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Posted on Friday, May 14, 2004 (PST)

By Mike O’Bryant


NOAA Fisheries today corrected what it said are misconceptions in the news about the intent and impact of its hatchery policy and that the agency would likely relist by May 28 at least 25 of the 26 salmon stocks that are currently under review.


In a letter to the West Coast Congressional delegation, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and California congressmen and senators, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. said he was writing to "explain how hatcheries will be taken into account in the (relisting) proposals, and to correct recent erroneous accounts of how our hatchery policy will be used."


He said that NOAA is directing over $100 million to salmon recovery, and other federal agencies are making similar contributions. Along with favorable ocean conditions, he said the efforts are paying off and "producing dramatic increases in nearly all salmon runs" and it is not backing down now.


A lawsuit regarding Oregon Coast coho salmon that required NOAA to delist the species because it failed to account for hatchery fish led NOAA to take the unprecedented step of voluntarily delisting 25 more salmon and steelhead stocks while the agency reviewed their status. Lautenbacher said that NOAA agreed to reconsider all the listings and "to adjust our policy for considering fish in making those decisions -- and NOAA will be asking the public to comment on both."


Lautenbacher sent the letter to the Congressional delegation this morning and then afterwards released it to media that have been covering the hatchery issue because there was so much misinformation and confusion about what NOAA was doing, said NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Janet Sears.


Lautenbacher was quick to correct some of those misconceptions.


"The central tenet of the hatchery policy is the conservation of naturally-spawning salmon and the ecosystems upon which they depend," he said. "As our preliminary conclusions indicate, appropriate consideration of hatchery fish does not lead to wholesale de-listing of species as some are claiming. Equally erroneous is the suggestion our policy would allow the purposes of the ESA to be satisfied by having all the salmon in a hatchery."


He added that hatcheries do serve purposes, including meeting tribal treaty trust rights and supporting sport and commercial fishing, but not all hatcheries are successful in their objectives.


"NOAA's decisions are driven by science, which suggests benefits, risks, and uncertainties regarding salmon hatcheries," he said. "Simply put, some well-managed conservation hatcheries are fostering recovery of species, some hatcheries are having little or no effect, and some hatcheries potentially hinder recovery."


He went on to say that after considering the science of hatcheries, that NOAA has "preliminarily" determined to propose relisting 25 of the 26 species it is re-evaluating. It will make the announcement May 28, the court ordered deadline to complete the status review of listed stocks in Washington, and the "new hatchery policy will be only one factor for the evaluation still underway."


The 26 species being evaluated were previously listed as either threatened or endangered. The letter does not specify whether the proposed relistings call for any of the species to move from one listing category to the other.


The one species still under consideration, according to Bob Lohn, Regional Director of NOAA Fisheries in Seattle, is the mid-Columbia River Steelhead. More information is required to make that determination.


"The communities of the Northwest have set high standards for their stewardship of land and water and NOAA urges them to continue this important work," Lautenbacher concluded.



Northwest Regional Office NOAA Fisheries: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/


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