The Bush administration sees a larger role for hatcheries in replenishing Pacific salmon, but counting hatchery fish along with wild ones will not immediately take any runs off the endangered species list.
A review, begun after a 2001 federal court ruling gave hatchery fish the same protection as wild fish, found that all 26 runs protected by the Endangered Species Act should stay on the list. That includes the Oregon coastal coho, whose threatened species status was rescinded by the ruling.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency in charge of restoring salmon, said another run — lower Columbia River coho — should be added to the list. The listing proposals will be reviewed over the next year before NOAA makes a final determination.
The review and details of a new federal policy on salmon hatcheries, also a result of the 2001 ruling, were formally announced Friday in Seattle.
Though 27 of the 51 distinct populations of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast still merit protection, the vast majority are improving as a result of improved ocean conditions and habitat restoration, said Bob Lohn, NOAA Fisheries northwest regional director.
“The overall goal is the restoration of naturally spawning salmon runs,” said commerce Undersecretary Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher. “We are turning the corner on this. If you look at the indications, people should not lose hope on it.”
Though hatchery fish make up about 80 percent of Pacific salmon populations, fisheries biologists have long warned that hatcheries are one of the leading factors in the overall decline over the past century, and many are not convinced by the new policy.
Poor practices in the past have depleted the gene pool, and crowded conditions lead to the rapid spread of disease. The young hatchery fish released into rivers compete with wild fish for food, but are less successful at surviving predators and other hazards to return as adults.
Details on the review and policies are online at www.nwr.noaa.gov/AlseaResponse/20040528.