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 Friday, June 10, 2005 (PST)

Endangered Species Act listing determinations due next week for 27 West Coast salmon and steelhead stocks will likely be delayed, according to officials for the federal agency carrying out the status reviews.


"There's a variety of reasons," NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman said this week. "There are 27 ESUs (evolutionarily significant units) we are considering; some are tougher than others." The agency is reviewing the status of 25 listed stocks and two candidate species. The candidate species include the Lower Columbia River and Oregon Coast coho ESUs.


A proposed set of listing determinations was published in the June 14, 2004, Federal Register. It suggested adding the Lower Columbia coho to the list and restoring the threatened listing for the Oregon Coast coho, which was in large part responsible for triggering the massive status review for all the species.


Eugene, Ore.-based U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Hogan in September 2001 ruled that the agency wrongly excluded hatchery fish from the 1998 listing after they had been identified, along with naturally spawning coho, by NOAA as part of the ESU for the Oregon Coast coho stock. After a series of legal exchanges the listing was officially dissolved a year ago when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused a request to overturn Hogan's order.


Meanwhile, NOAA announced late in 2001 that it would review and update the hatchery policy used in making its listing determinations and announced early in 2002 that it had begun a review of the 25 listed stocks and two candidate species. The proposed determinations issued last year reaffirmed all 25 listings, though it did suggest dropping two ESUs -- the Upper Columbia steelhead and Sacramento River winter-run chinook -- from endangered to threatened. The proposal also elevated the Central California Coast coho from threatened to the more restrictive endangered listing.


The proposals were aired during a fall-summer comment period that was extended at the request of U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon. The status review documents have been refined during the succeeding months and have been forwarded to NOAA Fisheries' headquarters in Washington, D.C.


"Most of them are done," Gorman said of status reviews.


"We're still shooting for final determinations on at least 16 -- the salmon, the non-steelhead reviews," said NOAA Fisheries' Scott Rumsey, though he noted time is short to complete the required administrative red tape.


"They are in the queue," he said.


The list of timely determinations would not likely include, however, the Oregon Coast coho. The federal agency has only recently begun to weigh new scientific information produced by the state of Oregon -- the final Coast coho viability assessment completed in early May.


"A communication from Bob Lohn indicates that they are most likely going to take up to a six-month extension" to review the viability report before making a final determination, said Louise Solliday of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Natural Resources office. That memo did indicate the process is not expected to take the full month.


The 10 proposed steelhead listings are complicated by other pending lawsuits that brought new questions regard the relationship between resident rainbow trout and anadromous steelhead, both which carry the biological label of oncorhynchus mykiss. Those lawsuits assert the resident rainbow should be counted during determinations of the status of steelhead populations. A review of those issues was launched in 2003.


Any final listing determinations, or requests for extensions, would have to be signed by NOAA Director William T. Hogarth by Tuesday (June 14).


Of the 27 status reviews conducted, 16 were prompted by listing, or delisting, petitions from citizen groups. NOAA elected to add 11 others thought could potentially be affected by hatchery policy decisions. Thirteen of the ESUs, include the Lower Columbia coho, spawn in the Columbia Basin.


Gorman said he was unsure when the agency would release its final hatchery policy.





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