamath River to spawn. Since 1989,
according to the fishery management plan, that
number has been set at 35,000 fish.
Plaintiffs argued that managers separate naturally
spawning Chinook from hatchery fish when
incorporating the escapement floor in the
regulations, but Coffin said too much time had
passed to challenge that assumption. By
challenging the "naturally spawning" part of the
management plan, Coffin said, the plaintiffs were
targeting something that happened years ago.
Coffin said that year after year, the same
escapement floor had been used, sometimes
resulting in seasons worse than this year's. He
cited 1992 as an example, when several fishing
zones were closed but those remained open this
"It is clear that the implementation of the 2005
regulations is not the first opportunity
plaintiffs have had to realize that the 1989
escapement goal would impact their ability to
commercially catch Chinook," he wrote.
The plaintiffs were dealt another blow when the
judge also said federal managers did indeed count
hatchery fish in the 35,000 escapement goal. There
is no distinction between whether hatchery or wild
salmon return to spawn; only that 35,000 fish must
be allowed to return to the Klamath.
Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys successfully
argued the opposite in another case in 2001. In
that case, the judge agreed that hatchery and wild
fish must both be considered when listing coho
under the Endangered Species Act. It forced the
federal government to develop a new policy for
listing salmon throughout the West.
"The problem is we still have a distinction that
we're not counting all the returning fish," PLF
attorney Russ Brooks said this morning. "What
about those fish that are collected but not
allowed to spawn? They collect most of the
The judge also ruled that the government did its
best to minimize the economic impacts to salmon
fishermen, even though it may not appear that way.
Some areas had seasons cut by as much as 77
percent - but fishing wasn't eliminated
"The bottom line is that it was known by all sides
to the debate that the 2005 regulations would have
a negative impact on all who derive resources -
economic, spiritual or other - from the fishery,"
Brooks said the Oregon Trollers Association plans
to appeal the case in the 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals, courts in which the PLF has a winning
record, he said.
"We're trying to establish something for next
year," Oregon Trollers president Rayburn "Punch"
Guerin, of Charleston, said.
The average time for an appeal is between 15 and
18 months. Brooks said he'll likely seek an
expedited review of the case.