Salmon trollers, others sue federal agency over
The Oregon Trollers
Association, the Siuslaw Fishermen's Association,
the Pacific Legal Foundation, and a number of
individual commercial fishermen are suing the
National Marine Fisheries Service.
The dispute focuses on perceived strength of salmon
runs, which determine the level of fishing allowed.
Filed June 3 in Unites States District Court in
Eugene, their lawsuit claims the agency's decision
to slash salmon trolling season almost in half along
parts of the West Coast violates federal law.
According to Russ Brooks, managing attorney for
PLF's Northwest Center, the NMFS action threatens
families, businesses, and communities dependent on
the fishing industry from Portland to San Francisco.
They want NMFS to quash the 2005 chinook management
plan and reinstate the fishing levels designated in
the 2004 plan.
"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," Brooks
said during a June 3 press conference to announce
the court filing. "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."
According to findings from the Pacific Fisheries
Management Council, which makes fishery management
recommendations to NMFS for Pacific salmon
fisheries, the primary impact on the proposed 2005
season stemmed from meager numbers of Klamath fall
While Oregon used two in-season actions to reduce
commercial fisheries in March and April to provide
additional commercial opportunities in May and June,
under the current plan, the commercial season will
close during July and August, then re-open for
varying lengths of time during September and
business owners, and others say the NMFS decision to
"virtually eliminate" the 2005 season for salmon
fisheries off the coasts of Oregon and California is
based mostly on "selective counting" of
naturally-spawned chinook salmon, while ignoring
"record numbers" that exist if hatchery-spawned
chinook factor into the equation.
When hatchery fish
are counted, the PFMC findings show a Central Valley
Index (a combination of Sacramento River and Central
Valley chinook) forecast twice the 2004 pre-season
forecast - a record high, and a Klamath River
fall chinook forecast that is 1.11 times last year's
Fishermen say those high hatchery fish
runs should translate into heavier fishing.
say their task is to protect wild salmon under the
Endangered Species Act, no matter how many hatchery
fish make it into the ocean. They must base fishing
limits - designed to keep wild fish populations from
dropping below certain levels - on ecological
standards, not economic considerations.
The plaintiffs say the "dramatically shortened"
season has ramifications that go "well beyond" the
fishermen themselves to encompass fishing vessel
deckhands, fish plant workers, stores that sell gear
and ice to fishermen, seafood processors, seafood
market owners, local restaurant owners, and
"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," Brooks noted.
"People employed throughout the fishing industry are
going to lose their fishing vessels, their homes,
and everything they have. Once that happens, these
communities are not going to be able to recover.
It's impossible to overstate the seriousness of this
Disregard for the economic and safety impacts of the
harvest regulation on commercial chinook salmon
fishermen and the small businesses that depend on
fishery is at the heart of the lawsuit. Brooks et al
claim that NMFS must base fishing limits not on the
Endangered Species Act, but another federal
Concerned about the threat of conservation measures
on the survival of fishing communities, Congress
passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act and the
Regulatory Flexibility Act, which Brooks said
requires NMFS to examine the potential economic
impacts of regulations on fishing communities, and
identify alternatives to minimize those effects.
According to Brooks, NMFS officials "completely
disregarded" those requirements in determining the
salmon season cutbacks, and this "ill-considered
policy" is only the latest in "a long line of
needless regulations' to protect salmon.
"People and businesses continue to suffer under
regulations to protect salmon," he concluded.
"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."
(Note: Brooks and PLF won a landmark court victory
in 2001 that invalidated the federal government's
exclusion of hatchery salmon in listing 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 sometime this month.)