Salmon, steelhead still rated at risk by NOAA - Scientists believe rise in numbers is temporary

Seattle Post-Intelligencer


GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Increasing salmon and steelhead returns in the past three years appear to be mostly because of a temporary cycle of more food in the ocean and do not signal any lasting victories in saving the fish from extinction, federal fisheries scientists say.

None of the 27 populations of salmon and steelhead evaluated appears to warrant coming off the threatened or endangered species list, and three appear to have declined from threatened or candidate species status to endangered, the scientists indicated.

The conclusions were made by a team of biologists for NOAA Fisheries, formerly known as the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency in charge of restoring salmon.

Their findings were included in a preliminary report distributed yesterday to state and tribal fisheries agencies in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The report is the beginning of a process to be concluded by the end of the year with recommendations on whether to change the Endangered Species Act status of salmon and steelhead, said Bob Lohn, NOAA Fisheries Northwest regional administrator.

NOAA Fisheries still has to evaluate conservation efforts, such as habitat improvements, hatchery reforms and harvest limitations, before making those decisions, Lohn added.

The review of all 26 runs of Pacific salmon and steelhead listed as threatened or endangered since 1991, plus one candidate for protection, was prompted by a 2001 federal court ruling that temporarily struck down threatened species status for Oregon coastal coho salmon.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan had ruled that NOAA Fisheries erred when it included both wild and hatchery salmon in the same population group, and then granted threatened species protection only to the wild fish. Protection for Oregon coastal coho was restored pending appeal.

Still to come as a result of the ruling is a review of NOAA Fisheries' policies on whether hatchery fish should be protected along with wild salmon and how hatcheries should be used to help restore depleted runs.

Based on the abundance, reproduction success, distribution across a home range and genetic diversity of each population, the review found that eight appeared endangered, or in danger of extinction, and 19 threatened, or likely to become endangered.

The current status is five endangered, 21 threatened and one candidate for protection.


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